Budo/Martial Arts · Image Training · Kyudo · Tournaments

The Human and Animal Mind in Kyudo

The human and the animal mind. “Thinking” and “reacting.”

In kyudo there is a lot of talk about meaning and theory. The questions we ask are based upon a lot of “why”s and “how”s. “Why do we do this movement?” “How does this activity affect my life?” These types of questions are important to kyudo, and perhaps what separates it from other sports, and even some other martial arts.

However, talking only about these parts of kyudo can be very … taxing. For those who enjoy or feel like their practice is enhanced by these types of discussions, that’s great. But what can also happen is a great separation from these abstract ideas from the connection the archer makes with his bow and experience.

One example I often see of this, and feel myself, is when practicing “taihai”, the movements that lead up to the shooting during ceremonial forms like standing, walking, bowing, etc. Student A practices the taihai and shooting while Sensei B watches and critiques. If Sensei B is the kind of teacher who focuses a lot on the “thinking” side of kyudo and likes to talk a lot, then Student A will be stopped and reminded of every little mistake he makes while walking, bowing, sitting, etc. On the thinking side of this, this is a very good thing because each mistake is isolated, analyzed, and explained. If Student A is also a thinking type who enjoys this kind of analysis, then this can be a good experience. I personally enjoy this kind of practice from time to time, but you know what …

It can also be extremely frustrating.

This kind of talk and practice interrupts the mind, the body, and your shooting, and it can often just look like Sensei B correcting and Student A saying “hai” “hai” “hai.”

On the “thinking” side of all of this, this is one excellent way to progress in kyudo, but to do this all the time is a way to potentially separate the archer from their practice and destroy motivation.

At these times I think we need to return to the animal mind, the “reacting” mind.

Remember the first time you were impressed by kyudo, or just simply thought, “Wow, that’s cool!” Remember the first time you walked through a dojo and were simply entranced by the atmosphere? Do you remember a time when it just felt great to pull the bow and hit the target, even if you weren’t doing it perfect?

How about something that has nothing to do with kyudo at all? What inspires you? What gets your heart beating? Is it an action? An image? A conversation? A sound? I think our experience of life, or practice of the bow for that matter, grows by universes when we can unite the excitement felt by the “animal mind” and our actions. Here perhaps we can eliminate time and the tinkerings of the mind and just, “be.”

Back to kyudo specifics …

In our practice it’s great to think about everything we’re doing, analyze our movements, and make efforts to improve. We manipulate our beings with our analytic mind to improve our shooting. But, there are times, for example during tests and tournaments when we need to just shoot our best shot regardless of imperfect situations. Or perhaps we’re “in the zone” and just excited to be pulling the bow in that moment. This kind of shooting utilizes a holistic mind that feels and reacts, not just analyzes and thinks.

The “animal” “reacting” mind I’m talking about refers not to questions of “why” or “how”, but the more basic ones of “who”, “what”, “when”, “where.”

Imagine a person just starting out with the bow. Just telling the student about all of the simple “animal” mind questions is enough to overload the student. I imagine most people would lose patience and interest with the bow and decide it’s not worth their time if you added all of the “why”s and “how”s along with it. I don’t think everyone in the whole world needs to practice kyudo, but I know a lot of people could be unnecessarily turned away from the practice of kyudo because of the over-emphasis of abstract discussion over actual shooting.

By dissecting the world in two and neatly sweeping things into categories we are moving away from the Truth, but perhaps it can be a helpful mental exercise to figure out what’s going on with our practice, and what kind of equation is involved in our personal balance.

We are all different, and so it’s up to ourselves to find out what it is we really are.


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