The Way of the Bow
Kyudo 弓道, the Way (道, Dō) of the Bow (弓 Kyū) , is one of the most ancient and noble traditional disciplines in Japan. Many consider it to be the purest of all martial arts. It is very close to the Way of the Warrior (武士道, Bushidō), which is the mirror of the mind and the heart. Infatti, sebbene tragga le sue origini dal Bushido, che esalta il combattimento, tuttavia esso presenta un suo particolare aspetto profondo e spirituale, ed essendo tradizionalmente un Budo, il Kyudo ha una natura puramente operativa che non concede spazio alla speculazione fine a sé stessa. This means that its principles are intimately connected with its practice, and their inner value is demonstrated by the fact that they can be applied both during kyudo practice and in daily life.
Kyudo has much in common with Chado 茶道, or the Japanese Tea Ceremony, with Shodo 書道, or the art of Calligraphy, Iaido 居合道, or the art of Sword, and the various other Ways that reflect so effectively the thousand-of-centuries long Japanese tradition. Kyudo is rich in history and tradition, and it is taken in high regard in all of Japan. The Bow has always played a central role through the ancient myths of Japan, and it has always had an important symbolic function. The goal of Kyudo isn't taking part in a competition, but rather harmonising the various aspects of the human being: thinking, feeling, and wanting. That's why it can be defined as a method for perfecting the human being, and an instrument to get to know oneself.
The kyudo practitioner (or kyudoka) finds himself being part of a ritual, the time beat of which is instilled by breathing, and through which the Bow, the archer, and the target become one. To reach this goal, the practitioner will need first to get to the perfection of the shooting form, while at the same time cultivating purity of the mind, as the Bow is just like a seismograph: it will reveal even the smallest of inner emotional tremors.
The Kyudo practitioner, when trying to open the Bow, needs to make an effort and to find in himself an energy which is different from the muscular one. This can be done only with the aid of deep breathing. The very essence of Kyudo is training ourselves to reach the right level of focus, which is crucial for a mental state of peacefulness in our life. To get there, much importance is given to gestures and to posture. . A beautiful shot won't be just precise, but also full of dignity and aesthetically pleasing, two aspects which are highly important in Kyudo.
A correct shot sparks from a "correct attitude", which means that it sparks from the inside. Essentially, we need to become fully conscious in our minds, paying attention to every small gesture, because everything needs to follow a specific ritual form. Only by separating our gestures from our instinctive way of acting will we be able to make it become a Real gesture.
To an external eye, Japanese archery will probably look like a sequence of rather simple movements, but in reality Kyudo is an arduous Way. Its depth and intensity can only be perceived by those who practice it; that is why shooting is an all-round experience to the archer who lives it. An arrow hitting the target is the result of a well-built movement and of a correct shape. To get this result, it's not merely a matter of technique; it's even more fundamental for the archer to have the right attitude and the right mental conditions. The arrow that penetrates through such conditions isn't the physical arrow itself, but rather a Living Arrow.
Everytime we try to offer our mind, our heart, and our willpower to the invisible world - or in other words, when we pray, meditate, or when we practice in a deep state of concentration or shoot an arrow -, we can elevate our mind by transmuting what's sensible into what's invisible.
If looked at with this mindset, archery can be considered as a real form of "meditation through movement", an action that benefits our soul. In this modern life, the soul is immersed in chaos and restlessness, but through a constant practice of this discipline and of its three focal points (thinking, feeling, and wanting) the soul can get in touch with its real essence.
The practice of the Way of the Bow requires perseverance and a deep sincerity in looking for its inner truth. The archer gets accustomed with the so-called technique of "letting go". Our whole life is dominated by our ego. By letting our ego go, we allow ourselves to find our vital forces, our spiritual Self that alone can make the right gestures. Differently from the other martial arts, there's no external enemy to fight: the objective of Kyudo is the permanent victory on oneself, that's the real target we need to hit.
This thought can be summed up in the words of Master Kenzo Awa-sensei. He lived between the end of the Nineteenth and the start of the Twentieth century. Every kyudoka can learn a great deal from his teachings:
"Issha Zetsumei": one shot, one life. One needs to trascend the ego and every expedient it creates. This means one has to unite the shot with their Spirit (Kokoro, 心) and body. It's the Self, and not the ego, that shoots the arrow, and the Self equals to the Soul once it's been purified and it has become crystal-clear. Throwing the egoism away is the true meaning of improving oneself. "One shot, one life" means to be reborn again and again, every time, in an endless effort.
"Shari Kensho": when you objectively look at the unity of body and mind, that's when the real Human nature appears. When that happens, that's how the real nature of the universe is revealed.
弓道 Kyudo | Suzuki sensei 10 dan
Born in 1901, died in 1984, aged 83 years old. He studied kyudo with Awa Kenzo Hanshi and Chiba Tanetsugu Hanshi.
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