Hanare - Release · Kai - the Full Draw · Kyudo · Tenouchi - the Grip

Understanding the Bow

In order to understand how best to shoot the bow one should understand how the bow works.

So let’s take a look at the kind of bow we use in kyudo.

The bow is much shorter below the grip than that above.This is perhaps the biggest most influential difference between traditional Japanese archery and other forms of archery.

The smaller lower half means that the bottom is stronger and takes more force upon draw and release.

This means that when the bow is shot, the bottom naturally flies forward faster than the top.

When shooting, this can make the top tip of the bow fly back a bit, because it is “losing” to the bottom of the bow. If this happens, then our tenouchi, grip, may reflect this and our hand will tip up and back. This will make the arrow fly upwards and reduce our tsunomi. Tsunomi is difficult to translate, but we can understand it by looking at the tenmonsuji, which is the vertical line in the inside of our hands that the outside left corner of the bow should adhere to. As we turn the bow in our hands, that line, tenmonsuji, remains in contact with our hand creating tension which is released at the release. If that tenmonsuji line can be protected from beginning throughout the finish, then we have good tsunomi. When we have good tsunomi, the bow shoots straight and the arrow shoots straight.

The crease in the middle of the hand is the tenmonsuji.
The crease in the middle of the hand is the tenmonsuji.

So back to what I was saying, if we let that stronger lower part of the bow go uncontrolled, our hands will naturally shoot up and back at the release, crumbling the tenmonsuji, not allowing for tsunomi, and the arrow will be shot inaccurately.

Hand shooting upwards and backwards as it "loses" to the stronger bottom half of the bow.
Hand shooting upwards and backwards as it “loses” to the stronger bottom half of the bow.

To counteract this we must protect our tenouchi, grip, and tsunomi, here I guess I’ll call rotating power of the bow. This is one of my biggest issues now in shooting. I’ve been working on trying to fix this for a while but no matter what my hand flies back. The problem isn’t being fixed so lately I’ve been focusing only on this aspect of my shooting. 100% effort into focusing my hand down and forward to fight against the natural reaction to fly up and back. With my utmost effort, I can feel it slightly improving, by it’s still just small step by small step. If you watch any videos of skilled kyudo archers, take a look at the release and notice how the tenouchi seems to shoot down a little bit. This is to fight against the lower half of the bow. The end result is the arm and hand shooting out straight towards the target.

She might not have perfect form, but you can see her tenouchi bent downwards against the force of the bow which is what I haven't been doing enough of. Great picture found at: http://www.kyudokaipanama.com/definicion-kyudo/
She might not have perfect form, but you can see her tenouchi bent downwards against the force of the bow which is what I haven’t been doing enough of. Great picture found at: http://www.kyudokaipanama.com/definicion-kyudo/

Perhaps one reason why mastering the tenouchi, grip, can be so difficult can also be found in the mechanics of the bow.

During the release both ends, top and bottom, fly forward. However, during the release the grip of the bow shoots backwards into our hands. Thus, we accept the whole of the force of the bow into that small delicate frame of our left hand. When I was first told this I was surprised, and kind of comforted to understand that the reason why I’m having so much trouble with the tenouchi is because all of the fricken force is being slammed into it at the release!

The top tip of the bow shooting forward at the release. (Picture can be found at: http://bernardkyo.pixnet.net/blog/post/1508781-%E7%82%BA%E4%BD%95%E5%BC%A6%E5%9C%A8%E3%80%8C%E9%9B%A2%E3%82%8C%EF%BC%88%E3%81%AF%E3%81%AA%E3%82%8C%EF%BC%9Bhanare%EF%BC%89%E3%80%8D%E5%BE%8C%E4%B8%8D%E6%9C%83%E6%89%93)
The top tip of the bow shooting forward at the release. (Picture can be found at: http://bernardkyo.pixnet.net/blog/post/1508781-%E7%82%BA%E4%BD%95%E5%BC%A6%E5%9C%A8%E3%80%8C%E9%9B%A2%E3%82%8C%EF%BC%88%E3%81%AF%E3%81%AA%E3%82%8C%EF%BC%9Bhanare%EF%BC%89%E3%80%8D%E5%BE%8C%E4%B8%8D%E6%9C%83%E6%89%93)

Ahhh. OK. So now we can start to understand everything else a little better too.

This is why we must push not just with our hands, but with our elbows, and shoulders, arms as a whole, chest, stomach, feet, and the earth itself. We try to channel the force of the bow effectively throughout our bodies down into the ground, and so must not put extra tension into our hands.

Our hand holds the bow in a shape best to push the bow with our whole bodies. We extend beyond the bow with our thumb(which is why we need to keep it straight), and extend beyond the release, forcing our tenouchi down and forward against the bow so that it does not naturally jam the force into our arms by making our hands shoot up and back.

If you are one like me who has this ugly habit of our hands flying up, then probably your whole left arm tilts up a bit as well, while our right arm tilts down in the release. Our arms may be straight like they are supposed to, but they are tilted diagonally, which doesn’t allow for the arrow to be shot straight.

But this is what happens, due to the stronger lower half of the bow.

In order to prevent against our dropping right hands and arms, we must be understanding of the stronger lower half. If we ignore this fact, our arms will naturally drop in the full draw, and then drop further in the release, which is no good. Perhaps we can hold our arms out straight in the full draw, but drop it in the release because we also release our attention at that last fatal moment. Instead, we must focus on slightly pulling upwards, twisting our shoulders towards our backs, spiraling our elbow outwards, and lifting our elbows to counteract the force of the bow which wants to send our elbows down. If we can focus our energy out and up in our elbows, then perhaps we can have our arms fly out straight at the release into the zanshin posture as they should.

About as straight and level as you can find. I hope I can shoot like this one day. Wonderful picture foudn at: https://kyudoakv.wordpress.com/
About as straight and level as you can find. I hope I can shoot like this one day. Wonderful picture foudn at: https://kyudoakv.wordpress.com/

In order to counteract the stronger lower half of the bow, we must:

-direct our tenouchi, grip, forward and down throughout the release.

-direct our right elbow spiraling outwards to the side, hineri, while also lifting the elbow throughout the release.

I emphasize the throughout because no matter how well you set up your shot, if you don’t have good follow through, the arrow won’t shoot straight and your final stance, zanshin, will be ugly and reflect your shot.

So there you go, understanding the bow to better understanding shooting.

Did you learn anything?

After three years of training I heard about this for the first time the other day.

Now I’m beginning to understand.

Now maybe I can shoot straight, and have a straight zanshin.

Have you or have you not ever heard of this? Let me know!

And good luck.

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