This first week in Asia has been a mixed blessing. The excitement of reuniting with friends and family coupled with opportunities to explore the cultures we came from, have been tempered with mental and physical stress and illness. We're hoping that is all left behind as we head towards our first Kyudo training session in Japan.
WED 11-JUL: We were scheduled to meet with Shojiro Sugimura-san (5 Dan) at our hotel in the small port city of Tamano, Okayama. The Diamond Setouchi Marine Hotel is situated above a beach and is home to its own Spa and luxury suites. A bus from Okayama station (1hr 10m) took us directly to the lobby where we left our baggage to be checked-in later.
After a quick stop at a convenience store for a bento, the taxi took the three of us + Sugimura-san to the Mitsui dojo. The Kyudojo Is owned by a local shipping company, and has almost 90 years of history. It was a short walk up a narrow, paved road to the practice area. The dojo itself is constructed of the bare minimum necessary, with only space for 3 mato. A club's vast supply of yumi and ya were hidden behind a few sliding doors, but everything else was in plain view as you entered the front door. The inside was a huge contrast to the simplistic exterior, with a beautiful wood floor and walls lined with history (achievements, pictures, and names of the dojo members).
A white board for notices was hung along the kamiza wall and, for now, contained some rather familiar faces. Looks like we were well expected prior to arrival.
Sugimura-san introduced us to Sato Tadashi-Sensei (Kyoshi 6 Dan), Ojima-Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan), and Yonemoto-Sensei (Renshi 5 Dan) who all practice "Shamen" style.
We began by finding a bow and fixing the string to the nock of our arrows. Michael, Hanna, and I had each brought four "ya" for practice with intention of purchasing more in Tokyo later in the trip. The sensei helped us wrap and file the strings to the right size and we were able to start by 11:30am. Sato-Sensei wanted to watch us do taihai first to gauge our level. While were a bit nervous (apparently, not Michael), we did our best to show what we've learned from Toronto. Afterwards, Sato-Sensei proclaimed us sufficient for 2 Dan and our training got under way. Little did we know that the encouraging words were just a precursor to a day full of tearing down, and building back up.
The first thing he wanted us to do was increase the pull-strength of our bows. Michael was upgraded from 13kg to 14kg (not much due to his still busted ankle). I was upgrade from 14kg to 16kg, and Hanna was upgraded from 9kg to 11kg. It definitely pushed us out of our comfort zone, but we gathered as much spirit as we could and started shooting, and shooting, and shooting, and shooting....
I had to work on improving my:
I had to work on improving my:
- Ashibumi needs to be at the right length and angle. To help out, Sato-Sensei got a triangular piece of cardboard with measurements for where your feet should go based on your yazuka and angle. A good way of measuring. Apparently, my yazuka is "93.5cm"
- Tsunomi at hanare. Point left thumb into target.
- Right hand should snap/whip back relaxed and with right thumb opposite of target.
We continued this way for the next several hours; taking the occasional rest, grabbing our own arrows, and watching Sato-Sensei and Yonemoto-Sensei practice. While we could start feeling some improvement in the major areas, there was still a lot of refining to do. The Sensei were kind and gave us time to work it out, shot after shot, arrow after arrow. A bit later in the afternoon, Tanaka Chotaro-Sensei (Kyoshi 6 Dan) arrives and gives some instruction as well. He practices "Shomen" style, one of the few at this dojo.
Altogether, we were at the dojo for 6 hours. Somewhere after the first 3, I had to switch back to a 13kg. During one period of rest, when Michael was massaging his ankle, Sato-Sensei casually mentioned that he should try to shoot at least 50 arrows this afternoon. Not sure if he made it there.
At 6pm a couple of dojo members including an Aoi Tomoka, (who just got 5 Dan) came in street clothes to get a few shots in quickly. Sugimura-san mentioned that this is what they do if they have to work late and don't get much time. It's good to see that even with busy schedules, the members find ways to get into the dojo for at least a few shots. It doesn't hurt that the group is very friendly and sociable, as we proceed right after to an Izakaya for dinner. We were joined by Tanaka-Sensei, Yonemoto-Sensei, Sugimura-san, Aoi-san, Watanabe-san, later Konishi Kengo-san (5 Dan at same time as Aoi-san).
Hanna and them seemed to have a lot of fun chatting, so we didn't press her for translations. It's a tough job so she deserves to have some fun. One thing I was able to pick out was that in Japan nowadays, students are only looking to hit the target and there's less focus on Taihai. That might be a difference in approach from foreign countries who do Kyudo not for the sporting aspect. There were many comments by the dojo members that our Taihai was top notch for our rank.
As the night was winding down, Sugimura-san gave us a good piece of advice for tomorrow's training with Sato Kaoru-Sensei (Hanshi 8 Dan). Although we might hear differing or even contradicting instruction. That's ok. They're all correct. We need to take it all in and choose what's works best for us. After some extended fairwells, we get a lift back to the hotel from Tanaka-Sensei. We could definitely use the rest for another day of keiko.