Kyudo: The ’Way of the Bow’ as a Traditional Japanese Form of Art

  • Japan is home to many martial art traditions where some are only recognized within Japan. One example of this is “kyudo,” a Japanese martial art originating from the samurai class. For most practitioners in Japan, Kyudo is an art form and literally means “way of the bow” which is also linked to ancient Shinto tradition.

    Archery in Japan

    Japanese archery started during prehistorical times where some of the first images even date back to the Yayoi period, an Iron Age time. At first, it was described as a wooden bow that is short from the bottom and long from the top. In the 12th century, archery schools began and the need for archers grew dramatically during the Genpei War – a conflict between Taira and Minamoto clans. The importance of bows and arrows started to decline when the Portuguese arrived in Japan and introduced the matchlock, a hand-held firearm. So, archery then became a voluntary skill from the 17th century onwards.

    As Japan became more open to change and modern traditions, many changes occurred and martial arts were less appreciated. In order to save traditional archery, kyudo masters gathered together in order to merge the war and ceremonial shooting styles.

    As an Art Form

    Kyudo, as an art, is considered a form of meditation in action. Emphasis is primarily based on aesthetics and efficiency. It is performed by a practitioner in a slow and graceful movement while advancing to the shooting target. After which, they will draw the string back to lower the bow until the arrow levels the cheek. They will then release it and let it fly off towards the target. The need for focusing on the target is very important in the process; not once will they ever take their eyes off it. A good archer is determined by their concentration.

    In most instances, a kyudo practitioner dresses in a hakana and wears gloves to protect himself. For the first few months of training, people start their training by building strength. It also takes quite some time to practice the motions of drawing the bow and taking aim. Would you be willing to give kyudo a try?

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