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Seeing is Believing ...


It was just a small notice in a little pamphlet from the City office ... "Introduction to 'Kyudo' - Would you like to try Japanese Archery?" I've always been interested in this sport, so I signed up right away.

On the morning of the first class, six of us turned up at the archery hall. The course was to be a series of six lessons, and silver-haired Akiyama-sensei outlined the content: instruction on how to stand, to walk and how to hold and use the bow and arrow. We would learn the names of the equipment, a bit of history, and some of the philosophy of 'kyudo'. And finally, sensei told us that if we managed to absorb these things, then in the sixth and final lesson, he might perhaps let us fit arrows into our bows, and try shooting. Perhaps. The six of us looked at each other. Had he really said, "Perhaps"? Was this going to be that difficult?

The lesson began. And what better way than with a demonstration by sensei's young assistant, Ono-san. We students knelt in a semi-circle to watch, and silence fell over the room. Ono-san's white tabi swished against the floor as he glided into position and casually turned his head to face the tiny target, about 30 meters away. A number of seconds passed, followed by a rustle of his hakama as he spread his feet apart to anchor his body. His head turned back, and then another rustle, as he brought the long, 2-meter bow sweeping forward. The arrow in his right hand found a place on the bow, and with a vibrant 'ping', was notched into the taut string. His face turned slowly again to the target, and another pause. Then suddenly the arms swept skyward, scooping up air, stretching high up to a point well above his head. Yet still another pause. And then the arms spread apart and came down, the left arm thrusting the bow forward, the right arm levering the string back ... and back ... and back. The tension flowing through the bow was audible with a long groan. And then, with the arrow against his cheek, yet another pause, the longest yet. We onlookers detect a tremor, ever so slight, in the arm holding the string, but in his body there is not the slightest movement.

Then suddenly it is all over. The arrow is 30 meters away, motionless, embedded in the target. The bow is slack. The tension has evaporated, and the statue slowly comes back to life. The feet slide together. More elegant, sweeping motions bring him back off the platform. I breath again, and become aware of the birds in the garden. Had they too fallen silent during this drama which we had just watched? And now ... now we understand just what Akiyama-sensei had meant when he said to us, "Perhaps ..."