Kusajishi: did I miss the target ?


img_0202While archers head toward their folding seat, the commentator reminds us of the history of 800-year old Kusajishi. This martial art, part of Kyudo, was born as archery training for the retainers of Minamoto no Yorimoto, the first Shogun reigning from Kamakura. As a matter of fact they regularly go hunting on the slopes of Mount Fuji, and start practising on a target made of “grass bundled in the shape of a deer” (the meaning of Kusajishi). Yasukuni shrine was holding its annual competition between 2 teams of the Ogasawara school, the oldest one. The rule is simple enough to understand: four archers led by a captain on each side, every archer shoots two arrows, the four members of each team first. Then the two captains compete directly against each other, and to make things more exciting, each of their arrows is worth double points. All zones of the target are not equal, and the judge-referee is often engaging the archer to comment on a hit, to validate it, or call it a miss. Clothing of the various participants (priests, referees, archers, secretaries, and their assistants) is beautiful, and the whole ceremony perfectly orchestrated. That is my point though. The mechanical movements of assistants lifting arrows from the ground, the sidelong glances of participants, seem to reveal a tension I mostly associate with the stress of doing things in accordance with the rules of the art. They most probably do not practice every day in such a form… This October day was the coldest for quite a few months indeed, however the timid reactions of the public after the first few shots soon stop. I do not know much about Kyudo, only was I explained that the purpose, the essence, reside less in the hitting of the target than in the work on oneself to achieve it the right way. However, I am finding a bit frustrating that on this exceptional day of celebration of their art, the countless hours of training of the athletes are not very well rewarded. It is too difficult for the public to feel empathy, and no one seems interested in the score. If the event is meant as a “demonstration”, it does not particularly give rise to the desire to wear the archer’s hakama. Probably I did miss the spiritual dimension. I will thus highlight the aesthetics, until I am explained the deeper meaning by a specialist.



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