Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kyudo Learning

Here is what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, and despite being depressed most of the time, have been thinking about on and off. It is evolving into a break-through in how I think about Zen practice: The Zen practice is in the "way of learning" something, not in the "something" we learn.

Kyudo Learning

Kyudo is life.
Practicing Kyudo, with awareness, gradually transforms other aspects of life. At the same time, this awareness makes other experiences in life meaningful and relevant for the Kyudo practice itself!

In the first few weeks of my Kyudo practice, Ed Symmes Sensei mentioned that the traditional method of learning Kyudo in Japan was quite different from the modern method: The former relied much more on pupil's "observation" of the Sensei and much less on formal verbal instructions. Since Ed Sensei mentioned this, I was curious about the differences between the two methods. The modern learning method seems more efficient, so why did the traditional method exist at all?

I came to find an answer in an unexpected place. In the book, "The Inner Game of Tennis," Timothy Gallwey advocates an alternative method of learning tennis, and more generally, any physical activity. The basic premise is that the body, unhindered by the process of analytical thinking, has an extraordinary capability for learning. As children we all learn basic activities this way, but we grow up to become more accustomed with instructions, and self-criticism brought up by our analytic minds. He suggests that in order to re-activate this capability, one needs to refrain from judgmental evaluations of his or her performance, maintain an awareness in observing himself and his teacher, and let the body learns on its own.
Often times, explicit instructions by the teacher are less effective than non-judgmental observation, and to the extent that they provoke evaluations of actions by analytic mind, are in fact counter-productive.

We can extend this line of thought to the Kyudo practice, and realize why traditional Kyudo learning was mostly observation-based, and hence was regarded as a natural "way" to discover the awareness at the core of all Zen practices.

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