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I shot the long bow for the first time in over a year. Far too long. But a personal circumstance that I found myself in finally broke the dead lock I'd had with the bow. In years past, I was not totally ready for the bow as I still had a form in mind. A goal.
Zen archery is a continuous act. It is a flight without thought. When the arrow hits the target, the true act ends. Though I am looking at a bulls eye, it is not the goal. It is to project myself for an instant into the arrow itself. I fly the arrow to the target with myself. Aiming does not occur. I do instinct shooting. Both eyes open to the target, with an awareness of how high the bow has been raised. Instantaneously, the anchor point is set with my hand drawn to the chin. As soon as I reach anchor: release. It is one smooth action if done properly without a hesitation involved. Raise the bow, anchor, release.
I will have the movement going though my mind for days now. Feeling the flight of the arrow and knowing that feeling of the few times when my mind was not involved.
This is the most positive I have felt in years, just after this one night of shooting. The goal is no goal. The purpose is perfection of action in absolute peace and the payoff is learning to be nothing. Knowing the arrow to the target.
It is much the same as the Shakuhachi for me. There is release of breath. There is a flow of energy precisely placed and timed. There is no end goal. Only movement without thought. The most beautiful Shakuhachi I have performed was absolutely without thought. No knowing of destination. A delicate balance between universe and action of a physical body in absolute harmony with the soul.
The action of Zen Archery is larger: full body. And it is exercise in a broader sense. It includes a good deal of force and energy exploding from a 45 pound bow. But the moment of delivery has a relationship with the flute: an undirected direction of precision with an absolutely still mind.
When it all comes together – when I follow through with “unthought” accuracy and the arrow hits dead center, the joy of that moment is matched only by those moments when I have allowed the unknown me play the flute.
For me, that is Zen. Release of all thought and being the only you that you really are. In one complete movement of the universe. In that split second there exists no time. No pain. No worry. No thought. Just movement in grace, form perfect and strength created by the soul.
I am completing a circle. The combination of instruments that I play in tandem with Zen Archery creates a greater force in me than any other act. And the force is absolute peace.
Last edited by D.J. (2007-04-10 23:24:35)
This is turning into an experiment I had not planned on.
In the years past, when shooting the longbow, I had not yet read the works on Awa Kenzo. I only know of two. I am studying them now. Key to his method of shooting Zen is breath into Hara. I worked on that today.
When reteaching yourself how to shoot, there are many variables. Stance, position of wrist, anchor point, etc. All of these things come heavily into play when trying to move yourself to the bulls-eye. That is the first element that I learned today in such a way that it honestly stuck. I did not try to hit the bulls-eye with the arrow. That is impossible. The reality is that the arrow, the bow and the target do not exist. What we “think” exists. What we KNOW exists. It is our ‘self’ that we bend, aim and thrust in a given direction. The other elements are simply mirrors of that thought. This is the first element that carries over to the Shakuhachi.
When playing the Shakuhachi, form is of the essence. Posture, embouchure, how relaxed your back and diaphragm are. All of these things come into play. But I have found that if I concentrate on these things, music does not exist. These things: Bench, flute, and even the body, are of little importance compared to the act of “knowing” the music into existence. Bending of the notes is quite simply bending our ‘selves’ to match the rhythm of our hearts at the time of blowing.
Once I got beyond the physical aspects of the longbow, I then concentrated on the one thing that Kenzo expresses is of the greatest importance: Breath. And, in particular, breath into and out of Hara.
Pick up the bow, deep breath into the belly and then a full exhale. Nock the arrow, deep breath into the belly and then a full exhale. Raise the bow and pull the string back to anchor at the chin, deep breath into the belly and then a full exhale. While focused on one thing in the universe, the center of the target, deep breath into the belly and then a full exhale.
I discovered two things: Breath is everything and so is sight.
Sight: If I saw the target, then the arrow hit somewhere around the target. If I saw the bulls-eye, then the arrow found the bulls-eye, but, not without proper breath. Hara was critical to success.
Each time I maintained the exact sequence with the breath into Hara and then full release, I was able to focus on the center of the target. Breath in, release, just at the point of arrow release, my own energy hit dead center of the target. Consequently, so did the arrow. Breath fully released as the arrow flew until the lungs were empty.
For a split second time disappeared completely. I was fluid and I literally knew the arrow to the target and I felt the impact. That was Heaven. It happened correctly about five times in an hour of practice. Euphoria.
I went home and iced my back. While I lay on the couch, I watched my little desk fountain flowing down a vertical rock base. My vision was crystal clear. I understood at that point that I was not solid. Not even close. My understanding of water was perfect and could not be translated into words.
I picked up the 2.9 Shakuhachi. I was so high from the moment, I began to play Ro without really thinking of the shakuhachi or breath. Unfocussed. I was blowing from my shoulders. The sound cracked. I stopped.
I realized that I had forgotten Hara. I breathed into Hara several times and then focused on breath. I blew from the belly. Everything changed. Without effort, embouchure was perfect. The sound became utterly clear and constant. I was able to hold notes longer and without a single break in the sound. Utterly pure. And then the mind switched off. It all happened naturally without thought. Pure Ro.
Each time I maintained the exact sequence with the breath into Hara and then full release, not of a string, but a breath as an arrow down the core of the instrument, as I was able to focus on the center of this new target, my own energy hit dead center. Consequently, so did the arrow. In this case the target was Ro. The arrow was the breath itself. I hit the bulls-eye: pure tone. Euphoria.
Last edited by D.J. (2007-04-13 18:08:58)
D.J., I enjoy reading this. I know little of kyudo or any other archery but thank you for sharing this. Familiar efforts to blaze the same path in different forests, I think.
Do you know or know of Taro Miura? He is a master of shakuhachi and archery also. Nice man.
Thank you for the kind words. I do not have access to actual Japanese archery. The longbow I use is western. It is just a bit shorter than I am. It comes up to my nose. I am 6” 2”. The Japanese bow is a monstrous feat to accomplish – much harder in many respects than the western style of longbow shooting. But the Zen technique can be brought into the western bow.
I looked at some the photos from your Japan trip. Sigh. If only I could travel. My life has me glued in Seattle. My work is primarily giving every effort to my daughter, Lily, as she is the technical 12 year old virtuoso. One day, if life allows, I will travel and perhaps take lessons. That is currently reserved for my daughter. The next step in Lily's development is to acquire a violin and private lessons. By September, she will be playing about 8 different instruments.
So my work is created by the energy in me and that of the Puget Sound. I do my best work on the water. . . when it’s not raining!
I will continue adding to my little experiment as new discoveries develop.
I had not heard of Taro Miura before. I Googled the name but another person of the same name pops up who writes children's books.
A new discovery. Perhaps it is just for today. I will have to watch this carefully. I discovered that the act of practicing Zen archery fills me with a great deal of energy. Absolutely high from it. It is difficult to settle down afterwards.
I just played the Shakuhachi and the NAFs. I practiced the Zen breathing between flutes. I found that there was a draining of energy after I finished playing. It could very well be that today is a down day for me. But it seemed like my pouring emotional energy into the flutes left me with less energy when I was done. Less emotional energy.
It would be nice to hear from others on this point. I have a suspicion that today is not a good day for me. I will take my flutes and didges outside and see if there is a difference.
I believe there have been times I have been left high from playing the shakuhachi as well. But today’s energy was a sad energy that came thorough the flutes. Where as in archery, there is no “emotional” energy. It is completely mindless. Totally Zen. Even as I write this I am discovering this in my thoughts - that the flutes create a varied set of emotions, or perhaps pull out a varied set of emotions whereas the longbow simply takes me to the empty state and with each breath, I am filled with more and more energy even as my arms and back are shaking from the pull of the bow. When I get in the car to go home, my body is tired but wide awake.
So there is an outstanding difference from the bow and the Shakuhachi. Of course the archery is exercise which does wake up the mind and body. But the breath did something to me new with the Zen archery due to its concentrated effort.
Just some simple observations. Feedback would be wonderful.
I have enjoyed reading these (and other posts) you have made, as they give me much to think about. Anything I say should, of course, be taken with a large chunk of salt, as I have only been playing the shakuhachi for 3 months now. But I was struck by your comments about the emotional energy that the flute can create, or call forth, and the mindless unity of action that you find in archery that leads to a sense (possibly a feeling?) of zen.
I don't have answeres, per se, but I wonder if the play of emotions that the shakuhachi can call forth isnt something like a Zen Straw or spiritual siphon. By siphoning the emotions and calling them out of us through playing we could, sometimes, be left in that state of emptiness. Maybe Zen requires one to experience (possibly through playing) the emotions that are to be purged, leaving you finally with a sense of calm. I'm not sure.
Maybe it is a little innapropriate to call the Shakuhachi a kind of emotional straw/funnel/tube that can be used for sucking emotions out of yourself (expelling them as sound) and then experiencing the feeling of emptiness, but sometimes it does feel that way for me. I get lost in the playing/breathing and I go through an emotional range and then feel a peaceful calm emptiness in which anything can be possible.
What kind of NAF's do you play? I have seen some interesting posts here about this Anasazi flute, which looks very interesting (and somewhat like a shakuhachi).
You must keep us all posted about your experiences.
Oh, as for me, I have finally re-learned my hand positions, and now I can play with the left hand up. I started with right hand up, but now, with effort, I made the switch and am happy about it. Well, time to be off. Take care,
Last edited by Lorka (2007-04-15 17:29:41)
Hey Lorka - are you aware that many right-handed players begin training right-hand up? This is because as a righty your most dexterous hand fingers the top three holes while the least deterous handles the lower two holes.
All the Best
Oh, as for me, I have finally re-learned my hand positions, and now I can play with the left hand up. I started with right hand up, but now, with effort, I made the switch and am happy about it. Well, time to be off. Take care,
You can switch back if you want to. A lot of the best players are left handed and play with right hand on top. Yokoyama Katsuya and Kurahashi Yoshio for example.
Why is it a mystery that there is emotion connected with sound--especially sound that emulates the human voice--and that
there may be less emotion connected with silent activity, as in archery?
Sunlight, Rhythm, Vibration and People
Edosan: Absolutely correct. I had a brain cramp this morning because I was in a foul mood. That is all there is to it. . .but there is more. Matt, you also nailed it down for me. The flutes this morning, both the Shakuhachi and the NAF, simply reflected my already depressed state and left the room dripping with sad! AHHHH! I had to escape.
I have used African drums, specifically Djembes, and also Didgeridoos to heal people within the past several years. We have cleared bad energy from rooms instantly with both of these instruments. You can feel a pressure change that is startling. I realized that I was the bad energy, though. What to do?
Today was the final day of the World Rhythm Festival in downtown Seattle. I figured that there would be enough Djembes and Djuns there to hear all the way to the Canadian border, so I left the drums home and packed up a couple didgeridoos. I hit the road in the sunshine: a first for a long time here in Seattle. I found my way to the Seattle Center parking garage and of course it sounded like an African nation in the distance. I followed my ears. I looked at the live drum circles and found one being facilitated by a top pro from Ghana. That was the spot.
I sat myself down next to Simone LaDrumma, a local Seattle drum celeb, and pulled out my highest pitched didge. It’s loud in a drum circle. VERY loud. A low didge can’t be heard over the din, but the high harmonics from a high E Didge can pierce the din. So I sat for the next 2 and a half hours and let rip!
A wall of Djembes and Djun Djuns against the opposite side of the circle, African dancers in the center, and another row of drummers, shekers, clapping sticks and my didge on the opposite side. People with smiles, sunshine, dance, rhythm and VIBRATION that would blow the ceiling off a stadium. I was suddenly in heaven.
Needless to say, I am in a very good mood now. I am very glad I am an eclectic. It allows for a variety of ways to deal with life. This morning, in the midst of my self-induce depression, I had forgotten just how powerful a tool African drums and didgeridoos are. But it was not just that. The Kahunas teach that if you are to heal a person, use every tool at your disposal and never question which thing helped the most. Today, it was dancing people, laughter, drums, didge, shekers, sunshine, rhythm, . . .JOY.
Oh my God what a difference.
So I remain the experiment for others to see. No, none of this is new stuff. It has been known for millennia. But it is fun to work on and I think it is good for me to remind myself that there is a reason I spread my work into so many directions. My main job is as a healer. To leave any tool out is folly. So I use Reiki, didge, drum, flute and the natural presence of people and sunshine to heal. No one thing was more responsible than another. It was all inclusive: Energy at such a high level of light that I had no choice but to let go of the depression and find myself again.
I will continue my little experiment. Comparing and contrasting energy and sound. Today’s discovery for me is that the flute is indeed an amplifier of my own state as Matt said. The drums and didge operate on a totally different level.
One of my master teachers a few years back would not touch my drums without asking permission of the drum first. She is a mystic/magician from Thailand. She explained to me that the drum, one made of natural substance such as an African made djembe, carries its own spirit. She directed me in a process to test each drum for the kind of spirit within. When we performed the ceremony, the results were startling and the spirits were indeed most positive. No, I am not at liberty to divulge the process, but it is real. The energy from a well made shakuhachi is just as real. All of these are living tools that carry the energy of their makers and the energy of the substance they are made from.
So it is not a surprise that these drums heal. It is not a surprise that the didgeridoo I used today from an Aboriginal master in Arnemland had a profound effect on me either. Breath. Energy, vibration and rhythm. Far more powerful tools than most in the western world realize.
I am happy now. I suspect that when I play the flutes tonight, I will likely reflect a different tone.
Matt, I play a standard plains NAF. Six hole with a bird block on the back to direct the air flow. I will hopefully be taking lessons soon. I found a Master teacher from the Salish tribe at the Rhythm Festival on Friday.
Looks like my little experiment is expanding now. I won't put walls on it. I will simply reflect my findings to this site.
Last edited by D.J. (2007-04-15 21:44:54)
Anything I say should, of course, be taken with a large chunk of salt, as I have only been playing the shakuhachi for 3 months now.
There is no such thing as a beginner. All of us are that very beginning energy that cannot be defined. As you pick up a new instrument or a new endeavor, that endeavor may be new to the current you, but the answers for your new challenge are all held inside of you. All you have to do is open the door to your original self, and they are there.
Hey DJ and Tiraku,
Thanks for the replies. One of the reasons (other than the good advice of many on the forum of course) that I made the switch to left hand up, was that a very decent member of the forum sold me a 2.4 earth model by Perry. I really am enjoying the longer length bamboo, and I begin to see what many of you say when you mention that bamboo creates a different feel. The holes were offset and playing any other way would have been impossible. I do not find, now, that I have sacrified any sort of hand dexterity. Actually, I used to play drums for a number of years and it was my left had that had to deal with alot of the complicated snare techniques.
DJ, thanks for the encouraging words. That music festival sounds great, I wish I could have been there. Over here it is snowing again.
But it seemed like my pouring emotional energy into the flutes left me with less energy when I was done. Less emotional energy.
It would be nice to hear from others on this point.
It sounds like a typical scarcity conciousness. It's the idea that there isn't enough energy to go around. It's a fallacy, the truth is that what you put out will come back multiplied. On a more technical level, watch how you breath. If you constantly try to put a lot of energy into draining your lungs and don't put an equal emphasis on filling your lungs and taking in energy, it'll be exhausting. Try some breathing without the shakuhachi and see what happens, and not the controlled yoga kind either. Just some deep, naturally quick (particularly on the exhale, holding and making the exhale slow is controlled) breaths. Try for 5 or 10, make sure you're sitting or lying down. See what it feels like, usually it's energizing. You can't exhale like that with the shakuhachi, but it can help give you an idea of what some really good inhalations can do for your playing.
BTW, Have you heard this one yet? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNl-RyunZug
And since this is a shakuhachi forum, to keep at least a little balance, this one is kind of new on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHRONroYFY4
It sounds like a typical scarcity conciousness. It's the idea that there isn't enough energy to go around. It's a fallacy, the truth is that what you put out will come back multiplied. On a more technical level, watch how you breath. If you constantly try to put a lot of energy into draining your lungs and don't put an equal emphasis on filling your lungs and taking in energy, it'll be exhausting.
VERY good point that I had not thought of. In fact, yes I do put a great deal of emphasis on the emotional release of air into the instrument. I should also know better. In blowing the didgeridoo, the intake MUST match the blowing out or there is no circle breathing and no more sound. Thank you for that advise!
My final entry for tonight: 4/15/07
All the Shakuhachi I choose to play are made by Perry. His carry an energy in them that, for me, is not felt in any other. But I also found that in particular, those made without lacquer are far more alive with Perry’s energy than my lacquered ones. For that reason I will never order another Shakuhachi with a lacquered interior.
I have a natural bore drone in B flat that Perry made for me a few months ago. I chose it for tonight’s playing time before I hit the sack. I usually find blowing into the second register difficult because I practice so many different arts. Not enough playing time on the Shakuhachi. For some reason, I found the second register tonight and I was able to maintain it. And in doing so I found out something new about the Shakuhachi for me.
This was the first time I have blown second register on this drone and I felt an immediate change of energy in the room. An energy change on the same scale as that felt by a didgeridoo, AND, that which I feel in Archery. It is a lightening of the pressure in the room and a lessoning of anxiety and pressure from within.
Since I received this drone from Perry, it has struck me as something different. It is the one Shakuhachi I keep out beside my couch at all times. More than any other Shakuhachi, this one holds presence.
Energy is funny stuff. We relate to it all the time. We are affected by even the most subtle energy in our presence, but so many of us choose to ignore it as we walk blindly in the company of human created chaos.
This one shakuhachi is at level with Zen archery. Perhaps the single tone. Perhaps the second register. Perhaps the natural bore. I refuse to say any one created this energy. All are implicit in creating the state of energy that came from it and all are responsible for carrying my own higher energy into the room. I also realize now that the way I blow into the drone Shakuhachi is not as intense as a regular Shakuhachi as I am not trying to "express" an idea in music! I like these ah ha!
It will be a good nights sleep.
In some Buddhist meditation discourses there is mention of 'jhana' which are joyful states. 'Jhana' became 'Dhyana', became 'Chan', became 'Zen'. So with this simple explanation you would say that 'zen' is a joyful state.
It is also mentioned that there are many levels or depths of jhana, and so levels of joy. Jhana's arise from concentration, concentration is the focussed mind, not the discursive, scattered mind, or even the mind that is trying too hard.
When you play the shakuhachi, or draw the longbow or perhaps tie your shoelaces, you may do it with this concentrated mindfulness or not. In this way any action is a meditation and your continuum actions may be continuum mindful awareness, with continuum joy. If 'not', then some of your energy is distracted or discursive so the level of joy is perhaps 'shallow'. When you do it with calm mindfulness the resulting joy may be deeper. 'Calm' also suggests 'non-clinging' and 'non-defensive'.
You used the term 'bad' referring to your energy, perhaps use the term 'discursive' instead, seeing your energy as not concentrated.
Also see this concentration as being effortless. The energy required to maintain a scattered mind is what is draining. When the mind is concentrated there is more available energy and you will then be able to observe greater detail, resulting in joyful wonderment.
Last edited by Karmajampa (2007-04-16 15:37:36)
Dhyana, the concentrative states, are worldly or mundane states. Mahayana Buddhism regards these as inferior distractions detracting from the goal of compassion with emptiness. Certainly logic, discursive thought, is relative truth and not absolute truth. Realizing the inseparability of relative and absolute truth does not result from reasoning.
I hope this clarifies the discussion.
Pure meditation is a mindless state for me. (However, there are times I meditate for answers - open silent mind to the stream of wisdom that seems to flow easily when the mind is turned off) Playing didge is a mindless state for me. Monkey mind gone. Playing Shakuhachi is an emotional state for me unless I concentrate away from concentrating and simply let the notes fly.
The empty state I feel in archery is intense, but short lived. The empty state I feel in playing the didge will last for hours, but the didge itself can distract at times. Sitting in meditation, silently is the best for me most of the time if that is what I want to accomplish.
The new effort in my little experiment is to test my states of consciousness while playing Ro on several different Shakuhachi. The best for me is by far the drone as I am not tempted to play songs. It is a moment of self education that I am sharing. I love research. My little addiction.
Last edited by D.J. (2007-04-16 16:40:11)
The best for me is by far the drone as I am not tempted to play songs.
Maybe, then, the best tool of meditation is not the drone?
The new effort in my little experiment is to test my states of consciousness while playing Ro on several different Shakuhachi. ... It is a moment of self education that I am sharing. I love research.
I enjoy research and sharing, also, so I think I know where you're coming from. (And I think it's awesome you're sharing all this with us.) But, honestly, I hope this research leaves you empty handed. No conclusion. Just awareness of it all, without judgement or ranking or analysis. You know what I mean. Best wishes.
Last edited by dstone (2007-04-16 18:01:16)
But, honestly, I hope this research leaves you empty handed. No conclusion. Just awareness of it all, without judgement or ranking or analysis. . .
YES! I love your thinking. I was thinking this over when I got the messages about Buddhist thought. And it hit me. Wait! Too serious! Put on the brakes!
Yes, I have studied spiritual thought and philosophy for 30 years. (I am also a preacher’s kid. Oh, God!) No, I don’t adhere to most of what I studied. Why? Because I prefer self exploration. Why? Because its fun! Yes, that simple. I don’t do hierarchy and definition because it puts boundaries on things. That limits learning.
Then to what you said. You hope I come away empty handed. I agree. Why? Because to come away empty handed promotes thought, growth and further exploration. That’s the part I love: The experimentation of it.
By sharing this I did come away with some wonderful feedback which was why I put it here in the first place: Observe, record and share for feedback. I do believe that is why this site exists, right?
Now I know why I feel a sense of freedom with the drone shakuhachi. No self-pressure to perform. Just a sense of freedom. Why do I play the Shakuhachi? Because I LOVE the sound of it. Why do I play the didge? Yeah, I have used it as a healing tool. But that’s not why I play it. I do it for fun. I love it. It is a release. Freedom.
As for the archery. I just developed a small case of tendonitis in my elbow so that has to heal for awhile before I pick up the bow again. I need to adjust the tension on the string so it’s a little easier to draw.
Thank you, all of you for the feedback. That is the key to this site. We get to hear the thoughts of others.
Last edited by D.J. (2007-04-16 19:14:39)