Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In Search of Kyudo

Below is an excerpt from a very nice article from the Washington Post, where the author, an archer, goes to Japan to investigate Kyudo. The full post may be read here.

“This is where you’re supposed to be,” she says.
Then, without another word, she’s gone.

I inherited my interest in archery from my grandfather, Richard Earl Henion, a retired military man covered in faded blue tattoos. His passion for bows stretched back to the South Pacific during World War II. One day, on an Army scouting mission, he walked around a mountain pass and came upon a tribesman traveling in the opposite direction. My grandfather had his gun drawn. The local had a bow and arrow raised. They could not speak each other’s language, but they somehow managed to persuade each other to lower their weapons.

Richard Earl accompanied the man to his village, where they spent the night cavorting around a campfire. Before leaving, he bestowed upon the local a pack of smokes. The man, in return, gave him the bow that could have killed him.

My grandfather and I never found time to pursue archery together. But years after his death I started shooting traditional long and recurve bows under the guidance of a neighbor in the Appalachian Mountains. We live not far from where the “Hunger Games” movies were filmed, and my teacher — a mountaineer who can make bowstrings out of tree bark — encouraged the instinctive shooting style made famous in the films.

Japanese archery seems as far from Appalachia’s intuitive, wild-woman approach as I can get, geographically and metaphorically. Kyudo is one of Japan’s oldest martial arts, and it remains one of the most respected. The practice was banned by occupation forces after World War II. But in 1949, the All Nippon Kyudo Federation introduced a standardized method. Suddenly, anyone could study it.

The samurai-warrior practice is closely associated with Zen Buddhism, and it draws from Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto and onmyodo. Its ancient formality runs against my shoot-from-the-hip nature, which makes it all the more important for me to be here. I’m only 5-foot-2, but I take up a lot of space. The first word I learned, by necessity, while navigating crowded stations to get here:

“Sumimasen.” Excuse me.

My kyudo teacher, or sensei, Kazuhisa Miyasaka, didn’t set out to be an archer — or an innkeeper.
Like me, he’s at Uotoshi Ryokan because of his grandfather.

Miyasaka — a man with bushy eyebrows and unruly wisps of gray hair — studied archery briefly when he was a child. But it wasn’t until much later that he started to take it seriously. When he left to attend university in Tokyo, he never thought he’d return to the inn, which was founded by his grandfather and later run by his parents. But that changed when their health failed.

It was around that time that he encountered a kyudo teacher on campus. The sensei told him that — if he was going to return to the ryokan, which uniquely included a shooting place — he should study kyudo and become master of his own dojo. Ultimately, archery inspired Miyasaka to come home.

“Destiny?” he says of the timing. “I don’t know.”

Miyasaka has changed into the formal kimono he wears for demonstrations. We walk to the shooting hall, which is sided in rusty metal. The entire town of Yamanouchi is alive with surface streams that run alongside roads like veins. You can hear them, even when you cannot see them.

The entryway of the dojo, or training place, is a bridge.

Matos — hollow targets made of round wooden frames and black-and-white paper — line the interior of the shooting hall. One side of the building is composed of garage-style sliding doors. Miyasaka rolls one open to reveal a hidden courtyard. We’re across from a target house, where a roof protects the sand dune that holds matos in place. To reach it requires shooting over a kudzu-trimmed pond, approximately 90 feet.

“Almost same as battlefield space,” Miyasaka says.

When Miyasaka first took up archery, he was only interested in winning competitions. At one point, when performing an examination to advance to the next level of kyudo he consistently made his target. Still, he did not pass.

“My teacher said I was hitting very well. But my form was not beautiful,” Miyasaka says. “To some, archery looks like sport. To some, it looks like spirit. If you ask one hundred people, you will find one hundred different answers. ... Body remembers correct action. If we are not thinking, we get the target natural.”

It’s a case of matter over mind. And Miyasaka takes the challenge seriously. Sometimes, as a test of muscle memory, he turns off the dojo lights and shoots in the dark.


Alchemist George said...

Excellent blog entry. Your page recommends two titles after the post. I would hesitate to recommend 'Zen in the Art of Archery' as it has become quite controversial. Herrigel's teacher, Kenzo Awa, was a great archer, but may not have been a teacher of Zen. Herrigal's translator by his own admission could not understand Awa, so the content of the book, however classic, is very suspect.

The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery
Yamada Shoji 山田奨治
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 2001 28/1-2
Here is a pdf:

I am not an archer. An alternate title I recommend is "Zen in Motion: Lessons from a Master Archer on Breath, Posture, and the Path of Intuition" by Neil Claremon

Rick Matz said...

Welcome and thanks for the book lead. Here is a link:

Zen in Motion: Lessons from a Master Archer on Breath, Posture, and the Path of Intuition

Elbe55 said...

Interesting story as such. It would be appropriate to add the name of the person on the photograph. As it is now one could assume that this is Kazuhisa Miyasaka. That would be bad. The kyudojin on the photograph is Inagaki Genshiro Yoshimichi (1911 - 1995) the last master of the Heki To Ryu Insai Ha. Heki Ryu is the younger of the only two traditional ryuhas in Japan. The older is Ogasawara Ryu.
There are basically 3 reasons for picking up kyudo (as well as other Budo arts). 1. To have a hobby, 2. To compete and win and 3. To develope the mental part. This section includes the principles of Zen i.e. the mastering of one's mind. There is a great variety of arts also benefiting the principles of Zen. Such are Ikebana (flower arrangements, Chado (tea ceremony), Shūji (Calligraphy), Judo, Karatedo etc. Zen was "invented" using a fighting art, the 18 hands of Lo Han. That same Zen can, be used with pretty much anything, like in the most common form, Zazen - sitting Zen, ie meditation. In moving zen the principle is to first master the technique and then to "forget" the technique. That means learning to complete master one's mind. The technique is already in the muscles' memory.