The waist, the stomach, and the shoulders.
This is a kind of spin-off I’m making on the three crosses (sanju-juumonji). The three crosses are considered one of the most important basic theories in shooting which brings attention to the importance of the three crosses made by the horizontal line of our feet, hips, and shoulders with the vertical line of our spine. By protecting the balance and squareness of these three crosses, we can enable our body to shoot the bow with proper technique instead of muscle imbalance.
“You imitate the movements well, but nothing is going on inside.”
These are words that have haunted me for over half a year. Spoken by my very first kyudo teacher after years of being away, I have been driven ever since to find out what exactly is going on in our body while we shoot. In the past half year I have found three different things going on internally that have greatly affected my shooting and I’d like to list them here.
1.) The Waist
One important aspect to the stance in kyudo (ashibumi), is that we don’t just stand there static, but are constantly turning our feet outwards while standing. We may seem motionless standing at the mark, but what’s going on on the inside is the feeling of that outward turning (right foot clockwise, left foot counter-clockwise). This is something I’ve been trying to work on lately and asked a teacher at the local dojo about. She surprised me completely and said one way to think about it is in the feet, but another is in the waist, or more specifically, the pelvis. Imagine the two bones that stick out of the front of your pelvis moving in outward directions. This is of course impossible to make our pelvis turn outwards in different directions, but by trying to do so we engage our buttocks and thighs (the largest muscles in our bodies!) to turn outwards, and magically our feet follow. She humbly said it’s a difference in words, but that the affect is the same. For me, this allowed me to go from playing with my feet, to fully engaging my lower body which also helps to straighten my spine helping my vertical line (tatesen).
2.) The Stomach (“Tanden”)
In kyudo we’re told to breathe by filling up our bellies. When I first heard this, I thought about it and thought it was a great mental image, but I was surprised to find out that this is a very real thing that happens in our body and is easy to feel by the touch. This is actually something I learned a long time ago, and thought I was doing well, until a teacher came up to me and pushed against my tanden (spot about three inches below the belly button which is what I really mean by “stomach”) while I was shooting. “Expand your stomach!” they said. I thought I was, until I tried harder and physically stuck my stomach out by expanding my tanden with my breath, successfully pushing against their touch. This is a mysterious technique concerning a part of the body I’m not well aware of, but by successfully expanding my stomach with my breath my center of gravity sinks, taking the tension out of my upper body thus giving me better balance, allows my spine to stretch further, allows me to spend more time in the full draw, and I can feel a heightened sense of concentration.
3.) The Shoulders
I believe this has been the biggest flaw in my shooting until now. I’ve been careless about letting my shoulders raise, which forces me to use the muscles in my arms to shoot instead of my form. My center of gravity is raised, and all the good tautness that is supposed to be made by proper form (tsumeai) becomes loose. That looseness under the pressure of the bow forces our body to shrink as we “lose” against the bow. This condition in the stage of the full draw forces our body to shrink instead of expand like we’re supposed to, and so we end up letting up all of the pressure and follow-through that allows an arrow to be shot straight (the phenomenon of “yurumu”, a kyudo-ka’s worst enemy). In order to prevent all of this we must focus on sinking our shoulders as much as possible. This starts in our basic stance before even shooting at all in the “toriyumi” posture. This needs to continue while we walk, sit, wait, stand, and begin the eight stages of shooting going all the way from ashibumi to hanare, and well after as we close our feet and walk away from the mark.
And so there we have it, the Three Columns of shooting. By focusing on these three internal facets of shooting, just maybe we can start making the transition from merely imitating the movements, to successfully using our entire bodies to shoot the bow. If we can stop at each stage of our movements and shooting to check these three columns, I think we can make a great way at cultivating better form as well as a clearer mind.
If it helps you shoot a straight arrow, then something good is happening.
If it doesn’t help you shoot a straight arrow, then the answer to finding out how to do so must be hiding elsewhere.