Kyudo Revolutions: Goodbye “You have to…”

Last weekend I went to a koushuukai (seminar) in Oita City.

During that time, I received vast amounts of technical wisdom. In the next post I will quickly jot down the big points I took note of, and later on I hope to go over a few of those points in further detail.

I also sat in the strenuous seiza and kiza postures longer than ever before, setting new records of how many times I can lose feeling in my feet in a single day.

But more importantly, a giant revolution has occurred in my own personal kyudo world.

I think I used to think that perhaps the most difficult time in one’s kyudo career would be during nidan (second level) or sandan (third level) because you’re over the initial excitement of starting the bow, and seek to ingrain the basic techniques while finding a way to get acquainted with the target and start to hit consistently. I used to think that after that, around yondan (fourth level) you have got the basics down really well, hit consistently, and can explore new things inside of yourself comfortably.

I guess that’s fairly accurate to some extent … but what I didn’t expect where the supreme lows that accompany the constant climb. The reality of the human experience inside.

I don’t know how many days I have found something special that helps my form and said, “Yes! How could I ever forget this? I will never drop below this level again!” And yet I find myself again and again in utter desolation and completely lost. How can I pick myself back up?

As I gain more experience with the bow, I should be getting more comfortable with myself, learning to teach myself how to do all of the things we need to do for elevated shooting, and yet I still find myself torn away from myself by outside forces. When can I finally find “my technique”?

Utter frustration. Chaos inside. Scraping the scars and wounds. Amid the war zone I have completely fallen apart.

Now in the quiet, I am calmly picking up the pieces.

You know what I see?

It’s all good.

There are no problems.

Only acceptance.


By learning new technique I have come to judge all of the shootings I see. What is good? What is bad? This is natural isn’t it? I would say, yes, this is how humans navigate the world and learn. But there is some difference between a helpful analysis to benefit technique, and judgements of others. Blindly mimicking a few around me, I have come to be a very grave judge, and it has turned my world grey.

Black bad. White good. Grey the ashy reality.

Where has all the color gone?

This technique, that technique. Hitting, not hitting. Disappointment, vanity.

Fuck this.


(Enter giant apocalyptic red skies and fiery asteroids and dinosaur screams.)

No more will I cast my judgement on others.

And more importantly,

no more will I be the victim of others’ judgements.

We can choose to be slaves to the desire to be better than everyone else inside, vainly swaying with the judgements of others.

Or, we can choose to claim our existence, grab the bow and shoot with our whole selves proclaiming, “This is me, for better or worse! This is my life, my existence! This is my shot!”

Is this too abstract?

Let’s get more specific then, back to the seminar and all.

Two short hours of the day were spent having the two main teachers of the seminar looking at our shooting at the target. The dojo was split into two sections, one for each teacher. We lined up at one section and shot to have one teacher watch us, and then go to the other side to have the other teacher look at us.

I went to the first one and shot one arrow while the teacher guided my form. Some things were good, some were bad. I didn’t hit. He watched the other person lined up as I knocked the next arrow. Then he watched me one more time with more guidance, gave me a hint, I hit, and then moved on.

I went to the next teacher, shot with his guidance and missed low. I shot one more arrow with more guidance and went low again. “Low again, huh? I wonder why?” and then I went on my way.

Do you get it?

It may sound boring. But I got helpful pointers, which will plant seeds in future solo practice.

That’s all I need.

No one is standing in front of me pounding on my right hand until I get it perfect. No one is saying, “Why can’t you just do it right?!” No one saying, “Oh my god this is perfect! You are the greatest.”

We can evaluate particular specific points in our shooting, but underneath that are gargantuan dark spaces with great effects on our performance. Just because we fix one tiny thing on the outside doesn’t mean everything changes. And just because you want to expose the vast dark landscapes within, doesn’t mean you can. So we work slowly on small chiselings on the outside, and one day big changes will occur.

After this section, all of the godans (fifth level) archers practiced a special form of shooting called mochi-mato-sharei (持的射礼). It is longer than the normal formal sitting form and the movements are a bit different.

The godans separated into two groups to do the form at the same time, having one teacher watch a specific group.

The sitting area was at the front of the dojo, so most everyone naturally watched the group that was closest, which was being watched by the senior instructor. In the back was the other group watched by the other teacher.

It was very interesting to see these both done at the same time.

The main teacher in front of us watched the form. He rarely spoke, giving only slight advice here and there quietly to individuals … very sparingly. But he didn’t correct everything, and didn’t comment on the people’s shooting form. The result was a great deep silence. Everyone watching the group of four shoot. There was a great nervous tension, and various small mistakes were made. When they weren’t commented on, one could see the particular archer feel the embarrassment, but move on regardless. While shooting, everyone could see everyone’s from, for better or worse, hitting or not. One girl even broke into silent tears during the form. I’m not sure exactly why, I think she was embarrassed at mistakes and her shooting. The teacher said something small and encouraging, but for the most part it was great silence, and her tears fell before everyone. The effect was incredibly emotional. Very profound. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t judged. Everyone went to shoot, did their best, and finished safely. The result is a beautiful imperfect ceremony. From this experience the archers will gain confidence at their great feat, while also learn to teach themselves self-correcting their own mistakes. Of course they will also continue to get advice here and there from the outside.

The other group was very different. The teacher commented on all the small details he saw, with the ceremony as well as the shooting form itself. This is also good, and I think the people got lots of good technical advice, but I think I liked the other version better.

Profound art created by individual artists who wield the bow.

This is what I like.

This is how I want to shoot.

Shoot how you want, not how you have to.



One thought on “Kyudo Revolutions: Goodbye “You have to…”

  1. Excellent, post and lesson(s). There are many out there ( who visit a certain place I will leave un-named) who need to learn about being non-Judgemental about another’s shooting, even more so when they themselves are not the Sensei. Ganbrarimasho!

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