This is Part III of a series of posts called, “Hanshi Teachings” about things I’ve learned from the hanshi level teacher in my dojo.
It seems what the hanshi sensei has been really trying to do in teaching me techniques is to get me to relax parts of my body that I don’t need to use. He’s trying to get me to get rid of unecessary tension. In my tenouchi, grip on the bow, he told me to relax my middle and ring fingers. He did this by telling me to relax those fingers, but by also having me divert my focus elsewhere like into keeping my thumb straight. This next teaching is remarkably similar. In order for me to relax my hands, and shoulders, and myriad other places in my body, the hanshi sensei told me to focus on the backs of my shoulders.
Focus on the backs of the shoulders. All the way from the very beginning to the very end.
It starts in douzukuri, the position called “the making of the chest”. As we hold on to the bow with our left hand stretched before us with the bow’s tip on our knee, and our right arm cuved with our glove on our hip bone, we just put our minds in the backs of our shoulders.
Then it really starts in yugamae, our beginning shooting stance where we hold the bow and string in both hands and begin the movements of shooting. In this posture we push the bow away from ourselves while flaring our elbows out a bit. But that focus isn’t just about pushing the bow away from us or flaring our elbows out as much as it is about igniting the backs of our shoulders, making good hariai, stretched tension, and opening the space in our armpits.
We start to raise the bow in front of us in uchiokoshi, the raising of the bow, scooping the bow in front of us while maintaining good tension on the backs of our shoulders.
We move into daisan, two-thirds draw posture while maintaining the tension and stretching in the back of our shoulders. By focusing on this we take out unecessary focus in our hands and subconsciously keep from raising our main shoulder muscles or putting unecessary tension in them. Daisan is a lot of technique tends to go awry. It’s a place of great transition, which leaves a lot of room for losing the positive tension we’ve created up until then. We must retain the great tension we’ve made while moving through daisan. We can achieve this by focusing on the back of our shoulders instead of all the other little places we get distracted by.
Then we move into the last phases of the draw, hikiwake. Here we draw the bow with the backs of our shoulders. Not our hands, but with our bodies. Our hands merely maintain the shape they created in daisan. It’s not so easy because we must maintain those shapes under the increasing pressure of the bow, of course while relaxing our hands. But all of that is not as important as the backs of the shoulders. We are talking about the backs of the shoulders. We push the bow and string apart with the backs of our shoulders, which creates great tension in our form while allowing the front of our shoulders to remain dropped as they should, and we push only out to the sides evenly.
Kai, the full draw. Here we push apart the backs of our shoulders from our center. By doing this we connect the line of our shoulders as one and keep from putting unecessary tension in other parts of our body. Not in the hands, not in the target, not in the face … just in the backs of our shoulders. Relax your hands. We are not shooting with our hands. We are shooting with our shoulders. Keep extending … shoulders … not hands … extending … extending …
Hanare, the release. The release comes from our centers, and effortlessly through our hands because … we were focusing on the backs of the shoulders. Each shoulder is pushed outwards to the opposing targets, the one you shoot at and the other one that lies directly beyond your right elbow. Outwards from the center, directly to the sides, not up or down or behind or in front, both arms move directly to the sides from the great tension made in our shoulders.
Because of this our zanshin, remaining form, is beautiful, with our arms extending out like we are on the cross.
Working with the hanshi, he walked me through the modes of shooting, touching the backs of my shoulders, and telling me to think only of them. It improved my techniqueimmediately. Instead of the arrows falling under and in front of the target they flew straight, a little above and to the left of the target. I wasn’t hitting immediately, but I began cultivating the ground for more advanced seeds of technique that would bring me to the center of the target.
This teaching happened about a year ago. Since then I’ve forgotten and remembered and forgotten. Recent tournaments have made me feel like my technique has gotten really … complicated. I’ve got so many little things on my mind and that I can’t do anything at all.
So it’s time to get back to the core. Back to simple. Work from the shoulders. Listen to the advice handed down from the highest mountain.
Lately I’ve been working on a cool image to help.
I pretend that the backs of my shoulders are steel plates of armor. They do not bend or break or become compromised at all. The are strong and unmoving, and if I have anything in my technique I can depend on, it’s the strength of structure in my the backs of my shoulders.
Give it a try.
I have, and it’s felt great.
But then the backs of the shoulders aren’t everything … there are other important things to remember. I’d say one thing that can be missed by focusing only on the backs of the shoulders is the tatesen, vertical line of our spine we should extend along. Another is hineri, the twisting of our shoulders.
But those must wait for other posts.
Stay tuned for my last post in the series of “Hanshi Teachings”.