Sunday, January 31, 2010


As if wine tasting and scotch tasting were not enough, I took one more class this January. Getting my money's worth out of the break, I tell you. :) I took an archery class last spring, and I loved it. So when I saw a beginner kyudo class offered over Saturday and Sunday, I jumped on it.

Kyudo is Japanese archery, and is less of a competition sport and more of a meditation exercise. To properly complete a shot, you have to "polish your mind." The equipment is a very tall bow (mine was about seven feet), the arrow, and a special glove. The bow is asymmetric - the grip is not in the middle, so more of the bow sticks out above than below.

There are seven steps in the arrow-shooting process, and each step has to be executed with excruciating detail and precision. By the time you actually get to shoot the arrow, you are just glad to not be holding your arms up any more! Saturday was spent learning the form, and then Sunday we got to take our "First Shot." The rest of Sunday was practice, and I am pleased to say that I did quite well.

This kind of archery was different from the archery class ("western archery") in a few ways. For western archery, I used a left-handed bow (being, you know, left-handed). In kyudo, there is no such thing as left-handed. So I had to learn how to handle everything with the opposite hands than I was used to. But that actually wasn't the hardest adjustment. I was trained that when you let go of the arrow, you hold everything perfectly still and don't move as you watch the shot fly toward the target. But in kyudo, you pull pull PULL the arrow, and when you release you WHIP your hand back and hold your position in a spreadeagle. So for most of the day, I would get confused and pull pull PULL and let go - hold tight and forget to move - suddenly remember and jerk my arm back, even though the arrow had already hit. Hmm. That technique is not an approved form.

As we practiced throughout the day, the instructors would make adjustments and correct us. After a few shots, my instructor handed me a different bow. He watched me twice more, and then gave me a different bow yet again. Finally he seemed satisfied, and I curiously checked the markings on the bow. Now, each bow is marked with a number that represents how hard it is to pull. You want a bow that you can draw to full extension, but if it's too easy than you are not being challenged and you need a stronger bow. And of course the more tension you have, the farther you can shoot - so it's to your advantage to use the hardest bow you call pull.

The littlest girls in the class used a bow marked "6." Most of the average students used an 8 or so. Mine? The one I ended up with? A 11. Ha! See how that weight training came in handy? :)

And a similar thing happened with the gloves. The glove for your hand has to fit properly (they are not stretchy), so there are a variety of sizes. The tiny Asian girls wore 5s and 6s, and most people wore 7s. Mine was an 8.

But hey, you know what? That just means I have good, worker's hands and a strong back and arms. And that all makes for a very satisfying THWACK when that arrow hits the target. Actually, one time the arrow shot all the way through the target and came out the other side!

When we lined up for the longest distance of the day (28 meters), a second instructor was checking bows as we went by. She saw that mine was an 11, and she said, "Oh, this girl somehow managed to get an 11 - we had better switch that out." My instructor overheard that comment and called back, "Oh no, she's good!" 

You bet I am!

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