Yet teachers of Kyudo tell us that only through technique will we be able to hit the target correctly. If this is starting to sound like a Zen koan it is! As Takeuchi sensei continues, “Even if we dedicate a lifetime, we will not be able to master Kyudo. If we keep this in our minds we can continue further.”
To the outsider, drawing the bow and hitting the target is a test of one’s skill. For the Kyudo practitioner however, there is a clear distinction between hitting the target and shooting ‘correctly’ and one cannot progress until he or she learns to resolve the conflict arising from this. Irie sensei, Head instructor at Tohoku University tells us “Shooting a bow is so simple that even a child could do it”. Yet Kyudoka insist that true mastery will take longer than one’s own lifetime! Can both be true? It is a paradox that haunts Takeuchi Masakuni, 7th dan Kyoshi who ponders “How can one fail when both arrows hit the target?”.
Awa Kenzo, a great kyudo master, held that its true purpose was ‘to enlighten’. This idea took hold in the west through the book Zen in the Art of Archery, written by Eugen Herrigel, one of Awa’s students. Awa’s legacy of “Standing Zen” is practiced today at Enma dojo in the grounds of Engakuji Zen Temple. “This dojo has the purpose of developing the character. It is a dojo for facing oneself.” states Koyama sensei. For the sincere practitioner there is no seperation between Kyudo training and everyday life. Each arrow is shot as a single ultimate moment. Without an opponent, it is a path of self discovery where the target is a mirror – a reflection of the self. Takeuchi Masakuni observes…“Ultimately no technique is left. No form is left. Nothing but the archer’s humanity remains”.
Whatever path you follow, the common ground is that true mastery of Kyudo is a journey that has no ending. In our documentary “One Shot. One Life” the climactic end will have you holding your breath as Takeuchi Masakuni enters the 8th dan grading for his 16th attempt. It is a test so severe that this Kyudo master is forced to comment “This struggle is my driving force and that is why I cannot stop.”
Welcome to the pursuit of excellence through the Art of Japanese Archery. One Shot. One Life.