The day started for me at 4:30 a.m. Insane! However, I wanted to not rush and I needed to catch an early train. So once I really woke up after checking my equipment I did some Zazen. Once upon a time when i was doing Kung Fu tournaments, I stopped thinking of them as competitions but as places to do demos of my skills and art. That took the stress , or at least reduced it. This was my mind set for the day. At least that was my goal. Just being in the moment doing a demo, doing my best at the demo. Fully present in each moment, the end did not matter only the now moment.
It turned into a long day. I made it through with the help of friends and strangers.
I made it to the end train station with no problem. However once there I took the wrong direction. After walking a bit I felt I should ask if I was going correct. How lucky I did. The guy told me I was going the opposite way from where I wanted!! I had seen some kyudoka walking in this direction so figured this was the way. Wrong!Turns out they were going to McDonalds! 😦I went back to the train station. I checked my map. Hmm. Ok I see my error. Still I thought I would ask again. There were a group of young Kyudoka standing on the side. I asked them. One said he would take me there. Helpful kindness from a stranger! Yokatta!! We walked and chatted a bit. Some of which I did not understand, but that was ok. I am sure he was tickled to be talking with me. His guess what happened to me today story 🙂
Once there at the Dojo he went his way, and I looked for a place to sit, since the building was not open as yet. A short time later I spotted a couple of my school mates. One came over and said hello and said I should join them. I did so, and greeted the others as they arrived. I wore my South Ca seminar Kyudo T-shirt, they found that interesting.
When the building open we went in and got a spot. It was great that my schoolmates where there as I did not know what was going on. They watched out for me and made sure I was and went where I was suppose to be! I would have missed the written test if they had not been watching out for me. Again yokatta for the kindness.
One thing was a bit strange was not having a changing room. The men all changed right there in front of everyone in the waiting hall. So I did as well. not really a big deal. You can change without exposing and for a old hippie not a earth shaking thing anyway to be nude. Still as a modest person it did give me a few moments of thought.
Due to my Schoolmates watching out for me I was able to make the written test. I have no idea it was going on. It was posted in Japanese the times, and place, but I had no clue it was there or what. I was gathered up by a couple of Schoolmates and taken to the location. Yokatta!
In the written test room. The questions were written on the board in kanji. I kind of understood what they were from hearing them as he wrote. However I was not sure. Just as I was about to ask if I had English question a Sensei came over and spoke to me. He gave me a paper with my questions in English circled. Yakatta!
After a while he came back and asked if I was ok. I said fine and thanked him. After I was finished and thinking if I should do something. Another Sensei comes over and tells me that the test is over at blah blah time. It was already 2 minutes past that. I thank him and said i was finished. He said I could turn in my test if so. (No one else had so that was why I was waiting). So I got up and went to the front. I turned in my paper and walked away. I was called back and told I needed to put my name age and number on the bottom. I did so, thanked him again and left bowing the door. They smiled and waved. Everyone was kind. Did I mention I was the ONLY foreigner there that day. I usually stand out, but today I really stood out. However I did not feel uncomfortable at all at any point.
Next was the l-o-n-g w-a-i-t. My number was 89 so there was a long wait for me. I figure out one shocking point! I was Ochi, the last in the line up. oMG! This was going to be a challenge. My knee was ok, but I had not done any long term practice on kneeling because of the injury. Ok, I was going to need strong spirit to pull this off. It was not going to be pleasant. I prepared myself. During some of the waiting time I did some Zazen, I did some light TaiChi, I stretched, I waited. From time to time someone from our group would go shoot, we all went to watch and give spiritual support.
There was a time I went to warm up on the Makiwara, there was a woman front of me. Later I find out she is in my group. She had her name written on her hakama in Kanji. This Kanji in Chinese says Shaolin. I thought how cool, it must be a sign!
Oh, before I got in line to practice, I was putting on my Yukake and a Sempai saw my purple inner glove, he said I should wear white. Ok so that was twice I was told, so I changed to a white spare I had and made a mental note white at test time.
Finally finally finally I was up. I was fairly calm. I had seen one of the ladies show another some finger thingy that looked like a Ninja sign which was suppose to help relax the body. I did not use it. I breathed like doing Chan. A couple of the people in line spoke to me with the usual questions. Slowly we made our way up to the entrance.
So now it was “on” ! It was explained about the entrance, and exit and taking short steps. The Sensei who spoke to me easier repeated it to me in English. I had figured out what was happening before hand, but it was good to have it clear. Ok, show time!
We entered bowed and did our line up. I could see all my school mates including Watase Sensei who had shown up earlier, on the side. This taken in via my side vision. I tuned them out. I only concerned myself with holding kiza. After doing Ikasu for the opening part I let my left knee down a bit to rest since I knew it was going to be a long wait. I figured as I was last in the line no judge could see me. I waited, I breathed. I noticed one judge bend out a little and look in my direction, I lifted myself a bit more. I breathed. Finally I could stand, ahhhhhhhh. Relief. Now I went through each setup motion. Then it was my turn to shoot. Again I only thought about each step and everything I had told to have on place, to do and not to do! I shot!
I gave no thought to the arrow after that. My thoughts were holding Zanshin, looking elegant as the Kacho said. Not rushing Zanshin. Then on the proper way to lower the Yumi as Yamashita Sensei and Watase had said. Then back into Kiza. The proper steps to raise the Yumi and hold.
This time I held ikasu the whole time. Although a bit higher than the palm space called for. Now the effort and waiting was starting to take it’s toll. I felt myself shaking with the effort to maintain my position. The people in front wanted to also to their best so no one was rushing through their shots. Therefore I was kneeling longer this time around as it was those in front last chance. Mentally I told them to hurry. Mentally I told me to hang in there. Breath.
Finally my turn again. I stood and focus on each step. I was so drained from the kiza I could not see clearly at first. I drew Chi ( ki) and focus my effort. Once in Kai, my cheek knocked the arrow off placement. Usually this is where I miss the shot because of the lack of focus after the reset. This time as I was the last shooter I felt no reason to rush into the shot. I simply turned my head more and refocused, then released.
Again once the arrow was gone I gave it no thought. Thought went to Zanshin, closing then exiting. Exiting was tricky. The whole arrangement was different from Kishiwada Dojo. Step in with the right, leave with the left step. No matter how well you did up until then if you stepped out wrong, you fail!
I had seen others had done only one step back, after shooting. I did so then turned and walked to the exit point. I could feel and see many eyes on me. It was a tricky exit. I followed as I had practiced. Step step step turn, bow, then step step, turn step leave. For the most part I did it correct. The most important part stepping with the left foot out was done. However when turning I made more of a angle turn than a straight right angle turn. That gave me concern. My helpful school bud was there as I exited, with smiles and words of congrats. I had not only hit, but hit with both shots, the only one on the group. One of the shots centered I was told later. I was just relieved to have made one and made it through as Ochi…again! This was the second Shinsa I had to do Ochi. It sucked then too, but did not seem as bad as this one.
Everyone back at our circle was happy for me and gave omedetous! Another of my schoolmates was also up for San-dan, she missed both her shots. I felt bad for her. There was some sadness within my joy. I thought at school she shot better than me.
Now we hung out and waited for the final results and the last couple of people from our group to shoot. Another schoolmate had joined us late. He brought us cookies. Several of us gathered with Watase sensei and had cookies. I thought it was a good photo op. So I stopped one of the passing official Sensei, the one who had spoken to me earlier and asked would he take a picture. I saw looks of shock on a couple of faces when I asked from my schoolmates. Then smiles, when he smiled and said ok. Sometimes the Gaijhin pass comes in handy. I am guessing it would one of those things a traditional Japanese would not ask a Sensei at a Shinsa. I would not have also but I had spoken to this one earlier. I knew he was cool. 🙂
Ok more waiting, a couple of more schoolmates did their thing. Only one of the last 3 or 4 made the required two hits for the yon-dan rank. This is another level. I watched several of those testing shoot. Out of the three or four line ups, usually only one person made both shots. So something like 3 or 4 out of 15 made both hits.
Ok, so we are done now have to wait for the written results. I was not too concerned about that. There were two questions. Describe the Kihon-Taikei and describe what you gained from learning Kyudo. Ok the second question how can you get that wrong. So no concern by default I got 50% . I did not know how they graded but still one question had to be correct. I used a lot of key words from the kyohon to answer. The first part I just for the most part repeated what was in the book, perhaps not the same structure , but the same base and their keywords.
Ok, finally the results are posted. There was a rushed wall of people descending on the post. I waited. I dislike crowds. Several asked if I was going I said I will wait. I couple of my group came back smiling as saying Omedetou, the wait was over! As the crowd eased I went over and found my name with the red circle. It was official. yatta! Looks like out of some 50 people only about 8-10 made San-dan out of some 50 who tried.
I was really touch throughout the whole event by the support feeling given by the Kishiwada group to the school members. Sugoi such a feeling of family. I had a small taste of this at the last seminar and test in the states, but nothing as supportive as this group. Even down to one person saying she would hold everyone’s important stuff while we were busy, phones, wallets, camera etc, so we did not have to worry about them. After it was all over one of the sempai called the Kaicho, he spoke to me on the phone and gave his congratulations.
Next I was collected by my schoolmates to go pay. I was shown which line to get in. I handed over the cash. Afterward the Sensei said something to me, that I did not get at all. There was something that I needed to see or get, or something and he pointed. Sorry to be late. Oh boy! This was a problem, I left the line bewildered figuring I will need to sort this out someway. I figured to go back to the written test room see if there was someone who would say something to me. This was the only place in the direction he was pointing.
I walked down the hall and Yamashita Sensei came up to me, smiling. Perfect he said you did perfect. Omedetou. Then he explain that my Yumi needed to be taken to a shop. Something about the bend or shape was wrong, showed me the holding spots on my hand. The shop could fix it, but as it was, it was dangerous. Possible to break (I think) and injure my hand. I asked if I needed a new one, he said mine could be fixed by the shop. I do not know if it is worth the cost, but I will check. In the mean-time I will use the borrowed one from Karamatsu-san over at MU.
I will be returning to once a week dojo practice and doing Makiwara at home in between dojo visits for the next few months. I have a six month wait period before I can attend another Shinsa. That would be around Dec. however it looks like there is none until March. I am thinking I may wait until April and join the one in Nagoya. It gives me more time. However it is cheaper to go local and just visit Nagoya to meetup with people. There is time and much practice between now and then so I will deal with the now. now. It is the Chan way.
It will be quiet here on Kyudo posts for a while. The next event is a Tai Kai in Aug. which I have plans to attend. Otherwise it will be just quiet practice and training on the long and winding road to Renshi.
Epiloge: (two days later)
I went to the dojo today. I wanted to bring something ( snacks) for the elders and others who helped me over this past year to thank them. It was not my usual day but I will be busy the next couple of weeks with sailing instructor training on my regular day. And next week another Band gathering, Blues for Bali concert. This time I am picking my band players!
Everyone there at the Dojo was pleased that my efforts paid off. They, the seniors also checked over the Yumis I brought in. One from CA 18 kg bamboo and the one from Karamatsu-san, a 15kg Carbon. Everyone agreed the Bamboo was nice , but too much for me, as in too much effort was needed to shoot. I did a couple of shots with it today. The first time since Ca, with my improved way of Hikiwake. I was able to shoot ok, but it is a struggle and with my weak shoulder I do not think it is a good idea to continue with it use. I will therefore sell it. I can use the money to fix or replace the Yumi from the European ( or maybe he is American, but not Symanski who makes great bows.) maker. I recall Yamashita sensei saying something about the shape of the other Bamboo and my hand points. Today with these Yumi, the Yumi turned/rotated almost fully in my hand. Something I have been unable to do with the other Yumi. Hmmmm.
Another first today was I shooting with no corrections from the Kacho. I just followed what I was told before and did the other day. My Hikiwake feels much more comfortable. I know it still needs some adjustment, but it was nice just to shoot today and try out the different Yumi, with no pressure.