Practicing “moving meditation” with Japanese archery
1. With poise and concentration, each student takes turns
to execute their katas and aim at the target.
Kyudo, like any other Japanese martial art, is a tradition that began in the 12th century and the samurai era. During the 17th century, the extended period of peace redirected the samurai to less combative practice and turned their combat techniques into meditative practice. The kyudo practice was born out of this contemplative movement and has since been referred to as “moving meditation”. It is nevertheless distinctive from other famous arts like kendo, judo, karate, and aikido, in the sense that it does not require an outside partner or “enemy” to be practiced. It is fundamentally reconnecting with the essence of martial arts, the goal not in competition, but a consistent victory over oneself.
At the Shambhala Center, New Yorkers can learn the beauty of kyudo during classes held every Monday. The group of dedicated students start their weekly practice with a 10-minute silent meditation in order to enter a stable state of mind, required for the practice. The bows and arrows are beautifully aligned against the wall opposite the hay targets, waiting to be punctured!
Each newcomer is required to take a series of 3 lessons called “First Shot”, where the student will be familiarized with the equipment (bow, arrow, gloves) and shooting techniques before being able to release their first arrow.
2&3. Ben Russell explains how to release the arrow by twisting the wrist. The archer wears a special glove to pull on the bow’s string.
Kyudo is based on a few simple, essential fundamentals. Primarily, taking a shot requires a deep sense of relaxation, putting away all strain and tension in your body and mind, elevating your spirit, and filling yourself with inner peace and courage. As easy as this may sound, Ben Russell of Toko KYUDOJO, who has practiced kyudo for over 15 years after learning kendo, knows how truly difficult it is to focus your mind and not be distracted by worries, attachments and ego filling our lives. “It is like polishing a mirror, but the mirror is your heart. Hopefully you become better at polishing and you start liking what you see in the mirror.” The combined depth and subtlety of kyudo practice makes it an ongoing quest to improve one’s character and find inner peace. Sometimes compared to snowflakes, no two shots at the target are ever exactly alike during practice, so you can always learn something new, no matter how experienced you may believe yourself to be.
The perfect shot is not a matter of strength or skill. It is the result of an harmonious combination of dedicated practice, balanced posture, stable breathing and peaceful mind. Dignity and aesthetics are two fundamental pillars of kyudo, and contribute to the beauty and elegance of the class. Each student respectfully awaits their turn to face the six targets aligned in the dojo. Once positioned, the student proceeds with the 7-movement coordinations before taking the shot. The whole practice is done in a silent environment, conducive to a meditative state. In the spring and fall, the group retreats for outdoor “long distance practice” where the target stands 28 meters away from the shooting line.
4. Kyudo requires equal work and strength from both arms.
The benefits of this kyudo practice are not only noticeable during training but in everyday life. The importance given to posture and gesture is something we almost forget in our sedentary lifestyle. The true essence of kyudo is to cultivate one’s inner strength, human qualities and respect towards others. It is a unique opportunity to grasp the true intended philosophy of martial arts.
——– Reported by Ruth Berdah-Canet
118 W. 22nd St., (bet. 6th & 7th Aves.), 6th Fl.,
New York, NY 10011