It’s now less than a week until the godan shinsa (test).
So many thoughts, but keeping in theme with preparation for test, I’m gonna keep it brief.
Here’s the plan:
From now until the test, only kimono training, mostly only zassha (sitting form used in tests).
Nobody knows what will happen on test day. I can only expect something to be awry, and to be uncontrollably nervous. In that state I want my movements to be so deeply embedded in my mind and body that I will move only the way I should no matter what happens … so I will only do what I will be doing on the test day.
One other interesting thing my sensei told me in favor of only doing zassha before a test is that when doing zassha we have to reset our stance (ashibumi) every time we shoot. When we don’t do zassha, we only set our stance once before shooting 2 or 4 arrows. So, in order to get my ashibumi as best I can, and get myself used to setting it before every arrow, I will do zassha.
Another reason for only doing kimono training is that I hold the second arrow (otoya) slightly different in my pinky finger (using four fingered kake glove) when using a kimono, so in order not to be thrown off, I will only use the kimono.
Along with expecting to be nervous out of my mind, it is all the more reason to pull the bow with our bones and breath. If we shoot with our hands and muscles, the nervous tension will cause us to tense up and twitch under the pressure of our shooting and the test, all at the whims of our emotions. However, our bones and breath are immune to such pressure. If I pull with my breath and bones along the straight vertical and horizontal lines (tate-yoko-jumonji), no matter how nervous or crazy I feel, the nervousness won’t throw me off course. Instead, the nervousness can give me great energy to feed my technique with power instead of take away from it.
Every time I shoot I imagine a row of sensei in front of me judging my technique. I imagine everyone I care about watching only me. It’s hard, and stressful, but it should allow me to shoot under the same conditions that will happen in the test.
As for specifics, I’ve tried thinking about nothing and just “going and shooting as big as I can”, but my mind is too free and has no focus. I’ve tried thinking about everything, and it’s so much I have no balance. So now I’ve found the few key elements in my shooting at this stage to focus on, and hopefully it will allow me to shoot the best two arrows I possibly can.
-Set the ashibumi, feet slightly spiraling outwards, shooting my belly button to the sky in front of me and fully engaging the backs of my legs, shooting up my spine making my dozukuri straight.
Breathe with my belly. Fill it. Fill it up full of energy, as it expands so does myself in the vertical and horizontal lines (tate-yoko-jumonji) throughout my whole form.
Relax the tenouchi with the right points in contact. If it is set, there is no way I will will miss because the arrow is on target and will be shot through the perfect form of my hand.
Expand with the right arm, from the neck, only moving outwards. No stopping, expand, expand, expand … DON … my hand only goes to right where its supposed to in zanshin.
Look at the center of the target the whole time.
8 second kai (full draw).
In the release expand from my chest.
I shoot with my bones and breath so that nothing can take me off balance.
I only do what I am going to do.
I watch quietly everything that happens.
Tomorrow I will go to a sacred mountain in the area (Mt. Futago in the Kunisaki Peninsula). Away from the world, into the wild. I will give my prayers to the gods and do my best. I’ve been trying to climb this mountain for so long. Every time something has come up, but now the path has opened to me tomorrow with the right time and weather. Nothing is random. This is my pilgrimage, my quest.
A few more days of training, and then it will be time to take a stance and let the arrows fly.
Who knows where they may land?
The path of kyudo is the path to truth.
To shoot a straight arrow, is all we’re really doing.