Just look at it.
Can you see it?
Seeing is the first step, for all those like me who can’t do it right from the start.
The “yasuji” is literally translated from Japanese as, “arrow line.”
Take a look at the arrow, and imagine a straight line extending forever from both ends. In the full draw (kai, seen in the picture on above on the left), the arrow tip should extend into and through the center of the target (which is why it’s so important to get someone to watch you from behind and make sure your arrow is lined up with the target in the full draw) and out of the back of the arrow the line should extend through your hand and forever in the opposite direction of the target.
Can you see it?
At the release (hanare) we should release smoothly along that line so that the arrow can fly straight, and the result is a great zanshin (last stage of shooting with our arms open after the arrow has flown, seen in the right picture above). Of we do not release along the yasuji (arrow line), then that means our hands, arms, and energy are going in some other direction. No matter the direction, it will tweak the direction of the arrow at the release sending it in any kind of direction. For those who don’t release along the yasuji but still manage to hit the target (most of us!), you’re accomplishing quite a feat nothing short of magic. You can thank the cleverness of your body that recognizes that you don’t release on the yasuji and unconsciously covers for that extra movement somewhere else by balancing it out with another movement. (Damn Mother Nature is clever.)
The practice of kyudo is trying to shoot a straight arrow, which is why the yasuji is so important, and why accomplishing it is so hard. By following the laws of shooting we can achieve this natural occurrence of the yasuji. It may seem difficult, but can surely be achieved with enough work and effort. If one person can do it, anyone can. And if I can do it with my wack hanare, anybody can do it! However, if we ignore the idea of the yasuji, and just keep pounding away at the bow without any desire of fixing our bad habits that make us release anywhere but on the yasuji, we are in for a reaaaaally long road, that may never reach successful shooting.
Can you see the yasuji?
Can you feel it?
After years of training, I am finally beginning to understand this most basic and important of concept of kyudo.
Surely my teacher mentioned this concept to me when I first started, but at some point I forgot about it, and remember hearing about it later on. I thought it was a nice idea, but had very little comprehension of it. When I tried to focus on it, it didn’t help, so I gave up on it and focused on other things. I went through a phase of making my right arm from the elbow to the hand completely flat and parallel with the ground in the daisan phase, and pulling the arrow back only while thinking about my elbow (You can probably find a ton of posts on that idea in my blog history around 2016, but I wonder if they do anything other than send readers in the wrong direction! Beware!). My hanare (release) was bad (and mostly still is!), and a teacher at that time said I was focusing too much on my elbow, and needed to consider the tenouchi in my right hand. I realized he was right, but didn’t know really what to do. He mentioned the importance of the yasuji, and I admitted that I had heard about it many times before but didn’t really understand it. He went ahead and explained his version of it, but its significance still eluded me. I spent the next few months stumbling around trying to find the yasuji, to no avail.
Then I met my current teacher, A-Sensei (who I mentioned specifically in posts around the winter of 2016/2017, and who is responsible for most of the ideas I have talked about in my blog since then). Finally, I met someone who began to change my form from the base up, into a shape that I have come to trust. We’ve been working together now for a little over a year, and finally, we are starting to get some progress, and I’m finally starting to see and feel the yasuji. A-Sensei has explained the yasuji to me in a million different forms (third most important – “studying form”). He has shown it to me with his own shooting (second most important – “mitori keiko” “watching practice”).
But it wasn’t until one, single, form-changing experience that finally let me physically see the yasuji. It had to be done with my own body, and seen with my own eyes, in real time (most important – “self-realization in your own practice”).
Wait, how can you possibly see your own shooting as you do it?
I’ll tell you now!
Perhaps many of you probably know about this and use it in your own practice.
What you need is a mirror, the bigger the better, and best on wheels.
I like to do this at the makiwara (practice straw bail), but you can probably do it at the target if you like.
Take the mirror, and set it to the right of the makiwara and tilt it so you can see your full self with your hands extended to your sides. If you set it right, you can watch yourself release without turning your head.
You can see the yasuji extending from your own arrow in nobiai (expansion).
It’s really not all that revolutionary, but it made me physically see and feel the yasuji in one single shot, which I haven’t been able to do with the tens of thousands of arrows shot beforehand.
Using a giant mirror at the makiwara right directly in front of you is great, but you can’t see yourself at the release without turning your head to the mirror and changing your shot. It’s also great to watch a video, but there’s nothing you can do when you have your hands on the bow and arrow. Here, with the mirror slanted to the right of the makiwara, we can actually see ourselves as we shoot.
Give it a try if you haven’t before. It has changed everything for me.
There in the full draw I can actually see the yasuji, and where I want my hand to move, instead of just trying to imagine it when I’m looking at the target, or makiwara. I can also see the yasuji stretching out from the tenouchi of my left hand, and can extend my thumb straight, pushing forward at the release instead of some other direction or letting up the pressure at the release (yurumu). I’ve done well at the makiwara before, but this is the first time I’ve ever been able to take that success to the real target. After burning the image in my eyes, and mind, and feeling it with my body with the mirror and makiwara, I can recreate this image at the target, and I’ve had success releasing on the yasuji like never before.
It’s not a word. And it wasn’t given to me by anybody else. It is the image of the self. Quiet and perfect.
Give it a try, and maybe it will help you as well.
Then again, maybe it may not work for you just as I say.
This current success is probably due to a lot of the work I’ve put into my form over the years that are necessary for my release along the yasuji. I’ve done a lot of work in my core, to allow me to push apart with my whole body, and a whole lot of work in my right hand and shoulder to push apart as much as I can while letting my kake (glove) be pulled by the string.
It really is crazy. I’ve never been so excited to go to practice with something new to work on. And I’ve never been so entranced by the amazing things we can accomplish with the bow.
It really is magical, the power of our imagination.
This yasuji arrow line … it doesn’t even really exist as physical matter … but it does.
Why and how does it exist?
By the power of imagination.
It is invisible and cannot possibly be measured by modern science.
But it is just as real as gravity.
It is direction, pulled by a force. It is a flow.
Do actions “exist”?
Does anything actually exist in static form?
Aren’t we, and everything else in the universe, actually in constant motion at the very smallest atomic level?
Take a look.
Gravity is a force that pulls things down to the center of the Earth. All in our atmosphere abides by this law. Gravity works along invisible lines. We cannot see it. But it controls us all.
The yasuji exists, and it is enacted with nobiai (expansion). This line is real, and in the world of proper nobiai (expansion), this line of the yasuji exists as strongly as gravity. This line is not just an abstract idea, or a figment of our imagination. We cannot actually “release” along this line with a conscious movement of our hand (hanasu)… the release along the yasuji is the effect of a release that is made by proper nobiai made possible with proper tsumeai (form that is void of unnecessary space). (Hanare)
Where is the center of this force that makes these supreme laws of the yasuji and nobiai?
Inside of us.
Deep inside of us in our center in the tanden, a point located a couple inches below our belly button and inside of our core below the surface.
We are the center of the universe.
When we are in the full draw and expanding with true nobiai, that which exists in our tanden is the center of the universe.
We are the generators of this indomitable force.
We are gods.
This is the power of the yasuji.
It is made possible with the proper use of our body, and our spirit.
It is awakened with our imagination.
If we are capable of recreating the laws of physics with our imagination and our bodies and a bow and arrow, what else are we capable of?
Are you excited, yet?
Are you scared?
I am. And it feels great.
Kyudo is about potential, and a direction. Kyudo is a giant arrow, pointing in a direction extending forever with its own line, that of the yasuji. It is ever-moving, and yet because it expands into eternity in both directions, it is motionlessness in motion. Maybe the ends of the yasuji are connected in a giant loop? Never thought of that before.
Open our minds.
Open our bodies.
This is the natural form of nobiai (expansion).
This is the natural form of life.