This is Part VI in a series about two very important texts in the kyudo world: the “Raiki-Shagi” and the “Shaho-Kun.” This series is based on information gleaned from the book “Michi no Yumi” (“道の弓”) written by Iwao Matsui Sensei.
It is basically understood that the Raiki-Shagi is talking about the moral side of kyudo, while the Shaho-Kun talks about technique. While this is very generally accurate, and a good way to begin one’s understanding about the texts, it’s not entirely true. In fact, there are much deeper meanings hidden in the words that reflect kyudo’s long history which has been influenced by philosophies and religions such as Confucianism and Buddhism over centuries. Here I’d like to talk about the latter part of the Shaho-Kun, specifically the last two lines which are the subject of much mystery and debate.
I’ll blow the big secret right here though, about what it seems that all of this is all about. The mental side, the spiritual side, and the technical side are all the same thing. The parts in the Shaho-Kun and the Raiki-Shagi that we think are talking about technique are also talking about the mental and spiritual aspects, and the parts we think they’re just talking about the mental aspects are also talking about the technical aspects. How we think is how we shoot the bow, how we shoot the bow is how we think. Taihai (movements other than actual shooting like walking, standing, sitting, etc) are not separate from shooting, they’re not even “just as important as shooting,” they are shooting. This is why the bow is a tool to cultivate the self, why the bow has been revered as a sacred item in religions around the world (especially that of Japan), and why people were judged by their shooting for jobs in government office in ancient China.
If you don’t believe me now, you might change your mind after reading this post.
So, let’s get on with it!
Here I’d like to make a big disclaimer. The topics discussed in the book “Michi no Yumi” are the results of a massive amount of research and expert writing done by the author, Matsui Sensei, and my writing here is just a tiny little impression made by tiny little me. My level of Japanese is not enough to completely comprehend all of the book, and my lack of knowledge in Confucianism, Buddhism, and philosophies of ancient India makes this all even more difficult to understand. Furthermore, at the time of writing I am only a 5 dan Renshi in kyudo, which is enough to make me incredibly interested about the topics talked about in this book, but I am only just beginning this journey, and my lack of experience reflects this. In this post I hope to shed some light on some ideas that are not often explained in my experience in the kyudo world, and thought it might be interesting to some of the readers. But in no way are my explanations complete or the final word, and in no way are my words official translations of Matsui Sensei’s writing. I deeply apologize of there are any misunderstandings or if I have tread ground that should have been left alone. I only hope that this information can spark further discussion and thought on these two important texts.
In case you haven’t noticed, this would be a good time to get your favorite blog reading drink and take the clock of the wall, because this might take more than 30 seconds to read.
Let’s take a look at the Shaho-Kun in its entirety. I’ve taken the English version from the English version of the Kyudo Manual, translated by Liam O’Brien Sensei, and the Japanese version from the Japanese Kyudo Manual.
Principles of Shooting by Master Junsei Yoshimi
The way is not with the bow, but with the bone, which is of the greatest importance in shooting.
Placing Spirit (Kokoro) in the centre of the whole body, with two-thirds of the Yunde (left arm) push the string, and with one-third of the Mete (right arm) pull the bow. Spirit settled, this becomes harmonious unity.
From the centre line of the chest, divide the left and right equally into release.
It is written, that the collision of iron and stone will release sudden sparks; and thus there is the golden body, shining white, and the half moon positioned in the west.
Today, here I’d like to talk about the last part of the Shaho-Kun: “It is written, that the collision of iron and stone will release sudden sparks; and thus there is the golden body, shining white, and the half moon positioned in the west.”
To start off with, here is some general background information about the Shaho-Kun and the its author, Junsei Yoshimi. The information is expertly written by Earl Hartman Sensei and taken from http://www.kyudo-geneve.ch/kk_en/articles/doc/Book1.html . One can find massive amounts of other great information concerning the practice of kyudo on the website, so it’s worth taking the time to read it through.
“The Shaho Kun (Teaching On The Law Of Shooting) is the legacy of Yoshimi Junsei (originally named Daiuemon Tsunetake) a famous archer of Kishu who lived during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868). He was the founder of the Kishu line of the Chikurin-ha of the Heki Ryu and received transmission directly from Ishido Tamesada, the second headmaster of the Chikurin-ha, in 1640.* He was the teacher of the famous archer Wasa Daihachiro of Kishu, who set the all-time record at the Kyoto toshiya competition in 1686, succeeding on 8,133 shots out of a total of 13,053.”
The book from which I’m referencing below is, “Michi no Yumi” written by Iwao Matsui Sensei and is divided into three sections of spring (written for beginners), summer (intermediate levels around the 4th and 5th dan), and fall (written for shogousha [renshi, kyoshi, hanshi]), thus the explanations increase in complexity as one progresses through the book.
Referring to these last two lines of the Shaho-Kun in the spring section, Matsui Sensei basically states that these parts are heavily influenced by the philosophy of the Shingon sect of Buddhism which developed in Japan during the early Heian Period much accredited to Kukai (aka Kobo Daishi) who traveled to China and later returned to Japan and established the well-known monastery at Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture. (Check here for some basic information from wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shingon_Buddhism) . Matsui emphasizes the importance in kyudo that Shingon is unique among other sects of Buddhism in that enlightenment can be achieved by anyone in this lifetime with enough effort.
Matsui Sensei says (page 30) that the part about, “It is written, that the collision of iron and stone will release sudden sparks” happens by using the proper form of our bones to make a proper full draw which will result in a true release that is akin to sparks being made by the collision of iron and stone. Matsui Sensei says that the second part, “and thus there is the golden body, shining white, and the half moon positioned in the west.” refers to the Buddhist 5 element theory of earth, fire, water, wind, and void. Matsui Sensei then says that further explanations are made in the following sections of summer and fall.
In the summer section is when things really start to get interesting. Matsui Sensei introduces these sections again basically (page 48) by mentioning that there are 5 different levels of hitting the target. The ideal sort of hitting the target mentioned in the Shaho-Kun does not come about by the mere balance of timing and releasing the the hands, but results from a unity between the archer’s body, the bow and arrow, and the archer’s focus, which thus increases the “shakaku” (translated as “level of shooting” in the English version of the Kyudo Manual pg. 8) and “shahin” (translated as “shooting dignity” in the English version of the Kyudo Manual pg. 8). This results in a hanare (release) that is natural, sharp, and light. After reading “Michi no Yumi” I began to think that the Shaho-Kun is basically a detailed explanation of Sanmi-Ittai, “the three essentials as one body” which is made up of “stability of body, stability of spirit (and mind), and stability in using the bow.” (English version of the Kyudo Manual page 24.)
Matsui Sensei then explains (page 49) that the, “It is written …” part of the Shaho-Kun refers to other texts from the Chikurin lineage of the Heki-ryu style of kyudo that are called “四巻の書”, which may be called “Yonkan-no-Sho” (?) which are made up of 4 different books. But the explanations in the book are a bit difficult to understand, especially for me who hasn’t read these books before. It seems like the Shaho-Kun was compiled from different parts of these four different books. But again I’m not clear.
It is from these books that the idea of 5 different levels of shooting comes from. Below is a picture I took from page 52 and 53 of “Michi no Yumi” which includes the 5 levels of shooting and a brief explanation. For those who can read it, enjoy and let me know what you think! For those who can’t, you’re left to my humble translations as flawed as they may be which go as such:
1.) Father and Mother, if they are balanced then the child will grow well.
2.) Ruler and Subject, if they are correct the kingdom will be rich.
3.) Teacher and Disciple, if they are compatible then skill will progress.
4.) Iron and Stone, if they collide sparks will be made.
(This next translation is really tricky, so take it with a grain of salt)
5.) Clear Sky Storm and Ancient Tree in autumn
As shown in the pictures above, Matsui Sensei explains these 5 levels of shooting as such:
(Again, these are not official translations but my own unofficial attempts at interpretation)
1.) Father and Mother: A target hit made by the mere balanced release and timing of the hands.
2.) Ruler and Subject: A target hit made by the strength of the bow and the body (technique) becoming one.
3.) Teacher and Disciple: A target hit made by the strength of the bow, the body, and the spirit becoming one.
4.) Iron and Stone: Improvement made upon the the previous level making for a sharp and clear release.
5.) Clear Sky Storm and Ancient Tree: A natural release is made naturally hitting the target without even consciously thinking.
Number 5 can be seen as the ultimate goal in kyudo. At this point we become the embodiment of that which we have been training, and perhaps you could say effortless shooting is achieved, though it is done full of effort. After further researching on the meaning of the imagery used, (“Clear Sky Storm and Ancient Tree” with my crude translation) according to one explanation the image evokes a picture of a storm far into the distance in the west at sunset, while the air around is clear, like that after a storm, and there is an old maple tree. Though the maple tree is old and past it’s prime, it has a remarkable grace that cannot be imitated. Below the ancient tree is a carpet of red autumn leaves that have fallen, shiny and pure as silk.
What we find with this analogy is not just a mere explanation, but an image that evokes a feeling that needs to be intuited by the mind and body as a whole. This is what can make the relatively short text of the Shaho-Kun so difficult to understand, but so interesting in that it’s meaning can change according to our own experience. It’s not just an ancient text to be kept behind glass, but something for us to engage and grow with.
Matsui Sensei reflects that in a test, whether we are going for shodan (1st level) or hachidan (8th level), we only get two arrows. If one was only to look at the target to see if there was a hit or not, then what would be the difference between the levels? This is where we begin to see the depth of kyudo and understand that it’s not just about hitting the target, but how we hit the target. It’s not just a matter of aesthetic form, but the use of proper form, obeying the laws of the human body and nature to reveal our level of shooting and dignity.
Matsui Sensei says that he thinks that achieving the high level of iron and stone which is spoken of in the Shaho-Kun happens around the level of Kyoshi Rokudan (Kyoshi 6th level) or Nanadan (7th level), that of the first level of father and mother happens around Yondan (4th level), the second level of ruler and subject happens around Godan (5th level), the third level of teacher and disciple happens around Renshi (instructor level attained after Godan).
There is another 5 levels of shooting that uses an analogy of cloth and silk, but I don’t have the confidence to explain it here.
So what do you think so far? Pretty interesting?
If this is new information, you can now look at that line in the Shaho-Kun that reads, “It is written, that the collision of iron and stone will release sudden sparks.” and understand that this idea is taken from a set of four books based in the Chikurin lineage of the Heki Ryuha style, is based on an analogy of 5 different relationships, with the 4th being that of iron and stone, which is a clear and sharp release that is made by shooting with your body, bow, and spirit as one, as mentioned in the idea of sanmi-ittai, which is achieved by the ideas explained in the earlier lines of the Shaho-Kun.
If you already knew this, and have better explanations … then make a comment and enlighten us please!
So, how about that last line in the Shaho-Kun, “ and thus there is the golden body, shining white, and the half moon positioned in the west.“? Matsui Sensei states in the summer chapter (page 55) that this image is based on the philosophies of ancient India and the Buddhist 5 element theory of earth, fire, water, wind, and void. Therefore, one’s understanding of this last line of the Shaho-Kun depends on the depth of one’s understanding of ancient Indian philosophy and Buddhism. Though I’ve had an interest in these subjects for a long time, have read a fair amount of books, lived in Japan, and have read this book full of explanations … my interpretation is still extremely limited. Explaining all of it in this short blog post as an amateur is quite the brave attempt, but I hope to just introduce the concepts using the pieces of the book “Michi no Yumi” that I understand.
At this point, midway through the summer chapter, Matsui Sensei begins to introduce the Buddhist 5 element philosophy (Check here for a quick explanation if you’re not familia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_elements_(Japanese_philosophy) and it’s origins in ancient Indian philosophy, specifically found in the Rig Veda texts. Matsui Sensei then goes on to explain different sects of Buddhism and their relation to these ideas, and thus the Shaho-Kun.
And now we finally come to the fall chapter, which composes 60 pages of super dense text, which makes up half of the book of “Michi no Yumi.” 30 pages cover the Raiki-Shagi, referencing the original piece of writing from which the Raiki-Shagi came from as well as other ancient Confucian texts. I did my best to explain some of these ideas in the past posts of this series, but to be honest, only the main ideas sank in while the minor details and examples fell through the feeble filter of my mind. Without a scholarly background in these philosophies and religions, you’re in for a pretty steep climb trying to grasp the concepts of this book in its entirety.
As for the explanations of the Shaho-Kun in the fall chapter, Matsui Sensei talks more about the earlier lines of the Shaho-Kun, the Heki Ryu style and the author Yoshimi Junsei, the Sanjusangendo competition, and the four books which are referenced in “it is written …”. He then goes into more details about the 5 levels of shooting with relationships which I mentioned above, which is extremely helpful in understanding, but for the purposes of this blog and due to the limits of my understanding, this is as far as I will take it here. Matsui Sensei also talks about the other analogy of 5 levels of shooting with cloth and silk.
Then, he finally gets to talking about the last line of the Shaho-Kun by going into deep explanations of the progression from ancient Indian philosophy based on the Rig Veda texts to that of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. But as mentioned before, we’re going to skip a lot of that and get to some of the basics and those related to shooting.
Basically, as probably many of you have heard before, this last line of the Shaho-Kun is specifically referring to the zanshin phase of shooting, which happens after a release that is like the collision of iron and stone, which happens from proper form described in the earlier lines of the Shaho-Kun.
“and thus there is the golden body, shining white, and the half moon positioned in the west.”
Matsui Sensei then provides a chart and explanation that goes as such with five categories on page 107:
Earth Body, yellow, center, square
Water Body, black, north, circle
Wood Body, blue, east, sphere
Fire Body, red, south, triangle
Golden (Metal) Body, white, west, half-moon
Since we’re talking about the 5 element theory, that’s great, but if you look closer you’ll realize that instead of the godai Buddhist theory of earth, fire, water, wind, and void mentioned before, it utilizes the other Chinese 5 element theory that is comprised of earth, water, wood, fire, and metal.
My mind is going to explode if I spend any more time trying to figure where and why the switch was made between these two philosophies, so I apologize for my lack of understanding here. It’s probably hidden in the pages about the relationships and progression of ancient Indian and Buddhist philosophies. But I still think it will be helpful if we look at the chart in the picture above, which basically describes the Chinese 5 element theory because the Shaho-Kun uses the exact wording for the last one. While the other elements are used to refer other parts of the form, this last one of the “Golden Body” is supposed to be the final stage found in the zanshin part of our shooting.
This is only his introduction, and he returns to talking about 5 element theories in relation to shooting from page 123 when he describes them as such:
Earth Body, yellow, center, square: This refers to the stages of ashibumi and dozukuri in our form where we create our base and center ourselves. All the following stages depend upon this foundation, so it is done first and is of the utmost importance.
Water Body, black, north, circle: This refers to tsumeai and nobiai that we utilize in the stages of uchiokoshi, hikiwake, and kai. By just focusing on pulling the bow, it’s easy to put tension and strength in specific parts of our body like our hands, thus taking away balance from our form. To avoid this, we must be like water, flowing downwards finding the lowest point, transmitting the force of the bow equally and smoothly throughout our body when we pull the bow. This makes for proper tsumeai and nobiai.
Wood Body, blue, east, sphere: This part was really difficult to understand, but I’ll take a big leap and say that it refers to the life of our form. With the proper base and flow of energy, our form should be breathing and full of life, like the blooming of flowers. With this our ikiai (breathing) and mezukai (use of the eyes) are utilized and a proper hanare (release) can be made.
Fire Body, red, south, triangle: This refers to the hanare which should be like the sparks that come from the collision of fire and stone, made from the foundation of our form as earth, the fluidity and balance of water moving through the stages of shooting, and the life that flows through our form.
Golden (Metal) Body, white, west, half-moon: Finally this refers to the result of our shot which is zanshin. After the result of the previous phases, we’re left with the grand image of nature in all its clarity and beauty. No lies can be made here, and the zanshin reflects our shooting honestly and completely. Faulty technique results in a faulty zanshin, but the ideal form that is achieved is a mirror to the grandeur of the universe, whose beauty can be found in nature.
So have I only confused you more with this post?
When reading this book for the first time I was blown away by the fact that it hadn’t already been translated into English. Then I had fantasies of doing it myself, but now after rereading a lot of it and trying to convey the meaning here … it’s just madness.
The amount of research and effort Matsui Sensei put into this fabulous book is just mind-blowing. For those who seek a deeper understanding of the Raiki-Shagi and Shaho-Kun, this book of “Michi no Yumi” is quite the feast, be it one that may take a lifetime to digest.
Through these explanations, I wanted to talk about the 2 ideas of:
1.) The five levels of shooting with the relationship analogy that makes up the part about “collision of iron and stone”
2.) The five element theory that is responsible for the idea of “the golden body”
I haven’t got it all figured out.
That’s for damn sure.
But after reading about these ideas I came to have a whole new level of respect for the Shaho-Kun, and understand it not just as knowledge on mere technical aspects, but a deep philosophical piece that seeks to unite archer, bow, and spirit.
I apologize again for the confusing nature of this post, and my lack of understanding.
I hope one day I can rewrite this post with a little more skill and understanding.
And I hope more people can come together to talk about the deeper meanings that are hidden in the Raiki-Shagi and Shaho-Kun texts.
Thank you for reading.