Last Sunday I had a kyudo competition in my city. It lasted most of the day but was a really fun way to get to know my senpai better and test my skills.
I was nervous because I hadn’t hit the target in weeks, and I had missed a few days of practice. Basically I was freaking out already, and then when I walked in to see how many people were there, it really hit me that I would be watched by a lot of amazing archers.
We were allowed to shoot a few times before actually bowing in and starting the competition, and I felt pretty good about my form and not completely failing. But then they explained the rules.
There were 40 people competing, and we were split into 4 categories: Men, women, youth, and high school students. I was in the youth (I think they said it was for 35 and under) category and there were only 4 of us. One of my teachers told me that if I did well, I could make it to a bigger (prefectural) competition in September.
Two of the ladies in my category were my senpai who were really good, and the other was a girl from my beginner’s class. So basically we were trying not to die of nervousness.
Each archer shot 16 arrows in sets of four. We went down the list four times with lunch in between. I didn’t hit the target before lunch, and the two senpai in my category were already fairing well. The other girl from my beginner’s class also had a hit from her first set. So the pressure was on after lunch. Everyone was watching me and some of the older dojo members kept complimenting me on my form.
Cultural note: I tend to get a lot of attention and compliments by simply being a foreigner. I feel bad sometimes because everyone compliments me and forgets the people I’m sitting next to. But it’s considered more culturally acceptable to talk about me because I’m different. If I were Japanese, I’m sure the compliments would be more evenly dispersed in order to not leave anyone out.
After lunch, we started our third set. I got really close to the target the first few times. I really needed a hit. I had been staring at my scores all day and seeing zeros was killing my mojo. I tried to do what we learned in taekwondo and envision success. So I pictured a 1 next to my name and I pictured myself leaving the dojo after getting a hit.
Apparently that crap works because on my third arrow, I hit the target. The sound was so satisfying. I could feel my face muscles twitch to form a smile but I couldn’t let myself show any emotion. I was standing right in front of the judges so I had to keep it cool.
I didn’t hit with my fourth arrow, but I was happy. As I walked out of the shooting area, I was applauded by an older gentleman in sort of a golf clap and I let myself smile and breathe. A lot of the other people in the waiting area congratulated me and I could have a bit of a ‘YESSS’ moment.
By then, my friend and I were tied for third. We knew we wouldn’t surpass the other girls in our category, so it was either me or her who would advance to the competition in September. I wanted to hit again, but neither of us did. We thought it was over, and I put up my arrows.
Then they called for a tiebreaker between all the people who were third in their category. We were to only use one arrow. I went second, and watching her hit really close to the target made my heart race. I either had to get closer than her or hit and I had only hit once all day.
I tried to make myself relax, and just let the arrow go. It lodged itself right under hers. My heart sunk. Even minutes later, when they wrote her name down as third and mine as fourth, I was still not able to calm down.
We bowed out and were given food and tea to relax after it was over. After I changed, they sat me down with the other girl and asked us which one wanted to participate in the next competition. It made sense. We were technically still tied with one arrow and were really close at the tie breaker. Also, we were both beginners and going to a big competition is a whole lot more stressful than a city-wide one. In the end, my friend told me to go instead of her because she was too nervous. I said that I definitely want to go, even if it’s just for the experience and opportunity to watch more amazing people shoot. They might even have a demonstration, so I will learn a lot.
So that means I am going to the Fukuoka Prefectural competition in September! I got a lot of tips from my teachers and I might be going up a bow since the one I am on now is a little too easy for me to pull. Also, the higher level the bow, the easier it is for the arrow to fly straight, which makes aiming a lot easier.
So that’s my update on how kyudo is going. I am really glad I started it and I hope I can continue no matter what happens after JET.
We have a few days left at school until the summer vacation, and I am getting pumped to go back to Korea! I am also almost finished with my first grad school class, so I am on my way to freedom for a little while.