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Adam Alexander
03-29-2005, 01:33 PM
So I just finished this book. I was alarmed by the similarities between the style of instruction between the Master and the student (author) and the instruction I've seen.

The instructors I've enjoyed the most implemented such a style (I believe). Further, of what I've read on Ueshiba, he implemented the same style.

It also gives me a new perspective on Aikido--I think maybe it's putting together the idea of what a lot of people call Aikido and what I call Aikido--basically (as stated in an article or two that I've read also) that the attitude of the practitioner is what makes it a -do and what makes it Aikido-style hand-to-hand techniques.

Any body else read this? The book's been around for a long time. I'd say it was enlightening (no pun intended).

I also like the report the author gives on the Japanese student:

"The Japanese pupil brings with him three things: good education, passionate love for his chosen art, and uncritical veneration of his teacher. The teacher-pupil relationship has belonged since ancient times to the basic commitments of life and therefore presupposes, on the part of the teacher, a high responsibility which goes far beyond the scope of his professional duties."

03-29-2005, 01:46 PM
While entertaining and inspiring to read, that book is based more on cultural misconceptions that Herrigel brought with him to Japan than it is accurate facts about the tradition he was studying. He inferred a lot of mystical and spiritual affectation where, accoridng to those who have been there and done that for longer than he did, with a better understanding of the language and culture going in than he had, none exists.

He went into it thinking that he was going on a spiritual journey, and so he was. But kyudo and zen have little to do with each other, as you would hear from most experienced kyudo practitioners. And, most zen people would tell you that the best way to experience zen is to practice zen buddhism, not kyudo or any other budo for that matter.

There is an essay by Yamada Shoji called The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery, which goes into substantial detail on the subject. It also is a good read.


03-29-2005, 01:55 PM
There is an essay by Yamada Shoji called The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery, which goes into substantial detail on the subject. It also is a good read.


Nice post, Chris.

The article is available on the very excellent site of Nanzan University:


Ron Tisdale
03-29-2005, 02:28 PM
Again, I think we should stress that people are carefull of what the context was for the various books and myths on martial art and japanese culture.

Zen and the art of archery
Secrets of the Samurai

and many others are written by people who are living in a particular context, writing from a particular point of view, often with specific agendas. Even someone like Draeger (whose writing and research is usually excellent) have fostered ideas that are not necessarily accurate (the split between Budo and Bujutsu, in this case).

It would benefit someone reading a lot of different material to do some web searches on the different books and see what qualified scholars have said about the authors, their personal agendas, and the times in which they were writing.

This is not meant to be derogatory or a smear...its just good scholarship. One step that I would recommend is to read everything on the koryu books site (the Skosses' site). It has a wealth of material that places the proper context around the study of classical martial arts, and japanese martial arts in general.


Charles Hill
03-29-2005, 07:25 PM
I would add to Ron`s post that often "qualified scholars" writing about others` books often themselves have strong biases that cloud issues even further rather than making anything clearer. My advice is to read as much as one can and continually apply to one`s own experience.


03-30-2005, 06:39 PM
I agree with Charles here. That is really the best course of action.

For Yamada, you might want to consider the following.

Some reasons on why and how to read Yamada cautiously:

1. Early philosophical positions relating the concept of emptiness to secular activities got a big cultural base to work with during the Muromachi periods. This connection was based upon Ch’an and/or Zen concepts of emptiness – concepts that were prevalent during that time at the level of culture. This set the groundwork for what would later follow - several sets of evolutions and/or adaptations that made sense of secular pursuits as Ways.

From Meiji through the end of WWII, secular pursuits, such as the martial arts, were understood slightly differently from during the Muromachi period – this though emptiness stayed a relevant concept. In particular, the concept of emptiness was used to create a rationale that linked political loyalty to the Emperor, a growing sense of national identity, a foreign policy of territoriality, a sense of serving the state, etc., to things like martial arts training. Awakening, and/or the concept of “no self,” were superimposed with the notion of serving the state with complete selflessness. Simultaneously with this came the possibility of speaking of martial arts in a more singular sense – meaning, this period marks a span of growing homogeneity in terms of discourse, practice, and institution – a trend that continues on up to the present time. Again, Zen scholars, monks, and institutions (temples, universities, etc.), played a significant role in this second cultural trend.

The idea that folks generally trained in the martial arts (of any kind) for exercise and/or for pleasure is not a post-Meiji thing – it is a post WWII thing. Physical education, particularly the martially oriented kind, was firmly linked at many levels of culture to the aforementioned (e.g. serving the state, loyalty to the Emperor, etc.), which was firmly finding support from the Zen thinkers of that time. People did not train merely for pleasure or exercise at any kind of general level until after WWII. Hence, those kind of reasons behind training have to be understood as the contemporary trends that they are.

2. Today, the fact that Japanese practitioners may only practice the art for physical education and/or for pleasure does not mean that there was no historical basis for noting Zen’s role in the continuing evolution of Kyudo. We can understand this if we look at an analogous case in Aikido. Today, in Japan, generally, there is little or no mention of Aikido’s spiritual aspects, and most practitioners do in fact only practice for a sense of exercise and/or pleasure – with not even secular concern of self-defense being primary or popular. This social fact does not lead us to suggest that Aikido has no base for a practical spirituality and especially that it never did. In fact, or rather, it may suggest that Japan has lost its way (pun intended). In the same manner, once we allow a Way its intended universality, and we accept the legitimacy and importance of cultural transportation in that universality, Germany may not be the place that has been led astray from Japanese legitimate culture. It may be the new place at which to study Kyudo at a deeper level – one deeper than exercise and pleasure.

3. If one looks for connections in the manner that a reporter would, which is quite different from the manner in which a historian of culture would, one is likely to find support for nearly any position, as nearly any position is plagued by the limitations of its application. Culturally, the issue is not whether Awa liked Zen or practiced Zen or whether he was not a member of any religious tradition or some other tradition other than Zen, etc. Culturally, one is dealing primarily with the nature of a discourse that is supporting both thought and practice. Key to this discourse is the thought that comes out of what are called the wisdom sutras of Buddhism. These sutras are of course central to all Mahayana schools of Buddhism, but it is the Zen tradition that applied this discourse in several ways that are key to the underlying culture at work in the notions of martial arts being thought of as Ways. Zen did this in several different manners, depending upon the period in question.

Some key periods of contact are: the Muromachi period – where Zen’s discourse on emptiness (which is what the wisdom sutras are centered upon) made a connection between formal Zen training and secular high-culture, etc.; the Tokugawa period – where the earlier ideas on emptiness were further refined and also underwent more dissemination outside of high culture (e.g. to economy, state-subject identity, etc.); the Meiji to WWII period – where emptiness was linked to Imperial interests and the newly formed modern Japanese state; and the post-WWII period where scholars and thinkers saw in Zen’s understanding of emptiness a chance of regaining some international prestige upon a grand scale following the defeat of WWII.

A cultural historian interested in epistemology and/or discursive practices is going to look at the history of the concept of emptiness, and when one does, it is certainly not an overstatement to suggest that Zen is relevant to arts like Kyudo. For example, at a discursive level, one can see the concept of emptiness in all of the following works: the Heart Sutra, the writings of Muso Soseki on gardening, Takuan’s “Fudochishinmyoroku,” Awa’s writings, and Yoshida’s writings, the religious experience of Awa – which is more in keeping with what Zen folks during the pre-WWII period were saying about the concept of selflessness as it relates to awakening than it is to Kukai’s experience; etc. At the level of culture, at the level of discourse, these things are all related. The relationships between these things exist – even when the subjects themselves are unaware of them and/or when they suggest something to the contrary. Hence it may very well be the case that Awa didn’t approve of Zen unconditionally, or that he never trained with a Zen priest, but it is equally true that he is making use of a Zen cultural discourse.

4. Herrigal is not guilty of the crime of seeing what he wants to see. Neither can he be accused of putting the cart before the horse. First, Herrigal did not go to Japan to seek Zen. The truth is that Japanese intellectuals, for many many reasons, were re-working earlier Zen positions (from the Muromachi period) during the early 20th century. It is they, both in and outside of Zen, and both in and outside of martial arts, that were offering to the world a “new” understanding of Zen’s role in Japanese history – cementing its future role as well. In that reworking of earlier ideas, and in their attempt to speak to the larger world, these same people drew comparisons to the works of Christian mystics like Eckhart, etc. Herrigal did not make up this connection as a German who knew nothing of Japanese culture. Japanese intellectuals wishing to participate in the growing international scene made the comparisons for reasons of understanding their own culture more fully and then presenting that to the outside world via the growing universal discourse on religion and psychology.

5. The evidence attempting to refute Herrigal’s take on the target in darkness is lacking in its power to refute.

First: Let us note that the author is trying to counter Herrigal’s quoting of what Awa said with an explanation that Awa gave to a second non-present party (at the least or around) ten years after the fact. Even if hearsay could carry some weight, the relevant information would be what Awa said he said that night – not how Awa understood that second shot. Nowhere are we told what Awa said he said to Herrigal that night.

Second: Let us note that Herrigal was to some degree governed by the legitimacy of his experience – meaning, you can’t fake mysticism and you wouldn’t want to. Remember, he came to Japan seeking an experience he could not obtain in Germany. If he was willing to fake and/or “create” an experience, he would have done it Germany. Moreover, Herrigal was governed by the customs of his scientific training. Hence, he had a priority on accuracy, objectivity, etc. Again, Herrigal is not set to manufacture things. On the other hand, the author’s points of refutation come from hearsay and they come, at the earliest, nearly a decade after the fact. Let us also note that as likely as it is for a German trained scholar during the early 20th century to give a priority to accuracy and objectivity, it is very unlikely that an aging Japanese man when queried about an event that happened a long time ago is going to say something like, “Yes, I was demonstrating how enlightened I am.” The response, “Oh, it was just coincidence,” is totally supported by the cultural norms governing that later conversation (e.g. humility, etc.). It is totally unlikely that such a man at such a time in his life would say anything other than that – as unlikely that Herrigal would overcome his own cultural conditioning as start falling prey to manufacturing falsehoods or radical interpretations.

Third: Let us also note that the author first states that Awa was already an eccentric in regards to the rest of Kyudo practitioners. To suggest that he was making a point different from what Herrigal was saying, and that he was not trying to say anything different from any other Kyudo practitioner, seems to contradict this earlier position of eccentricity. Obviously, Awa was trying to say something different – hence the different set up that night. His point could not have been about “coincidences happen,” even if that was his later description to others as an aged man. Moreover, if one accepts Herrigal’s interpretation, it is not even relative that the second arrow struck the first – the point was to see that one could hit without aiming as he was attempting earlier in the day. Neither mysticism, nor Zen, nor Awa’s point or Herrigal’s understanding, are located in the second arrow striking each other. They are located in point of moving out of one’s on way while training in a Way.

Fourth: We should not so heavily stress the language barrier, since Herrigal at the time of the event had at least five years of in-country cultural exposure to the language by that time. Whatever his skill level might have been, one is not necessarily looking at someone that cannot communicate at all. Moreover, let us know that Awa’s first condition for taking Herrigal on as a student was that an interpreter be present. By the time of the event, even Awa must have no longer felt the need for an interpreter since it was he that suggested that they meet alone later that evening. This as well leads to the probability that Herrigal, by this time, was not so burdened by a language barrier.

6. The “it shoots” refutation actually (ironically) stems from the author’s own usage of poor translations of Herrigal’s work in German to Japanese. The argument is a dead argument.

7. The author’s main source for Awa’s thought and practice is constantly saying that Awa used Zen terms and ideas in his practice – which is his main refutation of Herrigal’s understanding of Awa’s ideas.

8. Chances are that Herrigal, reading a lot of the Zen-oriented intellectuals that were writing during the time in question, and practicing the exercises that go with such ideas (i.e. the reconcilation of the subject/object dichotomy), probably had a better access to the thought of Awa (who was probably reading those folks as well) than Yamada does to the thought of Awa (because he is coming from a different slant and making use or rather not making use of the specialized language of that time and practice).

03-30-2005, 11:19 PM
[QUOTE=David Valadez]1. Early philosophical positions relating the concept of emptiness to secular activities got a big cultural base to work with during the Muromachi periods. This connection was based upon Ch'an and/or Zen concepts of emptiness -- concepts that were prevalent during that time at the level of culture. This set the groundwork for what would later follow - several sets of evolutions and/or adaptations that made sense of secular pursuits as Ways. [QUOTE]


Thanks for this post. Yours is the first I've seen take on Yamada and I value perspective on any given issue. Can you direct me to some specific texts on the topic of Zen's influence? I've read Takuan and DT Suzuki (and Collcutt and Dale), and will be looking up Soseki Muso. Others?...


03-31-2005, 04:32 AM

To get your feet wet on these four periods I mentioned, you could start with:

1. Dumoulin (his historical survey of Ch'an and Zen)
2. Ooms
3. Brian Victoria "Zen at War"
4. and Doumoulin's survey of Zen in the 20th century

In these works you will get some sense of the major thinkers per each period as well as some general or broader historical context.

Hope that helps a bit - as you know, check the bibiliographies at the end of these works. These guys all read a lot. :-)

dan guthrie
03-31-2005, 08:14 AM
I recently read "One Arrow, One Life: Zen, Archery and Enlightenment" by Kenneth Kushner. He comments on the Herrigel book and I do see some relationship to Aikido in his description of stances. Anyone else read this?

Adam Alexander
03-31-2005, 01:33 PM
I would add to Ron`s post that often "qualified scholars" writing about others` books often themselves have strong biases that cloud issues even further rather than making anything clearer. My advice is to read as much as one can and continually apply to one`s own experience.


Nice. It's always one of my most enjoyable experiences to have one person use anothers opinion to express disagreement.

I've read so many things over the years and have concluded one thing: Opinions are like ********...or better, every ******* has an opinion.

The opinions are even better when they're camouflaged in pedantic displays which serve to defend the source: an egocentric ********.

I read nearly all the 30! pages of Yamada's. I thought he made some good points. At this time, I'm not taking the book as a wholly reputable source. However, I was at that point before.

I didn't think too much about the "shot in the dark." Nor do I think too much about Ueshiba "dodging bullets."--I will not say neither happened, but I just don't give it any consideration...it doesn't matter to me.

However, my dojo experience of 'a student walking in arrogant and then becoming insecure' was in-line with the book. Further, the style of instruction he claimed to receive is also in-line with my experience. In addition to that, his description of the attitudes of the Japanese students would fit the American students I've seen who do the best in the style I study.

I've also got this itch. I watched a video of a monk in (I believe) Brazil who set himself on fire and didn't appear to even flinch while he burned to death (I guess it was during the Eva Parone (sp?)period and he was protesting). Now, people can rip on the book. But, if that monk can do that, then I think that says something for the religion (which I'm certain was Buddhism). A person can tear into the guy's credibility, but I prefer to look at the conclusion and see if it fits with my experience.

In this case, a lot of what the book says fits my experience.

Avery Jenkins
08-05-2005, 03:26 PM
I, too, thought several of Yamada's arguments to be rather shallow.

As a side, note, on the shot-in-the-dark thing: My daughter is a nationally-ranked archer. In practice, her coaches regularly have the students shoot at the target with their eyes closed. I've seen some of these students make many a close "robin hood," as such arrow-atop-arrow shots are called. A good archer has a consistent form which they can replicate absent visual input.

And robin hoods aren't as rare as Yamada's half-baked statistics would lead you to believe. The wall of the local rod & gun club is full of them. I've shot one with traditional bow myself, and I'm no great shakes as an archer.