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Thread: Kyudo/Kyujutsu Koryu

  1. #46
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    When I read Professor Yamada's article in preparation for translating it, one of the things that most surprised me was the fact that Awa was able to get a menkyo kaiden (license of full transmission) in Heki Ryu Sekka-ha in only two years.

    There are a number of possible explanations:

    1) Awa really was that good
    2) He purchased his rank
    3) A menkyo kaiden is not as big a deal as we make it out to be nowadays
    4) Maybe kyujutsu just isn't all that difficult

    Regarding 1) it appears, at least from P. Yamada's article, that Awa was quite an expert archer. Being able to hit the target almost 100% of the time is no joke. The best I have ever been able to do is 18 hits out of 20 shots, and that still translates out only to 90%, even if I had been able to maintain that average for 100 shots (which gets pretty tiring, buckaroo). I was able to do that a few times many years ago, but I have not been able to repeat it. It was a flash in the pan, and even on a really good day I can't get above 70-75%. That's not too shabby, but it still ain't 100%. There is an old saying "an expert is anybody who can spit over a boxcar" (if you've ever stood next to a boxcar, you'll understand how difficult that is). If a guy can shoot so well that he practically never misses, he knows what he's doing. Awa was apparently in this league, so I believe that he probably had an extraordinary talent for archery. I have seen film of him shooting, and his technique was crisp and sharp.

    Speaking from my own experience, practicing several hours a day every day is not uncommon; indeed, among traditional archers, you're nothing but a dilletante if you shoot less than 100 arrows a day (this will take at least >2 hours). Herrigel only practiced with Awa once a week, hardly a rigorous course of study. Indeed, he practiced as only a dabbler can. Perhaps once he got some experience, he practiced more on his own, but when I first began kyudo, I practiced with my teacher 3 times a week, and then, as I got good enough to shoot on my own, I started practicing >3 hours a day. It was very rare that I shot less than 100 arrows at each session. If you want to get any good, that is what you have to do. If Herrigel only practiced once a week, I can see why it might have taken him 3 years to progress from the makiwara to the actual targets. There is also the issue of Awa's evolving understanding of the purpose of kyudo, so perhaps he made Herrigel practice longer at the makiwara than was normal. At any rate, speaking from personal experience, if you really want to become skillful, long training at the makiwara first is a must. And, yes, when you first start shooting at the target it is not uncommon to have difficulty reaching it.

    Regarding 2), P. Yamada states that Awa's teacher used to be employed as a kyujutsu teacher for the Sendai domain. I suspect that, after the dissolution of the feudal domains, he was, like many other bugei instructors, down on his luck. Indeed, after the bakumatsu kyujutsu came to be looked upon with a great deal of disdain by well-bred people; many unemployed kyujutsu teachers opened archery ranges in town (often near the red light district) which were frequented by prostitutes and gamblers who would hold arhcery contests and wager on the outcome (sort of like poolhalls, I guess). As a matter of fact, I have it on pretty good authority that Anzawa Heihachiro, Awa's senior disciple, used to run a brothel before he apprenticed himself to Awa (licensed prostitution used to be legal in Japan). This is entirely speculation on my part, but it is not inconceivable that Awa gave his teacher a certain financial consideration in exchange for his rank, but I want to emphasize that I have absolutely no proof whatsover for this. Still Awa's skill is a matter of record, so I tend to think that he just was some sort of kyudo genius and earned it legitimately (there is such a thing as prodigies, you know).

    Regarding 3), there is no doubt that a hanshi (master) rank (roughly equivalent to a menkyo kaiden) in modern kyudo is perceived differently than it used to be. Nowadays, it is extremely rare for anybody under 60 years of age to get a hanshi ranking. Up until quite recently, people with such ranks were usually much older than that. Recently, there have been a few expert archers who have been awarded that rank (which requires at least an 8th degree ranking before they can be considered) before the age of 60, so perhaps things are changing. However, during the Dai Nippon Butokukai period (up until the end of WWII), it is clear tha a hanshi raking meant something different than it does today. My teacher's teacher (and father-in-law), Urakami Sakae, received his hanshi rank at the age of 47, something that is completely inconceivable today.

    I believe that practical skill counted for a great deal more in the old days, and there was less of an emphasis on ceremonial etiquette as a component of skill. In the old days, certain elements of protocol and etiquette were much more a part of everyday life than they are today, so people did not obssess over them. Nowadays, when young people in Japan cannot even sit seiza anymore, there has been an increasing emphasis on the petty details of protocol and bearing. Judging from the film of Awa I have seen, and the more "rough and ready" ceremonial practices of the warrior schools of kyujutsu, I have a feeling that the overall prettiness of the performance wasn't as much of an issue as it is today, and actual skill in target shooting was much more important.

    Regardng 4) Herrigel simply made kyudo into a bigger deal than it is. It is of the utmost importance to note that Awa supposedly only came to believe that technique wasn't important AFTER he had spent may years as a dead-eye shot. I don't care how "spiritual" a person may be, if he doesn't know the technique cold, he isn't going to be able to hit the broad side of a barn. Basic kyudo technique simply isn't that involved. People spinning fantasies in their own minds is what makes it difficult

    Herrigel, like any intellectual, out-thought himself. He was convinced going in that kyudo was Zen, and since Zen is deep, abstruse, mystical, cryptic, and almost impossible to understand, so must kyudo be.

    This is, of course, utter nonsense. Kyudo is, in reality, very simple. People make it difficult when they make it into a metaphor for something else instead of just doing it for what it is. Awa took traditional kyujutsu and tried to make it into a religion. Herrigel was looking for some transcendental spiritual experience; therefore, every little thing he did, no matter how piddling or inconsequential, became freighted with meaning and had to be analyzed endlessly for its metaphysical significance. This is utterly contrary to the real spirit of traditional kyujutsu.

    Anyway, I don't believe for a second that Awa really disparaged technique as much as Herrigel indicates he did. Herrigel just didn't understand what Awa was really talking about. (I have read Komachiya Sozo's memoir of his experience with Awa and Herrigel; he describes Awa teaching Herrigel how to shoot a bow, so obviously he was teaching technique; Herrigel simply wasn't interested in it since it wasn't "spiritual". Therefore it has no place in his book.) That Herrigel couldn't understand Awa is not so strange, since Herrigel 1) only trained in kyudo for maybe three years, 2) couldn't speak Japanese, and had to rely on obviously faulty interpreting, 3) was determined to make kyudo into a Zen experience, which led him to understand Awa's words through the veil of his own preconceptions, and, finally, 4) had no understanding of the cultural framework in which Awa was operating.
    Last edited by Earl Hartman; 15th January 2004 at 20:23.
    Earl Hartman

  2. #47
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    Mr. Hartman,
    Thank you for your long reply. I hope you did not have to miss anything important to write that. And also thank you for clarifying a couple of points.
    Emre Dikici

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    Mr Hartman,
    Thanks for the interesting responses. I have always been interested in the differences between kyudo and kyujutsu. What kind of things are done in kyujutsu that make it more combative?
    Thanks

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    Kyudo and kyujutsu are the same thing, really. Don't let words fool you.

    The only group I know of that still does actual battlefield kyujutsu is the Satsuma Heki Ryu in Kyushu. Many other groups maintain the traditional practices of the older pre-Kyudo Federation schools, but AFAIK the Satsuma Heki Ryu people are the only ones who actually shoot in armor. There are of course, the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu for yabusame and other forms of mounted archery and ancient court archery rituals and contests.

    Roughly speaking, in battlefield (foot archery) kyujutsu:

    1) the archer does not wear a hard-thumb glove.
    2) the archer shoots from many different positions (kneeling or sittng) rather than the single straight-up standing stance used in modern kyudo
    3) the release is different depending on the distance to the target
    4) the bow is not allowed to spin after the shot
    5) the arrow is released almost immediately after it is fully drawn rather than being held for a few seconds
    6) there is no ceremonial etiquette (it's a BATTLE, dude! Who has time for that stuff?)
    7) the distance to the target varies instead of being fixed at 28 meters as it is in modern kyudo competition (there is also a 60 meter distance)

    I want to emphasize, however, that while the Ogasawara Ryu has always been considered the fountainhead of all knowledge of correct ceremonial/court etiquette, all traditional schools of kyujutsu have their versions of formal ceremonial shooting.
    Last edited by Earl Hartman; 15th January 2004 at 21:07.
    Earl Hartman

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    Hi Earl,

    I was wondering why the Mongol type horn, wood, sinew composite recurve didn't catch on in Japan? The asian/mongol composite bow is (by reputation at least) superior to most bows I've heard of.

    Could it be
    1) lack of materials
    2) weather (water causing composites to come apart)
    3) lack of a proper Mongol invasion.
    4) Some other reason

    Mongol style bows seem conspicous by their absence in Japan.

    Regards,
    Jairaj Chetty

  6. #51
    Bustillo, A. Guest

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    Originally posted by Earl Hartman
    When I read Professor Yamada's article in preparation for translating it, one of the things that most surprised me was the fact that Awa was able to get a menkyo kaiden (license of full transmission) in Heki Ryu Sekka-ha in only two years.

    There are a number of possible explanations:

    1) Awa really was that good
    2) He purchased his rank
    3) A menkyo kaiden is not as big a deal as we make it out to be nowadays
    4) Maybe kyujutsu just isn't all that difficult

    Regarding 1) it appears, at least from P. Yamada's article, that Awa was quite an expert archer.
    ...
    Speaking from my own experience, practicing several hours a day every day is not uncommon; indeed, among traditional archers, you're nothing but a dilletante if you shoot less than 100 arrows a day (this will take at least >2 hours). Herrigel only practiced with Awa once a week, hardly a rigorous course of study. Indeed, he practiced as only a dabbler can. .....


    Hartman,

    A well thought out analysis. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Great info.

  7. #52
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    While I have not researched this issue to any great extent, my (somewhat educated) guess is that Japan lacked a ready supply of the materials needed to make such bows.

    The Mongols were sheep herding nomads who got pretty much everything they needed from their herds of sheep and horses. Japan, on the other hand, is a very mountainous country, and the weather makes it eminently suitable for wet rice culture. As a result, all of the available flat land was given over to farming. There is simply no room to run the large herds of ruminants that could provide the necessary horn and sinew for the short, heavily recurved Mongol-type bows. On the other hand, Japan is blessed with large forests and bamboo groves which provided suitable material for bows. So, they built what they could with what they had.

    That's my guess, anyway.
    Earl Hartman

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    Blast this 15-minute edit window!

    Anyway, to continue:

    There is evidence that the extremely long bow with the off-center grip, which is unique to Japan, has been used in one form or another for almost 1,700 years. Chinese visitors to Japan in around the year 300 C.E. commented on the unusual bow that Japanese soldiers used, and a dotaku (a ceremonial bronze bell) from roughly the same period shows a man shooting an arrow at a deer; the bow he is using appears to be about as long as he is tall, and he is clearly gripping it below center.

    With a tradition of bow design of such hoary antiquity, it is not so surprising that "those damn new-fangled furrin bows" never caught on in Japan and that the Japanese decided to stick with their traditional design.

    However, somewhere roughly around the time of the Mongol invasions or before, the design of the Japanese bow started to change. Originally, the bow was just a very long bow with a simple curve, made out of a single piece of wood. 400-500 years after the Mongol invasions, the Japanese bow had become a double recurve made of a composite bamboo and hardwood laminate of a very sophisticated construction.

    I am guessing that this change was a result of the Japanese encounter with the Mongol bow combined with native fiddling with design and materials. They Japanese adopted the recurve design and the composite construction while adapting it to their native materials, but stuck with their traditional longbow design, since this works best with bambo and hardwood (bamboo will splinter quite easily if it is over stressed, thus necessitating a longer bow for the equivalent draw length compared to other materials).

    Regarding the dampness of the climate, I have heard that English Crusaders took some Saracen composite recurve bows back with them to England. The bows promptly fell apart in the damp English climate, proving to the English, at least, that their yew longbows were obviously superior. The Japanese solved the dampness problem by sealing their composite bows with laquer.

    So, anyway, each people will make bows that are suited to the environment in which they live. Yes, it is true that in a simple one-to-one comparison the Mongol bow is probably superior to the Japanese yumi. But it was not superior in Japan.
    Last edited by Earl Hartman; 16th January 2004 at 19:31.
    Earl Hartman

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    The Japanese solved the dampness problem by sealing their composite bows with laquer.
    Is this the same laquer that is used an saya? I have heard that it is made from a plant which can cause allergic reactions similar to poisen ivy in some people.

    Just currious,
    Ron

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    Yup.
    Earl Hartman

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    Hi Earl,

    thanks for your thoughtfull reply. The mongol bow seems to have had a profound influence on bow design across Asia and Eastern parts of Europe, I guess roughly mapping the course of the Mongol invasions.

    On technical merits it would seem to outclass all traditional bow designs I've come across. They are probably the most difficult bow to make as well.

    I've been toying with the idea of trying to make such a bow using gemsbok horn on the back. I've made a couple of maple Native American style flatbows so far - I've got bows that shoot but with a some set.

    The Mongol bow is intriguing though.

    Thanks again.
    Jairaj Chetty

    P.S. If you have any info on kyudo dojo in Johannesburg, South Africa I'd be interested in hearing of it.

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    Unfortunately, I do not know of any kyudo dojos in South Africa.
    Earl Hartman

  13. #58
    Tex Guest

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    It actually looks like a Yabusame uniform (Kyudo on horse back)

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    Mr. Tex,

    Could you be kind enough to sign your full, real name to all of your posts?

    Many thanks!

    Krzysztof M. Mathews
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    Can't hear the rhythm for the drums
    Everybody wants to look the other way
    When something wicked this way comes

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    Sting-The Soul Cages

  15. #60
    Robert Miller Guest

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    I was wondering how the japanese bow was constructed, historically. Any resources? Thank you.

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