This year, our group member Chris was able to attend the International Kyudo Federation Seminar, hosted in Spartanburg, South Carolina, by the South Carolina Kyudo Renmei.
Chris has kindly shared his commentary on the experience, for us here. For our visitors unfamiliar with Kyudo terminology, there is a brief description of the terms used, at the bottom of this entry.
"My sensei, Don Wudarski and I had practiced painstakingly for months before the 2013 Kyudo Seminar in Spartanburg, SC. We had carefully assessed my taihai, perfected my shitsu correction, made sure that all of my equipment was in perfect condition, studied my kihon, and made plenty of time for me to work on my shooting. The blisters on my left hand served as a testimony to my hard work. I was ready to test for Sandan. Sensei and the rest of my classmates were all excited to see me off, and even more so awaiting my return.
"The night before, I had barely slept; I was so anxious to get to the seminar. Spartanburg was where I had initially taken my first Shodan test back in 2006; I had made Ikkyu that year instead, due to flaws in my form. Excitement and anxiety flooded my system throughout the journey, which I attempted to stifle by studying my kihon for the written test. What kind of experience could await me upon my arrival in South Carolina?
"It would be a good experience on the whole. I immediately made a new friend in a lovely young lady from the Atlanta Kyudo Renmei, who was also my transportation from the airport. At the dojo, I met my fellow members of the Indiana Kyudo Renmei; they had been waiting for me after the seminar. A few of them I did not know, but we immediately became acquainted. The group treated me as if I was one of their own; their kindness and acceptance warmed my heart, and I was happy to work with them and spend time with them during practice and mealtimes. It was also nice to run into a few old friends as well.
"The Hanshi were very helpful and informative throughout the seminar. All of them worked with my group, and they were very encouraging and respectful. As they prepared me for my Sandan test, they made a few corrections to my form. I learned to use all five of my fingers to raise the yumi after yatsugae; it was a minor change to the form and style that year, according to the Hanshi. I was instructed to lower the ya on the nigiri by a tiny fraction during yugamae (this was to help lead with the left hand as I brought the yumi down to kai). The biggest change was going from daisan to kai; here I was told to pull myself into the center of the yumi. This would be accomplished by pushing and pulling equally from my back muscles.
"The testing day came, and I worked to the best of my ability. After hours of suspense, I was informed that I did not make Sandan. I was disappointed for a brief second, but like in 2006, the last words of the Raiki-Shagi echoed in my mind and heart:
"After the amazing adventure that had transpired, all of the wonderful new friends I had met and the incredible overall experience of this seminar, how could I be discontented? One of the Yondans and Godans in my group told me not to worry, they had not passed their Sandan test on the first try, either. My disappointment melted away and evaporated that night, as the Indiana Kyudo Renmei took me out to a delicious dinner. I was actually quite sad to leave. We all said our goodbyes, asked about if we would see each other at the next seminar, and promised to keep in touch.
"I had a phenomenal time at the seminar. I may not have made Sandan, but I'm not going to give up. This experience taught me to keep on pushing, and to hone my Kyudo technique. I will keep on training, and I will make Sandan someday. The days to come will be spent on a much-needed search for myself."
Glossary of Kyudo terms:
Taihai: The overall form and the series of formal movements practiced in the shooting ceremony.
Shitsu: Denotes a certain type of error in the shooting procedure; ie, a dropped arrow, a broken string, or a dropped bow. Each of these errors has a specific series of steps to be followed, when they occur.
Kihon: Refers to the Kihon-tai, or the fundamental steps and movements of the shooting ceremony, as laid out in the Kyudo Manual, Volume 1.
Sandan: The third Dan rank, awarded in formal testing. The Dan ranks number one through ten, and are counted in ascending order as follows: Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan, Rokudan, Shichidan, Hachidan, Kyuudan, Jyuudan.
Ikkyu: Prior to the Dan ranks, there are two Kyu ranks that may be awarded in testing. They are Nikkyu, and then Ikkyu. If a shooter is ranked Ikkyu, the next rank they would be eligible for is Shodan.
Hanshi: The highest rank for Kyudo instructors. Traditionally, the Kyudo seminars held in the U.S. have hosted three Hanshi-ranked Sensei, associated with the Zen Nippon Kyudo Renmei in Japan. These dedicated instructors volunteer their time and patient attention to seminar students, to ensure that the students receive a high standard of instruction.
Yumi: The Japanese bow.
Yatsugae: The procedure of nocking the Ya (arrows) on the Tsuru (bowstring).
Nigiri: The grip of the bow, traditionally wrapped in a strip of leather.
Yugamae: Preparing the bow, before lifting and drawing. Yugamae consists of two parts: Torikake (taking hold of the string with the right hand), and Tenouchi (setting the left hand grip on the Nigiri). This is one of the 8 steps of the Hassetsu, the kata of Kyudo.
Kai: The full draw, the point of greatest expansion of the bow and the string, prior to releasing the arrow. Also one of the 8 steps of Hassetsu.
Daisan: A transitional point prior to Kai, when the bow is drawn to two-thirds of the full expansion.
Raiki-Shagi: One of the important historical texts describing the philosophy of Kyudo practice. You may read the full text of it at this entry.