Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Kanjuro Shibata practicing Kyudo

Kyudo (弓道) ("The Way of the Bow") is the Japanese art of archery. It is a modern Japanese martial art (a gendai budo).

In Japan, by most accounts, the number of female kyudo practitioners is at least equal to and probably greater than the number of male practitioners.

Purpose of Kyudo

In its most pure form, kyudo is practiced as an art and as a means of moral and spiritual development. Many archers practice kyudo as a sport, with marksmanship being paramount.

Kyudo Equipment

The yumi (Japanese bow) is exceptionally tall (standing over two meters), surpassing the height of the archer (kyudoka). Yumis are traditionally made of bamboo, wood and leather using techniques which have not changed for centuries, although some archers (particularly, those new to the art) may use synthetic (i.e. laminated wood coated with glassfiber or carbon fiber) yumi.

Ya (arrow) shafts were traditionally made of bamboo, with either eagle or hawk feathers. Most ya shafts today are still made of bamboo (although some archers will use shafts made of aluminum or carbon fibers), and ya feathers are now obtained from non-endangered birds such as turkeys or swans. Every ya has a gender (male ya are called haya; female ya, otoya); being made from feathers from alternate sides of the bird, the haya spins clockwise upon release while the otoya spins counter-clockwise. Kyudo archers usually shoot two ya per round, with the haya being shot first.

The kyudo archer wears a glove on the right hand called a yugake. The yugake is typically made of deerskin with a hardened thumb containing a groove at the base used to pull the string (tsuru).

The kyudo archer will typically begin a practice session by shooting at a target (makiwara) at very close range (about seven feet). Because the target is so close and the shot most certainly will hit, the archer can concentrate on refining his technique rather than on worrying about where the arrow will go. After warming up, the archer may then move on to longer distances; shooting at a target called a mato. Mato sizes and shooting distances vary, but most matos typically measure thirty-six centimeters in diameter and are shot at from a distance of twenty-eight meters.

Kyudo Technique

All kyudo archers shoot right-handed, so that all archers face the teacher (sensei) while shooting.

Unlike occidental archers (who draw the bow never further than the cheek bone), kyudo archers draw the bow so that the drawing hand ends up past the head. If done improperly, upon release the string may strike the archer's ear or side of the face.

Immediately after the shot is released, the bow will (for a practised archer) spin in the hand so that the string touches the archer's outer forearm. This technique (which is strived for as it illustrates the archer's skill) is called yugaeri and is unique to oriental archery.

Kyudo Rankings

Using a system typical of most modern martial arts, most Kyudo schools periodically sponsor tests, which, if the archer passes, results in the issuance of a ranking, or dan (for example, a black belt of a certain degree). At least one school, however, does not rank students, but only recognizes the achievement of instructor status using the older menkyo (license) system of koryu budo.

Major Traditions

See also: