Saturday, 10 August 2013

Kyudo Education

A member of our Kyudo club recently submitted a blog article about Kyudo. As a Psychologist, Professor, and Founder of the Reach Sudbury School of Toronto, her experiences and accomplishments are exceptional. Since her writing is 100 times more eloquent than my usual dribblings, I'm sharing her article here. Enjoy!

Link to article:
by Tane Akamatsu

I have been taking Japanese archery (kyudo) lessons for 4-1/2 years, amongst a group of other adult learners.  I’ve decided that studying kyudo is a lot like being a Sudbury student.

We all started from the same point: interest, curiosity, self-motivation.  (Plus, it looks so cool!)  My youngest classmate is now in her early 20s; my eldest in her early 80s.  My teacher and most of my classmates are in their 30s.  In my 50s, I’m one of the older students in the class.  Most of us have been practicing for less than 5 years.  Our class is rather large, around 30-40 people, one certified instructor, and a few volunteer assistants.  With this student:teacher ratio and up to 12 arrows flying at a time, one instructor cannot deal effectively with each student.  Instead, she relies on the Japanese sempai-kouhai system – more advanced students help out the less advanced students.

There is a body of knowledge and skills that needs to be mastered, and there are beginner steps that everyone has to learn.  Here’s the kicker:  There is only one 8-step “kata” – a single form that is relatively easy to memorize and yet takes a lifetime to master.

There is a 4-volume textbook, only volume 1 (less than 150 pp) of which has been translated into English from the Japanese.  All the answers to the grading tests, including your opinions, are contained in this first volume.  Mostly, we are left to study it on our own.  Each time I read the textbook, I find new meaning.  Each time I review questions for the grading test, I learn something new as I struggle to formulate my answers.  Sometimes we study in small groups outside of class.  Some of us read the original Japanese and help our classmates by comparing the original to the translated version.  Some people can read Chinese and help us out with the characters in the Japanese text.  We help each other where and when we can.  (One side-effect: my Japanese has gotten better.)

There are grading tests, which are encouraged but optional.  Most people fail these tests most of the time.  Yet, they keep testing because testing serves as a confirmation of one’s level of mastery.  It is information that one chooses to have, not a hurdle to overcome because someone says you have to.

No one learns kyudo in exactly the same way or progresses through the ranks at the same pace.  There is no expectation that this should happen.  In fact, the one piece of advice that my teacher often repeats is, “Everyone is different.  Don’t worry; just keep practicing.  If you practice, you will get better.”

There are three kinds of practice: observation (mitori-geiko), experimentation (kufuu-geiko), and repetition (yakazu-geiko (lit. “many arrows”)).  Observation is not simply looking another person shoot; it is watching with purpose.  Experimentation is trying different techniques to achieve a particular outcome.  I was recently told by a very experienced and high-ranking teacher, who has been practicing kyudo for over 50 years, that he is still experimenting with his grip.  He started his lecture with, “I have a theory about grip,” and ended it with, “But that’s just me.  You have to work it out for yourselves.”  Yakazu-geiko must be done with considerable care.  You don’t want to repeat mistakes and turn them into bad habits.

Philosophically, kyudo has much to offer.  It teaches not to resent others when they do better than ourselves.  Instead, we are to look to ourselves to find our own answers.  My teacher told me that when I shoot well, that’s the time to stop and ponder – what went right?  When I don’t shoot well, that’s the time to just move on and try to get it right the next time.  Don’t dwell on mistakes; be aware of them and fix them next time.  Another high-ranking teacher told us that what works for one person may not work for another; you have to find what works for you.  Whether we pass a grading or not, whether we shoot well or not, we look to ourselves, find our own answers, and KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

If these practices sound familiar, they should, especially in the context of a Sudbury education.  The sempai-kouhai system is a direct enactment of working in Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.  Kids do this all the time; the less experienced seek help from the more experienced.  This is one of the advantages of mixed-age groupings with children.  Kids do mitori-geiko, kufuu-geiko and yakazu-geiko (not the arrow part, but specifically, repetition) on a daily basis.  Children learn a considerable amount simply through observation.  Children experiment all the time, challenging themselves, seeing if this or that will work, dropping useless practices and keeping useful ones.  And of course, kids repeat.  Same questions over and over.  Same conversations over and over. Watching the same shows, reading the same books, playing the same games.  Why? Because they are getting something from the practice.  Even when it looks like they’re “doing nothing”, they’re probably doing mitori-geiko, or pondering their next move.  On the way to learning one thing, they learn a whole bunch of other things.  Even failing grading tests is like losing a life in a video game; they go back and try again.  Moving from level to level gets harder and harder, but they keep on trying, because it’s fun!