The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, July 10, 2015

Imagery in Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from Black Arrow blog, which is about Kyudo. The post is about the use of imagery in kyudo training. This sort of thing is prevalent in Yiquan and related arts. I think we could all benefit.

The full post may be read here.

They are the signs that point us to elevated technique.

They are the way we communicate with invisible theories.

They are what ignite our imaginations, bringing our kyudo practice to life.


Image training.

More than I have experienced in any other martial art, image training plays a major role in the practice of kyudo. It is how teachers and students communicate together. Just explaining technique and the movements of the body can easily become dry and difficult to perceive. Instead of such explanations, images are used as powerful ways of communication that allow us to easily cut corners.
Often using images allows us to play with techniques we haven’t even learned yet.

For example, when first learning the bow a teacher will probably tell you push the bow and string apart instead of pulling. By doing this we will naturally start using the structure of our bodies, our bones, our elbows, and our legs … using our bodies as a whole to push the bow and string apart, instead of just pulling the bow and string apart with the strength of our hands. By doing this we are utilizing a lot of different and difficult separate techniques, but without even explaining them. All we need is one compact phrase, an image.

It really is magic, isn’t it?

This is the difficult, and yet at the same time easy part about kyudo.

We have all these seemingly disparate techniques that feel unnatural, requiring a lot of training to engrain subconsciously into our bodies, and yet most of these techniques can be instantaneously conquered by the use of images.

But more than just overcoming technique, it’s fun.

And it’s Freedom!

We can use whatever image we like with our kyudo. Our images affect how we feel in our practice, and translate to what we do. Nobody’s set of images will be the same as another. Even if we use the same images, for example, pushing the bow instead of pulling, all of us will see and feel this differently. So how we practice kyudo will be completely different from everybody else, even though it seems like we’re all doing the same thing. This is our expression. This is what makes kyudo an art.

This is what puts the art in “martial arts”.

Images are effective ways of communicating various small seemingly disparate techniques in simple compact phrases, and they are also super fun.

For one more example, I’ll leave you with what may be the king of all kyudo imagery:


The line of the arrow.

Often times when I feel all is lost, all my teacher needs to say is “Focus on the yasuji,” and most everything fixes itself.

There are a myriad of ways one can interpret this, but for me it is the line of the arrow extending to infinity in each direction.

Where this image helps me most is in the kai (full draw). In the kai it looks like we are just standing there waiting to release, but what we’re really doing is utilizing nobiai and expanding from the center line in our chest equally and infinitely to the left and right. We must release amid that expansion outwards to the left and the right. However, often times I will find myself stopped in the middle of the full draw, not exending, dead, waiting for a release which I will forge using the strength of my hands. By focusing on the line of the arrow extending in both directions, our shoulders and elbows and left thumb mimic the arrow and extend in both directions. Continuing to focus on the line of the arrow will allow us to “follow through” the release, extending along the line of the arrow. The arrow has no choice but to fly straight into the target.


I can’t even imagine how many small techniques are used with various parts of our body to make a proper release in kyudo, but they can all be instantly mastered by focusing on one simple thing:
the line of the arrow.



walt said...

I used the imagery from this post this morning while standing, and it seemed very affective, and relevant.

You might check out A Kinesthetic Legacy, by Pamela Matt -- she was a close associate of Barbara Clark for many years, and Clark ran and taught in the circles of Mabel Todd, Lulu Sweigard, and Andre Benard, all of whom taught actors, dancers, and practitioners to use imagery as the basis of movement. Clark normally taught one on one, or in small gatherings, but when she got older, she wrote out four "booklets" for her students that instructed them in the use of imagery. The book by Pamela Matt includes these booklets. You can get it from the author at CMT Press; just ask Mr. Google. There's a link on the page that shows the Table of Contents in great detail, so you can judge whether it would be pertinent to your practice.

Thanks for the post!

Rick Matz said...

Thanks, Walt! Good comments.