So, in part one we defined taihai (all the movements we do in the shooting area that doesn’t involve shooting [though it’s also a part of shooting]), in part two we talked about how one needs to make a proper toriyumi shisei (basic posture of holding the bow and arrows while not shooting) in order to do proper taihai, and here I’ll talk about how we need to understand kihon no shisei (basic postures) and kihon no dousa (basic movements) before we can start putting them altogether into the specific movements of taihai.
So that’s basically what the kihon no shisei and kihon no dousa are, the building blocks that taihai are made from. If you can make a proper toriyumi posture, apply it to the basic postures and movements, then doing taihai is just remembering specific the series of moves.
I first learned about the kihon no shisei and kihon no dousa when I was studying for my nidan (second level) test. I was asking some sempai (archers with longer experience or higher rank) about what questions might come up in the written part of the exam. Someone said,
“Oh, don’t forget the kihon no shisei and kihon no dousa.”
“Eh? What’s that?”
“It’s in page 60 of the kyohon (kyudo manual), check it out.”
“OK … wait … what is this? How come I’ve never heard of this?”
“I had never heard of it either until the middle of the test. When it came up, most people were confused, and then we were allowed to look in the kyohon for answers and we found it on page 60.”
If you take a look on page 60 of the Japanese version of the kyohon (page 29 of the English version) you’ll find a chart. At the top will be kihontai (fundamental form) which then breaks off into two categories, kihon no shisei (basic postures) and kihon no dousa (basic movements).
The kihon no shisei (basic postures) are divided into four points:
2.) Sitting in a chair
3.) Formal sitting on the floor (seiza)
4.) Kiza and sonkyo (half-sitting on the heels and haunches)
The kihon no dousa (basic movements) are divided into eight points:
2.) Sitting down
4.) Turning from a standstill
5.) Turning while walking
6.) Turning while kneeling (hiraki ashi)
7.) Rei – Deep bowing (while sitting: zarei, while standing: ritsurei)
8.) Yu – Half bowing
I was surprised to find the chart and hadn’t remember seeing it before. No doubt this was due to my focus merely on the shooting techniques of kyudo. I probably glazed over this section, along with the maintenance of gear, proper clothing, and other various shooting form sections looking for the “real stuff”.
Who needs to learn how to sit in a chair or how to walk when they’re trying to shoot a bow and arrow?!
It’s funny how I found so many kyudo books boring because there’s so much talk about preparations to shooting and all the other stuff in kyudo that doesn’t have to do with shooting before I could finally get to the meat about actual shooting!
In fact I still often feel this way …
But these sections are there for a reason, and that reason is that it will directly affect your shooting and eventually separate those who just shoot a bow and arrow to hit the target and those who can use the bow to transcend many if not all other aspects of life.
So what is there to say here specifically about the kihon no dousa and kihon no shisei?
What one really needs to do is learn from a real life fleshy and bloody teacher.
After that one should read the kyohon (kyudo manual) because all the important details are outlined there.
So I’ll say again, what is there for me to say here without going into deep detail which will take a large number of pages and hours to communicate?
I’ll say that these basics are really freakin’ important, so be sure to listen when your teacher tells you about them, read about them in the kyohon, and be sure to practice them properly every single time you’re in the shooting area.
Honestly, most people don’t and it’s revealed in their shooting. The whole kyudo ordeal turns into tunnel-vision on the target where everything is dictated whether the person hits or not. So why even bother with the ceremony and clothing and old-fashioned technology of kyudo? One would be better off trying a different kind of archery in my opinion. But then you might as well just shoot a rifle, or how to push a button to blow a bomb, or get into a political military office where you can tell people to fire bombs, or maybe you should just meditate in the woods so you don’t have to worry about anything at all.
I’m getting off track and ranting a bit more than I wanted …
So what is so important about the kihon no shisei and kihon no dousa?
It makes all the complex combinations and rituals of taihai super simple. We may forget some of the small details of movement of taihai, but if we adhere to the rules of how to move our bodies and how to find the right postures then we’ll be just a small step away from the proper form.
We may forget the complex techniques of shooting, but if we can maintain the proper fundamental form, then we’ll be a lot closer to success and finding the answer which will allow us to shoot a straight arrow.
For example: walking.
Proper walking tells us to not show the bottoms of our feet as much as possible, so as to keep them physically connected to the ground as much as possible, which allows us to root our body weight into the ground and relax our upper body so as not to be top-heavy. By understanding this we can remember the importance of the bottom of our feet and our distribution of weight throughout the technical steps of our shooting. This also tells us a lot about smaller details like how we spread our feet apart in the ashibumi movement, as well as closing our feet together after we shoot before we start to leave the shooting area: we should do these specific movements while keeping the bottoms of our feet connected to the floor.
One more example: bowing.
While bowing we’re told to keep our back straight and bow with our chest, not with our head. By doing so we learn to maintain a proper straight stance which allows us to distribute our weight properly and relax, maximizing our ability to use our sinews and bones while shooting instead of our muscles which are much weaker and tire more easily. It also teaches us to conduct our body from the large pieces of mass like our hips/belly and chest. If we can remember to keep our chest spread apart and a center of empty power while we shoot, then we are successfully utilizing what is taught to us in proper bowing.
Last example: turning while walking.
When turning while walking we’re told to make a proper L-shape with our feet. We are also told to make that sliding step after we make the L much shorter than a regular step. This is so that we can maintain the proper count and timing while doing taihai with others. If we go to slow or take too big of a step in this process, then everyone’s timing gets confused and it also interrupts the flow and timing of the movements. It looks dumb. Do you want to look dumb? No. So we learn to turn while walking.
Putting our attention to such small details allows us to cultivate a sharp mind to further investigate the details in our shooting. Learning how to do do proper kihon no shisei and kihon no dousa teaches us the fundamental basics that lie underneath our shooting like proper weight distribution, breathing, focus of the eyes, and timing.
It’s all important. Not a wasted moment. Not a wasted space.
I don’t want to be a taihai nazi judging everyone by how much importance they put on taihai and the fundamental form. What are we shooting for anyway? No one has the right to judge another’s shooting as “right” or “wrong”. If we were all perfect robots turning in line maybe it wouldn’t be so interesting. I don’t know.
However, I do know one’s shooting ability and kyudo-ness can benefit greatly from attention to such details, so I urge us all to put the basics to work and elevate our kyudo to higher states.
Who knows what we’ll become with the help of such tools.
So where do we go from here?
I think I’ve finally got all the preambles out of the way so that I can finally start talking about the details of taihai, and yet I’m not sure where to go. Perhaps the rest of the posts on taihai will come at random later times instead of directly following these series of sequential posts. Time to get back into the woods and wander around. When I decide to climb a tree and let a letter fly to the winds again, you’ll be sure to find it here.
Onward and upward.