Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kihontai - Basic Movements

In most kyu-dojo, I believe that after safety and information on the clothes and equipment most of us are taught the Kinhontai (basic movements) such as how to sit, stand, and bow.

My first period of training with sitting, bowing, standing, and walking was longer than most, since I'm such a slow learner. But I think I never, until now, really understood just how important this training is. At the time this seemed like just good training. This was the best time to learn these basics so that later we would be ready to shoot.

I continued to do this practice on an almost daily schedule. Than a few years ago as my knees deteriorated I let the movement of sitting and standing slip off my daily routine. Of course, I still did everything else, but this movement felt like it was hurting my ability to move more than helping it; so I let it go.

Then late last year I lamented that I couldn't stand and sit as well as I used to (imagine that if I don't train it, I can't do it, duh). But still, you'd think that after 30 years of training, I would be great at this. My knees have felt better lately (could be from the break of doing the practice, but I think not. I believe it's that I increased my walking around the block, tai chi, and yoga practices). In any case, I renewed my practice of standing and sitting back into my daily training.

The result has been a much deeper understanding of kihontai than I've ever experienced before. This practice is so much more important than I ever imagined, on so many levels of interaction; I don't even know where to begin discussing it.

Of course, we know that the tai hai or body movements we make to approach the target are just as important as the hassetsu or 8 stages of shooting we use to shoot the arrow. These two balance eachother and show eachother to us even clearer with their contrast. They also begin to interact with eachother, so one enhances the other.

I remember a Zen Priest from one of our performances saw me helping set up everything and asked, "So you do kyudo with him?" nodding to Kosaka Sensei. I answered "yes". He said, "So what's more important: the tai hai, the approach you do to the target, or the hassetsu of shooting the arrow". I answered, "Cleaning the dojo, before and after class". He responded that I was very well trained.

Cleaning the dojo, taking care of our equipment and clothes, and all of our practices are designed to heighten our awareness. Awareness of every detail that we can experience. So too with the Kihontai and Tai Hai, isn't it?

As my awareness of these basics increases, I discover that the movement of standing sitting walking and bowing is not what I thought. I always thought that the shooting movements were expanding and many of these other movemnet were contracting ones; but it turns out they are extending too. I noted that as I lowered to the ground my muscles were lengthening not contracting! I don't know if this is the way I've always done it, or if now that's what's happening to me from all the practice; because I was never aware enough of what I was doing to know. But it is obvious that this is the best way of sitting down and standing up.

It has also become clear that the development of the kahanshin (Lower half of the body) is the best way to support the johanshin (upper half of the body), especially as it receives the pressure of the bow.

As we all know, the act of bowing brings about a feeling of humility, another wonderful realization to feel this deeply as I do this daily practice. It has kept me open in body, mind, and attitude so that this year's training has brought about more realizations than any of my previous years. Perhaps all the years are stacked on top of eachother, but it feels more like they are just lining up. Our alignment as we do these basic movements is just as key, as the alignment we use when the bow opens us. The Ikasu (enlivenment) of ourselves as we breath fully and completely is just as important here as anywhere in our lives; it makes everything happen.

The rest of the realizations that are coming to me... I just don't know how to put it into words. Perhaps it's better if I don't. I do recommend a daily practice to anyone and everyone of sitting... bowing... standing... walking. Please experience it for yourself with awareness, it's a wonderful practice. A practice beyond the words to describe, if we're open to it and allow it to transform or lives.

Thank you,