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5.0 out of 5 stars Zen In The Art Of Archery., 9 Nov 2010
This review is from: Zen in the Art of Archery: Training the Mind and Body to Become One (Arkana) (Paperback)
Eugene Herrigel (1884-1955), studied Japanese archery (Kyujutsu-kyodo), in Japan during his time as a professor between 1924-1929. His teacher was named Awa Kenzo (1880-1939), himself a master of Heki-ryu Sekka-ha kyujutsu. This book started life as an essay written in 1936 by Herrigel, (in German), entitled 'The Chivalrous Art of Archery'. The essay was elaborated and extended in 1948, then becoming the classic book entitled 'Zen in the Art of Archery'. This is one of those rare books that has been written in the West, for a predominantly Western audience, that has been translated into Japanese and published in Japan as 'Yumi To Zen', or 'The Bow of Zen'.

The book has a Forward by DT Suzuki - the famous Zen commentator, and was translated into English by RFC Hull. The book is separated into eleven, short chapters. The content of the book is comprised of Herrigel's experience as a foreigner in pre-second world war Japan. Oddly, Herrigel makes no reference to the dramatic militarisation and modernisation of 1920's Japan, or indeed any reference to the Nazification of Germany. Instead, the book is written in an historical void. Considering the devastation of the times Herrigal lived through, this omission might well be deliberate and designed to focus the reader's attention firmly upon the subject at hand.

Herrigal, a professor in Philosophy, was well aware of Zen Buddhism, a Japanese interpretation of Chinese Ch'an Buddhism. This school originated in India and was known a Dhyana - both Ch'an and Zen are transliterations of this term, which may be defined as to 'meditate', and refer to the enlightened Mind, as well as the insight and wisdom such meditation can produce. In ancient China, martial practice has often carried a spiritual dimension - with the great sage Confucius actually mentioning archery practice itself as a means of character development. Usually, whether Daoist, Confucian or Buddhist, the practice of a an art, martial or otherwise, is really an exercise in calming the Mind and refining inner energy (qi). Although martial arts may be used in time of war for defensive purposes, it is also true that mastery at the highest level transcends violence and aggression, without losing practical ability.

By the time Herrigel left Japan in 1929, his master had conferred upon him the relatively high grade of 5th dan, blackbelt. Master Awa Kenzo also presented Herrigal with a bow to take with him, an act showing very great respect between the two men. Archery in Japan tends to mirror its Chinese counter-part. This practice uses the bow to calm the Mind, control the body and regulate the breath. In this sense, the character development achieved is typical of a Confucian refinement ritual. The practice of focusing upon the breath however, does offer an area where Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist practice over-lap. Herrigel discusses refined breathing at some length in his book. As his practice deepened, Herrigal presented his understanding through the concept of Zen Buddhism, which is not surprising, as Awa himself presented much of his teaching through the philosophy of Zen Buddhism.

This is an endearing book. Its importance transcends the boundaries of Kyudo, and a student of any traditional martial art would benefit greatly from reading it. An interesting book to read alongside is John Stevens' Zen Bow, Zen Arrow - a biography of master Awa Kenzo, the teacher of Herrigal himself. Interestingly, Stevens points out that the English rendering of Herrigel's account (from the original German), might well be responsible for one or two errors that have crept in. For instance, the English rendering claims that Herrigel taught at Tokyo University, when in fact he taught at Tohoku University in Sendai, etc.
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Initial post: 3 Dec 2010 04:07:28 GMT
DEW1 says:
Wonderful review,furthering my understanding of the Zen Buddha philosophy! Thankyou
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