For those that are looking for secret techniques, enjoy some time in the mist, and I bet you’ll find yourself right back to the beginning. But that’s great news, because you’ll find yourself at the greatest source of technique there is,
The longer I practice kyudo, the more appreciation I have for those who came together to make the first edition of the Kyudo Manual (Kyohon). Those teachers managed to compile a few fundamental ideas to encompass so much of the art into one modestly sized volume. To do effectively just what is written in that single volume, is well more than enough to consider yourself a master, in my humble opinion. But then again, it is more than just a few fundamental ideas, I suppose. And nature of actually putting those fundamentals to basics to action is so difficult that numerous texts have been printed since to further elaborate, and high level teachers and practitioners alike still debate over what exactly is the proper application.
But anyway, let’s talk about a couple of these basics, and attempt to do so very basically.
What is important when doing kyudo? What are the most important fundamental basics?
Well, what we’re doing when we are shooting are the Hassetsu, eight phases of shooting. We learn to do these in order, and that’s not so hard.
We learn about taihai. Those are all the movements other than actually shooting, like walking, sitting, standing, which are more appropriately called the Kihontai, Fundamental Form, which is comprised of the Kihon-no-Shisei, Basic Postures, and Kihon-no-Dosa, Basic Movements. We first practice them though they may feel separate from shooting, but eventually we learn that doing proper taihai and shooting are the same thing. Or if that’s too difficult to see, then we can say getting better at taihai will help us better hit the target.
We learn about nobiai (expansion), and that in order to have nobiai, we must have tsumeai.
Ah-ha, now we’re getting closer: tsumeai is basically the correct application of tateyoko-jumonji (tateyoko-jumonji no kiku), the Vertical and Horizontal Crosses.
The first set we learn about is the Sanjuu-Jumonji (the Three Crosses) (the red lines shown in the picture above) which are made up of (1) our center vertical line (imagine our spine extending to the center of the earth and to the highest point in space) and the horizontal line of our feet, (2) our center vertical line and the horizontal line of our hips, and then (3) our center vertical line and the horizontal line of our shoulders. I remember being tested on this for my shodan (1st) or nidan (2nd) test, which means you’re expected to know about it and be putting it into action at this level.
The idea is that if we protect the 90 degree angles of these three crosses throughout the entirety of our shooting, then we can have correct form, and thus be better able to shoot a straight arrow. Recently I thought a lot about this basic idea, and thought that if you just do this, then that should be enough. Well, you’re definitely on the right track if you can protect these three crosses … in fact, I don’t think I see all that many people putting it in action appropriately (I am suspect as well!), but there are still a lot of horrible ways to screw up your form even with good protection of these three crosses.
And that’s were the Gojuu-Jumonji (the Five Crosses) (the five small crosses in the picture above) come in, which are made up of (1) our center vertical line and the line of our shoulders, (2) the horizontal line of the arrow and the vertical line of our neck, (3) the vertical line of the bow and the horizontal line of the arrow, (4) the vertical line of the bow and the horizontal line of our tenouchi (left hand), and (5) the vertical line of the string and the horizontal line of the big thumb on our right hand that’s inside of the kake (glove). I remember being tested on this around yondan (4th) or godan (5th) test. These crosses are supposed to be made in the full draw, and of course used along with nobiai (expansion). This is what makes proper tsumeai.
To be honest, I remembered these 5 crosses because I had to, and have been conscious of them since, but have never realized how important they are until now.
Now I see,
that they are really fricken important.
That of the arrow and the neck, the shoulders and the spine, and the bow and the arrow I’m not too worried about right this second, but that leaves two others.
First of all is the really tricky one, the string and the thumb of the right hand. I mean, just take a look at it. It doesn’t even really look like a cross. And the vertical line of the string … it’s vertical only for what, a couple millimeters? And the thumb, do we really look at the thumb and if it’s straight or not? To be honest, I thought it was a really silly cross to think about, so I just ignored it or pretended like I was doing it right.
Well, I guess that’s alright if you have a nice hanare (release) that goes straight out to the side (making you like one giant cross in the zanshin stage). But for me, whose right hand seems to never ever go that way, I think I’ve found a big source of my problem in that cross.
So here, I admit. I do not do the Gojuu-Jumonji properly and have a highly compromised hanare.
“Admitting” is which level on the steps of recovery? I hope it’s one of the last, because I’m ready for this horrible hanare habit to be fixed.
So, anyway, in my humble, yet probably still confused opinion, the horizontal line of the thumb needs to be horizontal, and this cannot be done without a certain amount of hineri (a turning inward of the hand), but I really don’t like this term much because if we focus too much on turning our hands, we put a lot of pressure there in our hand when really hineri is better made with the proper form of the body. In other words, we should simply, not-change the angle of our hand from the daisan phase to the full draw. But no matter how hard I try to do this, I turn my hand out the other way (hirazuke), so I need to do something with my hand. Just forgetting about it and letting your form do the work like some teachers say just isn’t working for me. What that something I need to focus on I think is letting the kake be pulled by the string, and feeling the string throughout the entirety of the hikiwake drawing phase on my thumb, feeling the notch where the string is pulled by not at the base of my thumb where it looks it is on the glove but actually around the middle of our thumb where it bends (attn real thumb), and feel it through the release. What happens is a kind of loading of that cross so that when the hanare happens from our entire body, our hand will naturally move along that cross (along with our elbow and base of our shoulder), NOT us consciously moving our hands to make the release. So, what’s really important, is to feel that cross throughout the draw, and around the time of the release, remember that cross, and promise yourself that when you release, you’re only going to release along the line of that cross, only to the side. But you’re also going to promise yourself that the release will be made by proper tsumeai (form) and nobiai (expansion), and not just the isolated movement of consciously doing something with our hands to make a release.
I wonder if I’ll ever really be able to do this.
The next cross I’ve been thinking about lately is much more simple, I think. That is, the cross of our tenouchi (left hand) and the bow. The tenouchi (grip of our left hand on the bow) is certainly another complex monster to try and tame in the form, but in attempting to do so, I feel like we often get stuck on the inside, or more specifically the side where our fingers come together. That is really important, but try and take a look from the outside, at the back of our hands. Focus on our knuckles, and making them parallel with the arrow. Focus on pushing those knuckles straight into the target, particularly the knuckle of the first finger, and maybe … just maybe … our tenouchi grip will fit just a little better and move straight along the cross like it’s supposed to in the release, instead of moving up or down or right or left or whatever strange place it often goes. At the release you can also try watching the arrow fly, and match it with your fist. But then again we’re supposed to be looking at the target, not the smaller details of our hands. Hey, it won’t hurt once or twice, right? You might see something interesting.
I really thought this post was going to be short and sweet. Mostly I wanted to talk about those last two crosses in the Gojuu-Jumonji, but how can we get started without establishing the foundation of the basics?
Also, apologies for all the italics and bold fonts.
Onward and upward,
from solid foundations.