Kyudo (the "Way of the Bow") is the Japanese martial
art of archery. Until the 14th or 15th century, when foot soldiers
began to surpass the horseman in battle, the bow and arrow were
the primary weapons of the samurai. The roots of kyudo lie in those
long-past days, when a warrior's worth was determined by his skills
with a bow.
Kyudo is often described as a moving meditation. As in other forms
of meditation, the student of kyudo learns to control his heart
rate and breathing; but unlike many other forms of meditation, in
kyudo the student does not become oblivious to his surroundings,
but rather becomes acutely aware of them. This teaches the practitioner
to react calmly and resolutely to his environment.
||The standard length of the modern kyudo bow is over seven
feet, and the standard length of the arrow is approximately
three feet. The kyudo bow is asymmetrical; its shape is determined
both by tradition and aesthetics. The kyudo bow requires a longer
draw to achieve the equivalent power of a shorter bow: the string
is drawn until the nock of the arrow is behind the practitioner's
head, and the archer's body fits within the large arc of the
bow. This creates a beautiful unity of the archer and the bow.
A shorter bow would be more efficient and convenient, but the
use of such a bow would rob kyudo of much of its beauty and
In the Prehistoric Period (7000 B.C.E. – C.E. 330), archeological
evidence of a hunter/gatherer group called the Jomon suggested that
they frequently utilized the bow and arrow, probably primarily as
a hunting tool. During the latter part of this period, the legendary
first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, ascended to the throne. He
is often depicted with a bow, as a symbol of authority.
Since the beginning of the study of archery in Japan, there has
always been a spiritual aspect attributed to the use of the bow
and arrow: either to scare away evil spirits or purify space. These
spiritual elements of archery are preserved today in kyudo through
traditional ritual movements and practices.
In the Ancient Period (330–1192), Japanese culture was strongly
influenced by China. The Japanese adopted the ceremonial archery
of the Chinese aristocracy, and it was considered a measure of a
noble to be skilled in archery. With the rise of the professional
samurai, the end of the ancient period saw the beginning of the
kyudo ryus (martial-arts archery schools). This also marked
the start of standardization of instruction in archery.
During the Feudal Period (1192–1603), toward the end of the
12th century, the Ogasawara Ryu standardized yabusame (archery
on horseback). Civil wars during the 15th and 16th centuries created
a great demand for capable warriors, and this period saw a great
development of all martial arts, including archery. Heki Danjo Masatugu,
an archer who according to some sources lived in the mid-to-late
1400s, codified his own method of archery and formed what came to
be known as the Heki Ryu. Danjo's teachings still influence some
of the non-Kyudo-Federation-regulated styles that are practiced
In the mid-16th century, the Portuguese introduced the musket to
Japan. The musket eclipsed the bow and arrow as the most effective
long distance weapon, and resulted in a significant diminution in
the bow's use.
The Transitional Period (1603–1912) was a period of peace
in Japan This was the time during which the great archery competitions
were held in the temple of Sanjusangendo in Kyoto. The temple is
120 meters long, and this competition measured how many arrows could
be shot within a 24-hour period that could travel the full length
of the temple and strike the target at the temple's opposite end.
(Ancient arrows from these competitions can still be seen in some
of the temple's structural members.) The current modern record is
held by Wasa Daihachiro with 8,133 hits out of 13,053 arrows shot;
this feat required the archer to shoot an average of one arrow every
six seconds over the entire twenty-four-hour period. During this
time, the martial art of kyujitsu arose (kyujitsu
differs from kyudo in that kyujitsu refers to technique
of shooting, whereas kyudo is a method of using the bow to discover
a path of harmony and balance).
By the end of the 17th century, ceremonial archery was becoming
popular outside of the warrior class. Towards the turn of the 20th
century, Honda Toshizane, who was at that time the instructor of
kyudo at the Tokyo Imperial University, combined what he considered
to be the best of all the existing styles (as he knew them), melded the
ceremonial and warrior archery forms, and created the Honda Ryu,
which eventually became the basis of modern kyudo.
In the Modem Era (1912 to the present), attempts at greater standardization
occurred under the auspices of such organizations as the Zen Nihon
Kyudo Renmei, and there are now more than one-half-million kyudo
The Muyo Shingetsu School of Kyudo
The characters for the name “Muyo Shingetsu” translate
as the following:
mu = nothing
yo = shadow
shin = spirit/heart/mind
getsu = moon
The Muyo Shingetsu school of kyudo was founded by Master Kenran
Umeji in the 1920's, in the town of Himeji, south of Osaka. After
Master Umeji's death, his principal disciple, Master Gyo Sagino,
headed the school until his own death in 2004, whereupon his grandson
Michiya Sagino took over the role. There are about 400–600
practitioners of this style world-wide, with conferences and training
sessions held several times a year in Himeji as well as at other
dojos in Japan, Italy and the United States.
The basic philosophy of the school is revealed in Life and
the Way of the Bow by Master Umeji, of which the following
is a small excerpt:
"Life is to realize the unity of the soul and the body.
... The state of existence we are reaching is called kyo:
in other words, true life. ... The state of kyo is our
way of archery. If we practice this way of archery, then our shooting
will become one and the same with our true self that resides in
the absolute world. Here there is no distinction between ourselves
and others, and we are one with nature. And when we exhaust ourselves
absolutely, completely exhausting heaven and earth, then and there
we will obtain our true self, where there is no difference between
life and death, where we find ourselves serene yet firmly determined.
We breathe naturally and are not lost. We are relaxed and our
wisdom matures and becomes round. We receive totally and realize
what our true self should do. Easily, without hesitation, we can
discard the relative life."