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What is Kyudo?

Recently, I happen to watch a special on television called The Way of the Bow. The name in and of itself conveyed something Asian, which peeked my curiosity. What the show covered was an American man going for his 10th dan and the interesting Japanese Martial Art of Kyudo.

Kyudo is a Japanese Martial Arts focused on archery. The bow, called the yumi, is an asymmetrical longbow, with the top portion being far longer than the bottom. The yumi is often around 6-feet long and towers over the practioner. A traditional yumi is made out of bamboo, wood and leather, using techniques that have not changed for a long time. The length of the ya, or arrow, is determined by the draw length of the archer (known as the yatsuka) plus 3-4 inches. Each arrow has a gender, which is based upon the position and thus the rotation of the arrow in flight. When shooting, the archer will usually shoot one of each type, starting with the male arrow.

In practicing kyudo, it is important not only where the arrow lands but how the techniques are executed. The practioner must reach a meditative state prior to even picking up the yumi to fire. They cleanse the mind and focus. The movements after this point are smooth and fluid, much like a dance. As their eyes focus on the target, there’s a sense of peace that falls upon the archer. It is said that with the empty mind can one hit the target.

Kyudo has a very long history. The first bows similar to those used in kyudo were introduced into the Japanese society around the Yayoi-period (250BC - 330BC). Kyudo becomes more formalized under the samurai, where it became refined and placed into their training system. It was continued to be a large part of the military until the mid-1500’s when Western influences were introduced into Japan. As the use of archery decreased, kyudo came into its current form, more of a practice to focus the mind than to be used for combat.

Even though there is only one weapon used, kyudo is considered a Martial Arts for many different reasons. First off, it is a “martial” art, in that it was originally used for warfare. Modern martial arts, however, goes beyond just the military use of the arts. Just like other martial arts, kyudo speaks to the total person – mind, body and spirit. Kyudo helps not only to train one in this very deadly weapon, it also teaches one how to be at peace and reach meditative states. It shows us how to handle stress and keep the focus on the end goal or target.

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