Return to “Zen” Kyudo

  When I first started Kyudo, I joined a school that had no ranks. It was like Kung Fu, you knew it or you did not. You where a student or a teacher, many times if you were smart and wanted to grow you switched from one to another, teacher/student. Because you still had your own teacher, besides the student in front of you which was also your teacher in a different way. “One teaches , two learn”.

My desire was not for rank it was about being a better Kung Fu teacher. That may sound weird but there are qualities within Kyudo which carry over to Kung Fu. Kyudo is another form, another face of Kung Fu. As it is another face of Chan/Zen, as is Kung Fu. Different side of the same coin. The Yin and Yang Of Zen/Chan. Movement and stillness. Kyudo is this combination of both stillness and movement at the same time. Well so is Zazen, Tai Chi and the rest but I think you get my meaning. If not, then you need to practice more and spend less time reading about this stuff. 
So with that in mind I figured I could learn, enhance my “Fu” teaching skill and meditation practice with understanding the form and formlessness of Kyudo. When it was decided for us to move to Japan, I found the form of Kyudo I was learning was not acceptable in main stream Japan for me to go somewhere and practice train, grow. I needed to learn main stream Kyudo the Renmei system and I needed to be a certain rank in order to freely practice. So began my Renmai quest. If you have been following this blog and the predecessor you know that story already.
Now during this time in the states I still shoot with people of other styles that only were interested in the “Zen” aspects of Japanese archery. I recall one friend saying to me on our last shooting together, ” shoot for enlightenment”. Now there is some raised eyebrows about being enlightened via Kyudo. I do not shoot to be enlightened, though I do not question that it can not be done. There are those who become enlightened carrying water, a knock on the head, blowing a flute or a word. So it is possible. I also believe there are degrees or mini enlightenments, which come sitting, moving, singing, watching a cloud, sailing etc. I shoot to practice oneness, being in the zone. Like sitting, because I can and it helps my Holistic wholeness.
However with recent events I have become aware that I had lost that purpose. I was drawn to the darkside of the force. Seduced by the Rank demon. My drive was more about passing to the next Rank, making up the failed test, moving onto the next, than simply being better, smoother, more in tune, more Sanmi-Ittai. 
With our waning finances I needed to stop and reassess my motive, my push, my obsession to rush to the next test. The event with the Shrine Kyudojo forced me to look at that. It was not about training to raising my skill, it was about my ego, at failing the San-san test, the darkside of myself pulling me, pushing me to test again, Use the little money we had, which we needed for important things for the high of the drug pride. Getting my ego a fix. Most likely I would have failed, and wasted that sacrificed money. Because I would have been trying too hard for the prize.
 This is the danger of the lost of the Zen mind when shooting, the draw, the seduction of the target, perhaps what is meant by the target is self when shooting, Going beyond that desire to hit. It is at the least a form of it and I can see the value of no rank yet at the same time the value of the test, the challenge. Kyudo is like sitting Zen, not just from the focus of achievement of Sanmi-ittai , but also over coming the demons of ego when shooting, like over coming the demons of legs cramps, itches, the monkey mind when doing sitting Meditation. As well as facing self, the true self, the good and the bad and dealing with them both in their varied forms.
Finances, circumstances and logic have forced me to slow down my quest, to re think, reassess my practice and return to the Zen way. To shoot because I can and the joy of shooting, the pleasure of the zone. Testing will be postponed, until I do not have to force myself and strain to make it happen, financially and spiritually. Besides overcoming the attachment to passing. When I shot at the world cup in Tokyo I placed in the finals because when I shot it did not matter. When it mattered to me in the finals my aim was not true.

When an archer is shooting for nothing he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
he goes blind
or sees two targets
– he is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize
divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning than of shooting
and the need to win
drains him of power…Chuang Tzu


It has always been my philosophy when I have to force something it is not the “Zen” way, I need to back off. When I forced onward on the ocean it cost us the boat, maybe later it would have been our lives. I was forcing toward the test in Nov. the incident at Kashita was the Universe’s way of saying, Dude slow down! Go back to basics…

So I am backing off from pushing to test in Nov. I will make the connection I need at Kishiwada Kyudojo, with Yamashita Sensei and focus on just my improvement.  Also building my makiwara Dojo at home. When I can hit without thought, without desire, without care, I will be ready for the next level. For now I need to return to Zen Kyudo and targeting my self…and finances

2 thoughts on “Return to “Zen” Kyudo

  1. For what it’s worth I had an interesting conversation with my teacher on the train to Ise. I was talking about the test I’d failed and mentioned that I’d had an image of what it meant to shoot at that level and waited until I thought I might have attained it before deciding to sign up. Her suggestion was that this wasn’t the best way to go about it. Instead of seeing yourself as progressing from rank to rank, blah blah blah, what you should do is have in your mind your highest (kyudo) goal, keep your eye on that, and then use the ranking tests merely as a way to check and see how you’re doing. Basically you’re asking the judges a question, not seeking their approval. The goal isn’t “to pass the test,” but rather somewhere out there (or up there) in the distance, and the test is just a checkpoint along the way. Since we were riding a train she used that as the analogy: our goal was to get to Ise but we were passing through these other towns along the way. We had to go through each one, yes, but they didn’t matter to us very much and we didn’t stress out about them. What matters is more the ultimate goal.

    So keep in mind that highest goal, whether shooting for enlightenment, truth, goodness, beauty, or something else, and if along the way you want to check how things are going, go “ask” by taking a test. It’s so easy here, with testing going on all the time all over the place, that there’s no reason to push yourself as I imagine there might be in the US, where the chances are more rare. Also I’m not sure what you meant but I’ve never experienced any lack of freedom to practice regardless of what level I was supposedly at. In fact the higher you go the more responsibilities you end up having, the more politics you run into, so to a large extent the greatest freedom is at the lower levels, where all we have to do is shoot! With rank comes obligations.

    That said, as you can see in the way the dan level criteria are structured, from shodan to 4th dan it’s mostly about technique and getting that stable. If Nogami-sensei says you’re there, then you’re there, and you can take the next test any day, whenever time and the bank account allow.

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