So during the time when I still didn’t have internet, I wrote the following post after a night of kyudo class. I had another great experience on Friday the 30th that I will discuss directly following what I wrote two weeks ago. So here you are:
So tonight I went to kyudo thinking that we weren’t going to shoot any arrows, but I was wrong. I was a bit nervous about re-injuring my thumb, but so much happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to worry about it once I entered the dojo. I was the last to arrive and they made me stand in the front of the line to start class. I had to enter first and everyone followed me and once we were lined up I had to say “Shimpai shimasu! Rei!” and we all bowed three times, clapped twice, bowed twice, turned around and said yoroshiku to the sensei. The usually teacher’s are a married couple, but his wife couldn’t join us today. In his place, there was another gentleman who is apparently really high ranked from what I could tell. Our teacher told us that it was rare he comes to help, so we should take his advice. We also have another guy who comes in to help us as well, so our three teacher dynamic didn’t change.
We got started as we always do by entering and exiting a few times. There were some high schoolers who were outside waiting to get picked up or something, and it was fun to see their reactions when I came out of the main part near the door where they were standing.
My sensei asked me when we were getting our yugake on, “Monica-chan, do you plan on doing kyudo forever?” and I told him, “Yes!” so he told me to buy a book on kyudo and that there are probably some in English that might be good to check out as well. It’s kind of funny that he only asked me that question.
Once we did entering and bowing and such, we learned hassetsu. It will still take a lot of practice to get all the movements down, but they wanted to let us go ahead and use our bows while doing hassetsu, so we went into the grass near the targets and started to shoot. The longer we went on, the more they corrected us on our form. A lot of the other girls hit the targets most of the time, but I didn’t hit for a long while. Honestly, that wasn’t what I cared about.
My goal for the night was to correct my form to where I wasn’t getting hit by the arrow anymore. I also wanted to stop being afraid of the bow. I accomplished both of those, so I was over the moon. Sensei told me the reason I got hit by the arrow was because my placement was off. There was a little black line on the tsuru, so he told me to connect the arrow above the line and keep my hand in the right place, I won’t get a cut on my thumb anymore. I tried it and I didn’t get hit once!
My sensei helped me a lot in the beginning and then left me to my own devices. He told me my hanare is pretty, but I had a lot of things to focus on, so I didn’t hit the target a lot. I learned a lot about stance and breathing, so every shot counted in my book. I made it my goal to hit three times, which I managed.
The first time I hit the target, I felt as though I were the arrow. I really love the spiritual/ritual aspect of kyudo. In taekwondo, there is so much movement and so much thinking that it’s hard to get to this kind of state of mind after a day of practice. After practicing kyudo I felt refreshed and excited and proud. Kyudo is so hard that I won’t be able to fully grasp most of it for many years, but I look forward to those many years if it feels this good when I practice.
When I watched videos of kyudo, it seems so still and silent. But there is so much going on that when I actually went through hassetsu myself, it didn’t seem so silent. I love the challenge of quieting my spirit while doing all the motions and trying to have good form while also wanting to hit the target. So much to think of yet so calming at the same time.
Friday was a hard day at work because it was blazing hot outside and I had to bike to my farthest school. I was so tired after work that I took a nap before kyudo but I didn’t have time to eat dinner.
My supervisor at the board of education used to do kyudo in high school and I told her to come watch. I got to class and my sensei told me to use the bamboo 10.5 kilo bow that he gave me at the beginning but was too hard for me to pull. He asked me to try again, and this time I could pull it with ease. I have been working out every day, doing push ups and so on, so that I could be worthy of that bow and it made me really proud to be able to use it.
We had six of us in the class that night, so he set up three targets. Three of us would shoot while the others retrieved our arrows. After we were finished, we would quickly remove our gloves and chest guards and go retrieve arrows for the other group. Our instructor also made us switch shooting position every time. During the two hours, we each ended up shooting 12 times.
My supervisor came in about an hour after we started, and she took pictures.
My instructor saw that I was getting hit by the string on my left arm because I wasn’t holding the bow correctly. He spent about twenty minutes showing us all proper technique before letting us shoot again. We did a few rounds on our own, but towards the end, they kept fixing my posture and teaching me how to do each step in hassetsu with more grace and effectiveness. They also told us where to look and how to aim.
After a while, I was able to stop hitting my arm with the string. But by far, my favorite thing about the night was that I hit the target for the first time since shooting from the dojo 28 meters away. I was SO excited that I was grinning during my hanare/zanshin. I am usually good about hiding my emotions after letting go, but I just couldn’t help myself.
One hit out of twelve isn’t very good, but to me it was a miracle. I am more focused on getting my form down and learning the proper technique. And I hit around the target more than I usually do. When we were shooting from the grassy area in front of the targets, we were really close, so our arrows usually hit high. I would also veer to the left or right, but now I know how to aim and it’s becoming much easier.
I am really in love with kyudo. I know a lot of other ALTs who do it and we all want to stick with it long term. I am becoming such a snob that when I see depictions of archery or kyudo that are wrong, I cringe.
When I did Taekwondo, it always felt like there was so much to learn and so much that we had to prepare for. We had to know what to do when attacked from all angles and how to counter and how to trick our opponent. For me, kyudo is a lot more relaxing and I feel like I am more mindful of what I am doing. My body isn’t just trying to counter a blow and throw a punch. It’s going through the same eight motions of hassetsu every time.
I really like how in kyudo we do the same thing as those who are very high ranked. In Taekwondo, we learned new patterns and forms with every new belt we earned. There was always another thing we had to remember. But with kyudo, we will always be doing the same process of placing our feet, reading ourselves, pulling the bow, letting go, and keeping our stance before returning to shoot again. I’m not sure why I find it so interesting, but I know it’s something that I won’t be bored doing any time soon.