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SILENCE AND THE NARROW PATH
 

REALIZING THE KYUDO FORM

THE TARGET

Definitions:
To “realize,” according to Webster's dictionary, is "to bring something into concrete existence." This is a grand idea. What is there that can be created and held onto? What do we know that can be lasting and permanent? In doing kyudo, we can define the word "realize" as the process of observing the changing nature of what we do without getting stuck in our experience. Let's define the "kyudo form" as not just "our kyudo tradition," but inclusive of the forms practiced in other schools - Kyudo as a whole.
I invite you to research the whole of kyudo without judgments or prejudice and to take aim at this target with willing perseverance.

The following discussions and investigations about the makiwara and mato are meant to be only an introduction to the subjects from one practitioner's point of view. I realize putting words on paper freezes the ongoing moment, making what I write another target.

Makiwara:
The first target used in learning the kyudo form is the makiwara. The distance from the makiwara to the center of the archer's body is the length of one yumi (bow). For many beginning students the makiwara target seems surprisingly close to the shooter. The closeness of the makiwara target is a simple and safe practicality; it has a surface area large enough to receive and stop a ya (arrow). For students, who might be fearful about using a weapon or who have no prior experience in shooting a bow, the closeness of the makiwara reduces concern about where the ya will go.
Makiwara in North America are most commonly hay or straw bales resting on a wooden stand.

In our investigation of "the target" we will limit it to the context of Kyudo. The title of the paper suggests that in "realizing the kyudo form" we will observe ourselves in our effort of doing the co-ordination of the form and not solidify our views of that. Our practice will be an open investigation without solidifying into verdicts.

1.WHAT IS A TARGET IN KYUDO?
A target is single point at which we fully focus our mind and body.

2. WHAT A TARGET DOES?
A target draws our attention and reflects back our mind. It draws us toward it or push us away. The target creates a desire of wanting to hit it with a ya. The target creates fear in our minds and effects us physically. A target challenges our abilities to communicate with it.

3. HOW TO RELATE TO THE TARGET?
We have the co-ordinated use of our minds and body to investigate . We have the creation, and practice of the kyudo form.

4. HOW TO HIT THE TARGET?
Direct precise mental intention and balanced physical effort in a series of movements using a yumi and ya and witness the ya depart. Be present to what occurs next

 

In learning the kyudo form, students are instructed to turn their head slowly to the makiwara and sight a point, (eg. the hollow end of a blade of straw,) in a straight line directly in front of them on the makiwara. Performing this sighting each time establishes a measured visible reference point from which correct alignment of the body can be made. The planes of the shoulders, hips, and toes are other areas of straight alignment to this target point.
In going through the co-ordinations, a second means of measuring is establishing vertical and horizontal crosses in one's body and with the yumi and ya These are further means of alignment to a sighted point.
The effort of measuring with our eyes and feel within our body unites with the needed intention of mental aim. The accuracy of effort of body, balanced with mental aim is an ability necessary in the practice of kyudo. Doing the kyudo form is a stream of these united efforts.

It could be asked; why strive to have straight alignment and crosses? The goal is to create a straight shot. The measuring of alignment and the crosses create the precision of balance within your body as well as a precise relationship to the target in order to release a straight shot. Alignment is not only creating a straight line to a target point, but an active process of making adjustments when needed. The archer comes to know in subtle adjustments the feel of what this means. He comes to know and naturally follow what is in alignment and intuitively correct misalignment.

Shooting straight relies on fullness of intention, straight sightedness, correct alignment and maintained crosses.

Most often beginner's ya don't go to the point sighted on the makiwara. Beginners see their shots go all over the face of the makiwara. Early satisfaction may stop at just being able to remember the steps of the form and release the ya relative to a general area on the makiwara.
In repeated practice, seeing imprecision should provoke the sense of questioning and investigation in the student's mind. Perceived obstacles become one's practice.

As students progress and relax in using the form they increasingly question and reflect on where and how the ya pierces the target face relative to their established point of vision. Why are ya not going to the point I am sighting? Imprecision can be no more than being distracted in a loss of a continuity of attention. Repeated questioning of basic principles of practice is necessary. Even if no clear answer or sense of correctness comes, questioning has a power of movement toward insight.
Makiwara practice is quite simple in being a vehicle with simple tools in which to create intimate communication within oneself, as well as with a precise target reference point outside one's body. With deep investigation you may question whether the target point is really outside yourself. With insight you recognize and intimate continuity of effort is needed to maintain attention and be responsive to the call to communicate. This effort may be the target that shows the way.
As part of the learning process at the makiwara, a student may begin to recognize inner conflicts of thought and emotion that arise; noticing ingrained hopes and fears, likes and dislikes in what they do, or general discursive dialogues. These conflicts fog clear seeing and being in the presence of persevering effort. It is important to simply acknowledge, without avoidance, this type of thinking and return again and again to the action at hand, particularly in the midst of doing the coordinations. Simplicity of thought and calmness of mind are needed for clarity and straight sightedness in coming to see the target.

It's astonishing how many shots /years it takes to consistently align one's body and feel that alignment in a relaxed yet directed uprightness that can be relied on.
Over months and years of makiwara practice the acceptance and understanding of the makiwara's function transforms from being a crude receptacle to a precise tool of learning. Slowly the student begins seeing how the face of the makiwara, and more particularly a precise point of vision takes effort to see and inn turn become a clear reflection of the shooters mind and actions. The makiwara doesn't lie and is without blame.
It's difficult to see clearly one's own imbalances of vision, alignment and uprightness. Guidance by instructors is meant to be an impartial view given to a student at a time of need to guide a student in stages of development. Through insight, a student develops his own abilities to see without biase where he needs self-correction and where effort lies. A traditional kyudo form is a proven guideline and structure that both the student and instructor work with.
Remembering what you thought was an insight into correct alignment and action one day may not seem to apply the next practice session. These uncertainties can go on for years.
What do you rely on? You have the basic principles of the form, instructor's guidance, the references of past masters insights, and a growing reliance on your abilities of self-reflection. You practice and look again and again until the principles become proven through consistent practice.
Years of training can be spent at the makiwara; it is a basic reference point to begin with or return to in order to research the balanced working of mind and body.
Whether a kyudo student becomes proficient in the precision of the kyudo form or not, there is a self existing composure of body and mind in doing the form that can be felt from the beginning of practice. Much of this composure has to do with a student's receptivity to continued investigation and effective one-pointedness of mind and effort. Experiencing the honesty of your efforts in practicing alone needs to be carried into practice with fellow practitioners.



Mato;
The second target, called a mato, is placed at a standard distance of twenty-eight meters (91.86’) from a designated shooting line (Shai). The mato face is paper stretched over a round frame 14” in diameter and 6" deep. Black and white rings, or a bull's eye are painted or printed onto the paper. The center of the mato is placed 27 cm (10.63”) above level ground. The level ground at the mato is level with the ground or shooting platform from which the archer shoots. This information is the standard for all kyudo organizations in Japan, Europe, and North America.

From the time I was a beginner kyudo student, some of my early impressions and observations to mato shooting are worthwhile noting. Secondly, worth noting is instruction I received regarding mato shooting and the target.

Impressions and Observations;
1. The gut response to first sighting the target was: “Ha! Now here is a target!” The mato was captivating to see, relative to the makiwara; it was what I imagined a target to be. Standing before the mato with a yumi and ya and it's challenging distance drew out a primitive desire. The attraction is like an eagle spotting a field mouse, a natural spontaneous impulse. This attraction disturbed calmness of mind and overall composure.

2. At times the blinding desire to hit the target turned my mind to forgetfulness and the loss of attention in effort to be present to what I was doing in the form. I recognized early on that this repeated disturbance of mind would be a challenge to work with in mato shooting.

3. Blind desire was most evidently felt in my Hanare and similarly seen in others shooting. The sight of the kake hand /arm was without connection to the bow hand. It reminded me of an abandoned and neglected child on a street corner, not knowing where he was.

4. The distance of 28 meters to the mato and the surrounding sense of vastness of space were intimidating at times when shooting. The effect of this feeling contributed to a shrinking quality in postures of the form.

5. Hitting or missing the mato with a ya mirrored back immediate emotional /physical responses. These responses had residual effects to mind/body. Most notably the mind would be stopped or disturbed enough to become fixated on thoughts or emotion. After this initial feedback, following actions of my form had a brilliance of self-consciousness, weakness of body, or strength with pride, depending on where the ya hit. Thoughts of not heeding warnings of instruction not to be fixated on the shot would leave a residue of guilt.

6. What I thought of accomplished abilities in the kyudo form were totally exposed with each shot at the mato. Mato shooting was innately a public expression and event. What I did, was seen by everyone. The sense of exposure was there whether I was shooting alone or with other practitioners. This nakedness was also evident when I observed others shoot. It was painful to watch at times, because some students were less able to cover up what was occurring with them. They too had the same conditioning. I remember some students feeling so exposed when shooting, even at the makiwara, let alone mato, that they left the dojo and never returned without saying a word. I wondered if it occurred to them that all of us were vulnerably paddling in the same boat.
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These varied impressions and observations show a few areas of challenge and work to the archer.

Instruction:
I don't remember how long it was, but it was several months of practice at the makiwara before I was allowed to shoot what was termed, "long distance shooting;" basically mato practice. There was little formality of form in going to the shooting line for the first time. I had two ya; one was placed down in front of me on the platform from a kneeling position in a semi formal manner and then I stood with the second ya and shot in the same formal way I was trained in at the makiwara. A few classes later I was given, basic training in the Hitote shooting form. The broad range of movements in the Hitote form allowed space for more continuous attention and effort to be maintained.

1. At the mato for the first time I was instructed to do the kyudo form just as I trained to practiced it at the makiwara. Hitting the target was said not to matter. These instructions given by an instructor were words often repeated by Sensei.
Now, in reflection, the instruction I was given seems informal. The gravity of difficulty to carry out the instructions became evident within the first few shots. Fundamental principles of the form seemed to evaporate into the surrounding space…a ship having lost it's rudder.

2.From his viewing seat in front of us on the shooting platform for Mato practice Sensei would often speak a few words, after a student shot and was leaving the platform; "No balance!" or "Too much thinking!" or "Target! Target! Target! Not Target! Kyudo is Meditation!"
Only one of these instructional reprimands was said and needed for a student to reflect on and be reminded to recall habits of imbalance or examine where there was no balance in our form on that particular shot.
At Makiwara practice Sensei used these brief phrases as he observed our form, so we knew what he was saying. The corrections we had received at the makiwara often had to do with alignment, balance of release at Hanare, or a review of the five crosses.

3." Too much hope!"
Here is another phrase only Sensei would use or could use to remind a student of their forgetfulness, fixation in emotion, or blind attachment to the target. How strong hope of accomplishment or fear of failure is. How fortunate to have a simple format from which to recognize this human quality.

4. Instruction; (from the first notebook I wrote in after kyudo classes, November, 1986; five years after I began kyudo)
"Reminder at the end of class about the spirit of the co-ordinations;
Ashibumi: you are responding (not quickly) to the sound of a bell in the night … the target calls. Your head turns toward the target…turning your head as if finding a snowflake in the midst of falling snow you sight the target…communication happens as you step forward…in a certain way you've picked the target…carefully…as if looking at a branch for a flower arrangement about to be cut…you look…then snip…not too high, not too low.
Dozukuri; slowly…the same…a bronze statue.
Yumi-gamae; Doing the action, not just to do it slowly but to be in touch…in co-ordination with what's around you…body, speech, and mind…balance."
Note that the spirit of movement within the first three co-ordinations of the form is not about precise physical alignment to a particular point on a target. The instruction is to lightly touch into a continuity of attention in yourself. An attention that is maintained. What is maintained in effort is the target.

6.Instruction; (notebook; February, 1987)
"Sensei spoke of the release of the ya in Hanare…similar to sitting meditation. That (at) upon release and through the vocal utterance of 'ett!' …Discursiveness of mind is cut…here lies mind cleaning…what comes back from the (target) mirror is without discussion or chatter."

7. Instruction; (notebook; January, 1987)
"Shooting is for mind balance only, not target." Sensei suddenly said this to me as we watched students practice.

8. Instruction; (notebook; February, 1987)
"Zanshin(lingering mind and body); In reaching Zanshin, Dozukuri's strength remains in your legs and lower body until your arms are brought down into Yumidaioshi. You ride out with the feeling mind of the shot (out beyond the target) like the lessoning (lingering) deep resonant sound of a temple bell rung once. When it is not there, then move into the Yumidaioshi position.
Follow the path of the ya, allowing your mind to rest in this space."
This is difficult to understand since the body habit want to relax in the Zanshin position.
_______

In Shibata sensei's eyes instruction in manners was as equally important to instruction in the kyudo form, if not more so. Though this is certainly an important area to present, there is a need to limit the scope of this introduction.
_______

9. I first heard the kyudo maxim, "Do not let the target steal your heart" given by Uozumi Sensei to a group of students at a Renmei kyudo program almost two years ago. The maxim seemed to me to have poignant yet vast meaning for application in mato practice. How is it to be understood and applied?
First, I wrote Michael Rich, a friend and translator of kyudo texts and asked him the source of the maxim. He kindly wrote back.
"Teki ni torowarenai shingan"
"Become the mind eye that is not captured by the target."
Said by the late Nakano Keikichi, a revered master archer in Japan.

What does "become" mean? Who or what becomes?
One dictionary definition of "become" is "for something to come into existence." Is it possible that "becoming," means "to activate"?

What is the meaning of "mind eye"?
One of the brief definitions in Japanese of "mind eye" that Michael translated is; "mind eye" …"gain an insight (into)

What is it that is held back not to be captured by the target as you look face to face into it?
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So, I conclude this introduction to the target with questions and stress investigation into the work of the practice as the vehicle for understanding. Perhaps through that we will find the target.