What is the purpose of taihai? You know, all of the movements incorporated into the art of kyudo like walking and standing and bowing that aren’t actually pulling the bow. The answer was hiding in front of my face the whole time and I didn’t even realize it. The purpose of taihai is the same as shooting:
Shin, Zen, Bi.
Shin (Truth): Taihai teaches us that everything we do affects the way we shoot, not just on a mental level, but in very direct and physical ways. The toriyumi position which we take when we are standing and holding the bow isn’t designed just to make us suffer or look funny, but because it teaches us to stretch our spines, lower our shoulders, breath with our bellies, and use our backs and the backs of our arms, all of which are important for actually shooting the bow. Aligning each movement with our breath teaches us to instinctively do the same with our shooting. The painful kiza sitting posture teaches us to use our legs, home to the largest muscles we use in shooting. By perfecting our taihai we are secretly, or to some others, obviously perfecting our shooting.
Zen (Goodness): Zen refers to the morals involved in shooting, and it is no different for taihai. Taihai gives us a form to shoot with others, specifically in ceremonies, tests, and tournaments. Without taihai we would just be randomly going up to the mark one at a time, and you know what? There is a better way. That better way is to shoot together. Sure, we are the only ones with our hands on our bow, and nobody can shoot our shot for us, or take away our hits, but thinking that we are shooting alone is ignoring everything else around us. Just ask anyone who has shot competitively in a team, together in a ceremony, or even taken a test. When I first started I thought about how to not let anyone else get in the way of my shooting. I suppose this is an important first step that allows us to focus on our shooting. However, in higher levels of testing your taihai is looked at just as much as your shooting, and if it looks like you’re forging on without considering the others you’re shooting with, then you will fail. I’ve participated in many tournaments, most of which part of a 3 member team, and I actually didn’t see how important teamwork was until I joined the prefectural tournament in a team of 5. Three of the other members I rarely trained with, and my shooting went to absolute crap the first few times I shot with them. After a few training sessions I finally got “used to them” (a general phrase for a lot of minute details), and I suppose “them to me” as well, and finally we could shoot together like a team. We use each others movements and presence to give us confidence and a tempo. When one isn’t shooting well, the others can pick up slack. When others are doing well, we can be encouraged to shoot better as well. So, taihai teaches us that we are not alone shooting, and better off because of it.
Bi (Beauty): Taihai done well looks good, perhaps even beautiful. Now preparing for the renshi test a teacher the other day told me, “You need to work on ‘hin.’ You can hit the target, but without ‘hin’ you won’t be able to progress.” “Hin” can be loosely translated as “quality”, or having a “presence.” It’s what makes you impressed by someone’s shooting, not just because they hit the target, but because there was something special in it. It’s not just about the “what” but the “how”, and that quality of “hin” is a kind of beauty. It’s almost like you can see the meaning of taihai when you finally see someone who is really good at it, and also really good at shooting. You can’t tell the difference between shooting and not shooting, or rather that the whole process of entering the shooting area is part of shooting. There are a lot of reasons to like kyudo. Some of which take time to understand, like an acquired taste. Yet, the quality of kyudo should be obvious within a single glance. That quality sensed by the eyes and body is beauty, and that beauty can be found in taihai.
So there you have it. For all those times you sat and thought, “Why are all these annoying moves and courtesies so important? I just want to shoot the bow!” Try to think about how the same goal for shooting “Shin, Zen, Bi” applies to your taihai. Maybe you’ll find some other answers of your own.