“Focus,” he whispers in my ear as I hold the bow in my hand.
At over two metres tall – the bow is heavier and more imposing than I thought it would be. It isn’t the first time I’ve held a weapon in my hand, but there’s something about the kyudo experience that scares some primal part me. I’m wearing a three fingered glove on my right hand. The yugake is a glove with a hardened thumb and a pre-made groove that’s designed to pull the string.
I draw the string with my right hand. It’s not as pliant as I thought it would be. It takes a fair amount of force to draw it. I finally manage to get it in the right position. The bow string is behind my ear. It dawns on me that if I release the arrow improperly, I’m going to slice my ear and nose off.
Suddenly, I am afraid. Perhaps it’s the novelty of the experience. Perhaps I just don’t fancy losing my ear and my nose. I breathe in and out.
“Now let go,” he whispers.
I hesitate. I don’t know why, but I don’t want to let go.
“I won’t let the bow hurt you,” he whispers. “Now let go.”
But I can’t. He wraps himself around my stance.
“Before you can conquer your enemies,” he whispers, “you must first conquer yourself.”
Every inch of me wants nothing more than to give up, but that’s not who I am. Why did I agree to doing this in the first place? Ah yes… It was that thirst for adventure.
“You know you can trust me,” he whispers.
Of course, I trust him. But this isn’t about him. This is about me.
“It does not matter whether you hit the target,” he says. “What matters is that you’re determined to do so. You may only have one bow, but you have many arrows. With focus and dedication – you will one day hit the target.”
Ahh… Was that all that was? A misplaced fear of failure. I let go of the bow. It flies through the air, taking my fear with it. The arrow lands in the grass. A sense of relief washes over me. I had done it, failed, and lived to tell the tale. There was never anything to fear.
“I would never have let the bow hurt you,” he says with eyes full of hurt.
I had a lot to learn about kyudo, but I still understood human nature.
“It wasn’t you I didn’t trust,” I say. “It was myself.”
“With experience, you will be a good archer. One day, you will outgrow what I can teach you.”
“A teacher must never stop learning.”
He smiles at me. I take another arrow and draw the bow. This time, I am determined to hit the target. I might fail – but I know life is full of second chances and third chances to get things right. But if I don’t take full advantage of this present opportunity, it’ll never come back again.
I am focused. I am determined. I stare at the target that’s in the distance. It is mine for the taking. I take a deep breath. My mind is steady. I get into position. One… Two… Three… I release the arrow. I watch it fly through the air and land in the grass. C’est la vie.
“You have conquered yourself,” he says with a secret smile. “Next, you will learn to conquer your enemies.”