Monday, February 9, 2015

The secret of the Pagoda

A secret of the 'do' arts is contained in the 5 story Sotoba (Pagoda).

Of course there are no secrets in kyudo. By this we only mean that some things are difficult to see; that some things require certain experiences, that allow us to see around the bend. They don't take time necessarily, but they do need these pre-requisite experiences. Experience in how to look at things, an awareness of hearing in a certain way. We say to listen with our eyes, and see with our ears; this way of talking gives us clues in how to see certain details and a way of investigation that lends itself to the teaching.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mokuso - Silent Contemplation

Mokuso is Silent Contemplation. This is a very popular form of meditation in many martial arts circles.

We can even heard it said as we begin to sit quietly before class 'Mokuso!'
I was taught as a kid in Karate that it meant 'Attention!'; but I related this like Attention! in the military; and I suppose in some ways this is true. Even Zen can be a bit militaristic in it's tough disciplined approach.

Mokuso does come from a Buddhist background and is one of the 84,200 forms of meditation taught in Mahayana Buddhist that is prevalent in Japan.

This silent contemplation can bring up our awareness, wake us up, and bring us to attention.
It also allows our worries and cares from outside the dojo to dissolve and bring us into focus on the task at hand; perhaps even bring us to directly experience this present moment.

In martial arts being in the present moment, just like in Zen, is the primary way to live.

Creating our lives

The teaching says that what we think, say, and do every moment of every day creates our lives.

Sadamenoza - The establishment position

Sadamenoza is the establishing position during a sha-rei or ceremonial shooting.

This is where the archers re-establish all their connections.

As always we are talking about the non-separation of internal - external aspects.

Of course we maintain this non-separaration every moment of everyday.

But just as our budo practice is a chance to really experience being this way, this is especially true of points in our  practice like sadamenoza. Points like this are designed to remind us, designed to do this with us naturally.

These points also give time for the establishment of the ebb and flow we consider natural. Movements to and from these positions are paced by the pause of the position.

We have spoken of Kamae before. Positions that set us in time - place and imply this moving to and from. Sadamenoza is exactly of this same nature.

At Sadamenoza we bow. Often a nice deep bow, and least sesshu-rei, the bow where the hand comes to the knee (and if not wearing a glove our wrist would bend, hence the hand bent bow...) and our spine is at 45 degrees to the floor, but we can even use a deeper fukai (deep) bow in formal instances.

As in the other posts on 'rei', there is something in the act of bowing that has an effect on us as people, and our 'do' practices are filled with kamae like this, and our designed to include this influence.

All we have to do is allow for it...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Temple Records

Temple records in Japan abound. Everything is recorded. In regards to Buddhism and the Warrior arts there are many writings and correlations.

We know of the Sohei, armies of warrior monks who used weapons though they were monks. We know of the Yamabushi, individual and warrior monks in non-affiliated temple groups, who used weapons both to protect themselves and also as methods to train in The Way.

We also know that many warriors upon retirement shaved their head, some simply because this was the safest and acceptable way to retire, and others sincerely to become monks, and perhaps some with the intent to repent in some way for their violent lives. In many cases they continued to use their warrior weapons as tools on The Way, much like the Yamabushi do.

The relationship between Zen and the Warrior Class of Japan is well known. Just like with the retirement situation of Warriors into Buddhism the relationship varied according the predilection of the Warrior's intent. Most received some basic initiation ceremony and a Buddhist name, but not evereyone studied Zen or Buddhism in any way, they simply supported temples or teacher so that they could support the Warrior's clan spiritually; but most used their priests as advisers and teachers; many studied Buddhism intellectually, but most took up Zen because of it's embodiment of the practice not because of it's intellectual and philosophical attributes. A great number of prominent Warriors took up Zen practice including Classical Interviews with the teacher to truly travel the Buddhist Path.

The priest of these Warrior students used every means possible to help them obtain the teaching. This included the creation of whole new methods and revival of others too. This was not the first time the warrior's weapons were used as a means of teaching, but it was possibly the most extensive. Zen is practice in daily life, and these weapons were the daily life of their warrior disciples.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

''Sha wa, rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru,'' Shooting begins with etiquette and ends with etiquette. Actually almost all of the modern 'do' arts begin their treatise this way, by just replacing the 'sha' at the beginning with whatever exemplifies their art. I find the investigation of how to embody this philosophy quite compelling.

Just as intriguing is the fact that the written character translated as etiquette can also be translated as the act of bowing. So the physical manifestation of etiquette and manners is the bowing.

So what is bowing? Humility? Respect?

What is manners?
What is etiquette?

And how do we manifest this, not only in the dojo, but in our daily lives. How do we interact with everyone that in such away that we embody this 'Rei'?

Treat everyone with humility and respect?

When we act with humility and respect, I think our interactions become more kind too. 

Not just the answer to these questions in our head but in our lives, this is where the practice of the 'do' arts will have it's greatest impact, not just on our lives, but for the entire world.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Quality vs Quantity

Quality vs Quantity

They sometimes say that kyudo is all a matter of how many arrows we shoot.
I attended a few seminars with Takeshi Shibata Hachidan Hanshi. On one of these we were out to dinner with the 'heads' of kyudo in America, and Shibata Hanshi was giving us a lecture. He said (my translation so give it some room), 'something is wrong'. You guys seem sincere in your practice, and your students look pretty good, but something is wrong.' It seemed a rhetorical question or perhaps we were just embarrassed into silence... but our silence begged for more and he added, 'you guys can't shoot'.

Takeshi Shibata Sensei
Photo compliments of Rosemarie Read of Panama Kyudo Kai
Now Shibata Hanshi is one of the best shooters in Japan; for example on another seminar he was showing us how the body expands during hikiwake and especially to produce the hanare; he wasn't really concentrating on the target, but all of the 20 (or so) arrows he shot hit the target. (he wasn't even wearing a glove, just a little gauze on his right thumb).

He then sent us all off to try and emulate this expansion. As we all walked away I turned and asked, 'Sensei, how did you do that?' 'Do what?' he responded. 'You hit the target every time!' I said. 'Oh' He replied, 'I teach high school students; if I can't do that, they won't listen to me'.

I thought that was the end of the great lesson, when he said, 'I tell you what, I'm going to shoot one more and put it in the right corner'. Of course, I believed he meant the right corner of the target; but you know what, he put it in the right corner of the bulls eye! Still I thought he meant the right corner of the target, until he said, 'this one in the left corner', and it flew right into the left lower corner of the bulls eye; this one I'll put in middle', and he did... right smack dead center between the other two.

Now back to dinner... Sensei continued, 'You seem sincere in your practice, but something is wrong'. He seemed to wait for an answer this time, for us to explain why 'we can't shoot'.... 'why we can't hit the target'. 'Well', someone responded, 'You're right Sensei, we are sincere, and we teach the best we can, and shoot the best we can, I guess we don't know what we're doing wrong?' And with this we asked for his help. 'Well...' he asked, 'how many arrows do you shoot everyday?' 'Oh, everyday' we said, 'well, you know we have families and jobs during the week, and even on weekends we're usually teaching we don't always get a chance to shoot much ourselves...' and he cut us off. 'Ah, well there's the problem then.'

At this point someone was brave enough to ask, 'Sensei, how do you do it?'

'Oh' He said, 'in the morning I go to the dojo and shoot 100 arrows, I hit those 100. Then if students show up, I teach them. If not, then I shoot 100 more.'

That's 100 to 200 arrows a day! No wonder he can shoot so well. But there are a couple more lessons in there. He doesn't say he hits the first 100 to boast; it tells us that he doesn't waste them, he shoots them with care, he's not just 'chucking' them down there without giving each one it's due attention.

Also the main lesson for those of us at the dinner was 'before the student's arrive he shot 100'... and everyday he practiced. From that day on I try to shoot everyday, certainly I practice everyday even if it's sit, stand, bow & tote renshu in a hotel room. One of my students who heard this story began shooting 100 arrows a day too, and he got pretty good too.

Satoshi Sagino Shihan of Muyoshingetsu-ryu

On the other side of this coin is Sagino Shihan of our Muyoshingetsu school. Who told us to put everything we have into one shot. 'Shoot everyday' he said, 'shoot one arrow, and put your whole-self into that arrow... exhaust yourself completely'. We have a student who hearing this now takes 3 hours to shoot that one arrow every day. Cleaning and preparing his backyard space... cleaning and preparing his equipment and clothes... meditation... and beautiful taihai and hassetsu to release that one arrow...folding his kimono and hakama neatly... and putting everything away. And you know, he's really good too. My eyes once asked him about this practice, and he said, 'you know... when you only shoot one arrow... and it takes 3 hours of your day... you never waste that arrow'.

In the middle was Onuma Sensei, who on one visit to Los Angeles told us, 'Shoot 10 arrows every day. With 10 arrows you can really focus, many more and it's difficult. So shoot 10 arrows everyday without fail'.

Hideharu Onuma Sensei.
Photo from the book 'Kyudo - The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery'
By Hideharu Onuma with Dan and jackie DeProspero

Since both quality and quantity obviously count, I think each of these approaches has merit. Each can have a place in our practice throughout the year. If I were to choose, I think I would choose quality over quantity; so the one arrow would be the best practice; but the guy who shoots 100 may beat you in the tournament; so maybe that's the best practice; but do we really have time in our busy lives for 100 or 200 arrows a day, can we really give each of those the quality our practice demands? If so, 100 is a great practice. Maybe the 10 a day is the best balance? I like balance and middle road, so my practice for many years followed this 10 a day. Today sometimes I shoot one arrow with all I've got; at least once a year, and sometimes coming up to it, we have our 108 arrows shoot; mostly with my hitori geiko (solitary practice) I shoot hitote (a handful, or in kyudo we define this as 2).

quality vs. quantity. both count. Again if I were to choose, I would probably choose quality. But they are not really separate; shoot as many quality arrows as you have time, energy, and attention to give them.

However many arrows you decide to shoot each day is up to you. But please practice everyday. And put your wholeself into that entire practice. Put your wholeself into your entire life... every moment of every day. The rest of our lives depends on it.

Thank you,