This is a continuation from a previous post titled, “The Importance of Gojuu-Jumonji: The Five Crosses.”
Gojuu-Jumonji are 5 important crosses in our form that are vital to tsumeai, and proper form that allow us to shoot a straight arrow. These crosses can be best seen in the phase of kai, the full draw. The five crosses are (1) tenouchi (grip of the left hand) and the bow, (2) the arrow and the bow, (3) the thumb of the right hand and the string, (4) the horizontal line of our shoulders and the vertical line of our spine (or center line of the chest as noted in the English Kyohon Kyudo Manual), and (5) the line of the neck and the arrow. In the preceding post I talked about the crosses 1 and 3, so here I’d just like to comment on a few things I’ve thought about lately concerning the remaining three crosses.
First I’d like to talk a little about the cross of the line of our neck and the arrow (number 5 in the picture above). This is probably the easiest of the 5 crosses to do, but one that I rarely see used correctly. It’s really easy to see, and not so difficult to fix. All you need is someone to watch and make sure they can see the line of your neck from the time you turn your head towards the target in the yugamae phase throughout the shooting until zanshin. Or you can take a video or picture to see for yourself exactly what you’re doing. One extra note though, everyone’s body is different, and while having a straight line of the neck is the ideal, injuries or age may prevent one from turning the head completely.
So, how can you make sure you do this on your own?
1.) Make sure you turn your head completely in monomi (looking at the target) in the yugamae phase. Turn your head until you can feel that line in your neck bulge out. For me it helps to think of looking at the target with my third-eye in the center of my forehead, looking at the target with my right eye, or imagining holding an apple between my chin and left shoulder. At that moment you have created already created the cross of the arrow and your neck. It might sound strange since the arrow is so far away and you’re not in the full draw yet, but if your neck isn’t straight here then it surely won’t be straight in the full draw. That is unless you do some extra movement elsewhere in the form, which will change the dozukuri (form of the torso) that you made in the beginning of your form which will probably upset your form and ability to shoot a straight arrow. While the arrow is far away from our neck at this time, it is important to keep the arrow parallel with the floor, so focusing on the cross at this early stage can help both parts of our neck and arrow until they finally meet at kai, the full draw.
2.) Be conscious of this cross (based upon the straight line or your neck) until you finally return your gaze (monomi-gaeshi) after yudaoshi (lowering the bow). A lot of people will make a great line of the neck when they first look, but then slightly ease up on it somewhere throughout the form. Every time we move is a potential pitfall for breaking this line, but there is one culprit that is particularly responsible for this flaw …
Uchiokoshi! It’s so funny. This is arguably the simplest and easiest phase of shooting, and yet hidden within it’s simplicity is the space in which we ruin the line of our neck. So, just be conscious of the line of your neck while you do uchiokoshi. You may be surprised how different it feels, especially how well you can feel the tatesen (vertical line) in our form. For me focusing on the line of the neck in uchiokoshi helps me to maintain that cross, lower my shoulders, expand my spine, push my butt and lower back into the form, and feel the pressure of it all going into my feet. All this with one simple little thing to focus on. But like I said, any shift in our form is a chance for us to ruin this cross, so be conscious of the line of your neck while moving into daisan, through hikiwake, in kai, and throughout your form until zanshin, or actually yudaoshi.
Secondly I’d like to talk about the cross of the horizontal line of our shoulders and the vertical line of our spine. Protecting this cross is the same as maintaining dozukuri (the forming of our torso) throughout our form, which is essential to effective form. On the one hand it’s very simple and easy to make in the early stages of our form like dozukuri and yugamae, but just like the line of our neck, every time we move is a chance to disrupt this cross. And under the pressure of the bow, this is really difficult to maintain while thinking of the other million things we’re supposed to be conscious of in the form. But instead of over complicating things, I’d like to try to simplify these fundamentals here so that we can successfully make progress with them in our shooting.
It’s easy to see our form with a picture or video, but unless we can feel them deep inside, we’re going to be keeping a rift between the bow and ourselves. Instead, we want to connect to the bow as much as possible, (Sanmi-Ittai) and that connection happens deep within our core, specifically dozukuri, and the core being that of our torso.
When looking at a 2D picture it’s easy to see the cross of the shoulders and the spine. But what if you were to look at that cross from another angle, like from the side as if you were looking at the target. Is your line still straight? We may look straight from the front, but if our shoulders aren’t in line with the target, then that is not a correct cross. How about from above, or underneath? Let’s start thinking of these crosses in 3D, because that’s the world in which we live!
So in order to make this cross nice and straight, we want to sink our shoulders as much as possible. Some images to help with this are standing your shoulder blades straight up, instead of letting them slightly lay down forward like they usually do when we have bad posture, and also pushing our shoulder blades against our chest, while tucking our chin slightly in. In order to not turn our shoulders left or right we need to be conscious of them throughout the shooting.
But how can we make sure our shoulders are square with the target?
And you want to know one other horrible thing that can happen when we get tunnel-vision and focus only on our shoulders? Our butts have a tendency to stick out, making us bend our back, and separating the connection between our lower and upper bodies.
Remember that this cross is also included in “the Three Crosses” along with the line of our feet with our spine, and waist and spine. By remembering the other two crosses, we can help lock in that of the chest and shoulders.
So, with the feet, imagine that your shoulders and feet are connected on vertical standing poles like skewered meat. Then, imagine your shoulders sinking so that they are like a piece of paper that are resting on top of your feet which are also a piece of paper, which are resting on the ground. Of course our bodies won’t be smashed flat on the ground like a Goomba that has been stomped by Mario, but we can really get the feeling of keeping our shoulders straight and down.
Then with our waist, imagine the bones one the front of your hips connected to the shoulders with their own vertical rods, just like that with the feet. Then, open the bones on the front of your pelvis outwards, thus opening and spreading your bones of our shoulders outward as well. With this your butt cheeks should start to flex, causing the backs of your knees to rotate inwards, while the muscles on your sides underneath your armpits stretch outwards, magically engaging nobiai (expansion).
Finally, I’d like to talk about the cross of the arrow and the bow.
But what is there really to talk about anyway? Of course the bow and the arrow make a cross, that’s how we aim at the target. It’s not even our body, so what can we do about this?
Well, to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it all that much. Which means I’m probably missing something. But trying to think about it right now, two things come to mind.
First, this cross is a kind of measure to make sure we have all the other crosses completed. If this cross isn’t straight, then one or more of the crosses are probably off and need correcting.
Second, it let’s us know about the physics of the bow. The bow launches the arrow straight as long as the bow makes a cross with the arrow. At the release, if this cross can be maintained, then the bow can turn perfectly in our hands, simply rotating on the vertical axis instead of moving forward or back.
Ah-ha, maybe we’ve found something important here.
Take a look at the top or bottom tips of the bow at the moment of release. Does the bow spin quickly and more or less straight? Or is the turn slow and causing the tip of the bow to lean forward (sometimes hitting the roof of the shooting area in front of us), or backwards signaling our loss in the battle against the pressure of the bow and the bottom tip of the bow flying up. We not only need to make this cross at the phase of the full draw, but maintain it through the release and in zanshin. Doing so requires the effective use of our tenouchi grip, which is enough information for a million other blog posts. But perhaps simply being conscious of this cross can get us on the right path.
Without being rude, I have to say that the cross in the picture above doesn’t seem so straight. Perhaps that cross will lean a little forward as we push against the bow with the base of our thumb, but I think this goes a little too far in this case. I would assume that the top tip of the bow leans forward at the release in this shot … or a yurumu (letting up of the pressure against the bow) happened and the bottom of the bow swung up forward. Or maybe I’m wrong and it works out just fine at the release.
Be conscious of your crosses! Though they are important in the phase of the full draw, they are made far before hand and must be maintained throughout the release. And remember, all of these crosses mean nothing without nobiai (expansion). Tsumeai (making these five crosses, along with the three crosses) creates the pillars and foundation of our form that allows our ki (energy) to flow freely throughout our bodies, our equipment, and straight into the target. Didn’t you know that the Force really exists?
Talking about all of this is pretty easy, but putting it into action is a different monster altogether. Better get to the dojo. Progress is waiting.