Here is my response to Shad’s wonderful guest blog about Archery
My first experience with Zen came in the form of archery. I was a young man, at a Zen monastery deep in the Nagano Mountains of Japan where Zen archery or (Kyudo) was practiced every day, along with other martial arts, and extensive sitting meditations. It was difficult because along with the language barrier, everything about Japanese archery was different from what I was used to in America. For example; In Kyudo the string is drawn with the thumb instead of the fingers, and the string is drawn much further back which always provided the risk of the string whacking painfully into your ear upon release.
However, the most difficult aspect I struggled to wrap my head around with Kyudo is that hitting the target is never the objection. In fact, aiming for the target is the biggest hindrance to Zen archery. I was often chastised for hitting a perfect bull’s-eye, and praised for missing the target completely. My teacher often told me, ‘the un-aimed arrow never misses its target’.
In Kyudo, as in many other forms of Zen meditation, our egos are the biggest obstacle we must overcome. The way Kyudo addresses this problem is by releasing arrows in sets of two. One arrow is released, and the other one immediately follows without hesitation. It is the space between the shots that is important. If you hit a bulls-eye with your first shot, the ego swells with pride and this hubris usually makes your second shot miss its mark. Or if your first shot is horrible, understanding that there is no such thing as a horrible shot is extremely difficult to do, let alone realizing it and shrugging it off in an instant, and releasing your second arrow with total clarity.
Kyudo, like the Zen tea ceremony, or Ikebana, the art of Zen flower arranging, is about doing things with total and complete focus. It is about being fully present in the moment, and finding the spiritual in the mundane, and then being able to carry that mindfulness into our daily lives.
As my teacher was fond of saying, if your preparation is mindful, and your release is mindful, the arrow will find the target every time.