The tenouchi I’m speaking of refers to our grip on the bow, and here I will talk about two points vital to its effective use.
First, is keeping the bottom of our hand in contact with the bow.
Second, is closing the gap between the base of the thumb and the tip of the middle finger.
These are two things I’ve been told since the very beginning. My teacher in Toyama told me this when I first gripped the bow. However, I didn’t follow those instructions very well. I’ve continually been told I need to utilize these two points more since I’ve come to Nakatsu, however my progress has been glacial, probably because I haven’t been focusing on it very much. It’s only until I went to a koushuukai (seminar) a couple of weeks ago that I have realized how important these two factors are.
If I’m not utilizing these two points, my tenouchi is tiny and random.
So here I’d like to make clear the importance of these two factors, at least as far as I understand them at this point.
Point number one:
Keeping the bottom of our hands in contact with the bow.
I’d like you to try something.
Open your hand.
Now touch the tip of your thumb to the the tip of your pinky.
This is what we should be doing with our grip, we make the space between our thumbs and pinkies small.
So do this again and look at it.
Where are you looking?
The tips of your fingers?
That’s the only thing I’ve seen until now. I’ve been shown this exercise, looked at my fingers, and trusted the idea that “yes, we must close our hands so our pinkies are close to our thumbs.”
While doing this exercise, look at the meat of your hand.
See those two fat pads of meat? The one supporting the base of your thumb and the other on the bottom side of your hand? This is what we’re using to push the bow. We close our pinkies and our thumbs so that we can support the bow with these strong squishy fibers.
Until now, I’ve only focused on the thumb-side, which is important, but without the bottom half, it leaves the bottom unhinged, like a door.
Our tenouchi works just like hinges on a door.
The bow turns in our hand like a door, and our hand acts as the hinges on the door which allow it to open and close straight. We need both hinges, which are the top and bottom points of the hand. If you only use one, the door will be connected, but will fly out in many directions. If this is the bow, then the arrow will be released in random directions with every shot.
We must make efforts to solidify each hinge of our tenouchi, each side of our hand, so that the arrow is shot straight.
Now, the bow doesn’t start to twist in our hands until be begin hikiwake (drawing the bow), specifically when moving into the stage of daisan (two-thirds draw). But this is far too late to start thinking about the tenouchi. It all starts in yugamae (readying the bow posture) where we set our grip on the bow. It is here we must make solid contact with the bottoms of our hand and the bow.
It may be difficult without extra videos and pictures, but let’s try to go through this with words.
Until now I’ve focused on pushing the bow out, stretching taut the backs of my shoulders and triceps, but I’ve been doing it too much. At the seminar a while back, the teacher saw me in the yugamae stance and pushed against my bow. I pushed back, trying to show that I was pushing out enough, but she shook her head and said that’s not what I should be doing. Instead, my arms should be soft. If she pushes, they should bend inwards and react. Our arms must be soft. We should put a tautness into the backs of our shoulders and triceps, but that doesn’t mean locking our arms in concrete defiance.
So I must bend my arms more, making more of a circle with my torso, arms, and bow. In this position I need to bend my wrist so the bottom meat of my hand is sufficiently in contact with the bow. This is hard for me.
After I’ve set this up, all it is is keeping my mind on the bottom of my hand.
I shouldn’t be straining anything. It’s still awkward at this point and requires a lot of effort, but throughout the release, all I need to do is focus on keeping contact between the bottom of my hand and the bow.
What helps this is understanding that I do this in order to push the bow with the meat of my hand instead of my fingers.
If I successfully do this, my shot already improves greatly.
But it’s still lacking without the next step:
Closing the gap between the tip of the middle finger and the base of the thumb.
This has been another huge issue for me. I feel like I’ve tried every form of tenouchi without managing to close this gap. I’ve avoided this for some reason all this time like it was the plague. “Yeah, I know I’m not closing the gap, but what if I do this instead?”
Take a look at any great archer that hits the target. I’ve looked at hundreds with respect to this issue, and every single one of them effectively closes this gap. They may not have the best right hands or releases, but they close this crucial gap in the hand, and consistently hit the target.
It’s a shape, and has a picture: we should close the gap and at the full draw have that gap be about 3 to 5 milimeters, depending on the size and workings of our hands and bows. I’ve seen some people close the gap completely. Mine is more like 10 milimeters. It has a shape, but recently I’ve been thinking it’s more like a direction.
For me, my lack of closing this gap ends up in me stopping in the full draw instead of continuing the expansion through the shot. By doing this, I yurumu, let up on the valuable pressure I’ve made until then right at the moment of the release. It’s insane. We focus everything on expansion (nobiai) and yet at that last moment I let it all go. What a waste. What nothing.
Perhaps this law of the 3 to 5 milimeter distance is less about that static distance than the actual closing of the gap, making the idea a motion instead of a shape.
So what I’ve been doing lately is not worrying about this until the full draw (for better or worse). When I get to the full draw I remember to close the distance, and do my best to do so. I’m not exactly sure what kind of distance is actually being closed because I can’t see it (hence the value of having a video taken) but the feeling is that my thumb is constantly trying to push towards the target. If I can sucessfully do this through the release, I don’t yurumu and instead only push towards the target, my thumb carries out a great follow through, and my hand closes like it should at the release instead of opening. This sends the arrow with a much stronger and faster flight (yatobi) and my release with the right hand miraculously becomes sharper and straight.
If I can successfully combine this with the bottom of my hand staying in contact with the bow, then my fist stands perfectly straight in the draw, and moves just to the left as it should in the release, sending the arrow straight.
With these two steps the ratio of hits goes through the roof, and consistency is a realized fact. Even if I screw up other things in my form, if I can successfully pull of these two points, I’ll still hit the target more than not.
This is why people always say “Atari wa tenouchi”, hitting the target is in the tenouchi.
Perhaps I should have made my disclaimer at the beginning of this article, but I’m not exactly sure this is all exactly how it’s supposed to be. Undoubtedly I’m still making mistakes dependent upon misunderstandings. This is what I understand now, and all I can do to advance to the next stage of understanding.
But isn’t that all we can ever do?
I urge you to trust yourselves, your teachers, and what you feel so as to continue the search for better understanding.
At the same time I urge you never trust any one piece of technique, teacher, or advice completely, because it’s probably incomplete.
How could we possibly communicate “completeness”, let alone clearly understand it?
The principles can be explained in eternity,
but the perfect shot can only be felt in that moment.
Good luck to us all.