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A commentary by Don Symanski

Kobayashi Harumichi's kyudo text was written more than 75 years ago. The writing can seem confusing and unclear. As Americans we are not used to oblique terms, but such terms are common in old Japanese kyudo texts. Oblique kyudo terms and analogies (oral or written) developed from knowledgeable experienced teachers of earlier times. The terms, depending on who hears them, hide or clarify the real meaning of a teaching. For an experienced archer, his teachers' words or action could clarify what he has experienced and reflected on, and for a beginner, the meaning of the same words would be hidden. My intent with this commentary on draw length is to clarify a few terms related to the Bishu Chikurin shooting form.

In attempting to understanding another archers words I need to state the sense of those words in my own words. This writing exercise taxes me to make clear what I need to work on when the matter in question is not resolved in my mind, or accomplished in my practice. I allow the saying: "Don't be afraid to be a fool."

...From; Chapter 6: Kai

" The Seven Coordinations of the Chikurin Shooting Method"
by Kobayashi Harumichi (translated by Michael Rich)

"There are two kinds of draw lengths (yazuka); the length you don't pull (hikanu yasoku) and the length you pull (hiku yasoku). "The length you don't pull" refers to the greatest length of arrow you can pull naturally with the entire body in balance, the bones and muscles in perfect condition without the slightest defect. So it means "the length beyond which you can't pull any more."

"The length you pull," refers to an undeveloped archer, who because the aspect of his bones is narrow and without extension, there is a length he shouldn't draw beyond, so this is called the arrow length you pull. We have beginners pull arrows that are too long in order to teach them, and as they gradually become more skilled and achieve the five part filling (gobu no tsume), their draw length will become fixed, and then you will refer to their draw as the length you don't pull."

Harumichi is referring to the draw length of the developed archer and the beginner archer in Kai. The experienced archer has developed not only his drawing capacity but also the whole of Kai (the five part filling) and his kyudo form up to that point in the shot.
As an experienced archer, "The length you don't pull" simply means you have fully established the length and limit you can draw the yumi in balance at Kai and there is no more pull to be accomplished. Done. Your limit has been met.

William Acker in his book; "Japanese Archery" says it this way; "In the yazuka which cannot be drawn (merely with the arms) the whole body is in equilibrium. It is the utmost length that can be drawn without and distortion or departure from ideal form."

Kai is no casual meeting of body and mind. Drawing a yumi in kyudo has mindfulness to it... mind-full-ness. The mind is full with attention to the activity of the moment, and proceeds moment to moment. The need for a fullness of attention; mind synchronized with body in the moment when maintained can spread to all needed parts of the body. Effort of mind meeting body creates openings to seeing into the quality of Kai.

In the phrase; "the greatest length of arrow you can pull naturally with the entire body in balance…" the word "naturally has significance. "Naturally," here can mean; knowing and performing the ease of harmony and balance of body and mind to ones limit, without straining or distorting the body. The intuitive archer senses, recognizes, and performs his full and limited capacity with the body he is endowed with. Knowing one's limits has the positive aspect of seeing capacity and still striving forward in the moment to what's next.
Acker speaks of "unnaturalness" in inexperienced archers as strain in the face, body or arms. The body hasn't come to be trained to equalize, extend and balance it movements with the bow and it's strength. Coming back to naturalness is letting go of stress and allowing the proper relaxing in the balance of posture or movement.

In reference to the phrase regarding use of "bones and muscles in perfect condition without the slightest defect;" The archer develops a tempered sense of muscle use, and as well, he knows when to set the bone structure in place. Muscles have their limits of strength and the archer comes to know this intimately through attentive practice. Experience brings intuitive readiness in the use of strength and stability of body when needed, no more or no less. The challenge is to stay at the edge of what is needed to be used in muscle and bone.

For example, in the training of lifting weights, a trainee is given a certain number of repetitions to do, with a certain weight of dumbbell by the trainer. Exercising with the first set of weights is relatively easy but by the second and third sets the trainee sees the truth of effort to properly lift the weight through the repetitions. The weight given by the trainer is designed to fully engage the trainee through all three sets of the lifting. The trainee sees the stretching of physical and mind effort and the perseverance it take to fully do the last repetitions. Practice brings the knowledge of judgment and conditioning; when to go further, stop, or be satisfied with the effort. Over time, the trainee through embracing the truth of effort, gains experience to become his own trainer. The experienced archer becomes the trainer and trainee.

The beginning archer generally has little sense and reference point for what ya length he can pull. Similarly, for some time, a beginner has little sense of what strength yumi to use in his practice. A qualified experienced instructor points out to the student where to start in these matters. It is critical for the beginner student to receive and accept perspectives on fundamental kyudo principles that are innate to the kyudo form, otherwise the student labors against himself and falls into incorrect habits.

Development of a full draw for an archer comes in stages. In each stage of development a longer draw length can occur when the beginner opens and extends his upper body, not just his arms. The result can be full balance and placement of muscle and bones. "The length you pull," is then the limit at each stage of development until the length you don's pull arrives. Stages may not be well defined, but through the perseverance of directed practice and clarity of intent the movement of stages takes place.

For the beginner "there is a length he shouldn't draw beyond:" What is a draw length that is too far? At each stage in his development the archers' limits are interwoven with the degree of attention given not just to his arms but shoulders, chest, wrist, glove and thinking. The effort of mindfulness brings them into focus. The archer practices within the limits of each stage but strives to keep open a mental view and physical place of a greater limit. Practicing in periods of focus, learning, and further opening lead to further practice and learning. You understand you are a learning student. Correspondingly in friendships between people It takes openness in meeting a friend and fearlessness in departing.

There comes the question of "overdrawing." What is overdrawing in kyudo? We are not overdrawing our checking accounts, though the same lack of awareness to our limits is present.

Have we overdrawn or seen it?

Maybe you have seen overdrawing done by students using too weak a yumi relative to their greater strength to draw that particular bow. The student overpowers the yumi. The draw isn't a challenge to the archer. The archer dominates the yumi's weaker strength, not meeting it, and thus not meeting his own strength and limits. There is no fullness of effort.

Overdrawing can be shown by an absentminded archer. It is done by using too short a ya for one's draw pull. In drawing the yumi, the tip of the short ya comes in past the guiding edge of the yumi above the grip. The ya slides onto the inner surface of the yumi with the tip of the ya pressured against the inside surface by the held draw. Then, in further absentmindedness, when the glove hand releases the tsuru the ya collapses under pressure into itself fracturing into pieces, thus causing possible physical harm to the archer, the yumi, and surrounding archers.

Some kyudo schools and teachers use a formula measurement for "the length you pull" by measuring from midpoint of the Adams apple or neck outward horizontally along the out stretched left arm and hand to the tip of the middle finger, then with a 5 centimeter addition for safety. This yazuka method is most commonly used for beginners.

Other teachers, as implied by Harumichi, have beginners use and extra long ya in training until a draw length comes to be established.

A developing archer can't hold onto a pre-formulated yazuka unless it truly is the "the length you don't pull." If he adheres to a formula meant only to be a starting point he limits his development.

In addition to accomplishing "the length you don't pull," the archer works to "achieving the five part filling" and then the true yazuka will be there.

"To achieve the five part filling," is another discussion.