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.

Meditation

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.

Equipment

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 elegance.

History

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 today.

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 practitioners world-wide.

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."