This is something I actually picked up from Tai Chi Chuan practice before I ever even picked up a bow.
The teacher was talking about breathing. We breathe with our bellies, not our chest or our shoulders. By doing so, we start to change how we feel our internal organs. Traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts alike have a lot to say about the workings of the internal organs. Perhaps there are a lot of unknown locked secrets in this study for practitioners of the bow to discover.
Anyway, on this day in Tai Chi Chuan we were working on breathing, specifically on expanding our bellies when we breathe. But while expanding our bellies, can we notice how our other organs also expand and contract? In fact, can we try and focus on expanding and working those individual organs along with our bellies?
The teacher then told us to specifically focus on our kidneys. He went on to tell us why the kidneys are so important in our body. I don’t remember much of the specifics, but maybe a couple basic ideas found on wikipedia can spark some thoughts:
“According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney (Chinese: 腎: shèn) refers to either of the two viscera located on the small of the back, one either side of the spine. As distinct from the Western medical definition of kidneys, the TCM concept is more a way of describing a set of interrelated parts than an anatomical organ. In TCM the kidneys are associated with “the gate of Vitality” or “Ming Men”. … The kidney is the organ of water and fire, the abode of yin and yang, the sea of essence, and it determines life and death.
“The kidney’s primary function is storing and controlling ‘essence’, or jing. Jing is the essence of qi and the basis for body matter and functional activities. … The function of jing is to promote growth, development and reproduction, provide the basis for kidney qi, produce marrow[disambiguation needed], and provide the basis for jing, qi and shen (mind).
“All of the four kidney energy aspects are essential in growth and development. These four aspects include kidney jing (essence), kidney yin (water), kidney yang (fire) and kidney qi. All of the body’s functions rely on the heat provided by kidney qi and the gate of life (the space between the left and right kidneys). Kidney jing is the foundation of the yin and yang of all the body’s organs. Kidney yin and yang are the primordial yin and yang, and the root of yin and yang to the zang organs. Kidney yin moistens and nourishes, while kidney yang provides warmth and promotes organs and tissue. kidney yang is the dynamic force necessary to start the system of balancing water metabolism, which also employs the spleen, lung, liver and san jiao.”
(Quotes found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidney_%28Chinese_medicine%29)
Miraculously I remembered that particular training session where we talked about breathing with our kidneys while I was working on my breathing in kyudo.
With my current kyudo teacher we’ve been talking a lot about the breath lately. Basically, if we can successfully expand our bellies and breath throughout the release, then we will not yurumu (let up the taut pressure we establish) at the release. By not yurumu-ing, then we can shoot a strong and straight arrow which successfully utilizes nobiai, expansion in our form.
My teacher tells me to expand my belly all throughout the hassetsu (eight stages of shooting we go through when shooting an arrow) regardless of exhale or inhale. At each stage our belly and internal organs expand a little more, and a little more, all the way until after we release the arrow.
Doing so is difficult, and I felt like I was running out of room in the belly on the front of my body. I felt like I was taking energy out of other parts of my form by only focusing on this. So then I tried to remember expanding with my latissimus dorsi, (lats) expanding those muscles in my sides, and I could feel my breath filling them. So I had my belly expanding in front of me, my lats to the sides, and then I finally remembered those little organs in the small of my back, the kidneys.
Then I remembered what I learned 8 years ago in that Tai Chi Chuan class and started focusing on my expanding my kidneys with my breathing which produced fantastic results. It felt like turning my form from 2d to 3d. No longer am I expanding just to the front, but on all sides. I felt my tatesen (vertical line) rise up taut and straight, and the tension in my upper body sink down through my torso, my legs, and into the ground. This stabilized my arms in the full draw, allowed me to breath slower and more steadily, hold my full draw for longer, kept me from blinking at the release, and sent the arrow straight into the target.
So give it a try!
This is really sparking my interest in the connections between the ideas of Traditional Chinese medicine and the practice of kyudo. Anybody have any other ideas?