Wandering through a dusty thrift shop in Boulder with her sister, a kyudo student recently spotted this calligraphy, enveloped in saran wrap, on a shelf stacked with dishes. She sighted it across the store, instantly certain it was Shibata Sensei’s. Turning it over, “Kami = God” appeared on a piece of paper affixed to the backside. Her sister’s insistence doused a flicker of hesitation about whether or not she could make room for it and the calligraphy is now framed in her home.
She called me shortly afterwards to relate the story and double check the calligraphy’s meaning. The sadness of Sensei’s passing was still alive in her voice, along with amazement at her great fortune with this find. Hearing the story, I felt instantly heartened.
Her call came as I’d been ruminating over how to bring Sensei’s teachings into the light from the archive material he left in my care (videos, photos, letters) and from the everyday notes kept in journals through the decade spent by his side as his wife and translator. Many people have asked when I was going to make these archives available and what my plans are. It has haunted me during this time of transition since his passing. How would he want me to do this?
His style does not lend itself to systematization. There are a few teachings here and there with categories and such, but for the most part he did not teach through book learning or studied logic and generally did not indulge attempts by students to apply that kind of thinking to kyudo practice. He taught by example in everything he did, through subtle communication, through his refined attunement to each moment and his fearless, natural presence within it. For this reason, it has not made much sense to me to create an “archive” in the traditional style of a library where people can search keywords and look up talks by date and such. In doing so, I fear the true richness and poignancy of his teachings would be lost and I don’t think he would have had much interest in such a project. (For an example of his view of what an archive should be, stay tuned for a future post: Shibata Sensei visits the archives of Trungpa Rinpoche in Halifax.)
Finding Sensei’s Kami in a thrift shop struck me as an apt omen, in keeping with his style. He had a bearing of impeccable elegance, but spent so much of his life in rugged circumstances. He often received compliments on this old tweed sports coat that somehow remained crisp and fresh as he sported it for some twenty years. In response, he’d proudly declare how he’d found it a “long time before, for five dollars in the second shop!”
In this era of “things” (mono no jidai, as he called it), fueled by the hunger for material wealth and newness, he had a gift for drawing the richness out of whatever he touched: a yumi, a cup of tea, a dead mouse, the heart of a restaurant waiter, the movement of stars in the night sky. Thus, to the earthly life around him, no matter how dim, dusty, scattered or confused, he brought a refined presence, a gentle, fearless radiance. Like a Kami in an old thrift shop.
It would be foolish to imagine that the repository of Sensei’s teachings could be held by a single person. These are gems scattered all about, placed in the hearts of his students, new and old, in twenty-year-olds who vividly remember their only meeting with him when they took first shot at the age of eight, in the many people he encountered. My hope is that this blog will become a place where these gems can surface, coming into the light for others to see.
The aesthetic choice of sharing in blog format is to give the necessary space for contemplation and absorption of singular teaching moments, calligraphies, quotes, a few minutes of video extracted from a talk—again, more in keeping with his style than providing a deluge of information. If, in the end, a repository is created that demands more organization or a broader format, we’ll keep that possibility open. Until then, I hope you can simply take a moment here and there to enjoy these gems from the Kyudo Master as they naturally surface.
(Kami photos courtesy of Lauren Sanford)