THE WAY OF THE BOW

(Japanese Archery)

Kyudo can be seen as meditation. Some call it "Standing Zen". Its "purpose", for lack of a better word, is to become aware of the present moment without looking back or to the future. Only then can one reach one's highest potential and inner harmony. We learn kuydo with our mind/intellect, and work towards  practicing it with "no mind" (Mu shin, in Japanese). This means to let go of the intellect and thereby dare to stand with the bow fully drawn, not feeling the need to hit the target. The road towards this this gives us a great opportunity to become aware of our true nature.

In our pursuit of this state, we practice in a way which focuses on the proper breathing, proper mindset and proper body movements, not on hitting the target. If we do the movements correctly, we will hit the target—potentially with our eyes shut. Potentially, that is. But in order to even get close to that we would have to practice for many, many years, and perhaps never reach it. But with kuydo, as with all other "Ways", we try to focus on the journey, not the goal.

Why do we do this? To reach some level of awareness. Awareness is the door to inner harmony. Kuydo is a very mentally demanding way of reaching awareness, because it has such a distinct way of challenging our need to see things as success or failure. We either hit the target or we miss. The challenge is not to be affected by this, and to train our minds to stay balanced (Heijoshin) regardless of the outcome. It trains us for the same challenge in daily life—to rest in inner harmony and balance, even in chaotic situations full of external distractions.

Besides this, kuydo is a calming, friendly, esthetically pleasing practice which strengthens the body as well as the mind.

Shari kantoku (Japanese)—The shot reveals the virtue of the shooter.

Some historical notes

The Japanese bow (Yumi) has been used in its present form (an asymmetrical longbow) for almost 2000 years. It was once the choice weapon of the samurai on the battlefield, as it could be used both on foot and mounted on a horse. It was also used for hunting and games. 

The practice was then referred to as kyujutsu (the technique of the bow). In the 1500s, when gunpowder was introduced, the bow became less and less important in war. It then gradually came to be used for ceremony, and later by monks who were also martial arts teachers, where it developed the practice into what is today known as kyudo—the way of the bow.  

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), the practice was revived by a group of kyudo masters with the aim to spread it more widely into society. And today it is used by close to 200 000 practitioners of all ages in 24 countries around the world, as a tool to practice physical, mental, and spiritual development, primarily through ceremonial shooting, but also through games and competition.

“When shooting, sometimes we will hit the target but miss the self. At other times we will miss the target but hit the self. Our purpose, though, is to hit the target as the self and hope that the sharp sound of the arrow penetrating paper will awaken us from the so-called ‘dream of life ‘ and give us real insight into the ultimate state of being.”

– Hideharu Onuma Sensei