Kyudo: archery as meditation.
Kanjuro Shibata Sensei could be called a real “last Samurai.” Twentieth in a line of Imperial Bowmakers to the Emperor of Japan, he was my childhood “kyudo” teacher. Kyudo, the ancient “moving meditation” practice of contemplative archery, is not a sport, he always reminds us—but a means of synchronizing mind and body so that we can be of benefit to all.
“Kyudo is meditation. The main point of kyudo practice is to polish your heart, deeply.” ~ Kanjuro Shibata XX, Sensei
Growing up in Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Buddhist community in Boulder, Colorado, I studied kyudo—the samurai’s art of archery, or as my teacher Kanjuro Shibata Sensei described it, moving meditation—from the time I was six, on. I was a little prodigy of sorts, always going to practice…until 12 hit and I got bored of baseball cards, video games, kyudo, riding horses, reading, being a sweet little boy…all at once, and moving to Vermont and girls and fun took over. I became a real headstrong piece of work, just like my dad, I remember my mom telling me (!).
Anyways…up until 12, I practiced kyudo all the time. It’s a wonderful treasure of a practice that takes the training we Buddhists practice on the meditation cushion and extends it—just halfway, say—into everyday life. And it’s in that gray area, that batter’s box of life, that staging area for post-meditation mindfulness in how we comport our bodies and minds everyday—where I first learned how my mind and body were synchronized, and what happened when they weren’t.
Click here for video interview of Kanjuro Shibata Sensei, my childhood teacher…one of my first videoed interviews ever, at the Laughing Goat cafe. Or, click here for a feature interview I did with Kanjuro Shibata Sensei for elephant some years back.
“Kyudo is meditation. You don’t have to belong to any particular religion or organization to practice meditation. Everyone is welcome to practice here. There are three main styles of meditation: sitting meditation, standing meditation, which is kyudo, and walking meditation.
“All the hopes of ego – wanting a good car, a good husband or wife, money, a nice house – in kyudo, we learn to cut this, so that our deep hearts are completely clear. But it is a continual process. If you use kyudo merely to build your ego, you will not have real perseverance. You will likely be a three – day monk and quickly give up. Most important: never forget your beginner’s heart.” ~ Kanjuro Shibata XX, Sensei
So, yeah, kyudo can be a little boring for adults (children loovovovvoe it). But like meditation, it’s only boring until you remember that it’s in one’s ability to rest in the present moment, to synchronize body and mind, that life and joy and love can actually happen.