Ikiai - Breathing · Image Training · Kyudo · Nobiai

Be Water


Bruce Lee was right when he said, “Be water.”

I love this commentary by Bruce Lee, and while water can become a cup, bottle, or teapot, it can also be a great analogy for our kyudo practice. Recently I thought of two analogies using water that can help with nobiai (expansion) allowing our body to open up and allow flow to move throughout our form, and to help with ikiai (breathing).

The last post on “Deeper Understanding of the Shaho-Kun and Raiki-Shagi Part VI: The Latter Parts of the Shaho-Kun” really got me thinking about the 5 element theory in our shooting, especially that of water.

I’ve been thinking of a lot of separate techniques to use in my form lately. They have been difficult and so I’ve spent about 6 months in this phase, putting all of my effort to do certain things with my body while not caring about how I hit the target. Put my hand here, my shoulders there, my waist here, my feet like this, etc. Well, one result is that I haven’t been hitting the target much, and another is I’ve become really rigid. Looking at my form, I can see that I’m trying, and that I’m getting a little success on those disparate parts I’m working on, but the overall picture is stiff and disconnected. I’ve lost the connecting tissues that bring my entire body, spirit, and bow together. This is where water can help.

Or how about beer.

When you pour beer into a glass, you start by tilting it diagonally to keep it from over foaming. So when you pour that beer into the glass, does it stay right where you poured it? Or does it instantly go to the bottom flat of the glass, which isn’t parallel with the ground because you’re tilting it? No. It simply finds the very bottom of the glass held at that moment and accumulates there. No hesitation, no waiting, just simple obedience to gravity and physics.

This is how we should accept the pressure of the bow. Imagine ourselves in the uchiokoshi or daisan phase holding the bow above ourselves. At that point, should we squeeze our hands and let all of the focus and pressure of our bodies rise to our hands? Or how about our elbows? Or maybe our chest? Or how about our waist? Or only our feet? The answer is no. That energy is not stuck in one place, but like water flows downward from the bow, through our hands, our arms, our shoulders, our torso, our waist, our feet, and down through the ground to the lowest point. Since the pressure of the bow doesn’t stop, or start, it is constantly pressing on our bodies, so that flow should constantly flow from our hands to our feet, or rather from the bow to the ground … just like a flowing waterfall. Does a waterfall stop or start or wait on its own accord? No, it honestly and simply obeys the forces of physics.

Does the waterfall stop if a bird flies under, “Oh no, don’t hit that bird! Hold on a sec water droplets!“?

Or does the waterfall say, “Oh shit, hitting that rock is really going to hurt! Let’s move to the side.“?

Or does the water say, “Well, since it’s so rainy today, I think I’ll slow down my flow a little bit to make up for all the extra water.“?

Well, I’ve never asked a waterfall these questions, but I’m pretty sure it just keeps on flowing, naturally, and normally.

Be like a waterfall, naturally finding the lowest point, regardless of how you feel, wherever you are, or what certain technique you’re working on at the moment. Be ego less. Simply react to your situation. Your body flowing with the bow as it moves throughout the stages of shooting. Flow from the entrance of the shajo shooting area, to the honza where you sit in kiza, to the shai where you shoot, and out the exit of the shajo shooting area.

If we can do this, and feel the flow of energy running down throughout our bodies, what is different than before?

We have eliminated blockages in our form. How did we accomplish that? By consciously focusing on eliminating the blockage in our tenouchi, and then the one in our shoulder, and then the one in our chest? No. We simply held onto this one image of water, and our body naturally fixed these blockages instantly and at the same time.

Just like water perfectly filling in the uneven ground in a puddle.

By doing this, we can allow ourselves to push against the bow in the opposite direction of the falling water, using the power of the earth and our tanden in our belly to expand in all directions, mainly that of our feet, arms, and head. This is called nobiai, expansion. Allow water to flow down through our bodies, and nobiai will grow from the center. The center of us in the tanden in our bellies. The center of the Earth at its core. And the center of the universe, wherever it is, if it even is.

The image of water can also help us with ikiai.

One could say that by opening up the channels within our body (mentioned above), then we are free to let our breathing act just as we will it to, flowing in and out without stoppages. Let the oxygen flow throughout your entire body, replenishing your energy, instead of holding your breath, cutting off the life from your body.

But let’s think about something a little different.

In what case do we find ourselves with breathing and water?

When we’re swimming!

I have a tendency to run out of breath and stop in the full draw. Why? Because I used it all up too early? Or did I merely just give up when I could have gone further? I’m not sure exactly, but I know one thing for sure, and that is if I was diving deep into the water, I would be damn sure to make it so I didn’t run out of breath and drown. So why not imagine you’re in the water in the full draw … expanding … letting little tiny drops drift out of your nose (don’t hold your breath! … Well, I’ve actually heard of some people holding their breath in the full draw, or even breathing in … which is why there is no single agreement on how exactly we should breath during the phases of shooting) let tiny little drops fall out as you breath out ever so slowly … expanding … only breathing in for air when you decide to surface and breath out … finally when you finish yudaoshi far after the release.

Where I’m from there is a lake that I used to swim in during summer.

On one side is the main area where most everyone relaxes and jumps in, and on the other side is, “the Tree” where the cool kids used to jump off of into the water.

I used to swim across the lake from the main area to the tree, and then back. If I remember right it took about 20 minutes one way, and doing so got me in a zone, and in the pattern of breathing-in above the surface with my eyes locked on the Tree in the distance, and swimming as far as I could underneath the surface while slowly breathing-out.

Above and under, in and out, ever-locked on the tree.

I breath in as I turn my head towards the target, head above the water with my eyes on the tree.

I dive my head into the water, lift my arms in uchiokoshi, and slowly breath out, invisible eyes on the Tree.

I surface momentarily, breathing in as I move into daisan, eyes on the Tree.

Here we go…

I make my last dive, slowly breathing out, not surfacing until I reach the Tree, slowly drawing the bow … expanding through the full draw … with my blackened eyes on the Tree I continue to swim and expand … further further … closer closer … hanare has happened … zanshin is held … yudaoshi lowers the bow … I have reached the tree, touching its roots underwater … and I calmly surface, turning my head back to my center in monomi-gaeshi.

Focusing on this while I shoot the bow allows me to continue my breath and expand in the full draw for longer.

Maybe there’s a story in your past that can help you find the image to unlock the flow in your body.

Our brains are tools that we can use to shoot the bow and arrow, and the imagination is it’s greatest technique. We’re free in our minds to be how we like. It’s free-game to do what you want. So let it go, and see where you reach. Water. Space. Robots. Fantasy novels. Loved ones. Tears.

It’s not about what you have to do,

but what you want to do.

Onward and upward.


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