Practical Notes from the Kyudo Dojo
(Last updated April 2016)
THE FOLLOWING NOTES have emerged from my ongoing kyudo training, which began in Motomachi Seisenkai Dojo, Yokohama, in late 1991, a Zen Nippon Kyudo Renmai (All Nippon Kyudo Federation) (ZNKR, ANKF, 'Nikyuden', 'Zenkyuden') dojo under Sekimoto Akira-sensei (8-dan). In latter years, I have studied concomitantly at Akibadai (ZNKR) in Fujisawa under Sekine Ryozo-sensei (6-dan) and with Honda Ryu Seikyukai in Shin-Yokohama under Taniguchi Shoichiro-sensei (7-dan). The notes are cumulative, which means that subsequent notes may well seem to – or actually do – contradict earlier ones, as I correct my own misunderstandings of the senseis' instruction. Senseis do have different opinions on the correct way of shooting, and I often have difficulty in having to amend my shooting style back and forth between dojos; the notes reflect these anomalies also. Any notes outside of the Honda Ryu section (6.0 ff) that apply peculiarly to Honda Ryu are indicated as such in brackets.
SOME EXPLANATION of detailed note format may be required. In parentheses following many notes are one or more dates expressed as (month.day.year): this is when I received the instruction. Multiple dates indicate that I had to be given the same instruction on more than one occasion. Further repetitions have been unrecorded, out of shame. Often, the same instruction has been given in a slightly different form, and will then appear as a separate entry, hopefully in the same, appropriate, section.
I OFFER these notes in the hope that you can benefit from my mistakes. Good shooting.
Just click on the desired entry in the table of contents below:
- Occasional Notes and Summary of the Hassetsu
- Detailed Dojo Notes Index
From March 7-10, 2008, I attended the 20th INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR OF BUDO CULTURE, held at the Budo Training Center and International Budo University in Katsuura, Chiba. Over 70 foreign residents of Japan who are also budo practitioners were invited to a series of lectures and training sessions in the nine 'modern budo' – aikido, judo, karate, kendo, jukendo, kyudo, sumo, naginata, and shorenji kempo. We also had a lecture, demonstration and practice in the Ryukyu kobudo (Okinawan marital arts). In addition to brief experience in other martial arts (I tried naginata, jukendo and kendo), we had the opportunity to train in our own budo with some of the highest-ranking and most respected senseis in Japan. Kyudo training was conducted by Iijima Masao-sensei (8-dan hanshi) and Taguchi Daisuke-sensei (7-dan kyoshi), both executives of the ZNKR. Of course, they found many faults in my taihai, shooting form and etiquette; it was a shock to me to realize how easily and subtly I have strayed from some of the most simple precepts. Here is the list of faults brought to my attention:
- Before shooting: In preparing the bow and warming the string's resin, run the waraji down the string only, not up-and-down.
- Entering: Both hands higher on hips (As a longer-armed Caucasian, mine had been placed slightly lower on the hip).
- At shai: After turning to face the kamidana and erecting the weapon to string the arrows, be sure to keep the bowstring always on the midline of the nose/face while turning the weapon.
- Torikake: Both index and middle finger of R hand rest across the thumb (somehow, my index finger had drifted up onto my middle finger!)
- Tenouchi: Set base/heel of L hand against the bowgrip at the time of erecting the weapon, and keep it there! Mine had drifted far off the nigiri.
- From Daisan: Set the tiger's mouth more toward the center of the grip (it should be just to the L of center); my L wrist was too arched. Turn the R hand more counterclockwise to the horizontal (when its back is horizontal, it feels even more turned). Don't crunch up this hand, but relax it and the wrist.
- Kai: More! More! More!
- Yudaoshi: Don't let the bowtip touch the floor.
- Leaving: Before leaving, stop, turn the L foot L, draw the R foot to it, and bow – don't rush this process. Be careful not to step on the 'threshold' line! – the third step should carry the archer over the threshold.
- Other points of which I had to be reminded: A yu (slight bow) should span 10 cms. In bowing, the closed hands are at the side (outseam) of the hakama, not half toward the front of the thigh, and the feet are parallel, not splayed.
Needless to say, with the added pressure, I didn't shoot very accurately either; all in all, it was a rather humbling experience.
A FEW GENERAL NOTES from Suzuki-sensei (9-dan) at Renshi Training session, April 2000:
1. Don't grip too tightly with tenouchi, or weapon will be off vertical at release.
2. Weapon should turn loosely in hand from uchiokoshi to daisan.
3. Keep left shoulder back and down; do not deform your posture by pulling too hard.
4. Twist right hand a little at kai.
5. When you move to daisan, stretch vertically.
6. For good hanare, focus on pushing at tiger's mouth, but also focus on release with right hand; make a balanced hanare.
7. Non-standard tenouchi: Suzuki-sensei lines up forefinger with other fingers at the beginning of taking his grip, and he sets fingers first, not tiger's mouth. Find your own best way.
8. Do not draw right forearm back against upper arm at kai; leave some space.
9. Full snap-back of right arm at release is not such good form at higher levels. (By the way, in Germany they do this too much.)
10. Each person's posture is different; you should fit your kai to your form.
11. Shoulders should extend forward with arms in uchiokoshi.
SUMMARY OF THE HASSETSU
Breathing is regulated to follow the hassetsu, each step requiring one slow inhalation (sute) and one slow exhalation (haite). During Kai, beginners should hold their breath lightly to stabilize the shot, but advanced students should continue breathing gently. The eight steps should flow slowly and smoothly from one into the next, like the 8 nodes of a bamboo pole, so that the transitions are imperceptible.
I. ASHIBUMI - Planting the Feet. It is important to create a firm and stable base for the body. If the spread is too narrow or tentative, the upper torso becomes unstable. The feet should be planted with the big toes in a straight line to the mato and a yazuka-length distance apart, the feet at a 60-degree angle to each other.
1. Stand upright at shai facing the kamidana, feet about 3 cm apart, keeping the urahazu on the centerline of your body and 10 cm off the floor. The arrows in the right hand (the tips with about 10 cm, or to the first arrow joint, protruding from the glove – reishakei method) should be held at the same angle as the bow in the left, knuckles on hips and elbows thrust forward.
2. Turn your head left to gaze straight at the mato.
3. (Reishakei method) Step slightly toward the center of the mato with the left foot, planting it at a 30-degree angle. Keep the body erect and legs straight, and let the feet glide smoothly over the floor to avoid bobbing and swaying.
4. Draw the right foot to the left foot, and then step it fully in the shape of an unfolding fan to the right, to the length of yazuka, and plant it at a 30-degree angle so that a line through the big toe tips points at the center of the target. The feet thus make a 60-degree angle with each other.
5. Settle the body weight firmly and equally into the feet and return your gaze to the standard position when standing – to the floor about 4 meters in front of you. Keep the toes of each foot together, straightening the soles firmly and settling the knee-joints solidly above the ankles. Torque for stability is created by pressing the feet away from each other and the knees toward each other.
II. DOZUKURI - Forming the Torso, or Completing the Fundamental Posture. Preparing the arrow, the body and mind. Having set the legs and feet, we turn to the upper body. Center your balance on the lower abdomen, the hara, and its center, the tanden, and check the three-cross relationship (sanju jumonji) – shoulders, hips and feet should all be parallel to the floor, in line with one another, and perpendicular to the vertical spine and neck.
1. Raising both hands in front of you, bring your arrow (haya before otoya) around the bow to the left of the nigiri and pass it to the left thumb and forefinger at the top of the nigiri; then let your eyes and right hand follow the arrow shaft to its hazu, the gloved fingers of the hand brushing the far side of the shaft from above in the process. Grasping the hazu with your thumb and gloved fingers, check that hashiriba is uppermost, then push the hazu left to within 2 cm of the nakajikake in one smooth movement, letting the arrow slide between your left forefinger and thumb. Nock the haya one arrow's-width (about 1 cm) above the perpendicular at togashira, using your right thumb to pull the string into the notch. The arrow is then held by the left index finger. The second arrow is dropped to a vertical position, then placed and held, feathers foremost, between the left ring and little fingers (reishakei style), beneath and parallel to the first arrow, with its point extended about 10 cm beyond the string. Your left hand should finish in a position very near tenouchi, elbow outward.
2. With the right hand on the haya's nock and arms extended comfortably, settle the bow's motohazu on your left kneecap, with the bow's toriuchi and arrow's nock both on the centerline of your body. Fix your eyes on the bridge of your nose and return your right hand to your hip.
3. Stretch your thighs and knee joints, checking the solidity of your stance, and check that pectoral and pelvic girdles are parallel to the target line. Straighten the spinal column and neck vertically, thus forming a perpendicular cross with the two girdles and feet (sanju jumonji). Then retrieve otoya by its tip with the last two fingers of your right hand (for a 3-fingered glove), and return your hand to your hip.
4. Let your gaze settle softly across your nose to the floor about four meters away, and regularize your breathing to concentrate your mind and will power on the tanden. Send your spirit forth in every direction to create a feeling of 'roundness' (enso).
5. Slowly check your tsuru by glancing up and down it (tsurushirabe) for about a foot along either side of the nakajikake – your gaze moves only a foot, but your mind should move beyond the ends of the tsuru towards the heaven and earth – then let your gaze follow along the arrow shaft (noshirabe) to the mato and back again to the hazu.
III. YUGAMAE - Readying the Bow is the critical step of placing your right and left hands correctly on the bow and bowstring, and fixing the target with your gaze. Breathing is regulated to each action in this step.
1. Torikake - Setting the Glove. Move your right hand directly to the bowstring a few cm below the nakajikake. Put your thumb against the string, engaging it with the thumb notch, and slide your hand up under the hazu. Then apply the first joint of the middle finger (for mitsugake) lightly to the top of the thumb from the opposite side, following on with the index finger above the middle finger. There should be minimal pressure; the thumb will draw the string, and the fingers just stabilize it. The forearm rotates counter-clockwise slightly, so that the base of the index finger presses lightly against the arrow nock to hold it to the string without bending the arrow. The thumb should subsequently remain perpendicular to the string (kakekuchi jumonji) at all times, the wrist straight so that the forearm is in line with the thumb, and the back of the hand should remain parallel to – an extension of – the arrow. Relax the hand, keep the thumb itself straight (or pressing slightly outward) and relaxed inside the glove, and curve the arm comfortably outward.
2. Tenouchi - Gripping the Bow. The bow must always be held firmly but lightly, like holding an egg (akuran). The main line of the palm (tenmon sen) of the left hand should be lined up along the far left edge of the nigiri; the hand should be perpendicular to the bow, and remain so. Roll the thumb and grasp the bow grip from below. The middle, ring and little fingers of your left hand should be lined up as high as is comfortable beneath the arrow shaft with their tips forming a straight line down the near right edge of the nigiri. These fingers will always stay firmly together and act as one, with only the little finger itself firmly gripping the bow. The inner joint of the thumb is lapped upon the outer joint of the middle finger, forming a rigid ring which will soon allow the bow to revolve loosely in it, while the arrow shaft will ride on the thumb during the draw. Press the thumb firmly against the middle finger to form the ring. Draw the heel of the hand and the base of the little finger together while keeping the base of the thumb far enough away from the bow grip to accommodate a 'small egg'. You must always be aware of and maintain this 'egg'. Settle the bow into the center of the V between thumb and forefinger. The thumb tip must always point straight or up, never down. The index finger plays no part in the grip, and can remain in any relaxed position. Arch the left arm comfortably outward to match the right arm, as if you held a tree trunk in your arms, to maintain the space between weapon and upper torso (yumi futokoro). Be careful not to draw your tenmon sen away from the nigiri, but always keep it there during the following steps with a slight counter-clockwise pressure of the hand.
3. Habiki - Relax and settle the shoulders. Brace yourself at knees and hips as you fully pour your mind into the center of the feet, legs, loins and tanden.
4. Monomi o sadameru - Setting the Gaze on the Target. Let your eyes follow slowly along the arrow shaft to the mato, and settle them calmly and directly on its center through the top of your nose. Keep your chin down and gaze with half-closed eyes like the Buddha (butsugan). Calm yourself to concentrate your mind and willpower on the mark (mikomi), and never blink nor avert your eyes until yudaoshi (step 8a).
IV. UCHIOKOSHI - Raising the Bow. This is the first real action step for the shot, and it is important to maintain and not disturb the form and attitude you have set in the earlier steps.
1. Raise both arms in front (shomen style) calmly and together from the shoulder joint and using the lateral muscles of the chest, as if lifting a barrel, extending the arms fully and comfortably up and forward while shoulders remain down and forward, until the arms are at a 45-to-55 degree angle, at a height a little above your brows, where actions don't affect the shoulders, and the target appears to be just over your left elbow. The bow must remain vertical and the arrow horizontal (actually, with the tip pointed slightly down – mizunagari), and this applies to all the next steps as well. Be sure the upper torso remains straight. Be free of physical and mental stress, regulate breathing – a slow inhalation while the bow is raised, then a pause as the breath is softly exhaled before beginning hikiwake (but others say this inhalation is the last one of the shooting) – and stretch the body tall and straight but don't strain the muscles of the body, especially of the chest and shoulders. Keep your power focussed on the center of the feet, loins and tanden.
V. HIKIWAKE - Drawing Apart. This is the stage in which the yumi and its tsuru are being pushed and pulled apart to the full length of yazuka. Through this stage think always of keeping the arrow pointed at the target.
1. The first third, or pushing, phase is called Daisan - Big Three ('push big and pull one third'). Inhale as you push the weapon horizontally toward the target with the left hand, focussing your power into its natural bending point, the metsuke (third inside joint from top). The nigiri should swivel smoothly in the hand, so that the fingers finish lined up along the right side of the grip; also during this turn, the thumb rolls toward the bowgrip to form a V, and the weapon is then held rigidly but without pressure between three points – the two sides of the V (bases of forefinger and thumb) and the base of the little finger. The left arm should not move at the shoulder but at the wrist and elbow, and only insofar as the movement brings the hand, forearm, and upper arm into a straight line. The arm should finish daisan at a 45-degree angle to the weapon, and the weapon should not be allowed to turn more in the hand. At the same time, the right arm should remain relaxed but fold at the elbow (keeping the elbow up and back) in order to follow along until the forearm becomes horizontal, the upper arm becomes parallel to the target plane, and tension comes to the right triceps (forearm and hand are still relaxed and remain so throughout the shooting), while the glove turns counter-clockwise until its back becomes almost horizontal (this angle varying among senseis). The glove hand should finish a fist's-distance above and in front of the forehead, and the arrow should be about one-third drawn. The mato should now appear just inside the left elbow. Keep both hands relaxed. Check your tenouchi: the weapon should sit in the center of the V between thumb and forefinger: it should press against the heel of the hand and be supported by the base of the little finger. This completes daisan: it should finish with your exhalation.
2. Now the left arm has finished pushing to its maximum extension. Inhale slowly as the right upper arm draws the string to the full. Keep your right hand at the same angle throughout (the forearm will turn counter-clockwise slightly with the angle of the draw). Keep the hand and forearm horizontal in the drawing plane by keeping the elbow high and back as it draws. As the weapon descends and approaches the body plane, the left hand descends at the same rate as the right, to keep the arrow horizontal, until full draw is reached at the time the base of the feathers on the arrow shaft brushes the cheek (hozuke), then meets the corner of the mouth (kuchiwari). The arrow shaft can be felt through the cheek, along the right molars, when it is in correct position. In drawing, the left hand and right elbow move simultaneously down and to the back along a curved path as if the weapon were trying to encompass the archer's body, and as the arrow reaches eye level, you should have the feeling of expanding the chest through the weapon plane. During the weapon's descent, the grip also tightens gradually on the nigiri, drawing the heel of the hand toward the weapon and the tip of the middle finger toward the base of the thumb. (This grip may be relaxed just at the moment of hanare, according to some senseis.). Be sure both elbows are stretched completely. The mato should now appear at the inside edge of the nigiri. At any moment of hikiwake, you should use only the power extended to both sides from the center of the body, that is, power should be equally distributed to right and left arms, so that the weapon is spread apart rather than pulled ('Push the string with the left arm and pull the weapon with the right'.). The vertical line is the axis of movement, and the weapon is drawn primarily with the back and chest muscles. The correct completion of the draw forms tatteyoko jumonji (the vertical line through the legs, hips, spine and neck: the horizontal line through the shoulders, arms, elbows and wrists), the vertical and horizontal cross of the body, weapon and arrow. As you complete hikiwake you must let the breath settle out of the upper chest and into the lower abdomen.
VI. KAI - Full Draw, or Waiting to Meet. This is the state in which you wait for the arrow to release itself. You must remove all attachment to hitting the target, dispel all doubt and seek a perfect balance of mind, body and technique (sanmi ittai). It is important to check here that you are properly squared and extended, and that your energies are focussed and at a maximum. The bowstring should now be nearly touching the chest (munatsuru), and the mato sighted through the middle of the nigiri. Try to point your thumb at the mato. The pressure of the weapon is now on the top base of the thumb, not in the 'V'. Reconfirm and adjust your posture by (1) yokosen – fully stretching the arms, shoulders and chest horizontally, giving the workload to the shoulders and balancing the tension between the root of the left thumb (tsunomi) and the right elbow as if dividing your chest; and by (2) tattesen – confirming sanju jumonji (the soles of the feet, the hips and the shoulders aligned one above the other and perpendicular to the vertical line of the neck and spine). These two efforts, called tsumeai, continue until all the slack in the body is taken up and there are no weak areas. this is also known as 'checking the five perpendiculars (gobu no tsume): weapon and arrow, weapon and left hand, string and thumb, pectoral girdle and centerline of chest, and neck and arrow. After tsumeai comes nobiai, the final building of the kiai from within a condition of calmness (heijoshin) until release becomes inevitable at hikano yazuka (stability of mind and fulfillment of spiritual energy ripening). During kai, the breath remains in the tanden or 'escapes through the skin'. Kai should last at least eight seconds.
VII. HANARE -The Moment of Release. Hanare must come naturally, like a dewdrop falling from a leaf tip. It is the expansion of kiai from the tanden into the chest, opening it up left and right. The body should be given a final expansion vertically and horizontally, and when the power settled in the tanden is at about 80% (yagoro) , slacken slightly the grip of the left hand (according to some senseis only; others say the grip must continue to tighten) and release the string with the right by gradually turning the right hand slightly clockwise and allowing the fingers to slip with a soft snapping action off the thumb, at the same time springing the left and right arms backwards in a final expansion and offset to the bowstring's torque. The right hand and forearm should spring back fully – the right thumb should now point directly away from the mato, while the left thumb points directly at it – and the weapon will rotate in the left hand (yugaeri); then the grip is firmed again to retain the weapon (retaining your grip with the little finger keeps the weapon from dropping, if the tenouchi has been slacked off at hanare).
VIII. ZANSHIN - Follow-through, or Remaining Form and Spirit. The shot is not yet completed. You must continue your focus on the arrow's course, keeping your posture with arms spread after yugaeri. Tatteyoko jumonji is firmly maintained and kiai kept actively within the body. When the arrow has met the target and you have considered your shot, you can proceed to YUDAOSHI, the relaxing step: Draw a calm and deep breath and relax both arms, carefully lowering them to the sides of the body and lowering the bow tip (urahazu) to the floor in front of you. Then turn your head to face front again, turn the weapon in the left hand to bring the string up against the outside of your forearm, and return both hands to the hips, elbows forward and body straight, the bow tip again 10 cm from the floor in front of you. Take a half-step with the right foot toward the center of the body, then bring the left foot to the right – in the position before ashibumi –, turn and bow to the target, and depart shai with dignity.