Bow and Arrow, Mind and Body

In the ancient martial art of Kyudo, archers hunt only for truth

Before an archer even enters the dojo, 57-year-old Yoshiko Buchanan, instructor of the Shisoikangroup in San Jose, suggests sumashi, a committed effort to cleanse one's mind that includes active breathing and a proper, half-lidded gaze that "catches objects softly."

"Eyes can tell as much as the mouth," goes the Japanese saying.

Proper sumashiassists in the perfection of the eight stages of Kyudo, which remain unvaried throughout the life of the kyujutsushi.

The first is footing (ashibumi); the second is forming the torso (dozukuri), which emphasizes the difference between Western archery and Kyudo in that attention is focused on a region below the navel known as the tanden rather than in one's shoulders; the third is nocking of the arrow (yugamae); the fourth is raising the bow (uchiokoshi); the fifth is drawing the bow (hikiwake) -- typically two-thirds with the left arm and one-third with the right; the sixth is full draw (kai); the seventh is release (hanare); and the eighth is the final settlement of accounts (zanshin), the point during which, Buchanan says, a person may recognize reality and analyze the reason why the arrow could not fly with excellence.

Each movement is measured by breath, and the spirit of the archer is demonstrated by the poise and concentration exhibited throughout the eight stages. The only variation in these stages occurs in the shamenstyle developed by Honda Toshizane and taught by Earl Hartman at Seishinkan Kyudojo in Emeryville, in which the archer pre-draws the bow alongside his body before raising it.

"An interest in another martial art helps prepare for this," says 41-year-old Jon McAllister, a general contractor who has been a student of Kyudo for over 10 years. "Though, this is even somewhat more esoteric because it's not really practical, not for people looking for self-defense or something of the like. But it's good for smoothing the rough edges between physical body and awareness."

"Aikido is my first love and Kyudo is my infatuation," exclaims Steve Scott, instructor at the San Jose Kyudo Club, before solemnly approaching the iriguchiwith four other archers, some of them wearing the kimonos of a fifth-tier Go-Dan.

In formal ceremonial style, the five archers remain kneeling until it is their turn to stand, moving exactly one half-position behind the archer before them. I watch as their movements become more fluid, blending into one another until they are nearly seamless, the arrows seemingly projected by their breath, the towering bows quivering and rotating in hand with the release of the powerful strings, while eyes remain half-lidded and unblinking. Only three arrows stay fixed in their targets, but the archers are beautiful.

A far cry from the last time I went in search of archers, only to find a group of beer-guzzling sharpshooters with compound bows, looking to lengthen their hunting season by several months.

"No, Kyudo and Western archery are nothing alike," agrees Tyler, "except that you have a bow and an arrow."

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