Written by Nguyen Manh Quoc Trung
Japan’s culture and values are reflected in many more things than food and iconic sights. Values of harmony, grace, and exceptional commitment can be appreciated even in being a spectator in their traditional sports. Today, our roving microphone hits its mark as we find ourselves seated with Hanif Shidqi Amani Wicaksono; 3rd year Matching Track GDP student who is a member of the 弓道部 (kyūdō club)! Last December, Hanif’s team triumphed in a match against Shikata campus. But what exactly is kyūdō anyway? Our athlete gives us a brief introduction to his sport: “it’s a traditional Japanese sport of archery completely different from modern archery, such as how the athletes dress, and the bow and arrows they use. In kyūdō, we use a bow about 2 meters long with arrows half that size, and the way you aim, shoot, and do the motions are all different and have a specific form.”
With that in mind, we begin our interview to find out what the life of an international student kyūdō club member is like!
Polyphony: What kind of training routine do you have?
Hanif: “The club has designated training hours and days; we train together every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday from morning till noon. We can come to the dojo every day and train freely by ourselves though. I personally go there almost every day, between my lessons, for about two hours or so. The main training activity is practicing shooting targets, but we also do upper body exercises. It may sound simple, but training kyūdō involves paying attention to a lot of things before you even shoot an arrow, such as your state of mind, posture, the flow of your motions—they’re all very subtle things that follow a rhythm.”
To offer us more insight to the subtleties involved in kyūdō, Hanif contrasts his experience as a modern archery athlete.
Hanif: “You see, compound bows usually have sights on them that can magnify distances and guide your shot with a reticle. You don’t get that kind of stuff in kyūdō, so you need to aim using only your instincts when you line up a shot with your bow. The targets are as far as 30 meters, and it can be pretty intimidating, but once you get into it, it can be pretty fun.”
Polyphony: What is it like being a member of the kyūdō club?
Hanif: “oh it can be pretty strict. Strict as in, I have to observe the difference between senpai and kouhai very closely. I didn’t get used to that for the first 3 months; sometimes I didn’t act or speak properly towards the senpai and I would get scolded. Through my club, I learned the polite way of speaking Japanese and how to interact with superiors, peers, and subordinates. Since it’s a club, it’s pretty serious, especially if you do stuff like being late to training. We have this kyūdō textbook, and if you’re late, you have to copy a page from it by hand—the more you commit tardiness, the more pages you have to copy.”
Polyphony: Have you ever been subjected to that?
Hanif: “(laughs) oh yeah, definitely. It taught me a lesson for sure.”
Polyphony: coming there pretty often, you must have some very close bonds with your clubmates, even outside of the dojo.
Hanif: “Absolutely! Sometimes we’d get some dinner together after training, or we all go to karaoke. The members who are the same year as me love karaoke, so we go pretty often. I did go with the senpai once and it was fun but it was challenging trying to find the balance between being polite and being relaxed.
I’ve been part of the kyūdō club for around 2 years now. I don’t find it difficult to get along with them now, but I really stood out in the beginning because I was the only member who is an international student, and my appearance gave me a huge presence in the club. When I asked my clubmates what their first impression of me was, they told me that they thought I was “kinda scary” at first, but when they found it I’m a pretty cheerful guy, they found it easy to get along with me and it’s been really nice being with them ever since.”
Polyphony: Thank you so much for such a vivid recollection of the experiences you’ve had with your clubmates! Although there haven’t been many matches lately due to the pandemic, next we’d like to hear about your experience with your club as valuable teammates in a competition, such as your recent win against Shikata campus’ kyūdō club.
Hanif: Yeah, that’s a friendly competition between Okadai’s campuses held twice a year, in summer and winter. I got to join last winter and our group won that competition. It was actually an unexpected win; no one—not even my own team—thought we’d win. The team I was in is like the “C Team”, where we have A and B as the primary and secondary teams. We were sorta like the backup of the backup. We went into the tournament without thoughts of winning or losing; we figured we’d all be in it just for fun because “we’re just C Team anyway.” When we actually won against Shikata’s A team, we got a big morale boost. We kept the momentum going, and in the end, we actually managed to win!
Polyphony: Congratulations on your victory! You mentioned earlier that in the beginning, you felt the divide between you and the rest of your clubmates. But how did everyone react to you winning the match?
Hanif: “Well, actually we did have another international student; a Vietnamese senpai. But when I won the competition, I did overhear some students, especially from Shikata campus team going, “Oh that foreign student won the competition. That’s amazing,” something like that. It was a really positive reaction; it’s not like anyone thought I didn’t deserve the win. Actually, it wasn’t a personal win—it was a team victory thanks to all of our efforts.”
Polyphony: Absolutely! What a great display of sportsmanship. For anyone thinking of joining the kyūdō club, what words of wisdom and advice would you like to share with them?
Hanif: “It’s a club, so it really asks for your commitment. Unlike a circle, we train extra hard to prepare for competitions where we carry Okadai’s name. the kyūdō club has a long history in the university so joining us requires your heart to be prepared for the training to come. But if it turns out that you share our spirit, I have no doubt you’ll have fun too.”