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.


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