Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An Arrow in the Furoba (Outhouse)


In the 1950s and 60s, most kids wanted a bow, and I was no different in this respect. I pleaded with my parents to let me purchase a bow with my meager savings. Finally, they gave in, which they would regret. 
For those of you who were around during those decades, this was a time many kids from the age of 12 to 15, were given 22 caliber rifles for Christmas with strict parental control, or others had controlled access to one with their parent’s blessing. No one was overly concerned because gun safety was taught by parents to their children, hunter safety was offered in school, parents took an interest in activities related to guns, and gun-related murders and accidental shootings were nearly unheard of. It was a time when human life was sacred (other than for politicians).
In high school, some guys (and cowgirls) drove trucks to school. If you drove a truck, you almost had to have a rifle and fishing pole sitting in a gun rack in the back widow as a status symbol - and no one ever broke into these vehicles. 
This wasn’t the only place we had weapons on the high school campus. Every boy had a pocket knife in their pocket, and some even had impressive hunting knives in their school lockers. I even remember one instance where a couple friends found a box of dynamite at an old mine over a weekend, and brought the explosives to school and gave away several sticks. When school officials got wind of this after one of the teachers was shown a stick, the administration closed in and got the names of all who had taken the gift, and then raided their lockers. And guess what? They didn’t evacuate the school. For the rest of us, we heard about the event in-between classes and later found out that my two friends had already blown up a couple of garbage cans before bringing the dynamite to school. I know that this all sounds crazy, but back in the 60s, anyone could buy fireworks including M80s and Cherry Bombs - so, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.
In high school, all sophomore males were required to take Army ROTC; thus, schools had to have access to target ranges and armories. Ours was downstairs in the high school. We periodically shot .22 caliber rifles in the school range. On one field trip, we took a bus to Fort Douglas to fire M-1 rifles. So, weapons were just a common everyday tool. 
The bow I purchased had a hand grip in the center that divided the bow into two equal lengths unlike a Japanese yumi (bow). Japanese yumi are typically more than 6.5 feet long and the grip is placed off-center. 
So, there I was, a young kid excited about shooting arrows in my back yard. I probably could have used a little more supervision, and for some reason, I never considered the consequences of placing a target on our wooden ladder and using our house as a back stop. Now in my defense, we did have a long back yard, but maybe not long enough. I remember my older brother later saying something subtle like - were you blind?
My arrows sought the target as I practiced: some flew true - most did not. One that didn’t, skidded off a ladder step, ricocheting upwards and ending its flight with a distinct ‘whack’! I walked over to the back of the house and searched diligently for my arrow. It was a complete mystery – it had completely disintegrated? It was nowhere to be found.
A few days later, my mother was cleaning the bathroom when I heard D-A-N-I-E-L-L-L-L!” She always called me Daniel when I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure what I had done. I walked into the bathroom ('furoba') to see what she wanted and there she was standing in the bath tub looking at the window where she had moved the curtain to clean and found my lost arrow sticking through the corner of the window. So, that ended my career as an archer; and my bow mysteriously disappeared.
Japanese people who practice traditional archery, usually  train in a dojo (道場) away from their houses. These traditional dojo are designed for Japanese archery. The art, known as Kyudo (弓道), translates as the way of the bow. The kanji used to write kyudo (弓道) has two symbols: with a little imagination, the left ideograph looks like a bent bow. Originally, it was suppose to be a graphic representation of a bow, but through time it evolved from a simple arc to the symbol used today. The other kanji represents ‘the way’. So this is the martial art of the ‘way of the bow’. Some great attributes for this art is that kyudo requires patience, practice and respect. Thus, it (and similar traditional arts) would be perfect in most high school and college curriculums.
Kyudo is like tai chi with a bow. Finding a sensei to teach this art is not easy. In Japan, there are high school and college clubs that teach martial arts including kyudo and apparently, there is even a kyudo club at the University of Arizona known as the Arizona Kyudo Kai
To be good at kyudo, one must follow traditions: it is about training the body and spirit. While some kyudo dojo emphasize aesthetics, others emphasize efficiency. Many archers practice kyudo as sport with marksmanship being paramount. The goal for this group is seisha seichū (correct shooting, correct hitting). To give oneself completely to shooting is the spiritual goal that is only achieved by perfection of both the spirit and technique and leads to munen musō (no thought, no  illusion). While many practitioners believe competition and examination is all important, others believe competition of any kind should be avoided - similar to different schools of karate-do.
Beginners often start with a rubber practice bow in order to learn and practice eight movements known to as hassetsu. After progress is made, the student will be invited to train with a real bow (but without arrows), to learn proper handling. With continued progress, the student will be invited to train with glove and arrow: at this point, they learn yugamae (readying the bow). Next, they will practice drawing the bow to shoot a makiwara.
The makiwara used in kyudo, is a specially designed straw target and constructed different from makiwara used in karate. The makiwara is shot from close range (about the length of the archer's bow). Because the target is so close and the shot most certainly will hit, the archer can concentrate on refining technique rather than on the arrow's arc prior to shooting greater distances. Heck, maybe I could hit the target at this distance!
The yumi (Japanese bow) is exceptionally tall, surpassing the height of the archer. Yumi are traditionally made of bamboo, wood, and leather employing techniques that have not changed in centuries (modern yumi may use laminated wood coated with glass fiber, or carbon fiber).
Traditionally, the ya (arrow) shafts were made of bamboo with either eagle or hawk feathers (in the US, it is illegal to posses eagle feathers unless you are native American - we can’t even pick them up without a permit). Some archers now use aluminum or carbon fiber shafts with turkey or swan feathers. Two arrows are used per round. The first arrow is designed to spin clockwise, while the second spins counter-clockwise. The archers hold the bow in their left hand and draw the string with their right. The bow's shape is unique and is the only bow whose handling point is not at the center.
There are different styles of kyudo, just as there are different styles of karate (空手). These include Henmi-ryū founded in the 12th century; Taishi-Ryu, founded in the 6th or 7th century, Takeda-Ryu and Ogasawara-Ryu founded by descendants  of Henmi-Ryu. These latter styles were created during the five-year war of 1180–1185 AD in which Ogasawara Nagakiyo taught yabusame (mounted archery). Yabusame-Ryu became so prominent that it is still practiced today. In its modern form, archers ride at full gallop to shoot three targets set up at intervals: the archer is considered to be skillful when all three are hit.  

The bow was prominent in ancient Japan, but it lost its purpose after Europeans arrived in Japan in 1542 AD with muskets. The musket provided a different advantage - it did not require training - just load, point and shoot. In 1575 AD, an army of peasants armed with muskets annihilated an army of samurai archery cavalry and sealed the fate of archery in Japan.
Today, Kyudo is practiced in specific dojo that have an entrance leading to a large training area covered by a wooden floor and high ceiling. The entrance of these dojo face a large open wall with sliding doors. When the sliding doors are opened, one overlooks a grassy area towards a separate building known as matoba. The matoba houses a dirt hillock with targets placed 89.6 feet from the dojo floor.
Many kyudo schools hold examinations. When an archer passes, he/she can be graded to kyū or dan. However, most traditional (non-competitive) schools use the old menkyo (license) system of koryū budō (ancient martial arts). In Japan, kyu ranks in kyudo are only used in high school and college, with adults skipping these ranks to move straight to first dan, or menkyo okuden. While kyudo’s kyu and dan levels are similar to those of other budō practices, rank belts are not worn by kyudo practitioners. 
For those who compete, archers must perform an elaborate procedure where the archer joins up to four other archers to enter the dojo, bow to the adjudicators, step up to the back line and then kneel in seiza. The archers bow to the targets in unison, stand, and take three steps forward to a firing line and kneel again. Each archer stands and fires one after another at the respective targets, kneeling in-between each shot, until they have exhausted their supply of four arrows.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Traditional Okinawan Kobudo and Kobujutsu in Arizona

Ride to the Arizona Hombu dojo to begin your path in the martial arts (photo by Soke Hausel).


A path that few take - but for those who follow this path will find many branches. Take the branch that is most beneficial to society and God. 
The gate opens along a path of a traditional martial artist.

Martial Arts is a lifelong path



Learn about classes, styles and people in Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo in Arizona and in the the world.




Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kyudo - Japanese Archery


Mounted samurai on display at the Phoenix Art Museum (photo by Soke Hausel, Arizona Hombu Dojo)




Many Japanese practice archery – but usually in a dojo (道場) specifically built for archery and generally they frown upon using their houses for a back stop. The Japanese take their art seriously - it has been part of their culture for hundreds of years and has philosophy as any true martial art. It is also associated with the feudal samurai education, giving this art a distinct lineage. The art is known as Kyūdō (弓道). Kyudo translates as the way of the bow. The bow used in this art is awkward to those in the West, but if Westerners were required to learn kyudo, we would see a significant change in our society for the better - because kyudo requires patience and respect - two things notably absent in our modern society today. Kyudo is a beautiful martial art, but finding a teacher of this art in the West is very difficult.

Yumi sho for close quarters
Instead of being neatly divided into two, the hand grip splits the bow into thirds – one third below the grip and two-thirds above. The bow's shape is unique and has been unchanged for two thousand years. It is the only bow whose handling point is not set in the center, this difference has created uniqueness in Japanese archery.

Like all martial arts, the history and evolution of Kyudo leads to many paths and myths. The Japanese bow was created centuries ago. In the Chinese chronicle Weishu (written before 297 AD) it described the Japanese bow, thus it existed nearly three centuries after the birth of Christ and who knows how much earlier.

Sketch of yabusame horses - colored pencil sketch by Hausel, Soke.
Today, there are various styles of kyudo, just as there are many styles in karate (空手) and jujutsu (柔術). Some writers suggest that the first style of kyudo (or kyujutsu) was Henmi-ryū founded by Henmi Kiyomitsu in the 12th century. Others disagree and suggest that the first ryuha was formed much earlier – such as Taishi-Ryu, believed to have been founded by Shotoku Taishi (574-622 AD).

Some other forms include Takeda-Ryu and Ogasawara-Ryu founded by the descendants of Henmi Kiyomitsu. These styles were created to satisfy a need for archers during the five-year war of 1180–1185 AD. During this war, Ogasawara Nagakiyo taught yabusame (mounted archery) that supplemented forms of unmounted archery. Yabusame-Ryu became so prominent that it is still practiced today, eight centuries later. In the modern form, archers ride at a full gallop shooting at three targets set up at intervals and the aarcher is considered to be skillful when all three targets are hit by an arrow.
Oriental bridge - colored pencil sketch by Hausel, Soke

In the latter part of the 15th century Heki Danjō Masatsugu (1443-1502) revolutionized Japanese unmounted archery with a new approach known as hi-kan-chū (fly, pierce, center) that in now standardized training in Japanese archery.

The use of a bow as an effective weapon of war ended some time after Europeans arrived in Japan in 1542 AD carrying muskets. Even armed with muskets, the bow was carried alongside warriors with muskets for many years because of its longer reach, accuracy and faster reloads. But the musket provided a different advantage - it did not require much training - just load, point and shoot. Thus in 1575 AD, an army of peasants armed with muskets annihilated traditional samurai archery cavalry in battle – this sealed the fate of archery in war.

During changes brought about by Japan to open to the outside world in the beginning of the Meiji era (1868–1912) the samurai lost status. All martial arts including kyudo, saw a significant decrease in appreciation. To preserve archery, a group of kyudo masters gathered in 1896 to save traditional archery. Honda Toshizane, a kyudo Sensei at Imperial University of Tokyo, created a hybrid style called Honda-Ryu. And it wasn’t until 1949 before the All Japanese Kyudo Federation (Zen Nihon Kyudo Renmei) formed and published guidelines of rules for competition and graduation. Today, many Kyudo schools emphasize aesthetics and training, while a few emphasize efficiency. Some teach archery as meditation while others focus on competition. It is the goal of many kyudo dojo to follow shin-zen-bi, roughly "truth-goodness-beauty".

Kyudo like all forms of budō includes the idea of moral and spiritual development. There are many schools that focus on kyudo as sport with marksmanship being paramount. To give oneself completely to shooting is a spiritual goal achieved by perfection of both the spirit and shooting technique. Many kyudo practitioners believe that competition, examination, and opportunities that place the archer in uncompromising situations are important. However, other schools feel that competition erodes the moral and spiritual values of the art and avoid all competitions to focus more on technique and building the individual character.

Traditional Karate Training in Mesa, Arizona
The kyudo dojo varies in style and design. Most have an entrance followed by a large training area. The training area typically has a wooden floor with high ceiling, practice targets, and a large open wall with sliding doors, such that when these are opened, the dojo overlooks a grassy area and a separate building known as the matoba which houses a dirt hillock and targets that are placed 89.6 feet from the dojo floor.

Starting out in kyudo, the new student first trains with a rubber practice bow. The purpose of this is to get the student to focus on movement and technique. Advanced beginners and advanced shooters practice shooting at a makiwara, a specially designed straw target that should not to be confused with makiwara used in karate. Archers shoot at the makiwara at a very close distance (about seven feet) so that the archer can focus on refining techniques.
The yumi (bow) is exceptionally tall (over 6.4 feet) surpassing the height of the archer. The bow is traditionally made of bamboo, wood and leather, although some archers (particularly, those new to the art) may use a synthetic bow (laminated wood coated with fiberglass or carbon fiber). The suitable height of the bow depends on the archer's draw (yatsuka) which is about half the archer's height. Ya (arrow) shafts were made of bamboo with either eagle or hawk feathers. Today some archers will use aluminum or carbon fiber shafts. Unlike western archers (who draw the bow to about the cheek bone), kyudo archers draw the bow bringing the drawing hand behind the ear. If done improperly the string may strike the archer's ear or side of the face.

Using a system which is common to modern martial arts, some (but not all) kyudo schools hold examinations. If the archer passes, he/she can be graded to kyū or dan. However, most traditional (non-competitive) schools use the old menkyo (license) system of koryū budō. Some may remember the menkyo system. Before our students became strictly a Seiyo Shorin-Ryu system, several members at the University received Menkyo Okuden, Menkyo Koshi and Menkyo Shihan in some Juko Kai arts.

In Japan, kyu ranks in kyudo are only tested in high schools and colleges, with adults skipping these to move straight to first dan. While kyudo’s kyu and dan levels are similar to those of other budō practices, colored belts or similar external symbols of one's level are not worn by kyudo practitioners.While kyudo is primarily viewed as an avenue toward self-improvement, there are kyudo competitions or tournaments whereby archers practice in a competitive style.

Competition is held with a great ceremony. The archer must also perform an elaborate entering procedure where the archer will join up to four other archers to enter the dojo, bow to the adjudicators, step up to the back line and then kneel in a form of seiza. The archers then bow to the targets in unison, stand, and take three steps forward to a firing line and kneel again. Each archer stands and fires one after another at the respective targets, kneeling in-between each shot, until they have exhausted their supply of arrows (generally four).

Unfortunately, we do not practice Kyudo at the Arizona School of Traditional Okinawan Martial Arts in Mesa, Arizona across the street from Gilbert and Chandler, Arizona. But we do have a large variety of other traditional martial arts that our members learn.
Yumi (Japanese bow) at the Phoenix Art Museum 


VISIT OUR HUMBLE HOMBU IN MESA, ARIZONA

Our center is open to the public - we focus on Adults and Families. Learn the traditions of Okinawan Karate & Kobudo, where portions of the classes are conducted in Japanese and English to help students learn Japanese. Meditation, philosophy and martial arts history are also interjected in our classes. Click for our class schedule and fees.

Ya (arrows) on display at the Phoenix Art Museum