Budo/Martial Arts · Kyudo · Nobiai

Blogging Blues and the Greatest Sickness in Kyudo

The Greatest Sickness in Kyudo.

The Greatest Sickness in Kyudo is not a small technical difficulty like putting your elbow here, or your hand here, our your shoulder here, releasing too early (hayake), or not hitting the target.

The Greatest Sickness in Kyudo is “wanting to hit the target.”

If you’re at all familiar with kyudo, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this. You probably heard it and thought, “Wow. That’s amazing. It’s all about the spirit and actually has nothing to do with the target.” perhaps along with lots of other mystical thoughts.

Then you probably thought, “That is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard. What the hell is the point of shooting a bow and arrow then? All I’m doing is shooting at a target!”

Then maybe you start really trying to figure out how to hit the target and find a whole lot of cool techniques. Eventually you may realize that a lot of those little techniques are dependent on the form and structure of our body, “shizentai” (“natural body”), “kihontai” (“fundamental structure”), and the “tateyoko juumonji” (“horizontal and vertical crosses”) and find that the greatest skill is in found in the basics.

Then maybe you start to look around. You may see those with decades of experience and skills who are struggling to hit the target, and then you may see those with little experience shooting a wonderful arrow. How does this make sense? Aren’t we supposed to be getting “better” at hitting the target? “I’ve put all this time and effort into this tradition, why am I not hitting the target?”

There are lots of pitfalls and sicknesses in kyudo like putting your elbow here, or your hand here, our your shoulder here, releasing too early (hayake), or not hitting the target, but do you know why neither of these is the Greatest Sickness in Kyudo?

That is because “trying to hit the target” lies at the root of all of them.

Most technical skills are difficult but can be learned easily with focus and time. Most people who have done kyudo for long enough have learned enough skills, but it’s when we start just “trying to hit the target” that we lose faith in our practice and abilities and start cheating. “If I move my hand like this I’ll hit the target.” “If I push right here at the last second I’ll hit the target.”

There is a reason why kyudo mostly just counts “hits” and “misses” instead of points. That’s because when we release the arrow we either “hit” or “miss” ourselves.

Is that a little too abstract and wishy washy? I totally understand. How about this …

The biggest enemy of kyudo is “yurumu”, which is when we let up on the expansion and tautness we’ve made with proper form and stop at the release which usually sends the arrow in a different direction than we want (in the center). This means the biggest challenge is having a clean “hanare” (“release”) made from infinite expansion within ourselves (physically, mentally, spiritually).

We either “yurumu” or we don’t. We either expand or we don’t. We either hit or we don’t.

THIS is what is so difficult about kyudo, because no matter how long you’ve practiced, and no matter how many skills you have, expanding with proper form throughout the release takes all of your concentration and technical ability and all of your spirit throughout the entirety of shooting an arrow.

I hope this has somewhat helped our understanding of kyudo and why “trying to hit the target” is the Greatest Sickness in Kyudo. It seemed very clear to me when I first sat down here, but I feel like I’ve missed the mark a bit. There’s a million different ways you can go about it, and if hitting the target is really important to you and it’s fun, then I don’t see why that’s such a bad thing. Every time I stand at the mark I aim to hit the target, but you know what? If that’s all it was about then I probably would’ve stopped a long time ago. Perhaps there are a lot of you who feel the same.

Who else would read some obscure blog like this about kyudo?!

Ah, blogging. Some of my happiest moments have been at adding words to this high technology forum, and yet posts have been rare and will probably get even more so. I’m tempted to just close it all down to give me a peace of mind to not worry about it, but I love writing like this so much, it’s something that will never go away. I’m afraid for now there are just other things demanding at my time that have more serious repercussions, and so that is where I must be.

A wise man recently said, “A man can only do so much.” (Thanks Rick!)

So I’d like to take a moment to praise all bloggers, or writers for that much who find a way to continue putting their voice and art into the world, regardless of all the other calling demons. You’re awesome! And a world without the writing of intelligent and inspired words would … well … be one of dark caves and flashing screens. Both of which scare me to death.

Well, dark caves sound pretty cool …

but flashing screens? They’ll be the death of nature, art, and humans.

Who knows when our next meeting may occur, but I wish you luck on your path. Onward and upward, wherever that may be.

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3 thoughts on “Blogging Blues and the Greatest Sickness in Kyudo

  1. The Great Sickness in many martial arts is the next rank, or any rank at all. The next largest one is “fighting ability,” “martial effectiveness.”

    One of the reasons that I’ve been applying myself to the Cheng Man Ching version of Tai Chi Chuan (Zheng ManQing) is that is minimalist and pretty far removed from being overtly martial. That is, it’s a celebration of moving in a certain way for the sake of moving that way.

    French, who is shooting arrows around Okasa somewhere, recently posted a translation of a sign he saw at a kyudo dojo at a Zen temple:

    “We have no Dans; we shoot only to develop ourselves.”

  2. Great article. I certainly agree with most of it. I have to say I think the best line was the last, “Not all exercises are hard in themselves, but doing them properly is hard.” What could be more complicated than shooting a bow and arrow? Anybody can pick up a bow and shoot and arrow with their hands … but doing it “properly” is a feat I wonder if any single kyudoka on the planet can say they can do. I was teaching one of my kyudo teachers the English phrase, “It’s not `practice makes perfect’, but `perfect practice makes perfect.`” He seemed to think that was a pretty good phrase for kyudo, too. Thanks for the link!

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