Budo/Martial Arts · Kyudo

Falling Down

Got in a bear fight and lost.

That fight was the godan shinsa the other day,

and the bear was myself.

It’s funny, when we go to these tests, as long as we conquer ourselves, we win. There’s no opponent, no one messing with you, nothing more than what we practice every single time in the dojo, and yet its such a challenge.

Personally, I was super nervous, but not in a bad way. My taihai was normal and smooth. Even when it came time for me to shoot, I grabbed the bow, raised it up in uchiokoshi, went into the daisan posture, pulled out instead of down with my right hand like I’ve been practicing while softly pushing my hand out to the left not putting excess tension in my hand, all the while pushing out with my breath … but somewhere in the hikiwake in mid-pull of the draw, something went wrong. I think I stopped my breathing, inserting excess tension into my hands. From there my mind is pulled from the target to the problems in my body. I tried to expand with my breathing, but by then I had already put too much tension into my hands, raising my center of gravity. I’ve been working on holding the full draw for 8 seconds, but around 3 or 4 I released with my hands and the arrow went under. I tried to fix it on my next shot, but the exact same thing happened.

And with that there is no chance of passing a godan test.

Filled with anger and frustration, there is nothing to do. Accept this moment. Find out what was amiss. Relax. Decide new plans. Move again, onward and upwards.

This is a great experience in life, feel it!

It’s a scar.

A great big scar across my kyudo body.

I’ve never failed a kyudo test until now, which makes me very lucky in the broad sense of things, I think. Maybe this loss was necessary, to give me the experience of failure. I’ve had time to think about all of this, and I’m happy with this new scar. I will have it until the end, and it will separate me from others and give me deeper colors. This is my kyudo.

But you know what? We’re all in this together.

I don’t think there’s anyone without scars going for their godan test.

Everyone has either failed or has fought against adversity. Nobody is perfect and just stands up there shooting two perfect arrows and walks away receiving a godan. Everyone has some bad habits they must fight against. Everyone has been knocked down, and have only come this far because they were strong enough to stand up and shoot again. Everyone has scars here. It’s a matter of accepting and fighting against our walls that we can overcome them.

We all go through similar trials: studying for the written test, working on all the small unnatural details of taihai (formal movements that don’t have to do only with shooting the bow and arrow), shooting our best two shots under the pressure of all the judges and spectators, traveling long distances, paying the money necessary for the test and our practice, putting in the time for training every week, doing our best while also trying to make sense of what our teachers say, doing this all while keeping up our day job, doing our duties to our friends and families, supporting other interests and hobbies.

I am still a little guy, but I promise you I will be stronger the next time round.

Specifically, June in Miyazaki.

I’ve had so much mental trash getting in the way of my shooting. Thinking about timelines and passing tests and things far far in the future. Thinking about the best way to do all of this. Stressing over certain faults. Expectations. Requirements. I definitely put a great amount of effort for this test, and now I see we can’t just pile up all these preparations and expect it all to just do itself when the day comes. In that final moment … rather … every single moment, connected together with our breath, we must be present and focused and expanding at every moment, all through the motions to the end. Perhaps I worried and tried too hard in all the wrong spots. I think it’s rather allocating our energy to the right spots at the right times.

I realize the beauty now of the questions asked of those during the written portion of the test, vital places that tell us where to put our energy:

-What is heijoushin (relaxed spirit)?

-Write about how “shasoku-jinsei” (shooting is life) is related to your life?

-Explain how important nobiai (expansion) and tsumeai (proper structure) are in reference to kai (the full draw).

-Write about ikiai (breathing) in kyudo.

There are many more, but these specific four are special to me because they aren’t a full part of my kyudo right now. These are the points I must address in the following months before the next test. If I can do these properly, then I can earn a godan with pride.

Until then, there are lots of exciting things to happen. The big tournament in my home dojo of Nakatsu, another cool tournament in a heki ryu dojo in Kita Kyushu (Matoba), the yosen (trial tournaments to see how will participate) for the Oita prefectural tournament, and then this week …

Miyakonojo Tournament! It’s a huge tournament in arguably the most famous place where they make bamboo bows, Miyakonojo City in Miyazaki Prefecture. It will be my first time and I hear it’s quite the experience. Lots of people, maybe 1,000 (?), and so I expect it to be similar to the Nishi Nihon (Western Japan) tournaments they hold annually in Kyushu with about that many people.

Excited to drive down with dojo mates, drink lots, shoot my heart out, and try not to think about how much money all this costs.

Party on.

The journey never stops.

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2 thoughts on “Falling Down

  1. Hi. Good post. I’m the last person to judge you, I get the same problems as you, maybe even worse. Please don’t take my comment as a judgement, I’m trying to help 🙂

    From reading this post (and your other posts) it seems that you’re ambitious about passing tests, that you try your best to achieve next grade. Shouldn’t you be doing your best to make a perfect shot and live the experience and zanshin of a perfect shot? That would be a goal worth more than some grades.
    Also if you take a big step back, you were doing this test for the first time in your life. Brand new experience, something unique that will never happen again in your life. And instead of enjoying every moment of it, you got: nervous, disappointed and angry in the end. You were judging the experience instead of living it, you had expectations, feelings, opinions… Maybe just breathe, be 100% alive and in the moment, and enjoy the present reality second after second, no past or future, no other people, just that moment that is burning out in front of you, and that is amazing, great and unique once in a lifetime experience that only you can have. Why judge it? Why be mad about it? Analyse it after, when you are done and can think with cool head, but drop all of it when you step in for your shot. Switch off thinking, rely on feeling and intuition and just go with the flow of this ancient art guided by the rhythm of breathing. And enjoy it more 😉
    But what do I know, I hope you won’t take my comment the wrong way, I’m only sharing my thoughts.

    1. That’s all any of this is! Sharing our thoughts, and great ones are yours. Thank you very much for the comments and thoughts. I agree with you completely. As for a reply, I feel very different things when I think abstractly about kyudo, and when I take a look at what is happening with my body and spirit in the experience. My thoughts are very much similar to what you say, and my feelings are very much to what I say. I think the one thing I didn’t expect about this art was the power of our effort, and the beauty of us putting our complete spirit and faith into our shooting. Perhaps if I could let go of all outside aspirations and focus only on the moment itself, then I could shoot the perfect shot, achieve the dan as a side effect, and maybe dissipate into perfect zen void …. or maybe I wanted to fail the test… maybe I wanted to feel the anger. Maybe that is enjoying the art for me. Maybe not. I don’t know. In fact, that is all I feel that I know … is that I don’t. Thank you again kindly for your thoughts.

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