This post is written by Vivi Spicer. Photograph offered by Jim Boorstein.
This was the last demonstration I offered at Karme Chöling in June 2004 together with Jim Boorstein. It was an Intermediate/Advanced Kyudo program with Sendai (Kanjuro Shibata XX), sometimes using the Pavilion as in the case of this demonstration of the kneeling form (sukobai).
During intensive programs like this one, everyone was challenged each morning to arrive before Sendai, with equipment ready and in clean clothes for practice (hakama and gi). Sendai would call for a demonstration to open practice and it was a toss up who would make the demonstration. It was always Sendai's decision, and this morning he asked for Jim Boorstein (Toko Kyudo in Manhattan) and me (Miyako Kyudo in Washington, DC). For whatever reason, Sendai assigned me the number one position for this dual demonstration.
The demonstration would be straightforward for Jim and me, since we had practiced together well enough to know each other's form and timing. But early on, something was not right. In the number one position, I rely on sound to tell me what the number two position is doing. Ready or not? On to the next movement? I never had that confirmation from Jim in this demonstration. I never heard him nock the arrow (ya) on to the string (tsuru), or not cleanly. Something sounded wishy-washy. Even after I heard him drop his second arrow for release (otoya) to prepare to release his first arrow (hiya), there were sounds of something not quite right. I paused longer than would be necessary in the form. I didn't want to get ahead of Jim since we were in this demonstration together. [In hindsight, the longer I paused, the greater the difficulty for Jim to hold the arrows in a nocked position. And I thought I was being kind!]
We did release both ya and approached Sendai after closing the form to bow from our kneeling position. As the number two position, Jim moved into a position between me and the target (makiwara) as we both faced Sendai. I felt a jolt of, what's that (?) but kept my seat. Jim had no sooner settled into his seat when Sendai roared that he should move. Where? What's wrong? Sendai roared that Jim should not place himself between me and the makiwara. I was the number one position with the makiwara to my left, so Jim should take his place next to me on my right.
That was not Sendai giving favor to me, so much as teaching both Jim and me that it was not good manners to place yourself between the number one position and the makiwara when facing Sendai to bow. It was a lesson in manners.
As for Jim, you cannot underestimate the intensity of a ten day long intermediate/advanced program with Sendai. This was not the beginning of the program, but toward the end and we were all rode hard and put up wet. Hard to believe, but Jim (of all people!) put his bowstring (tsuru) on his bow (yumi) upside down, so the wrapping that keeps the arrow in place (nakajikake) was NOT where it should be when nocking the arrow. Jim would add to this storyline that we should all be able to release without a nakajikake. I would add that we all hope that we cultivate manners, which is another way of inviting kindness among ourselves. I entered the demonstration thinking it would be straightforward, but it was anything but that and more. I found a way to accommodate Jim and he accommodated us in his own challenging situation. Together, I think Jim and I manifested kindness toward each other, and ultimately good manners. That, after all, is the whole point from Sendai's point of view.
The photograph of our demonstration is worth a thousand words.
photo courtesy of Sue Kranzdorf
Although the #metoo movement officially started well after Sensei’s passing, I thought it might be of interest to share this story in light of the times.
Sensei had given a directive to the Boulder kyudo group at the end of one class that men and women should alternate as the instructors opening class. (It was generally understood that whoever opened class was also serving as the main instructor for that session.) The class was virtually always opened by male students as a default. At that time, there were only 2 or 3 of us women practicing in a regular way, as compared to maybe 6 or so men. Nonetheless, Sensei asked that we alternate each time for more balance. It happened once. Then, it just defaulted back to men opening class without any particular discussion. I think the men forgot the directive quickly and the women just let it slide, since we just weren’t prone to taking the initiative to do it if someone else was more enthusiastic for that role. In any case, the directive wasn’t followed.
Some months later (I believe it was at the end of a program in Boulder because there were more than the usual number of students present), Sensei gave a concluding talk in which he said, “Men are stone heads.” He repeated the phrase, in English, multiple times.
Finally, in some apparent frustration, one man raised his hand and asked, “Sensei, if men are stone heads, then what are women?”
Sensei replied, “They are the heads men walk on.”
All the women immediately broke into laughter while a number of the men appeared to puzzle over this.
It’s easy to project on Sensei that he would have been a chauvinistic Japanese male, given the tradition he came from, but this was not my personal experience of him at all. We had many discussions about male vs. female power, historical and planetary imbalance of those energies, and so forth. At one point, I asked him about how to bring feminine energy back into balance in the world.
He answered, “It’s important, but it can’t be done too quickly or it will have the opposite effect and just create more chaos and difficulty. It needs to happen gradually.”
At that moment, I reflected on how patient he had to be in teaching us. So much of what he had to give could not be transmitted in the ground of a culture that simply didn’t understand the student-teacher relationship, the importance of good manners, keeping one’s word, and loyalty which were at the core of the kyudo path he taught. He constantly had to begin at the beginning with each of us and give us a tremendous amount of room to discover the practice for ourselves, so we could begin to open up enough for more teaching to occur. Thus, at that moment, in light of his example, great patience seemed reasonable, essential and possible in order to build a firm foundation for change.
"OKII WA - Great Peace
Whether you have great peace or small peace,
they are the same.
For example, America is big.
Japan and Vietnam are small.
But peace is peace, regardless of size.
Within one's own heart,
between a husband and wife,
throughout a country,
or the whole world,
it's all the same peace."
--- from Sei Ran - Sky Storm, calligraphies and teachings by Kanjuro Shibata XX, Sensei
May every one of us bring this, in big and small ways, wherever we go, whatever we do. Wishing you all a healthy, prosperous, and happy New Year.
February 7, 2008 Sensei was invited to Shambhala Mountain Center to help celebrate Shambhala Day or Losar, the lunar New Year.
In his brief talk before the ceremony, Sensei explains that it’s a little odd to call this the New Year, because everyone is aware that the year’s calendar actually changes on January first. Traditionally, he says, it’s true that in Asia, including in Japan, they follow the lunar cycle. If you ask the old people in Japan, they will agree that this is the real New Year. But the younger generation all accept January first as the turning of the year. That’s the way it is now. To solve this seeming contradiction, Sensei suggests we call the lunar New Year the “New Spring”, a way to welcome the new Spring flowers and a fresh feeling in our lives. We can relate to January first as the time to set our schedules for the year, to organize ourselves for the next calendar year to come. But this New Spring is the time that we actually set our deeper aspiration for the coming year.
To help with this, he offers a Nosha, a form of ceremonial shooting to clear out all the obstacles, the old ghosts, debris, bad feeling leftover from the previous year. He makes the point that every year brings us lots of obstacles and difficulties and it is good to clear this out to make room for a fresh beginning. Following the Nosha, at Sensei's request, Vajra Rich offers a Reisha to invite blessings and an excellent aspiration for the New Year.
For the sake toast at the end, Sensei made quite a point that everyone should not gulp their sake and not be particularly greedy or indulgent. It is an offering to the Kami. So one takes three sips, offering each time, with a good, clear heart.
May this Nosha offering circulate the airwaves to help clear old obstacles and make room for a fresh beginning as we enter this New Spring in 2017.
photo above by Anthony Rich, taken on Sensei's birthday (December 29th).
Thought you all might appreciate reading Sensei's New Year's Day address given at Ryuko Kyudojo in Boulder in 2007--as pertinent as ever!
HATSUYUME - The Dream of the New Year
At this time, of course, everyone hopes that the year ahead will be better than the last
year. But, this year, my hope is that we progress naturally. Power, strong power, comes from the
plan we make for the New Year. This year we can elevate our aspiration one step from the
previous year. We can have a high quality dream, not just for ourselves as individuals, but for
We have many dreams at the New Year. You will have many, many good dreams, I hope.
But the starting point for realizing our dreams is the cleaning of your inside ki. This is where the
New Year begins. Everyone understands having aspiration on the morning of New Year’s Day,
hatsuyume, the first dream of the New Year, and trying to pull a good dream. Many, many good
dreams arise, but these dreams are also too good! Too much hope, in this way, is not helpful. My
wish is that you will realize your dream in a more natural way and not just try to pull a dream
based on hope for yourself.
Everyone’s various desires for the year: to make good friends, to have a beautiful house,
a good car, money—many, many hope, hope, hope. Too much hope! This is all a rental from
Shakyamuni. Now, everything you have, your money, your car, your house, your friends, you
seem to have a lot, but the truth is, it’s zero. You have nothing. It’s all just help from
Kyudo is not a sport. It is Zen style meditation, standing meditation. Dojo, dojo, kyudojo.
What is that? The kyudojo is a Buddhist meditation hall. Kyudo is standing meditation.
Meditation, everyone understands, sitting, zazen, is first. Second, is standing meditation.
Standing meditation is kyudo. When you see kyudo, you look at the target and think, “shooting,
shooting”. But shooting the target is not the essential purpose of kyudo.
Today, outside, is an exceptionally blue sky. May everyone have blue sky on the inside,
as well, during this year 2007. From this new feeling we take one step, this year walking. Many
good wishes for the New Year to you all. Thank you very much. Please keep your bodies strong
and healthy, so that from the good help you are given, you are able to offer back!
Just back from a very full and rich trip to New York City and each step of the way I was reminded of being there with Sensei in the fall of 2006.
He enjoyed the city overall, said it gave him energy to be there, but he also noted that the people were “heavy” in some way. Wherever we went, doormen, taxi drivers, waiters and shopkeepers had strong reactions to him, either darting away or (more often) remarking that he was “different, special”, lingering to be near him and sometimes straight out asking his advice for their lives. It was interesting to note because none of them knew anything of Sensei’s background or status. Without even language in common, they were reacting purely from his presence.
At the end of our time in New York, Sensei insisted on going to Ground Zero. Back then, it was still a big hole in the ground, with rubble all around and the beginnings of new construction. We managed to walk from the wind-whipped corner where the taxi left us, up the sidewalk, and into the temporary memorial hall lined with photos and stories from the events of September 11, 2001.
“Very heavy feeling,” Sensei said, upon entering the hall. It affected him deeply; it seemed he could hardly bear to be there. A female security guard spotted us among the crowd and asked if we’d like some help. As so many people had on this trip, she was taken with Sensei and followed us around, offering help whenever she could.
When we came to the end of the exhibit, Sensei filled out a card to leave in the visitor comment book, writing the following in Japanese with my translation beneath:
“Please always remember the blue sky deep within your hearts and keep that feeling with you wherever you go, whoever you meet. That is very important…………………(he entered a carefully penned, long ellipses)………………..because words cannot express……………..
Kanjuro Shibata, Zen archery master of Trungpa Rinpoche’s kyudo group”
The morning after this visit, the day of our flight home, Sensei awoke with an alarming red rash all along the right side of his body and in considerable pain. I wasn’t certain if we should fly home, but also felt he needed to be home and he concurred. It turned out to be shingles. We treated it quickly and he managed to overcome it in a few weeks with no relapses, but I always felt haunted that he had contracted it from the depths of whatever he encountered that day at Ground Zero.
The events this week are reverberating far and wide. Waking up Wednesday morning from a wave of anxiety dreams, my immediate and very unoriginal thought was, "Time to renew that Canadian passport!" And then, I remembered this:
One Thursday evening practice, in the summertime, we sat with the large kyudojo door open to the outside, flanked by two young women who had happened to drop by to watch. I don't remember how they heard about Sensei or kyudo or why they felt compelled to come, but they gravitated towards him fearlessly.
At one point, one of the young women looked at him and asked, "Do you like living in America? Do you ever want to go back to Japan?"
Sensei replied succinctly, "I don't make decisions based on 'like' and 'not like'."
Big pause. No one said a word.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
The second memory to emerge was from September 11, 2013, the day of the massive Boulder flood. It kind of crept up on us. The rain had poured all night and by late morning it was clear we were in a crisis of some kind, but not yet clear what we could or should do about it. Answering a loud knock at the door, I faced an emergency responder.
"We understand you have an elderly person in the house. Is that true?"
"Yes," I replied.
"You should evacuate immediately. The house next door has flooded and several houses along that street are full of water." He pointed to the neighboring street to the north. "If one of the houses blows, you won't have time to get out of here." I thanked him profusely and dashed back to the kitchen to tell Sensei we needed to pack up immediately.
He sat very still, looked up at me from where he sat drinking his tea at the table and said, "Okay. But we should move slowly, slowly, no big hurry."
I understood right then that he wasn't referring to timing so much as state of mind, a directive not to get caught in the crisis mentality, but to move steadily, gently, deliberately. In all the years we were together, through various crises of health, environment, politics, kyudo student dramas, I never once saw him panic. So, we did move slowly, but economically, too.
We were out within an hour or so, with the dog, bird, wheelchair, oxygen machine, rice cooker and as much Japanese food as I could imagine being able to prepare in a hotel room. By the time we left the driveway, the streets were closing all around us. We had managed to reserve the last available room at a hotel in Broomfield. Crisscrossing our way, we approached a major intersection just as two road workers were putting a barrier in place to stop the traffic. It was the only road left to get us out of town.
"Please, we have to get through. I have an elderly man in the car and I need to get him to a hotel." I made our case to the workers as quickly and emphatically as I could.
They took a look at Sensei in the passenger seat and waved us through, saying, "That's it. You're the last one," and closed the road.
Sensei wasn't always slow. He could be aggravatingly quick in the face of any kind of laziness, scattered overwhelm or "space out" from anyone in the environment and was almost always first to leave the house when we were going somewhere. Most of the time, I had to work to keep up with him. (Albeit, as the one handling a lot of earthly details, like packing and phone calls, there were reasons it took me longer.) Nonetheless, he imparted much in his demeanor, unswayed by the push-pull of ordinary anxieties or the compulsion for self-preservation.
At this moment, the recollection of his "slowly, slowly" has restrained me from bolting for the border or quickly making plans of any kind. If and when plans do emerge, may they arise from a place untainted by "like" or "not like," the small-minded impulse towards self-preservation. And together, neither paralyzed by overwhelm nor driven by the force of panic or predjudice, may we gently carve a path through the storm.
Below is an excerpt from my journal entry dated December 11, 2004. We had been living together for about six weeks.
Over breakfast, Sensei placed his two hands together to describe how virtually all rooftops, the world over, come to a peak. This point is the Kami connection. If the balance of communication in the household, between the husband and wife, is good, this works. The Kami connection remains, the house stays, and they have long life and good health together. If they do not have good communication, if one or the other pushes too hard, the roof collapses. He said he felt that, at times, he pushed his first wife too hard. Then, she would push back hard, coming back on top, and finally, she "went up and out fast."
Sensei’s first wife, Kiyoko, passed soon after they had come to Colorado from Japan. During the time she was in the West, she graciously taught the students of Trungpa Rinpoche the way of tea (chanoyu) and flowers (ikebana) and greatly enriched the culture of the Shambhala community.
Sensei loved describing one of his earliest encounters with the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. As is the case with memory, I have no idea how much of the literal detail here is true, but I expect it is mostly so. For sure, the heart-truth came through unchanged whenever he recounted this.
Excited to be hosting Shibata Sensei in Boulder, Colorado, Trungpa Rinpoche invited Sensei as a guest of honor to the opening night of The Mikado--yup, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera, satirizing the failings of the British government disguised in a quasi-Japanese setting. The play was fully produced, directed, and performed by the Vidyadhara’s students.
Showtime was set for 7:30pm. The audience assembled, along with Shibata Sensei, awaiting the Vidyadhara’s arrival. Time passed. 8:30. 9:30. 10:30. Another hour. Two. Another one. No one complained. No one left. They simply sat. Then, just as the first ray of sun began to peek over the horizon, the Vidyadhara arrived and took his seat next to Sensei. A student filled his sake glass, accidentally spilling some on Sensei’s kimono. The Vidyadhara took a sip and the play began.
“In Japan, no one would have waited more than a half hour.” Sensei was utterly struck by the patience of the students and the feeling of no complaint whatsoever—a sign of the Vidyadhara’s authentic power. Within this atmosphere of genuine trust and devotion between teacher and students, Sensei gained confidence that he could transmit the heart of kyudo practice in the West.
Today marks the third year since Sensei’s passing. Arriving at Shambhala Mountain Center this past weekend to make offerings at his site, I remembered this:
Near the end of a kyudo program at SMC, we all gathered around a campfire, one of Sensei’s favorite pastimes. In the midst of some lively conversation, a student looked at Sensei and asked, “Sensei, what is the meaning of life?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, he answered. “Ai.” Love.
(photo courtesy of Ian Sheppard)