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The Importance of Taihai Part I: What is Taihai?
In this series of posts I want to talk about why taihai is so important to kyudo. On the one hand it’s one of the most basic aspects of kyudo, and yet on the other it’s one aspect that is mostly ignored. Great taihai is what separates good from great archers, and it’s also what perplexes most when they first look at kyudo. I firmly believe that the better we can understand and perform taihai, the better we can hit the target, better express ourselves in our shooting, and better learn from the practice of kyudo.
This series of posts was sparked when someone asked me something that went like this:
“When researching about kyudo, there is a lot of information about the shooting and everything you do once you’re at the shooting mark, but what about all the stuff getting up to that point?”
That is taihai, all the stuff you do before and after you’re at the mark. In that sense, we can divide kyudo into the things we do at the mark (shooting), and all the stuff we do before and after we shoot (taihai). But really, most all the things we do in taihai we should be doing while we shoot, and most all the things we do while we shoot we should also use in our taihai. In that sense, we should look to taihai not as something separate from shooting, but rather as a very important part of the process of shooting.
You could say it’s “shooting without shooting.” I like that, but for the sake of gaining a deeper understanding of taihai, we’re going to have to get a lot more specific.
Like, what does the Japanese word “taihai” mean in English?
From all the English writings I’ve read, I don’t believe I’ve ever found a single translation of the word “taihai”. What you usually find is a description of the process: “Entering the dojo, performing the right steps in the right order and timing, and leaving the dojo.” or “The formalized movements based on etiquette.” or “Taihai involves five archers entering the dojo, approaching the target and preparing for shooting in harmony, with precise timing and rhythm.”
Even in the Japanese version of “the Kyudo Manual” (Kyuhon), I don’t think there is the use of the word, “taihai”. There are lots of description of different types of ceremonial shootings using terms like, “The movements of three person shooting” or “the movements of removing the kimono sleeve” or “ceremonial shooting for the makiwara”. Taihai is involved in all of these, and yet the term itself isn’t mentioned.
That point aside, the two words that seem to come up the most are “ceremonial” and
How about we call taihai, “ceremonial movements”?
Well, I don’t like this because the term “ceremonial” makes it sound like it’s something special we do only on certain occasions, when really it’s something we should be doing all the time when we’re shooting. The term “movements” is certainly accurate, but it’s not just any movements, but very specific predetermined ones.
I’d also like to mention that taihai is a word that relates specifically to kyudo. When I ask a Japanese person who doesn’t practice kyudo what taihai is, they don’t know. Even if they look at the written characters, the meaning of taihai doesn’t translate. You can explain the motions of taihai in Japanese, or show someone the movements and say, “this is taihai”, but there is no single term to explain to people who aren’t already familiar with the word.
That aside, let’s take a look at the Japanese characters for taihai ourselves and see if we can find anything.
Taihai looks like this: 体配.
体 (tai) most simply means “body”. I don’t think it means much more in the full word of taihai, but if you look up 体 in a kanji dictionary it will also show it as, “style; form; substance; center appearance”.
配 (hai) is a little trickier because it doesn’t have much of a defined meaning if the character is all by itself. Only when linked with other characters does it gain meaning, but then it has a slightly different meaning with each different character it’s linked with to make a new word. Anyway, in a kanji dictionary 配 means “distribute”. With other characters it often conveys the meaning of “distributing”, “alloting” or “arranging”.
So … taihai could be translated as “distributing the body”?