The Late Master Koyama Shinichiro
Traditional Japanese Archery
Meishin Kyudojo HomepageKyudo, which literally means The
Way of the Bow, is considered by many to be the purest of all
the martial ways. In the past the Japanese bow was used for hunting,
war, court ceremonies, games, and contests of skill. The old
word for Japanese archery was kyujutsu (bow technique)
which encompassed the skills and techniques of the warrior archer.
Some of the ancient schools, known as ryu, survive today,
along with the ancient ceremonies and games, but the days
where the Japanese bow was used as a weapon are long past. Modern
kyudo is practiced primarily as a method of physical, moral,
and spiritual development.
No one knows exactly when the term kyudo came into being but it
was not until the late nineteenth century when practice centered
almost exclusively around individual practice that the term gained
general acceptance. The essence of modern kyudo is said to be synonymous
with the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Truth in kyudo is manifested in shooting that is pure and right-minded,
where the three elements of attitude, movement, and technique unite
in a state of perfect harmony. A true shot in kyudo is not just
one that hits the center of the target, but one where the arrow
can be said to exist in the target before its release.
Goodness encompasses such qualities as courtesy, compassion, morality,
and non-aggression. In kyudo, goodness is shown by displaying proper
attitude and behavior in all situations. A good kyudo archer is
a person who maintains his or her composure and grace even in times
of great stress or conflict.
Beauty both enhances life and stimulates the spirit. In kyudo,
truth and goodness, themselves, are considered beautiful. Beauty
can also be found in the exquisite grace and artistry of the Japanese
bow and the elegance of the traditional archer's attire. It is
also present in the refined etiquette that surrounds the kyudo
ceremony. Etiquette, which is simply common courtesy and respect
for others, is an essential element of kyudo practice.
Much has been written about the philosophical connections of kyudo.
Perhaps most known is the book Zen in the Art of Archery by
Eugen Herrigel. In his book Mr. Herrigel sets forth his experiences
with kyudo in the 1930's. It was a beautifully written account
that has been translated into many languages, giving people worldwide
their first glimpse of the art. Unfortunately, the book was very
one-sided in its description of kyudo as a Zen art and is responsible
for a lot of the current misconception that kyudo is a religious
While kyudo is not a religion it has been influenced by two schools
of Eastern philosophy: The previously mentioned Zen, a form of
Buddhism imported from China, and Shintoism, the indigenous faith
of Japan. Of the two, the influence of Shintoism is much older.
Ritualistic use of the bow and arrows have been a part of Shintoism
for over two thousand years. Much of the kyudo ceremony, the attire
worn by the archers, and the ritual respect shown for the equipment
and shooting place are derived from ancient Shinto practice.
The influence of Zen, on the other hand, is more recent, dating
back to the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) when the warrior archers
adopted Zen as their preferred method of moral training. Zen's
influence on kyudo became even greater in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries when Japan, as a whole, experienced a
period of civil peace. During that time the practice of kyudo took
on a definite philosophical leaning. This is the period when
sayings like "one shot, one life" and "shooting
should be like flowing water" were associated with the teaching
of kyudo. Because of its long and varied past, modern Japanese
archery will exhibit a wide variety of influences. Today, at any
given kyudojo (practice hall), one can find people practicing
ancient kyujutsu, ceremonial court games, rituals with religious
connections, and contests of skill. The key to understanding kyudo
is to keep an open mind and realize that any style of kyudo you
see or practice is but a small part of a greater whole, and that
each style has its own history and philosophical underpinnings
which make them all equally interesting and important. (From The
Meishin Kyudojo Homepage)