Videos, Images & Articles

In 2003, O'Brien Sensei gave THIS TALK about Kyudo and Zen in the Art of Archery in 2003 at the Buddhist Society in London. The PDF has been posted online without crediting him, hence this post.


O'Brien Sensei requested the translation and subtitling in English of THIS VIDEO about How To Draw The Yumi.
LKS are grateful to the owners for permitting and facilitating the upload of the subtitles to their YouTube channel. The subtitles can be turned on and off.


O'Brien Sensei came across the following article about photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson & Kyudo on the website and it was circulated to our membership. A technical error means it is no longer accessible there. The author of the article is unknown but we are doing research to credit them.

5. Henri Cartier Bresson

The geometry and Composition

The portraiture.Why portraiture? Because as a genre, it's more constrained than street photography. The possibilities are restricted by the simple fact that there is one specific subject, and that subject is generally aware of the photographer. Street photography, by its very nature, is fluid and so the street photographer also has to be fluid. Portrait photographers, on the other hand, remain in a semi-fixed orbit around the subject.

In the course of his long career Henri Cartier Bresson shots hundreds of portraits of artists, musicians, fashion designers, writers and philosophers. His portrait work is unique because his approach to photography was unique. Photographers take up the camera for a myriad of reasons. Some want to create beauty, some want to "capture" beauty that already exists, some seek a form of self expression, some want to explore the technical aspects of photography, some just want to make a buck without doing any heavy lifting. For Henri Cartier Bresson, however, photography was an expression of philosophy. His philosophy shaped his approach to the act of photography all of his photography. Whether it was shot on assignment or for his own pleasure, whether it was street photography or portraiture, his approach remained essentially the same. HCB didn't differentiate between styles or modes of photography; he just shot photographs.

Because portraiture is photography pared down, we can see that approach "that expression of philosophy" more clearly. If you want to understand the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, look first at his portraits, then at his street photography. Patterns emerge and the work becomes even more astonishing. Taking a photograph, he wrote, "is putting one's head, one's eye and one's heart on the same axis." When we look at his portraits, that head-eye-heart relationship is more evident.

Cartier-Bresson famously compared himself to a Zen archer. Herrigel wrote:

"The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art."

Herrigel's kyujutsu instructor, Awa Kenzo (who, by the way, doesn't appear to have actually been a practitioner of Zen), followed a doctrine called issha zetsumei, which is commonly translated as "one shot, one life." The underlying concept of that doctrine is that the archer should put his entire lifetime of learning into every shot. Awa's teaching stressed the process over the result. The result mattered only in terms of how well the process was performed. If the process was correct, the result would be correct. If the archer drew the bow properly and released the arrow properly, the mark would be hit. The archer could therefore be emotionally detached from the result, concerned only with the process. The process was perfected through long attentive practice.

For Cartier-Bresson, reading Herrigel's essay was a moment of satori, of immediate enlightenment. It was as if his entire life had prepared him for that essay. It wasn't that the essay changed HCB's approach to photography. Rather, it validated what he'd already started doing by instinct. It gave him a theoretical underpinning "a set of principles" that clarified his approach. Reading the essay must have been like looking at a map of a familiar landscape; it didn't change the terrain, but it more clearly revealed the route of the path he was on. I suspect it allowed him to relax, to be more at ease with the route he'd taken, to better appreciate the journey and become more detached from the pressure of arriving at the designated time and place.


Another article on Kyudo and photography from the Leica-camera blog can be found HERE

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