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 ~

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Throwing Away the Body in Martial Arts

Over at Green Leaves Forest, there was a beautiful post about kyudo practice and the idea of "throwing away the body," which can apply to pretty much anything we do. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

In the kyudo world there’s a really big difference between what we call kokutai senshu (national tournament competitors) and everybody else, I guess. Most kokutai senshu stand out in normal non-national tournaments because it’s rare that they miss, and they’re generally much younger than everyone else (20s and 30s). I’ve watched a lot of the local kokutai senshu in Oita for a few years, and one of my best training buddies used to be one about 20 years ago. There’s something very different about them, but I’ve never really understood exactly what it is. I’ve always thought there has to be something different about the way they train. Of course they’re probably going to be naturally really good at shooting, but it’s not like they have super powers or anything.

When I’ve asked some of the kokutai senshu about what is so different about how they train, the common answer is that they train to hit the target no matter what. That’s the first and last most important thing in their training. When I watch my training buddy shoot, he shoots a lot of arrows in one training session, doesn’t shoot at the makiwara much, and doesn’t fuss over a lot of small details. My current training, and I’d say most of my time with the bow, has been the complete opposite. I spend a whole lot of time and effort on each arrow, and analyze each one carefully, spending a lot of time at the makiwara, which means I probably don’t even shoot half the number of arrows that he does.

A lot of people could claim that many kokutai senshu focus too much on hitting the target, and thus their form is limited, and lacking a lot of the “art” that is kyudo. I would agree to some level, but I think a lot of people are probably jealous, because you know what … these kokutai senshu are really fricken good at what they do, and they are going to be the ones who evolve and advance to become the future hanshi teachers. And why is that bad? They spend a whole lot of time training, with really skilled teachers, and participate in the biggest competitions in the world, which are the magic ingredients that forge excellent archers
I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas of “sutemi” and “konjo” and last weekend went to a big tournament in Fukuoka at the Hakata-no-Mori dojo to celebrate the Gion festival. Being on the border of Fukuoka prefecture, a lot of people from my dojo go to a lot of tournaments between here and Kitakyushu City, but I’ve never had a chance to shoot in the big city of Fukuoka at this particular dojo which often hosts a lot of high level tests. It was also a big tournament with around 600 people, which is also really fun and a good learning experience. This was my first tournament after becoming renshi, and so I made a promise to myself to not care about hitting the target, but just shoot the absolute best arrows I could and embrace “sutemi.”

I was fortunate to watch a beautiful yawatashi shooting ceremony at the opening of the tournament. Yawatashi ceremonies are performed by one archer and two assistants called kaizoe before events like tournaments, tests, and seminars. The archer for this yawatashi was Hisatsune Sensei, a hanshi sensei from Fukuoka. I’ve seen him around at a lot of tests, but this was my first time seeing him shoot.

The first thing I thought was, “This is probably the oldest hanshi I’ve ever seen.” Even walking seemed like a huge task. You could tell a lot of people were worried, “Is he going to be able to shoot?” Standing up and sitting down took a few extra seconds, and suspense from the viewers. Regardless of his ageing body, Hisatsune Sensei was able to perform a strong and beautiful yawatashi ceremony.

He was assisted by some amazing kaizoe (assistants), who really impressed me with their balance and care throughout the ceremony. Especially the No. 1 assistant (dai-ichi-kaizoe) who paused an extra few seconds after handing the arrows back over to Hisatsune Sensei, waiting to make sure that Sensei was going to be able to stand up again.

After the ceremony I heard someone say, “You know at Sensei’s age, maybe he should have let someone younger do the ceremony.” I didn’t say anything but felt aggravated inside. I don’t now Hisatsune Sensei very well, but what I do know is that he has had an entire life dedicated to the bow, and is in some way a walking national treasure. Who knows when his last yawatashi will be? Who knows for sure if he will be able to complete the shooting ceremony until the very end? That’s what’s so amazing and beautiful! Sutemi. The body may break or fall, but the spirit won’t.

Maybe we’re getting closer to the center of the dark and mysterious bushido, way of the warrior.

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