Kyudo: Passing Clouds and Flowing Water

- through Sophie Solere

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The magnificent dojo dedicated to kyudo in Noisiel (Seine-et-Marne) welcomes followers of the “way of the arc”. According to its founder, Claude Luzet, who has been practicing this discipline since 1988, kyudo allows “to awaken one's conscience”.

One after the other, fifteen archers, dressed in black pleated trousers and white kimonos, silently enter in small groups the sheltered shooting area of ​​the kyudo dojo in Noisiel, in Seine et Marne. They anchor their feet to the floor. Consolidate their posture. And seek to become one with their bow. When this bamboo weapon, 2,20 meters high, perfectly encircles their body and their mind, they shoot a first arrow. This one flies over a space in the open air before piercing, 28 meters further, a paper target. A second arrow splits again the starry night of this winter evening. Then the group leaves as solemnly as it had arrived. Finally, another succeeds him, carried by the same codified choreography.

Every Monday after their working day, the participants meet in this building. All wood, all pure. They train under the demanding blue gaze of Claude Luzet, vice-president and technical director of the Val Maubuée Kyudo Association.. " In kyudo, which means the “way of the arc, he specifies, one seeks victory over oneself. We do not fight any external adversary. On one of the walls of the kyudojo is displayed a Japanese calligraphy. We can read this enigmatic definition: "Kyudo is the clouds that pass and the water that flows". After having corrected an archer's posture by a millimeter, Claude Luzet continues: “It's not a question of aiming, but of being on target. Once the perfect shape has been found, that of the skeleton caught in the arc, the energy is allowed to swell. You have to listen to your breathing, abdominal, which harmonizes with the movement. This must be very fluid. You don't decide when you shoot, it's done beyond your own will. We then experience a beautiful feeling. Almost an enlightenment. As if something was beyond us.

Kyudo or the school of humility

The benefits of kyudo are multiple. On the physical level, its practice makes it possible to become aware of its feelings, its body and its position in space. You learn to correct your posture, especially your vertical axis. We discover how to use our breathing and calm it down. On the emotional side, we are careful not to let ourselves be carried away by the emotions that blind us, such as anger, fear or jealousy. It is a very active form of meditation. Thanks to kyudo, the archer learns the “Here and now”. Witness one of the participants, Laetitia Bachellez, a follower of this martial art for four years: “I learned to let go, to let things happen on their own. Now I'm more forgiving of myself. I no longer aim for performance, but for discipline, high standards and ethics. The target then becomes an accessory. Only the quest for the beauty of the gesture counts. From a psychic point of view, one acquires concentration and courage. We also gain in equanimity, which gives us the possibility of accepting, with the same wisdom, both successes and failures. Kyudo or the school of humility… “Far from consisting in making holes in targets, kyudo allows you to work on different facets of human beings,” underlines Claude Luzet. We find in the idea of ​​the search for the perfect shot, that of perfection as a being. »

“In kyudo, which means the 'way of the bow, one seeks victory over oneself. We do not fight any external adversary. » Claude Luzet

With his serene voice, he sums up the history of kyudo : " Like all martial arts, its origin dates back to the Samurai of medieval Japan. The kyudo also draws from the ceremonies presented, at the same time, at the imperial court and in the temples”. Claude Luzet notes that “compared to the French, the Japanese seem to be masters of syncretism. They very often combine Buddhism and Shintoism, and it does not seem strange to them to add other currents of thought. Modern kyudo is no exception to the pragmatism that characterizes this people. Listening to him, we find Buddhist concepts, especially Zen, grafted onto a solid Shintoist base tinged with Confucianism. And even Platonic values, since the ideals of kyudo are described as the search for “truth, goodness, beauty”.

The white beard of Claude Luzet, volunteer teacher 6e Dan, betrays his long experience. He indeed started kyudo in 1988, influenced by his reading of Eugen Herrigel, a German philosopher (1884-1955) who lived in Japan and wrote Zen in the chivalrous art of archery (published in 1948 and translated into French in 1955). “His work was for a long time the only one on kyudo accessible to Westerners. This explains its strong influence on the first generations of followers in France: they believed then that kyudo was of Zen obedience, ”he analyzes. It is moreover Zen that brought him to kyudo. "A retrograde gait," as he remarked at the time Master Taikan Jyoji, according to which "the normal approach would be for kyudo to lead to Zen". After being intellectually interested for several years in Buddhism and Zen, Claude Luzet took two sabbaticals, in 1980 and 1981, to travel, particularly in Asia and India. "I was looking for 'something' to allow me to live my aspirations", he recalls. His first real encounter was with Tibetan Buddhism, in Nepal, through a Lama who made a great impression on him. To the point of practicing it for a few years. Then, in search of more purity, he turned to SN Goenka's Vipassana. And later, to Zen rinzai. Finally, at the end of a Zen week at the Center de la Falaise Verte (Ardèche) under the direction of Taïkan Jyoji, he gave a demonstration of kyudo. “It touched me so much, he says, that I quickly decided to get started. »

Despite this Zen heritage in his approach to kyudo, Claude Luzet observes: “I don't think that we can qualify kyudo as Buddhist or Zen. It can indeed be a possible extension of a meditation – some people sometimes speak of “standing zen” to qualify kyudo – or its complement”. But, according to him, this discipline is potentially much too universal to be reduced to a specific spiritual or philosophical approach, whatever it may be. With the sense of pragmatism of the Japanese, Claude Luzet concludes: "Kyudo is a powerful tool that allows, if desired and provided sufficient effort is made, to go very deep within oneself, to know oneself better and to awaken his consciousness. Goals very close to those I gave myself when I was sitting on my zazen cushion”.

Kyudo, a discipline accessible to all

Kyudo does not require physical strength. There are thus no contraindications. But if this martial art is open to everyone, advancing in the Way of the Bow requires extreme rigor, patience and perseverance. To progress, you have to commit to coming regularly, for two hours twice a week.

Neophytes begin by learning gestures: basic movements, such as walking and turning. Then they move on to shooting. First, they train, without an arrow, to repeat the eight phases of the complete shooting cycle. Once they master it, they can shoot arrows into a straw target with a diameter of 36 centimeters located 2,50 meters away. Finally, they reach the cylinder covered with paper of the same diameter, but located 28 meters away. As a general rule, clubs lend bows, arrows and gloves to beginners, except for the outfit which they must buy after a few months. After a year of practice, you have to acquire your own equipment.

It is in municipal gymnasiums that archers practice most often: nearly fifty welcome followers in France. While some kyudo enthusiasts have had beautiful traditional dojos built, the one in Noisiel, inaugurated in 2014, is the only public kyudojo.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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