The Question of Testing

by

Dan DeProspero

Of what value are the kyudo examinations? Does testing and the ranking system destroy the purity of kyudo? Should I take an exam? And, if so, what is expected of me? These are all questions that each of us must answer at some point in our study of kyudo. I cannot tell you whether you should take an exam or not; that decision is between you and your instructor. But I can tell you about my own experiences with the testing system here in Japan and share with you some of the advice that my teacher, Onuma Hideharu Hanshi, gave me. That way when the time comes for you to decide whether to test or not you can do so in a more knowledgeable manner.

There seems to be two views concerning the question of testing. On one side are the people who say that the testing and ranking system take away from the kyudo ideals of truth, goodness and beauty. On the other side are those who believe that without the added pressure of a periodic examination, kyudo practice is incomplete.

In a way both sides are correct. Nothing spoils the beauty of kyudo so much as someone who is overly concerned with rank or, to be more precise, the power that advanced ranking can bring. Such people often lose sight of the truth as well. Their ego blinds them to their own shortcomings; they fail to see that their shooting ability does not necessarily equal their tested level.

On the other hand, people who practice day in and day out without having to face the challenge of an examination run the risk of never fully unlocking the secrets of kyudo. How so? Well, kyudo, like Zen, is a simple art that when practiced reveals our true nature by presenting us with a host of mental and physical obstacles. To overcome these obstacles we must search deep within ourselves and make the changes that are necessary for us to progress to the next level of understanding. I was always taught to view the examinations as something akin to the Zen koan, the simple puzzle that challenges Zen practitioners to search beyond their everyday knowledge.

Of course, it is theoretically possible to create a similar set of circumstances in one's daily practice. But, being human, most of us are vulnerable to the sins of over-confidence and complacency when shooting in the relative comfort of familiar places or situations. No matter how hard we try there is simply no way to recreate in our regular practice the pressures and challenges we confront when we take an examination in an unfamiliar dojo surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Personally, I see the testing procedure as an excellent way to amplify and accentuate the problems I face in my regular kyudo practice; thereby greatly increasing my chances of discovering and understanding my hidden self. As Onuma sensei liked to say, "We learn a little about ourselves when we pass a test, but we learn a whole lot more when we fail." And since I know that my failures will far outnumber my successes as I advance in ranking, sensei's words are ample encouragement for me to take the kyudo examinations.

I believe the biggest problem most people have with the tests is that they are unsure of what they are being tested for. The following unofficial list of testing criteria is based on conversations I had with Onuma sensei, as well as on my own experiences with the examinations. The list is incomplete. I present it here only as a guide to those who are just starting down the testing path. There are many more potential questions, all of which are taken from the Kyudo Kyohon, Volume 1. Japanese terms that are easily translated have been done so. Common terms and terms that result in multi-worded translations have been left in Japanese. For further study of these terms and a list of the official testing criteria please refer to the English version of the Kyudo Kyohon which is due to be published in the summer of 1993.

SANKYU, NIKYU, IKKYU

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

List the hassetsu. Explain ashibumi. Why did you begin kyudo?

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Students must be able to go through the basic movements of shooting and show that they can handle the bow and arrows. At the higher kyu levels they must be able to go through the shooting procedure with a minimum of mistakes. Accuracy is not a requirement.

SHODAN

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

List the hassetsu. Explain ashibumi in detail. What is kyudo to you? Explain kyudo and etiquette.

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for a basic understanding of the hassetsu and shooting procedure. Accuracy is not a requirement but the flight of the arrows must be controlled.

NIDAN

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

List the hassetsu. Explain uchiokoshi or dozukuri in detail. Explain the relationship between kyudo and daily life. State your reasons for studying kyudo.

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for a good understanding of the hassetsu and shooting procedure. Some degree of spiritual energy should be evident in the shooting. Preferably, one arrow should hit the target.

SANDAN

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

Explain dozukuri or yugamae in detail. Explain the basics of shooting principle and technique (shaho/shagi no kihon). Explain about the basic postures (shisei no kihon). Explain tateyoko jumonji or goju jumonji.

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for a complete understanding of the hassetsu and shooting procedure. The breathing should be regular and unstrained. Student must have e a good yugaeri. One arrow, preferably the first, should hit the target.

YONDAN

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

Explain heijoshin (everyday mind). Explain sanmi-ittai. Explain tsumeai/nobiai. Explain goshin. Explain the basic movements (kihon dosa). Explain hikiwake or kai in detail. Explain about the ethics of kyudo. Name the parts of the bow or arrow.

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for a good tenouchi and hikiwake with a clean release of the arrow. Breathing must be correct. Normally, both arrows must hit the target.

GODAN

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

Explain tenouchi. Explain kai in detail. Explain tatesen/yokosen. Explain shin, gyo, so. Explain the relationship between shisei and dosa. Explain hanare or zanshin in detail. Explain about taihai and shagi. Explain kyudo and rei. Explain the highest principles of kyudo. Explain about kyudo and mental preparedness. Explain how you would teach a beginner. Explain about shitsu. Explain about mezukai (eye position).

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for a good hanare and zanshin, and a very good understanding of the working of the breath and spirit. The shooting should display a level of refinement with both arrows cleanly hitting the target.

RENSHI

First Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for a person with a strong character and a complete understanding of tenouchi, hikiwake, kai, hanare, zanshin, and breath control. Normally, both arrows must be released very cleanly and hit the target.

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

Explain shibu no tsume or gobu no tsume (four and five part stretching). Explain the relationship between kai and hanare. Explain the relationship between kokoro and shaho. What is the spirit of the assistant (kaizoe no kokoro)? Explain the nerai (aim). Explain dosa and ikiai. Explain the shaho-kun. Explain the timing for the mochi mato sharei. Explain about shahin/shakaku. What is the attitude of an instructor?

Oral Exam

During the oral interview the judges ask several questions of their choosing. Questions are similar to those for the practical exams.

Second Practical Exam

Ceremonial shooting procedure is followed (mochi mato sharei). Judges are looking for a complete understanding of shooting procedure and technique along with a good understanding of the ceremonial form. A strong spirit should be evident throughout the entire shooting procedure. Normally, shitsu result in failure. At least three of the four arrows shot in the combined first and second practical exams must hit the target.

ROKUDAN

Written Exam

Possible questions include:

Explain the relationship between kiai and ikiai. Explain the relationship between shajutsu and taihai. Explain shahin (grace, refinement, dignity) and shakaku (shooting quality or character). Explain the raiki/shagi. Explain maai (timing, rhythm). Explain the timing for the hitotsu mato sharei. What makes kyudo special as a learning process.

Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking for overall excellence in technique. A good tsumeai and nobiai are crucial. Both arrows must be released very cleanly and hit the target.

KYOSHI, NANADAN, HACHIDAN

First Practical Exam

Standard two arrow shooting procedure is followed. Judges are looking not only for a mastery of technique but also for an extremely strong spirit. The archer must act and appear both dignified and strong in character.

Oral Exam

During the oral interview the judges ask several questions of their choosing. Questions are similar to those for the practical exams.

Second Practical Exam

Ceremonial shooting procedure is followed (hitotsu mato sharei). Criteria are as above but stricter.

Normally, shitsu result in failure. At least three of the four arrows shot in the combined first and second practical exams must hit the target.


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