Tokyobling's Blog

Kyudo – Japanese Zen Archery

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 29, 2009

When I was a kid naturally my dream was to become a ninja. Don’t all kids have that dream? My mother dutifully informed me that there were no ninja anymore and so I had to chose a different career path. My second choice was to become a knight, but again my mother informed me that these days there might still be plenty of damsels in distress, but dragons and tournaments are still rare enough to make that career path less likely to bring me success. In bitter resentment I decided to wreck my revenge on the world by going into marketing. (cue evil laugh). But seriously, I did it all, horse riding, archery, fencing. It was easy enough. Keep from falling off, aim at the target, hit the other guy before he stabbed you in the face (even with the mask it hurts, really).

When I finally made it to Japan I decided to immerse myself as much as I possibly could. After classes I headed over to the all Japanese part of the campus and looked for a good club to join. I found the Kyudo club, or as we say in the West, Japanese zen archery. But kyudo has about as much in common with archery as “paint by numbers” have with Picasso. In archery, you draw the bow, look down the arrow, adjust for distance and wind, and let go. It doesn’t matter much how you do it, if your aim is true you will hit even a small target at up to 100m. And here I was, proud that I could put a long bow arrow through a car door at 150m. Little did I know about the “zen” part of kyudo.

In kyudo, it doesn’t matter if you are half blind: if you stand correctly, breath correctly, use just the right amount of muscle tension and let go at the exact moment, you will hit. A child can do it. An old woman of 90 can do it. If they know how, that is. I trained daily for 6 months, and I barely learned how to draw the Japanese bow. It is insanely difficult and easily the hardest thing I have ever attempted. It is the truest test of your inner spirit that I have ever come across. Zen in it’s truest sense. Why? Because you have to un-learn everything you know. You have to leave yourself and merge with the bow, the string and the arrow. Breath out a tenth of a second early and you are lucky if your arrow even leaves the string, you might even end up smacking your face with the string or getting a nasty burn to your wrist.

Which is why, when I came across these two ace archers practicing early one morning I could barely breathe with respect. To get this good at kyudo you have to devote your life to it. Attitute and posture is everything. Hitting the target is just proof of your skill. Real archers don’t even see it. They don’t have to.

Two very experience Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

A very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

A moment after releasing the bow, note the position of the string!

A moment after releasing the bow, note the position of the string!

Kyudo sensei

Kyudo sensei

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6 Responses

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  1. JM said, on July 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Good luck in your kyudo quest. It is a beautiful journey, although somewhat frustrating at times… much like life itself!

    Please feel free to visit my blog @
    And, thank you for sharing your writing on the art.


    • tokyobling said, on July 6, 2009 at 1:08 am

      Thanks for the nice comment! You have a great Kyudo blog by the way. I hope everyone who has had a chance to practice this art form gets a chance to read it.


  2. Paulo Foggiato said, on September 7, 2009 at 2:46 am

    Yesterday i saw a documentary(National Geographic Chanel) about the yumi and some aspects concernig to it´s construction.
    I would like to know more about the” how to do” technics to make a yumi because i use bamboo to make my furniture. The treatment for protecting bamboo is with wood vinegar and that documentary only shown the place where the bambo is treated but dont explain it-by the dark inner walls and dor i presume the same method is used but in a different way.
    What glue is used .
    I ´m very curious about this methotds and materials,can you help me,please.



    • tokyobling said, on September 7, 2009 at 3:36 am

      Hi Paulo! Thanks for visiting the blog! Unfortunately I have no idea how to make these bows. I am sure there are books in Japanese and maybe English with more information. Good luck!


    • D said, on October 27, 2009 at 1:27 am

      If you want to go as traditional as possible – fish glue (Nibe bows). Modern yumi(s) are probably a secret recipe that each bowmakers keep to themselves.


  3. Zen said, on November 4, 2009 at 8:29 am



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