Here I am going to talk about the phase of daisan (the “two-thirds draw” shown in the picture above). Specifically, I’m going to speak on how raising our elbows while moving into the daisan phase will help us shoot a straight arrow using the proper posture of our bodies instead of just the timing of our hands.
Wow, it feels like a long time since I’ve talked about specific techniques. In fact I think I’d rather ramble on about philosophical ideas concerning kyudo, but recently when I come to the computer they all turn to mush, and I run out of time before I can make sense of anything. So, here I’m just going to start talking about technique, and maybe something philosophical will come out. Perhaps that’s a special characteristic of kyudo’s expression of philosophy and art: we start out just shooting an arrow at a target, and then it becomes so much more.
the daisan phase.
Does that sound strange?
Naturally I want to call daisan a “posture”, but I think that gives us the impression that daisan is a place that which we stop. To the eyes of the observer it looks like the archer has stopped, and since we move our right hand forward moving into daisan, and then move our right hand back, one could easily say we have stopped in daisan in order to move back. But then again, does our right arm really move along the same path it made when moving into daisan? After looking it closely, I would argue that we don’t move along the same line. Also, I would say it’s interesting to note that daisan is not one of the official hassetsu (eight stages of shooting), and instead, included in hikiwake (drawing apart the bow) which in my mind means one movement, not disparate movements. Because of this, I like to think of daisan as a fluid movement that is a part of drawing the bow, instead of one static stage amid shooting.
So, can we finally start talking about lifting our elbows in daisan?
No! Bear with me one idea more, because without it, lifting our elbows in daisan will distort our form.
First, we must protect our natural posture (shizentai), or rather, our dozukuri (form of our torso). People often talk about “protecting their dozukuri” throughout their form, only to change it part way. This is not good. I’d say the easiest place for our dozukuri to come apart in transition moving through daisan. So what about our dozukuri gets disturbed when moving into daisan? A lot, but here I’m just going to talk about our shoulders, and in the end a little about our hips. It’s easy to raise our shoulders when moving into daisan, but this is going to collapse the form of our dozukuri. Dozukuri is important because it allows us to follow the form of tsumeai. Tsumeai is a difficult term to put into English, but it’s about the connection made between our bones throughout the form of shooting. If we raise our shoulders throughout the form we create a lot of space between our upper arms and torso where they connect, so that when we pull the bow a lot of the pressure is put into our muscles and tendons, instead of our bone structure and correct posture that sends the pressure through our bodies and into the ground. (One of the big reasons why I think I injured my right shoulder is because I didn’t follow the form of tsumeai). This is what tsumeai is about, putting the pressure of the bow through the proper connections of our bones and transferring them into the ground. Dozukuri is about holding our body so that tsumeai can be utilized.
So, we must be careful to not raise our shoulders throughout the form. We must focus on this before we really do anything when we first make our dozukuri, and make sure to lift the bow above our heads in uchiokoshi without raising our shoulders by focusing on sinking our shoulders and trapezius muscles down and back while scooping the bow far in front of us with our elbows.
Now that we’ve raised the bow in uchiokoshi, keeping our shoulders down, and move into the daisan phase. We do this by raising our elbows straight up, almost like we’re doing uchiokoshi one more time.
What happens when we do so? Our shoulders sink further, tightening the connections of tsumeai in our shoulders. This means that when we continue to draw the bow, we can do so not with our hands, but with our entire bodies, utilizing proper form and tsumeai (connections of our bones), transferring the weight of the bow into the ground.
Try not lifting your elbows when moving into daisan with your empty hands in the air, or even try lowering your elbows a little bit … then draw the imaginary bow. Do you feel your shoulders rise? Do you also feel your hands tense? I do. If we do this, the only way we can release the arrow is with a disconnected release of our hands. This will add a lot of potential areas to disturb the straight path of the arrow. If we’re good with our timing, or just lucky, that arrow will hit the target.
Now try and lift your elbows when moving into daisan. Then when drawing the imaginary bow, just think about sinking and spreading the bow apart with your shoulders. Do you feel the stability of your torso? Do you forget you have hands completely? I do. If we do this, we can successfully shoot the bow with our entire bodies, utilizing infinite expansion (nobiai) and inviting a natural release (hanare) which will send the arrow straight to where you aim. If you aim straight, then this is the essence of “one hundred shots, one hundred hits.”
If this feels good to you, please give it a try. If it feels like crap and you think I’m a fool, then just forget it and try something else. There’s more than one way to skin a chicken. I like the way this way feels and trust the teacher who told me about this. I’ve heard other teachers say other things, but their way just hasn’t worked with me. Maybe other teachers say different things but mean the same thing.
If you happen to like this way and want to give it a try, there’s a few things you might want to be careful of. I’ve spent about half a year trying this, only to find myself fumbling into a couple weird bad habits in the process, but I feel like I’m starting to get it, even though it’s still not perfect.
Be careful to:
-Lift your elbows up. I was thinking about this but lifting my elbows diagonally up in front of me which made my daisan really wide, and right hand far away from my head which screwed up a lot of things when I tried to draw the bow. Look at yourself in the mirror to make sure that your right hand is about one or two fist-widths away from your head in daisan and your upper arm (from shoulder to elbow) is almost standing straight up.
-Don’t lift your left elbow up too much. I was doing this along with the previous comment which made the tip of my arrow aim up. Make sure to bring your elbow not too far, just above your left toes, and not higher than your right elbow.
-Don’t get too crazy about not lifting your right shoulder. No matter what, your right shoulder will appear to raise a little. This is natural and can be allowed. I’ve heard some teachers say it doesn’t matter if you lift your right shoulder and will do so a lot, but I don’t like that because I feel like it disrupts the tsumeai and dozukuri of my form. Focus on sinking it down, but don’t freak out if it looks like it’s raised up a little higher than your left shoulder.
-Don’t stick your butt out in the process. Lifting our elbows will help the connection in our shoulders and take a lot of pressure out, but it doesn’t do any good if it just gets stuck in our hips. You can help prevent sticking your butt out by pushing your belly button forward and focusing on turning the backs of your knees inwards while pushing off the floor with the area around the balls of your feet.
That’s it! What do you do in daisan? How does this feel? Feel free to comment your thoughts. We don’t shoot alone. The more the merrier.