My first kyudo test was on Saturday and I had been worked up about it since we first found out we would be expected to test, which was months ago. Most of us who went started in May, so we have barely been practicing; about twice a week for 5 months. But kyudo tests only come around twice a year, so it was now or never.
Kyudo tests are similar to Taekwondo tests, of which I have taken three. In Taekwondo, we would have to memorize a pattern or two, memorize definitions, and memorize certain sparring techniques according to our belt level. Belt tests were always something my friends and I nervously awaited, but we eventually knew what to expect. I had only my experiences at competitions to draw on regarding kyudo, and competitions are pretty much the opposite of tests.
In kyudo, tests are based on form, posture, mental stability, and occasionally, one’s ability to hit the target. In kyudo, hitting the target anywhere counts as a point. In competitions, points are added up and whoever has the most in their category or as a district/city, wins. However, until about 四段 (Yon-Dan, rank four) archers aren’t necessarily passed or failed for hitting the target. Instead, they look at how well you enter, bow, sit down, do the eight steps of shassetsu, and exit. Hitting the target means that you have practiced your aim and your form was in the proper position to line up with the target. It’s like an added bonus.
On the day of my testing, I woke up and met my fellow members and we drove to the testing site, which I had been to for my long-distance competition. We weren’t sure how soon we would be starting, but my number was 18 out of over 300, so I was really close to the front. I was in the fourth group to shoot, and I was the second to shoot in my group. It’s nerve wracking being so close to the judges.
When we finally got called to sit down outside the shooting area, my heart started to pound. I took deep breaths and told myself not to let my emotions show no matter what. That’s a main thing they look for, mental stability. We stood up and once I reached the threshold of the shooting area, I could feel all eyes on me, mostly because I was the only non-Japanese person there. I knew everyone would scrutinize how well I could play at this traditionally Japanese sport.
Unfortunately, the person who was first in line sat down too far back and we were told to stand up and retry. I was getting flustered by remembered that it wasn’t my fault, and hoped the judges didn’t mark me off for sitting down when the first in line did, since there’s a rule that we always keep an eye on him or her for our cues.
We sat down in the correct spot and bowed. Once the last of the group before us bowed out, we stood and walked up to our spots. We sat down again, turned toward the judges, and placed our bows upright in front of us. I made sure to do as they told me in practice, to never do anything before the person in front of you. Again, she was a little awkward so I had to hold my position a few times. The first time we shoot, we have to deal with carrying two arrows at the same time, so when I put my second arrow on my bow before standing up, it started to slip out of my grasp. This meant that when I stood up and took it up in my right hand, I had to do so quickly to avoid letting it drop. I think the judges saw I was having a hard time keeping it on the bow.
I breathed deeply and shot a little high and to the left, but not too far off the mark. I did much better keeping still while holding my bow with my second arrow. I was calm and tried not to think of my captive audience as I sunk the arrow into the target with a BAM! I held my position and tried not to look too excited, but I was fist pumping in my head. However, after collecting my feet, I accidentally stepped out with my left foot instead of my right, and knew I would get counted off. But I had hit the target!
My teachers and members praised me and were telling other kyudo teams about me and how I hit the target. They told me to start studying for the test, since I would probably be considered for the First Dan (初段) which is considered a jump in ranks, since we went in unranked.
I was really excited and thought I would surely get to First Dan, so I practiced writing the order of the shassetsu in kanji. However, another one of my members came over and chided herself for completely messing up. “I left on the wrong foot!!” she moaned. “Ugh I messed up so much!” I didn’t say anything, because inside that’s how I felt. But I didn’t want to give up hope that I was still being considered for First Dan.
Finally, they posted the results of the first few testers. I was placed at First Rank (一級) which is excellent and only one step down from First Dan, but I was disappointed. The fellow member who had been kicking herself just moments ago for the same mistake I made, was now wide-eyed as she saw her name, along with only two others, who were asked to take the test for First Dan. To be honest, I was jealous. We both did about the same. She hit the target on her first arrow and was shaky and left on the wrong foot, just as I did. However, she was mad at herself whereas I had allowed myself to get cocky and do a happy dance.
I’m still happy with how I did. I hit the target in front of hundreds of people and I have progressed tremendously since May. However, I will only be able to take the next test in April, and even if I get placed in First Dan, I probably won’t be able to take the next kyudo test for Second Dan (二段) since I’m thinking of ending my JET experience after two years.
At any rate, I’m glad I am doing kyudo and I have learned a lot and made friends in my community. I need to remember how much effort I have put into it and that it’s not for nothing. I also know exactly how to prepare for the next test and I won’t be the least bit nervous when it comes around in April.
Kyudo is a great way for me to learn patience, diligence, and perseverance. Tests aren’t the only thing I can prepare for, as I will have many more competitions until then. Next stop: accuracy practice!