Let me ask you a question:
Are you really pulling a full draw?
This is an important question and largely the focus of the seminar I attended a while ago.
One of the biggest pitfalls one can find in their hikiwake (drawing the bow) as they lower the bow into kai (the full draw) is pulling the string part way, and then just lowering their hand on top of their shoulders.
This is one easy way that beginners are often taught, which may help them in the beginning stages, but holding on to such images will keep one from being able to fully extend into their full draw.
Instead of this, one must continue to pull outwards to the side instead of just lowering the bow in that last part of the draw. This will change your form completely, finally utilizing the back of the right shoulder and back, lessening the angle of our arms and our elbows, relaxing our hands, and allowing for a natural release. This will also allow our joints to release allowing energy to flow throughout our body.
I remember a couple years ago when I fell into a trap in my shooting and every single one of my arrows landed in the dirt low and far in front of the target. The same hanshi teacher who was leading this seminar told me at that time that of course that’s where the arrow was going, because I wasn’t engaging the full draw. Instead, I didn’t engage the back of my right shoulder and back and had my right hand and elbow hang loosely in front of me. At that point, all I can do is release the tension built up in my hand sending a weak arrow.
Pulling the draw to the full extent will allow for proper form of tsumeai, allow your hand to relax, and strengthen one’s tsunomi in the tenouchi of their left hand.
Doing so may also help those who tend to bend their wrist and pull with their wrist creating a big circle between their shoulder, elbow and wrist.
One potential pitfall I find in trying to do the full draw is drawing too far, pulling your elbow down or to your back, which is to be avoided. In this case one needs to make sure their elbow is extending out to the side (not down or to the back), relax one’s hand, and get someone to check they’re doing so. One can imagine their elbow being pulled to another target behind them which is on the same line as the real target they’re shooting at.
One more potential pitfall I see is putting extra stress in our hand to hold on to the string as we pull further. Instead of this, we must train to effectively hold the string so it won’t slip out pre-maturely (a huge problem I used to have), and then trust with our whole hearts that it won’t (still a bit of an issue lurking beyond my conscious mind).
So let’s take a look at the steps of the hikiwake.
DISCLAIMER: Again, this is my experience and what is going on for me in my form now. Perhaps I do some good things, some bad things, and am totally leaving out other things I haven’t noticed yet. If my words seem to help, use them. If not, throw them away.
We raise the bow in uchiokoshi. Relax our hands, especially our right hand in the kake glove. Keep the image of our left tenouchi being unmovable from our elbow to our fingertips, focusing on slightly squeezing our thumbs and pinky fingers together.
Slide into daisan, our left hand moving slightly before our right until the target is around the outside of our left shoulder. Lift your right elbow up so that your elbow and hand are almost level, show your armpit to the viewers, show the top of your kake to the ceiling, and RELAX YOUR RIGHT HAND! YOU DON’T NEED IT! All you do with the right hand is keep the string in the grove of your kake.
Now begin the draw, the target sliding down your left arm which is unmovable from your elbow to the tips of your fingers. The right hand pulls outwards by the elbow, imagining pulling the butt of your arrow that is knocked onto the string outwards towards your elbow. Pull with your elbow outwards slowly lowering the string outwards. Relax your hand. Then at that point when the string is around the level of your eye and want to just lower the string like an elevator, DON’T, and continue to pull outwards that extra bit which will engage the backs of your right shoulder and back. This is hard and takes focus. One can look in a mirror while doing so to check.
In the full draw the string is clearly touching your check so that it makes an imprint on your cheek, this is setting your aim and locking in. RELAX YOUR HAND, pull with your elbow and back, stand tall with your feet spiraling outwards, the backs of your legs pulled taut, physically expanding your belly with a slow outward breath. For me pulling to the full extent puts a really nice slight hineru (twisting inward of the wrist).
Look at the center of the target.
Imagine your whole arm from the elbow to the fingertips as your tenouchi.
Expand from your belly and feet.
Rest assured the arrow will fly straight cause you’ve created some beautiful tsumeai tension.
Expand. Expand. Expand from the chest.
It’s that easy.
Haha. Not quite maybe. There are a myriad of other things going on that I didn’t mention, partly because of time, partly because of forgetfulness, partly because I simply don’t know, and simply because the whole universe acts on planes we cannot possibly fathom with our calculating minds.
Onward and upward.