D20: Kyūdō!

Happy National Sports Day!

In honor of National Sports Day, Don and I took a special Sports Day Kyūdō (kyuu-doh) lesson today – a lesson in Japanese archery.

It began with an opening ceremony and a demonstration by archery masters – a beautiful, choreographed and precisely timed ritual the participants seemed able to do with their eyes closed (some literally performed it so).  Kyūdō is associated with Shinto, and is considered spiritual as well as athletic. Kyūdō requires modesty, strength of character and a pure heart, just as much as it requires aim and strong arms.  And it clearly requires discipline – it was incredibly hard, and apparently it takes years to become good at it (apparently, it also often takes a month before a student of Japanese archery is even allowed to touch a bow and arrow – they let us in on the fast track today!)

The opening ceremony typically begins with bows (head-to-ground bows, not bow-and-arrow bows) towards the kami (the deity of the shrine) before bowing to the masters; as the center where we were taking the lesson is not a shrine and does not have any symbols of the kami, we bowed towards the Japanese flag instead, to acknowledge service and our ancestors, the instructor explained (interestingly, he only explained that in response to a question in the Q&A at the end – during the session, we were asked to bow towards the mirror, which was under the Japanese flag.)


I must admit, I had no idea what I was getting us into when I signed us up for this lesson.  The bows are massive!  Way taller than I am.  The arrows are about 2/3 my height. It was incredibly difficult, but incredibly fun.  There is something magical about struggling (and I really struggled, every time – I’m not kidding when I say this was hard work) to pull back the string and arrow, trying to aim the arrow (without it falling off its precarious balance atop my guiding fingers), and then releasing it to hear it swoosh through the air with swift, assured grace (until it ungracefully inserts itself several feet from where I aimed, of course).

The (rare, in our class session) thwack of the arrow actually hitting the target was incredibly satisfying as well, and although no one came close to actually hitting the bullseye, any time anyone hit the target at all, everyone would stop what they were doing, peer in awe at the arrow that got “close,” and applaud.

It was so much fun, we may sign up for real lessons!

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