Various injuries can occur in the practice of kyudo and every archer needs to take care in order to deal with them in the event of their occurence. Though I’ve spent the greater portion of my life seeped in physical activities that may bring about injuries, I’ve personally had a difficult time dealing with the various injuries that have come up in kyudo. When should you push on through the pain? When should you take a proper rest? Why do these injuries occur? Kyudo may seem to be a harmless art, but if you misuse your body and equipment, injuries will definitely plague your practice and well-being. Here I hope to talk about a few which may help others avoid or overcome injuries better.
The first occurence of pain I felt in kyudo was the string slapping my forearm during the release.
This occured early on for me, maybe a couple months after I started. It’s not the most serious of injuries, but it’s a surge of hot pain everytime you shoot, and after repeated slappings one will definitely reconsider their starting of kyudo! Well, it’s no reason to quit kyudo, or even take a break. When this happened to me my sensei took a piece of paper and slid it under my long sleeve shirt to guard against the pain should it happen. If I didn’t have long sleeves, then I used a sweatband around my forearm to help. With that I could continue kyudo without worrying about the pain.
But we also must understand why the string slaps our arm and fix it, because it’s not normal with proper technique. The slapping can occur due to two things:
One is straightening your arm so the inside of your elbow is facing up and directly in the way of the string’s path.
Instead of this, one needs to rotate their elbow out. Not only does this prevent the string slapping your arm, but is paramount to successful technique shooting a straight and strong arrow.
This is a minor injury that can be overcome quickly and doesn’t require taking time away from kyudo. Figure out why the problem exists, and find a guard to protect yourself until it’s gone, and quickly get rid of the guard.
Next I’ll talk about the string slapping your face, in which there are two different kinds of. I don’t have any pictures of my beautiful face for the blog, so the words will have to suffice.
Face slapping injury #1: Pre-releasing of the string from the glove.
This is pure kyudo hell.
If you’ve read my blog over the past couple years, you will already be familiar with this as it was a horrible plague that occured in my training over a period of time. It first started after I passed my ikkyu test, maybe 5 or 6 months after I initially started. In it’s first horrible stage it lasted for about two weeks. After that I began to understand the problem better and it’s occurence decreased, yet it was months that the string still periodically slipped out and slapped me. Eventually I got better and it didn’t happen, but just a couple months ago it happened a few times.
So anyway, what happens is that somewhere during the draw, the string will slip out of it’s small nook in your glove and pre-release, most likely slapping you behind your ear or above your eye socket. The pain is severe, the shock, well … shocking, and it’s the embarrassment crippling.
After this happens, one develops an intuitive fear of the string and will start making bad habits to avoid the string, like not drawing far enough, or drawing the bow in front of you and then bringing it close to you, or relaxing in the release, all of which are detrimental to kyudo technique and must be avoided.
So why does this happen?
Essentially because the string slips out of the glove.
That’s it. It’s not because you’re a horrible person, you suck too-much, or you’re not meant to practice kyudo. Absolutley not at all. I thought of all of these things when this happened, but all it is is a matter of technique. Understand why, and it won’t happen, and you can continue on.
So, why does the string slip out? Probably because you’re turning your hand out instead of keeping the roof of your hand parralel with the sky.
During the draw, one must be careful to maintain proper posture of their hand in order to avoid this injury and find greater technique.
One thing that greatly affects this holding the bow in far enough in front of you in the early stages of yugamae and uchiokoshi. If you don’t hold the bow enough far in front of you in the first prepatory stage, and also in the raising of the bow, the string will be more likely to pre-release.
This can also happen because your fingers just slip out of place releasing the string. This is less likely to hit your face because you’ll realize it just as it happens and naturally get your face out of the way. But this is still not good and must be prevented, first by making sure you keep your fingers locked in the position so that the string does not release, and also …
be sure to use enough giriko (powder applied to the place where your fingers close on your thumb). I used to just apply it once before a practice session, but was recently instructed to apply it once every ten arrows. The string may not pre-release, but if you don’t apply enough of the powder, your fingers will naturally prevent the pre-release by inserting tension in your fingers, your arm, your shoulder, and your technique as a whole, which is not good.
Face slapping injury #2: Get your face out of the way.
This occured with me after dealing with “face slapping injury #1”, and was strange because I thought it was the same as “face slapping injury #1”, but it’s not.
This is when the string doesn’t pre-release, but slightly slaps the side of your face above the eye-socket during the release. It’s not as painful as the aforementioned injury, but is not pleasant, and if you don’t fix the problem in the technique, you will develop bad habits.
First of all this can happen because you’re not turning your head far enough. You should ideally turn your head so that it is directly facing the target. If you do it properly you may be able to see the line of your neck standing vertically straight. If you do not do it properly, it will malform your technique, and most likely get in the way of the string.
This can also happen, as it did for me mainly, because one is not pushing enough with their left hand that holds the bow. You must “win against the bow” which means … well, it’s kind of hard to put into words … it’s like you need to push through the bow through the release. If you do this successfully the string will follow a path that will not hit your face, and it will shoot the arrow straight and strong.
So how do you “win against the bow”?
There’s a lot to this, more than I know I think, but as far as I know considering this injury, the tip is at your thumb. Your thumb needs to be straight and shoot forward against your middle finger towards the target and slightly to the left. (Something I’m really bad at.)
In order to get this your hand must be vertically straight, and not lazily diagonally forward. (I’m also really bad at that which is why I can’t effectively use my thumb.)
In order to get your hand right, it needs to be one long bar with the rest of your arm and you need to relax the tension in your hand. (I’m super horrible at that.)
In order to make your arm one straight bar, you need to turn your elbow out (as shown in the issue of the string slapping your arm). In this way you can shoot the arrow straight instead of having your arm tweak out in strange directions due to strain under the pressure (I used to be bad at, but am understanding and improving now).
In order to do this you need to twist your shoulder out and forward. (Very difficult to put in words and awkward at first, but I’m getting better at this.)
In order to do this you need to relax your shoulders and not raise them up when you raise the bow in uchiokoshi or move in the 2/3 draw daisan. (I’m getting better at.)
All of this originates in your core, and goes to your shoulder, to your elbow, and eventually to your hand which affects whether or not your face will get slapped in “face slapping #2”.
In conclusion for the string slapping the face, it is a horrible pain to experience, but one that should be solved quickly and swiftly with proper technique. Get a teacher to help you, don’t fear the pain, because you can get over it, because you can be an excellent archer. Taking time off will give your mind chances to weave elaborate webs of fear and, hate. Don’t mind that stuff, just get it done.
There are more painful injuries to feel in kyudo! But this is enough for now. With more time and patience I’ll return to these dark painful valleys of training so that we can all get to higher ground.