I often find myself in a kind of trance during my shootings … and I’m trying to wake up from it.
It usually happens when I’m shooting alone, or when I’m with only a few other people and not talking much. My eyes are half open and glazed, an hour passes without my knowledge, and I’m more inside the dark caverns of my body than anywhere else. It’s not necessarily something I command, and yet sometimes I decide to go inside.
Crawling into this meditative state is usually in a rejection of the outside. It usually happens when I’m not hitting the target, and can’t figure out what’s going on.
“Crap, why aren’t I hitting?”
“It must be my grip and not pushing enough with my thumb.”
“Nope, I’m putting too much pressure in my hand, I need to relax.”
“Damn, it must be my right hand, I’m gripping the string too hard again in the glove.”
“It’s my shoulders and back, I’m just using my hands to release the arrow. Need to use my shoulders and back.”
“Damn, it’s my breathing. I’m holding my breath and my draw is so short.”
“Fuck! I’m going inside…”
And so I stop caring about hitting the target. I don’t even care about looking at the target. I try to forget my hands, and I go deep inside of my core.
Down my throat to the vast darkness in my chest. I sink further into my gut and connect each motion with great waves of breathing from its bellows. I crawl down the backs of my legs down to the soles of my feet. The flats of my feet root softly into the ground, and I can feel 100% of their surface touching the ground.
OK, now we crawl back up. In the douzukuri stance where my form starts I make sure I am in my feet, flat and connected to the ground. I crawl up the backs of my legs to my giant air-filled belly. I crawl up the backs of my shoulder blades and the backs of my shoulders, pulled slightly so that my chest is wide and great. I sink my shoulders and stretch the back of my neck all the way to the topmost part of my head, slightly tilting my chin down.
Alright, now we can get started.
I make everything very slow, thick like mist, and locked in with each in and out breath. Tsuru shirabe, I look up and down the string, and then to the target, and then back. Automatic my hand grips the string, and the other fits its grip on the bow. Not much thinking, just moving with the quiet brains of my hands.
Back to my feet. Pulling my back. I look at the target and my hands start to raise in uchiokoshi. Remember my stomach, I stretch it out with a big outward breath, not letting it retreat. I remember my feet.
I slide into the two-thirds draw daisan and lower my shoulders, expand my belly further with the in and out breath made, and remember my feet flat on the ground.
Expanding my belly even further with this last in-breath, my hands fall, elbows pulled outwards into the full draw. It’s so slow, so even, it couldn’t possibly be calculated, only pushed out from the magic in my belly. My eyes close further. The target seems to be on the other side of a thick mist.
There in the full draw I breath so slow that its like mini bubbles rising from my nose under water … one … two … three …
expanding from the lats under my arms … four … five … six …
I may want to release, arms starting to lean, but I won’t, because I don’t give a damn what my body thinks it wants to do, I’m going to hold this kai full draw as long as I want and who cares if it hits the target or not.
more … more … seven … eight … ok …
Arrows one by one are released like this.
I think this unconscious meditation used to help me when I cared a lot about hitting the target. It helped me to forget the outcome and look inside to what is really happening. Today it still helps me to remember a lot of the core details that are necessary for all the smaller techniques that are used in our hands.
But there’s one big issue:
Hanare, the release.
It all seems to stop there, and so all the great setup I made in the previous steps is lost somewhere in the fog. At the release all of the tension is let up in my body, and the arrow is weak and random. I let up at the last moment (yurumu) and I have a weak zanshin (final stance with our arms wide open). There are a lot of demons in kyudo, but this may be one of the biggest. I need to wake up and shoot through the release, so that the arrow can fly straight.
When I’m lost I find myself wandering into this dark forest inside, and perhaps that’s good and necessary, but I need to wake up and get back into the open. I need to find that vast field beneath a bright blue sky sun where the arrow shoots straight into the center of the target.
So how do I wake up?
The other day my teacher came up to me and told me that I need to be mindful of my tenouchi grip and fix it, specifically by extending my thumb and keeping it connected to my middle finger, firmly grasped around the bow. At that moment I forgot all of the dark meditations and just thought about my grip. It worked like a spark, and everything changed. Back in the sun.
If I’m on my own I literally tell myself to “Wake up!” and escape this damned purgatory of kyudo dead to the outside world.
Sometimes I don’t remember to wake up and somehow snap out of it a little when I do my final zassha sitting form for the day.
It’s completely a state of mind. When I’m awake I’m aware of what’s happening around me. I’m conscious. I care. Most of all, I can see.
Perhaps the key to a couple of my worst habits lies in waking up. Sometimes I blink at the release, because I’m afraid of the string hitting the side of my head, because I am not using the core tsunomi principle in my grip, because I’m not expanding in the full draw, because my breathing is stopped, and so I let up at the last second losing all of the tension I’ve built up and shots become random.
I want to wake up, and see the arrow at the release all the way from my grip to the target.
This is improved hanare. This is proper kyudo.
But who’s to say my meditative misty woods are evil? I will continue to walk their trance inductive lanes, I’m sure. And I’ll even like it. But not without searching for the sun on the other side.
This is my current kyudo revolution.