Sunday, 15 July 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Kyudo in Okayama - Day 2

The following day, Sugimura-san had arranged for us to receive instruction from Sato Kaoru-Sensei (Hanshi 8 Dan) at the Tamano City Kyudojo and arranged to pick us up at 12:15 at the hotel. His contribution to our trip so far has been exceptional. We cannot thank him enough for all he has done to make this stay fruitful and enjoyable. 

THU 12-JUL: Our first stop was at the Mitsui dojo where we trained the day before. We were to change into our dogi and hakama and pick up our equipment for transportation to the city dojo. It was only about a 10 minute drive, but Sugimura-san was able to fill us in on the history and importance of our intended destination.  In fact, the Tamano City dojo was the site of the 2005 Kokutai Kyudo Taikai. Every year, Japan holds a national competition that puts athletics at the forefront. The kyudo event is a show case of the country's up and coming talents, with each prefecture sending their best and brightest representatives. Two members of our Toronto Kyudo Club (Seikyu Kai) had the honour to participate in the general and student categories: Takahashi Mie-Sensei, our club founder, and Itokawa Yukiko-san, our head sempai. The building was impressive indeed. Reminicent of the one at Meiji-Jingu in Tokyo that we briefly toured in 2009. With such a storied history, we entered with a hint of trepidation, hoping our modest grasp of Japanese etiquette was enough not to embarrass our dojo.

It was a relief to be welcomed from Tanaka-Sensei whom had trained us the day before. After a brief tour, Sato Tadashi-Sensei and Watanabe-san (one of the female members at dinner) dropped by, and were eager to see how our session would go with Sato Kaoru-Sensei. Needless to say, we felt his presence right as he stepped through the doorway, and he wasted no time in slapping us into shape. And I mean that quite literally! It seems he is well known for having an "hands-on" approach to teaching Kyudo. With a firm slap to the lower back, my centre of gravity was shifted forwards. With another slap to the upper chest, my body was aligned top to bottom. He kept his hands at each of those points until I was almost into Kai. At which time, he gently tapped my left arm and slid his hand towards the target. *Soot* *Soot*. "Push towards the target!". "Feel the snap towards the target!". and BAM! My arrow flies true, if only slightly strong, landing just above the Mato. I didn't see how he instructed Hanna, but Michael got pretty much the same thing as me.

The onlookers seemed mildly amused, and later asked us how we felt. While it's a rather different approach than what I'm used to, I personally enjoyed it, and came away with quite a bit of satisfaction and awareness from the lesson. It would be interesting to feel the effects long term. After a bit more training and instruction, we broke for some tea and mochi that was kindly donated by Tanaka-Sensei. We sat down and chatted for a bit, before the other Sato-Sensei (Sato T) comes over to get us to try Enteki…..Really?….Cool!!!

In Kyudo, there are three shooting distances: (1) Makiwara, ~half a bow length distance, to practice basics, (2) Kinteki, 28 meter distance and is the typical length used for grading and Taikai, and (3) Enteki, 60 meter distance.  Since modern Kyudo is based around Kinteki, the goal is to hit at 60 meters with as little change of your technique as possible. A slight arch from the hip at Uchiokoshi is required so as not to lose the cross at our shoulders and spine. It is also important to ensure the release of the right hand continues along the downward angled path. 

Our results weren't very impressive, but the experience was definitely a lot of fun. The Sensei seemed to enjoy helping us out as much as we did taking the shots. Both are quite the characters. Sato-Sensei with his boisterous humour, and Tanaka-Sensei with his quiet, laid-back attitude. The spirit of Kyudo and the character of the Mitsui Kyudojo is so clearly represented by these two individuals. With such contrasting personalities yet exact same approach to training.  In the past two days, I've seen them each shoot over 20 arrows. Every single shot was preceded and concluded with full Taihai (Rissha) etiquette. From Nujo, to Taijo. Not a single step rushed. Not a single movement wasted. It is truly inspirational to see these Sensei embody the way of the bow.

Following our visit to the Tamano City Kyudo HQ, we returned to the more relaxing and familiar confines of the Mitsui dojo for another 3 hours of training. We received some final instruction, words of encouragement, and requests to come again soon. 

It has been an overwhelming couple of days in Okayama. Our first Kyudo training experience in Japan was memorable for the practice, the learning, but most importantly, the people.  We were welcomed with open arms and spirit, like members of their own family. For isn't that what the Martial Arts are about? Wherever there's a dojo, you will find family.

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