by Saito Chobo

T he following essay, Kokoro No Yoi (Preparing Your Mind) forms part of the introductory section of the treatise on the Ogasawara Ryu in the 2nd volume of the Gendai Kyudo Koza (Lectures On Modern Kyudo), a series of seven books on various aspects of kyudo. It was written by Saito Chobo, an accomplished Ogasawara Ryu stylist and respected kyudo historian who trained under Ogasawara Kiyoaki Sensei, the 29th headmaster of the Ogasawara Ryu, and who reached the hitoharikyu menkyo level. This essay was written in 1968, two years before Saito Sensei's death in 1970 at the age of 69.

This brief essay is notable for its economy of style, its clarity, and its straightforwardness. I think that it is compelling for two main reasons: it touches upon some very fundamental aspects of the spirit of kyudo which, in my view, are of such importance that a true appreciation of kyudo is impossible without them; and it does so in a remarkably frank and unpretentious manner. It comes straight to the point and minces no words. In it, the true spirit of kyudo is explained with a beautiful simplicity and insight as sharp as the keenest arrow point.

It is interesting to note that throughout this essay Saito Sensei consistently refers to archery as kyujutsu; indeed, the word kyudo appears only once, and he also often refers to archery in general simply as yumi. This is entirely consistent with standard Japanese usage. While the term kyujutsu is hardly ever used any more, it was quite commonly used to refer to archery in the not so distant past. Saito Sensei's use of the term is also significant in that he was a highly accomplished practitioner of the oldest extant archery tradition in Japan; his views are thus clearly grounded in tradition and are by no means out of the ordinary. Indeed, part of the reason I wanted to present this essay to the English speaking kyudo community is because it faithfully reflects the attitudes of my own teachers and shows that the true spirit of the bow is universal and is not limited by semantics or confined to any one particular school or tradition.

Earl Hartman
November, 1997


by Saito Chobo
Preparing your mind is important. In the end, there will be a great difference depending on whether you begin practice on a whim or after you have made a firm resolution. By all means you should keep the following points in mind.

Choose The Right Teacher

While there are a number of ways to look at choosing a teacher, such as whether he is good or bad at teaching or whether he treats people well or badly, you should first of all choose a teacher who is possessed of proper shajutsu (shooting technique) and a correct spirit. If you make a mistake in this choice, the result of your long years of effort will be that you will, in the end, finish your days as a base and vulgar archer.

Take Up Your Bow With An Obedient Spirit

So long as you are receiving instruction, you must leave your ego behind and leave everything to your teacher. If you simply cannot follow your teacher, you should respectfully take your leave of him.

Do Not Copy Other People

The teaching of kyujutsu changes depending on the physical and mental attributes of the student. Correcting your shooting based upon what you see in another's shooting is something that comes only after you have become very advanced. Copying other people will destroy the order of learning and is the cause of failure. Proper training is a slow process. The kind of archery that is learned by copying what you see at a local archery range is, after all is said and done, nothing more than that.

Take Care With Each And Every Shot

There is an old teaching that says "One hundred hands, one hand; one hand, one hundred hands". (One hand means a pair of two arrows.) It means that two hundred shots done carelessly are inferior to two shots done with care, and two shots done with care are superior to two hundred shots done carelessly.

Among those who practice, there are those who want to cavalierly shoot a lot of arrows and those who are lazy and want to shoot as little as possible. Neither of these is good; the best way is to carefully and diligently shoot as many arrows as possible. I was told by my teacher that "he who shoots one hundred arrows a day will go neither forward nor backward". If you want to become skillful, you should shoot more than one hundred arrows every day, day after day.

If you do this carelessly it is harmful and profitless; you must bear down and shoot each shot with firm resolve. You must not make the mistake of thinking that shooting carefully means to experiment at random. Shooting is a practical skill. "Knowledge follows action" is how kyujutsu should be. You must practice over and over again just as you have been taught. In this process, you will grasp a certain secret, trick, or knack (kotsu). Then your teacher will correct you and explain this secret. This is how kyujutsu must be learned. The world today has become a hectic place, so I suppose it is unavoidable for people to seek the explanation for something first and then try to master it later; but the biggest nuisances are those people whose knowledge preceeds action, who thoughtlessly listen to or read snatches of things that their teachers haven't taught them.

Do Not Get A Swelled Head

Among all of the different martial arts, there is no art where it is as easy to get a swelled head as kyujutsu. If you take up two arrows, face the target, and hit the target with both of them, so far as hitting is concerned, this is the same for anyone, no matter how skillful an archer one may be.

There are always people who, after practicing yumi for a year or two, think: "My teacher shot one hundred arrows and only hit seventy, but I shot one hundred arrows and hit eighty. I have surpassed my teacher" or something like that. A strong person will quickly become able to shoot a stronger bow than his teacher. If his bow is stronger than his teacher's and he hits the target more often, he will start to become most appallingly arrogant. He will start saying that "there is no one in this dojo who can teach me anything." Of course, at this level, this is a period of time where he is unaware of his own weaknesses because his practice is shallow and immature; later he will pass through this crisis and reach a state where he can finally become clearly aware of his own shabbiness. For some people this can take ten or fifteen years; then there are those who can never reach the state where they can see themselves clearly. Those who are afflicted with this are truly to be pitied; when all is said and done they have spent time and money practicing yumi for pride, to be seen by other people, or in order to gain the compliments of the ignorant mob, which are not worth a penny.

If, with a spirit that recognizes that the Way is endless, you keep going on and on and reach a state where you can see yourself, you will be astounded at how wretched you are, shot through and through with flaws, and you will be moved to correct these flaws, not neglecting even the smallest one. It is at this time that the confidence that comes from facing your true self will finally be born. Even if conceited people can shoot in front of their juniors with a bold swagger, once they are up against someone to whom they have no chance of measuring up, they start quaking in their boots, a pitiful sight.

For a person who knows himself and has true confidence, the people who are watching have nothing whatsoever to do with him. Even if no one is watching he shoots with all his might; and no matter how many people are watching he cannot shoot any better than he always does. He just shows his actual, natural self. He doesn't seek praise and is unperturbed if he is disparaged. I think that this is one good lesson that kyujutsu can teach. The Way is endless. I earnestly hope that you, the reader, will go forward with a humble spirit.

Do Not Lose Interest

No matter what happens, losing interest in training is forbidden. There are many forms that this takes: some lose interest quickly, some after having trained for a while, and some after they have progressed to quite a high level; but all of these are unacceptable. With an attitude that you may perhaps achieve some small measure of skill after practicing for ten years, you should practice unstintingly with a patient frame of mind.

Practice Without Letup

You must practice every day, even if it is only for 30 minutes or an hour. It is no good to practice all day Sunday and then not shoot during the week. If you simply can't get to the dojo, you should practice even if you just do subiki (drawing the bow without shooting an arrow). Another good way is to set up a makiwara at home and practice every day. Makiwara practice is liable to be monotonous, so there are those who dislike it, but it is a useful thing. If you shoot at the target when you are a beginner you can ruin your form without realizing it, but the makiwara does not have that drawback. People are prone to want to shoot while fooling around with their friends, but in a situation like this, not only will you of course make no progress, those who will not develop bad habits are few. For those who find the maikwara boring, I hope that you will bear with it and practice until it becomes interesting.

Make The Target Your Only Goal

Among those who practice kyudo, there are those who say that in yumi it is not necessary to hit the target, or that all that is necessary is that your form is good; there are even those who say that form doesn't matter, that spirit is the most important thing. Of course, those who have a twisted spirit are a pain in the neck no matter what they do; and practicing yumi with bad form is not good. However, to have good form (shooting technique) and to not hit the target is against nature. Do not be misled by nonsense. If your shooting form is good, accuracy will surely follow. I want you to not forget that missing the target means that something is wrong.

If you practice yumi diligently, you will gain some kind of spiritual benefit. However, kyujutsu is by its nature a physical activity, so if you want to engage in spiritual training, you will get faster results if you do something like zazen rather than archery.

I was once told by Kiyoaki Sensei (Ogasawara Kiyoaki, the 29th headmaster of the Ogasawara Ryu) that "the more a person shoots a bow, they worse a person they become." There are probably a lot of people who find this statement strange, but in one sense it is definitely true. I want those who are starting yumi to pay attention to this point. This is what I mean when I say "make the target your only goal". No matter how many years a person may have been shooting, if he aims only at the target there is no chance that he will become corrupt.

However, when a person learns yumi, in the beginning he will practice with complete devotion to hitting the target, but before long if he starts hitting the target he will go around to tournaments in the hope of winning prizes. After progressing a little further, he will aim for a rank and then a teaching license. Finally, he will aim for a position in the archery community, even if he has to push other people out of the way in order to get it. In this process, there are few people who can avoid becoming corrupt.

I want those of you who are going to begin practicing yumi to resolutely avoid being misled by this delusion. To say nothing of things like tournament prizes, getting a rank or a teaching license will not make a person who is a bad shot into a good one. Even more so, I want you to deeply understand that positions of honor are nothing but trouble and have nothing to do with training in the Way.

Created December 4, 1997.