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16.25) Kyudo


This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel faq@idempot.net with numerous contributions by others.

16.25) Kyudo

(Contributor: E.Clay Buchanan - eclay.buchanan@microfocus.com)

Intro: Japanese target archery practiced as a martial art.

Origin: Japan.


Kyudo, the Way of the Bow, is the oldest of Japan's traditional
martial arts. The bow has been used in Japan since prehistoric times.
From the fourth to the ninth century, close contacts between China
and Japan had a great influence on Japanese archery, especially the
Confucian belief that through a person's archery their true characters
could be determined. Over hundreds of years archery was influenced by
the Shinto and Zen Buddhist religions along with the pressing
practical requirements of warriors. Court nobles concentrated on
ceremonial archery while the warrior class emphasized kyujutsu, the
martial technique of using the bow in actual warfare.

With the introduction of firearms the bow as a weapon was neglected
and almost died out all together until Honda Toshizane, a kyudo
instructor at Tokyo Imperial University, combined elements of the
warrior style and the court ceremonial style into a hybrid style which
ultimately became known as the Honda Ryu (Honda martial school). This
style found great favor with the general public and he is generally
credited with saving Japanese Archery from oblivion. With the
American occupation banning all martial art instruction, traditional
kyujutsu schools declined further and when the ban was lifted, Kyudo,
as opposed to kyujutsu, became widely practiced and the Zen Nihon
Kyudo Federation (All Japan Kyudo Federation) was established in 1953,
publishing the standard kyudo textbook called the Kyohon, and
overseeing Kyudo development both in Japan and internationally up to
the present time. There now exists a European Kyudo Federation which
has annual seminars and promotion tests and in 1993 the first such
seminar and promotion test was held in America in San Jose,


Kyudo is a highly meditative martial art whose ultimate goals are Shin
(Truth i.e. the ultimate reality), Zen (Goodness) and Bi (Beauty).
When asked the question "What is Truth?" a master archer would pick up
a bow and arrow and shoot it, without saying a word, allowing the
level of mastery of the bow to serve as the gauge of the archer's
progress along the "way" thereby showing the archer's knowledge of
reality i.e. "Truth" itself.

By such diligent practice Confucian theory teaches that the archer
will become morally good (Zen), and this sincerity of personality will
excite the aesthetic sense of anyone watching at an intuitive,
emotional level giving the performance a beauty derived not only from
the technical skill of the archer but also from the archer's emotional
maturity and spiritual sincerity.


Students typically begin by practicing visualization: performing the
shooting motions with no equipment and then perhaps using the gomuyumi
(rubber bow), a short stick with a length of rubber tube attached, to
acquire the feel of real bow resistance. The first actual shots are
fired into a straw bundle, called a makiwara, from a short distance of
about three feet. The student then progresses to target shooting at a
fixed regulation distance of 28 meters.

All students, no matter which instructor or school, will shoot the
same design of Japanese bow which is little changed from the twelfth
century. Traditionally made of hardwoods laminated front and back with
bamboo the Japanese bow is one of the longest in the world, usually
over seven feet in length. It is a natural double recurve bow with the
arrow nocked one third of the way from the bottom and the bow actually
rotating in the hand at release approx. 270 degrees. The unique
design of the bow requires that the bow actually be torqued or twisted
in full draw to make the arrow fly straight.


Technically, styles can be divided into two broad categories, shamen
uchiokoshi and shomen uchiokoshi, the modern shomen uchiokoshi style
having been developed by Honda Toshizane. Shamen archers predraw the
bow at an angle to the body and fix their grip on the bow before
raising it. Shomen archers raise the bow straight over the head and
fix their final grip on the bow in a predraw above the head.

There were dozens of traditional schools before World War II and many
of them survive today provoking endless debate as to the superiority
of one over the other. In fact, some traditional schools still do not
use the word kyudo preferring the word kyujutsu instead to describe
their teachings. Some styles heavily emphasize the spiritual aspect of
shooting and some proponents of Zen Archery view kyudo as a way to
further their own spiritual development in Zen Buddhism.


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