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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
buddhadharma| 75 |spring 2007 ifirst heard about Zen archery in 1984. Someone told me about a German man who had met an archery mas ter in Japan and discovered a “Way” to selfrealization through kyudo, a form of moving, meditative archery. Immediately attracted, I enrolled in a kyudo work shop, and before I knew it I was sitting in a field in New York, watching a small Japanese man dressed in a kimono, mir rored sunglasses, and cowboy hat carry ing one of the longest bows I had ever seen. Having had only a vague idea of Japanese archery, I had imagined Zen archers using some kind of metaphorical bow and arrow, counting shots instead of the breath. Seeing a demonstration of actual feetontheground kyudo shat tered my illusions. I have been walking the kyudo path ever since. Some time later, I learned that the Ger man man I had heard about was Eugen Herrigel, author of Zen in the Art of Archery, a popular classic originally pub lished in 1948 that did much to shape Westerners’ perceptions of the relationship between Japanese martial arts and Zen Buddhism. The Zen archery master that Herrigel encountered and studied under was Awa Kenzo (1880–1939), one of the greatest kyudo masters of his time. In prewar Japan, traditional archery was oriented toward developing form and technique, as well as the Confucian ideals of clear thinking, good character, and unwavering loyalty. Awa introduced Buddhist principles in his teaching of kyudo, which was met by fierce oppo sition from critics who saw this as an attempt to develop a new religion. Awa refuted his critics, saying that his prac tice was not about religion but about the “Great Nature” that transcends it. John Stevens was so inspired by Her rigel’s training in kyudo as a way of dis covering truth, beauty, and goodness that he went to Japan on a similar quest. He became an aikido instructor and a profes sor of Buddhist studies at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, the same university where Awa had his encounters with Her rigel. This lends a certain familiarity to the way he writes about Awa’s life in his new book, Zen Bow, Zen Arrow. It’s as if he were telling the story of a cherished ancestor, selecting the most instructive teachings with the most universal appli cation and translating them into what he calls “an appropriate idiom.” Stevens begins by describing his own brush with kyudo and then outlines his approach to the material in the book. cHristopHer triplett is a longtime student of kyudo master sHiBata sensei. He lives in kings langley, england. the Great shootinG way Zen Bow, Zen arrow: the Life and teachings of awa kenzo, the archery Master from Zen in the Art of Archery By John stevens shambhala Publications, 2007 128 pages; $12.95 (paperback) reviewed by christopher triplett