Raise the bow. Draw. Let go. Hit the target. To many, this is kyudo. But kyudo is more than just shooting arrows. It’s also about clearing the mind. Only with an empty mind will the arrow fly true. Well, an empty mind and proper form. When I started studying kyudo last November, my intention was to learn about reaching that clear mindedness, or mushin (無心). My sensei found it strange that a young woman--a foreigner nonetheless--was interested in mushin. My reasoning was that I felt that the techniques used in kyudo to help calm the body and clear the mind could also be used in my everyday life.
Living in a foreign country is hard work. Whether I'm on the clock or not, I'm always learning something new. Sometimes it's a positive experience, and sometimes it can be pretty bad. And when it's bad, that clouds my judgement about my experience here. I get pouty and short of breath; all I wanna do is isolate myself from everyone and resist every Japanese custom I encounter. But that's impossible, and kinda childish of me. When I take this anger with me to kyudo practice, it shows. My sensei and upper classmates in their own passive way will talk to me about kyudo practice, giving me both comments and feedback. Then they end the feedback by saying, “This is very hard. Even I struggle with this, and I've been at it for ten years.” I get distracted from my anger when they say this and I actually manage to calm down. Then, whether I hit the target or not, I feel proud of my progress, and my mood about being here changes.
Kyudo for me turned out to be a great way to de-stress from my life. Physically, I pull my bow to a full draw and hold it for as long as I can. Once I let go, that sense of release relaxes me, as if I'm letting go of whatever it is I'm stressed about. Mentally, though, kyudo gives me the chance to practice clearing my mind. It all starts with the breath. From the moment you enter the shooting range until you leave, every motion I do must be synced with my breathing. I've learned that more often than not this helps me clear my mind. Then, I have the brain capacity to fix my form or aim. I guess now there's no room to be frustrated when all I'm trying to achieve is a clear mind, relaxation, and that awesome feeling of releasing an arrow.
Recently, I’ve tried to clear my mind whenever I encounter frustrating situations. I take a moment to breathe, clear my mind, and try to organize as simply (and bluntly) as I can to express my thoughts and feelings. Usually people say the classic, “Shouganai ne”, or “It can’t be helped”, but at least my coworkers and supervisors know how I feel, and try on some level to work with that. Some haven’t lived abroad--or haven’t even left Japan before--so they don’t understand the challenges I face. But I’m grateful for my kyudo practice because it really helps me stay calm and appreciate all the good I’ve experienced here. Whatever my goals may be, I won’t be able to obtain them without a clear mind. I have to breathe and only focus on what needs to be done. That can be as simple as getting through the day or as complicated as calling my supervisor after my car suddenly stops in the middle of a bypass. Step by step, inhale and exhale. Do one task and think of nothing else. Only then will I hit the target.