Easter lessons

Due to the Easter I had several days off work, and as the weather was fine, I’ve spend quite some time at the range. Especially last evening, when I shot for 3 hours straight, until it was too dark to see. I didn’t think it would be possible to shoot for that long, but with proper form that is utilizing bones and sinews, muscles are used less and are not getting exhausted as quickly. I still have a sore back and shoulders today, and was barely able to draw the bow in the end, but that’s to be expected after firing over 100 arrows with 19 kg bow.

  • Knowledge =/= understanding;  practice = understanding

While books, videos, blogs, give the information about different aspects of shooting, only the practice gives the true understanding (and that’s not always). Same like riding a bicycle – no matter how many books you read, you will fail miserably on fist attempt, but then you will also understand through practice how to ride, intuitively more than consciously.

Yesterday I was recording my shots on a camera, then analyzed them straight after. I noticed few errors which I tried to correct on the spot. Namely, the right elbow was not fully drawn, and it was a bit too high. This resulted in shallower draw, less power in the shot, but also bigger use of muscles as the bow was in front of the body and required muscles to draw it.

This error was caused and connected to another error in preceding stage, daisan, where the movement of the left hand towards the target was pulling the right arm with it; it the end the daisan was finishing too much to the left, with both hands on the left side of the body. Drawing from that position was not as per the book, with opening both elbows equally to the sides. It was more like a hard pull with right elbow only, and just lowering the left elbow. The draw was unbalanced, it also twisted the body with right shoulder moving towards the target.

Addressing the daisan error also fixed the elbow error, as with the hands closer to the vertical line, the draw was equal division to both sides, and not just pulling everything from the left. Elbows were “falling” to the sides, pulled by the back muscles, and the arrow was traveling down from the top, not from the front as previously.

After addressing these errors, shooting felt much better and looked correct, too. Correcting the daisan also improved the tenouchi, and my shooting improved a lot.

After I depleted both batteries for the camera, I focused on shooting only. Shooting continuously for a long time helps to “forget” about the technique, in a way that the shooting becomes less of separating the shot into individual stages while thinking about everything at the same time. After large number of shots, the focus goes to the feeling of the entire shot, and not to the correctness of each of the steps. Not because they are ignored or executed incorrectly – but because they are correct each time, so there is no need to concentrate on them individually. Same like with playing tennis – after enough of training, you no longer think about the technicalities related to movement of the racket for each shot, you just try to place the ball in specific place on the court.

Shots were getting better and better, then that one shot happened, that seemed to silence the birds for a moment, when everything was done right, and I understood a lot of things in an instant. It was like solving a mathematical equation. I managed to get a really well built tenouchi in daisan, with a lot of forces built up between the points of the inside of the hand and the grip, and after correct draw I pushed hard to both sides and got a natural release. The show was definitively more powerful, with the arrow flying quicker and “flatter” to the target, the feeling of power in tenouchi propelling the bow and arrow forward was a new thing, and the yugaeri was a natural consequence of that power. In that shot I understood more about what makes correct tenouchi, what that tenouchi contributes to, and how it is linked with natural hanare. I continued with shooting, keeping the fading memory in mind, and trying to recreate that shot, and I succeeded, I “got it” few more times, and up until the end of the session I had many solid, controlled and powerful shots. I’m writing it down now in case I forget again, but I think this can’t be forgotten, I got too many shots correctly for it to be a fluke.

The main lessons from that session were about forming and working of tenouchi, and importance of natural hanare.

  • Tenouchi.

How to get a solid, tight tenouchi, that acts like a spring when the string is released:

  1. When gripping the bow at yugamae, place open left hand on the back of the grip, making sure that the left edge of the bow is aligned with the tenmonsuji. Then start wrapping fingers around the grip. Start with the small finger, make sure that the last section of little finger is catching the right side of the bow. Fourth finger, and then the middle finger are then placed on top of the little finger, and then the thumb is placed on top of the middle finger.
  2. In uchiokoshi, the tenmonsuji alignment should be protected as the bow is raised. There is a visualization of raising a cup with water evenly, so that the water doesn’t spill, but the idea behind it is to not disturb the contact points between the inside of the hand and the bow grip.
  3. In daisan the tenouchi is either formed or lost. The thumb twists around the bow, using the temnonsuji as a rotation hinge. The inside of the hand is soft, so there will be some movement and displacement when the tension is applied. The tension is coming from the bow being gradually drawn to a half draw length. This is happening while the little finger keeps contact with the right side of the bow, and the crease of the last joint of the little finger keeps contact with the right edge of the grip. Little finger and tenmonsuji don’t change the alignment with the bow, but there is continuous pressure growing in these points as the bow is drawn.
    The hand is closing on the fingers, with the base of the thumb moving to the front of the grip. The point of contact between the grip and the base of the thumb is the point where the force of the shot is transitioned into the bow. This point needs to be created correctly in daisan, and maintained in the release.

On correct release, from correctly created tenouchi, there is a feeling of shooting from the thumb – all forces that propel the arrow forward start from the base of the thumb. Or rather, all forces are delivered to the bow through that point. The push of the thumb towards the target really is only a visualization – as the bow tries to open the hand by applying pressure at the base of the thumb, to keep the hand closed you naturally counter push on the bow with the base of the thumb. Because the thumb is attached to the base, it is also pushed towards the target. But the focus and forces are in the base of the thumb, not in the thumb itself. Pushing the base of the thumb closes the whole hand tightly, so it looks like the hand is squeezing the bow from the sides, but in reality it is not applying much force in that direction. All forces are aligned with the direction of the arrow, where the left edge of the bow is pushing on the tenmonsuji (towards the target) and the right edge is pushing on the base of the thumb (towards the right hand).


You can see on the image above (that I borrowed and modified from http://instantsderobes.blogspot.ie/2014/05/kyudo-technique.html) two red dots – upper one is where the tenmonsuji line is, and the bottom one is the base of the thumb. Large red arrows show what forces are applied to these points; the direction of both arrows is parallel to the arrow. There are also small purple forces, that show a little bit of side “squeeze” from the fingers. The blue circle shows that the bow wants to rotate around the tenmonsuji “hinge”. This rotation is later translated to the bow rotation after release, yugaeri, as long as there is correct tenouchi that creates the large red arrow coming from the thumb point. You can’t see the  little finger on this image, as it is hidden below the thumb, but the important contact point there is a crease of the last joint catching the edge of the bow, in the point where the lower of the small purple arrows begins.

  • Tenouchi + natural release = power

Properly formed tenouchi adds power to the shot, not only by forming a solid base for the bow to not collapse, but also by adding a little bit of forward movement to the bow (when the hand is closing). This can only occur on two conditions (bot required):

  1. The tenouchi is formed correctly (see above)
  2. The release is natural (see previous post).

When the release is not natural (when it is forced with conscious opening of the fingers) the body, including the left hand forming the tenouchi, is subconsciously preparing for the release. In the last moment, the tension softens as the left hand is preparing for grabbing the bow so that it doesn’t fall out of the hand. The bow is then allowed to sink into the soft hand, the high tension is gone, and then release happens. The right hand is also giving in to the tension as the fingers open, so from both ends the tension is reduced.

However with the natural release these adjustments for the recoil do not have a chance to occur, as by the time the nerve impulses deliver the information about release to the brain and back to muscles, the bow is already shot. This means that the highest tension created in the hand by the base of the thumb closing on the bow, and the right elbow pulling to the right side, is not lost, and it is instead delivered into the bow. The body is constrained by the bow during draw; on release it opens which results is minimal movement of the whole left arm to the left, and because the thumb is still pushing the bow forward towards the target (as the muscles in the base of the thumb are still contracting). The bow then rotates in hand on the hinge created in tenmonsuji, pushed by the base of the thumb and pulled by the little finger. That rotation continues as the bow straightens, and then the inertia is carrying it forward / beyond the left hand / around the left hand (still rotating on the hinge) / until the string slaps the back of the left forearm. So instead of weakening and sinking that happens in controlled hanare, there are many small forward movements that add power to the shot.

Bottom line:

correct yugaeri depends on
correct hanare that depends on
correct tenouchi that is formed in
correct daisan (and hikiwake) that requires
correct uchiokoshi that comes out of
correct yugamae that needs
correct douzukuri that comes out of
correct ashibumi.

Mess up one of these steps and the chain is broken and the shot is not good (there is little space for correcting mistakes in subsequent stages). But  – practice enough to learn these steps by heart and they’re all unfold and flow naturally and correctly without thinking. Or so they say…



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