Kyudo (Japanese Archery) FAQ

Last-modified: 13 October 1995
Written by: Patrick Darden (


Compiled and edited by Patrick Darden, Copyrighted 1994 (C)
Please feel free to disseminate, but only in entirety and with proper credits and attributions.
E-mail comments, additions, subtractions, corrections, and flames to:

eWorld information: Kent Krumvieda <>

additional contact information: Pascal Colmaire (


  1. Frequently Asked Questions About Kyudo
  2. Dojos, Organizations, and Contacts
  3. Books and Periodicals
  4. Internet Sources
  5. Perspectives on an Art: mini-essays on aspects of Kyudo
  6. Credits

I. Frequently Asked Questions about Kyudo

Q. What is Kyudo?
A. Kyudo is a form of archery that is heavily influenced by zen. Part V. of this FAQ (Perspectives of an Art) will give you a better picture, but it is heavily suggested that you find out for yourself just exactly what it is by contacting a school in your area and arranging a demonstration or sample lesson.
Q. What is ZNKR?
A. ZNKR stands for Zen Nihon Kyudo Renmei, the All Japan Kyudo Federation. It is the organization that sets the standards for modern Kyudo.
Q. Why aren't there more questions and answers?
A. This FAQ is the compilation of two FAQs, one that has been on the alt.archery usenet system for about 9 months, and another that has circulated as a part ofthe rec.martial-arts FAQ for several months. They were written by different people and entirely uninfluenced by one another. Hopefully the overlapping FAQs will provide a more complete, broader, better realised picture of Kyudo This compilation is brand spanking new, and there just haven't been many questions yet! Be the first! Ask a question!

II. Organizations, Dojos, and Contacts

In Buddhist influenced (especially Zen Buddhist influenced) activities, a certain emphasis is placed upon first hand experience, and direct transmission of understanding. To this end, I have compiled a list of Dojos (Kyudo schools), organizations, and contacts for those interested in arranging a visit and learning on their own. This list contains only recently confirmed items and is relatively small due to this. It will hopefully grow as more are confirmed or brought to my attention (big hint). If you wish your organization, dojo, or name listed please e-mail the proper information to:

1. Organizations

2. Dojos

3. Contacts

III. Books and Periodicals

Zen In The Art Of Archery, Eugene Herrigel
Patrick Darden: This could be the best book on Kyudo. It describes one man's learning experiences as he explores the spiritual side of Kyudo. He tries to communicate his perceptions by showing instead of telling, and is successful because of this. Fine insights, well written, easy to get into, and short. A great introduction.

Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery, Onuma & DeProspero
Patrick Darden: This is a close runner up for best Kyudo book. It contains a short history, philosophy, description of techniques, common problems and their solutions, and tons of photos. Hardcover, large, beautiful, and lavish. Onuma-sensei was extremely respected in the Kyudo world, and this book does him justice.

E. Clay Buchanan: This is the best book on Kyudo. Zen and the Art of Archery is second.

Kyudo: The Art of Zen Archery, Hans Joachim Stein
Patrick Darden: Whereas the other two books describe, this one discusses. Stein's approach is philosophical in nature, and he tends to spend more effort on speaking instead of communicating. A rather dry and academic work that is exhaustive in its way. Still, a good scholarly work.

The Secret of the Target, Jackson S. Morisawa
Patrick Darden: This book is the most colorful of the bunch. It is remarkably idiosyncratic. Modern Kyudo is not usually associated with religion--although many instructors begin their sessions with meditation it is not the same as prayer. But this book does not contain modern Kyudo. I will quote: "Kyudo [in this book] does not comply with, nor is influenced by, any Kyudo school or association in Japan. [This book's] concern is in Zen, Martial Ways are only part of the training process." I would go a little further than that, and state that this book's concern is Mahayana Buddhism with a definite Zen flavor. Interesting as this book is (it is a collage of many subjects related to Zen and Kyudo such as Shodo (Zen Calligraphy) and Yabusame (horse-back Kyudo)) I do not reccomend it as an introduction or guide for beginners.

Jeffrey L Nolin <> . . .one religion's use of kyudo to experience the spiritual side. It is interesting and contains a lot of stuff. Very good illustrations and renderings of movement. I wouldn't pass over The Secret of the Target if it were the first one you came across.

Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan, Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook
Tom Utiger: This book covers the samurai curriculum and it has a section on kyujutsu rather than kyudo. It is an ok book but more useful is its bibliography. I found it at a regular book store (it is still in print).

Jeffrey L Nolin <> Ok in terms of kyudo, but very good, ie, lots of information, about everything in general. Would make a good college text.

Zen in Motion, Neil Claremon
Tom Utiger: It is a book about learning yabusame(mounted kyud) in america. Also it is in print but i found it in the zen section of the bookstore.

Bows, Arrows and Quivers of Ancient Japan, [ed. note--Author??]
Tom Utiger: The information for this work was taken from two volumes of the original Shuko Jisshu published in about 1700 as an encyclopedia of Japanese arts. These volumes covered the arts that the samurai were expected to be familiar with. Illustrated bows, arrows, quivers and arrowheads of specific warriors along with other related items.

From the Bugei Trading Company (1-800-437-0125)

Japanese Archery, Burton Sherman
Tom Utiger: An excellent little volume on many aspects of kyudo. Its eleven pages describe the makeup dimensions execution and significance of the Japanese bow and arrow.

From the Bugei Trading Company (1-800-437-0125)

The Spirit of Kyudo, (Yumi no Kokoro) Inagaki Genshiro
Printed privately by Luigi Genzini, Red Edizioni Press
E. Clay Buchanan: Inagaki Genshiro, Hanshi (master) 9th Dan, Titular Master with overall responsibility of the Heki school and chief Kyudo instructor at Waseda and Tsukuba University, has had one of his personal essays, "Yumi No Kokoro (The Spirit of Kyudo)" translated from the Japanese by his disciples in Italy. The translators got around the usual problems of translation, namely not enough of a market to justify the translation, by producing one physical hardbound book containing the essay in Japanese, English, and Italian!

The book is Inagaki sensei's personal kyudo philosophy and it is no different than his other books, all of which are in Japanese. Only Inagaki sensei will take on Eugene Herrigal and his instructor, Awa sensei and most of modern Kyudo to boot. The translation is execellent because the translator took the original essay then asked Inagaki to clarify obscure passages resulting in a book that actually is clearer in English in some ways than in the original Japanese.

IV. Internet Sources

1. Personal Contacts

2. Usenet News Groups

3. World Wide Web

4. Kyudo Listserver

V. Perspectives of an Art

1. Purpose and Goals

Patrick Darden:
Kyudo is a spiritual art. By learning it, you should be learning about yourself. By improving in Kyudo, you should be improving yourself. This is a main purpose in modern Kyudo.
E. Clay Buchanan:
Kyudo is a highly meditative martial art whose ultimate goals are Shin (Truth i.e. the ultimate reality), Zen (Goodness) and Bi (Beauty). When asked the question "What is Truth?" a master archer would pick up a bow and arrow and shoot it, without saying a word, allowing the level of mastery of the bow to serve as the gauge of the archer's progress along the "way" thereby showing the archer's knowledge of reality i.e. "Truth" itself.
Marie-Antoinette Crivelli:
Whoever sees a demonstration of kyudo ('the way of the bow') for the first time understands right away that it is not a sport. Neither is it a martial art that you would practice in order to obtain degrees or black belt ranks. "In kyudo you don't try to hit the target," explains Japanese Master Kanjuro Shibata. "It's a matter of precision and discipline: the relationship you have with the bow, the arrow, your body, and your mind. Kyudo is like zazen, but it is standing meditation. When you shoot, you can see the reflection of your mind, as in a mirror. The target is the mirror. When you release, you cut ego. You can see your own mind."

2. History

Patrick Darden:
Modern Kyudo is descended from the Heki school of Kyujutsu, the art of killing by the bow, combined with a branch of ceremonial archery, the Ogasawara school. The branch of Kyujutsu, as all martial arts in Japan, embraced Zen as its spirit--possibly because of its lack of moralizing and its value in training the spirit of a warrior to actually be able to KILL. Ceremonial archery on the other hand emphasized the value of archery as an art form and a Shinto tool (as is evidenced by the usage of the bow at Sumo tournaments, Shinto rites and holidays, when a child is born, and specific events like coming-of-age-day). The sound of the string being plucked is supposed to strike fear in evil spirits' hearts, and the sound of a master-archer shooting is supposed to bring spiritual enlightenment. The combination of both forms is beautiful and appealing to the spirit.
E. Clay Buchanan:
Kyudo, the Way of the Bow, is the oldest of Japan's traditional martial arts. The bow has been used in Japan since prehistoric times. From the fourth to the ninth century, close contacts between China and Japan had a great influence on Japanese archery, especially the Confucian belief that through a person's archery their true characters could be determined. Over hundreds of years archery was influenced by the Shinto and Zen Buddhist religions along with the pressing practical requirements of warriors. Court nobles concentrated on ceremonial archery while the warrior class emphasized kyujutsu, the martial technique of using the bow in actual warfare.

With the introduction of firearms the bow as a weapon was neglected and almost died out all together until Honda Toshizane, a kyudo instructor at Tokyo Imperial University, combined elements of the warrior style and the court ceremonial style into a hybrid style which ultimately became known as the Honda Ryu (Honda martial school). This style found great favor with the general public and he is generally credited with saving Japanese Archery from oblivion. With the American occupation banning all martial art instruction, Kyudo, as opposed to kyujutsu, became widely practiced and the Zen Nihon Kyudo Federation (All Japan Kyudo Federation) was established in 1953, publishing the standard kyudo textbook called the Kyohon, and overseeing Kyudo development both in Japan and internationally up to the present time. There now exists a European Kyudo Federation which has annual seminars and promotion tests and in 1993 the first such seminar and promotion test was held in America in San Jose, California.

3. The Bow

Patrick Darden:
The bows used are some of the largest in the world, and they are the only ones that actually fly in a circle when released--the bow-string has no chance of hitting the inner flesh of the forearm, but when done properly it should hit the outer flesh! They are asymmetrical, one third of the length being below the grip, and two thirds above; even the small ones are over two meters long; they curve in opposite ways when strung and unstrung; they are made of a composite of materials, glued strips of wood and bamboo placed perpendicular to one another, laminated and sometimes even lacquered to keep out the weather. To become a true archer you must know your bow intimately, its pressure points, the places to massage it back into shape after a humid day, the parts that need care when stringing or unstringing it... the list goes on. This complexity, and their high prices, is why beginners use bows made of artificial fibers, carbon etc.

The length of the bow varies with the height of the archer and the length of his arms--the taller the archer and the longer his arms, the larger the bow required for him. The draw weight of bows. . . This is dependent upon the archer entirely. The masters say only that it should not be too heavy nor too light! From history I would have to say that the average draw has become much less than it used to be. During the war of the Heike (the middle ages) one master archer sunk two boats with one shot of his massive bow. In those days bows were measured by how many men were required to string it, the average being a three man bow, this monster that sunk two boats being a seven man bow! The old Kyujutsu training was much more rigorous than the modern, with several hundred arrows being shot each day. A good day at the dojo now would be forty arrows, with most students quitting at around twenty or thirty. I myself pull a 13.5 kilogram bow, which is very light. My wrists are weak. The most powerful bow I have heard of being used with any regularity in the modern age is a 42 kilogram bow. My master uses several different bows, but his regular practice bow is 18 kg I believe.

E. Clay Buchanan:
All students, no matter which instructor or school, will shoot the same design of Japanese bow which is little changed from the twelfth century. Traditionally made of hardwoods laminated front and back with bamboo the Japanese bow is one of the longest in the world, usually over seven feet in length. It is a natural double recurve bow with the arrow nocked one third of the way from the bottom and the bow actually rotating in the hand at release approx. 270 degrees. The unique design of the bow requires that the bow actually be torqued or twisted in full draw to make the arrow fly straight

4. The Arrow

Patrick Darden
The arrows are quite a bit longer than ordinary arrows, BECAUSE when the arrow is fully drawn the string is actually BEHIND the archer's ear! A little dangerous for beginners (losing an ear is a very bloody process!), but accidents rarely happen because the teachers are so very careful.

The size of the bow and the length of the arrow depend entirely upon the size of the archer. There are different lengths for different archers. I'm not entirely sure how the bows' lengths are decided upon, but the arrows are made with an eye toward "yazuka," the length from the center of the throat out to the tip of the index finger, following an out-stretched arm. Take this length and add 3-7 centimeters for safety and you have the ideal length for a particular archer's arrow.

Arrows are made with different materials and different heads, with different diameters and slightly different lengths, all for different purposes. There is one arrow head that looks like a "U" that was used in the past to cut ropes or strings. Another looks like a huge bulb and screams when shot, air passes through carefully placed holes in order to produce either a signal or a fright-- they are now used in some religious ceremonies. Distance arrows are longer, narrower of shaft and tip, and lighter of substance (often with carbon fibre shafts); practice arrows are usually stronger, wider, bamboo or aluminum, and possessed of a bullet-like tip; fletching is always made of real feathers, with raptors' being the most highly prized for their ability to cut the wind--sea-eagle is sometimes used, as are hawks, falcons, etc.

5. The Target

Patrick Darden:
Called "mato" these things come in all sizes and patterns. The standard practice target is thirty-six centimeters in diameter and is placed twenty-eight meters from the archer, set nine centimeters up on a moist earth embankment. It has six alternating black and white concentric circles, including the bull's eye. During the new year ceremony, colorful targets of nine and eighteen centimeters in diameter are used instead, some hand painted with scenes from the distant past, and others covered with gold foil. In this ceremony, if you shoot it, you keep it!

6. The Glove

Patrick Darden:
The hand that grips the string is covered with a soft leather glove with raised, stiff, strongly reinforced sections that gripthe string when the hand is slightly twisted. This means that when drawing the arrow, the string is bent at the nock. The glove is very important to Kyudo's style, as without it a whole new method of drawing the bow would have to be invented.

7. The Draw

Patrick Darden:
This is difficult to describe. Basically, it is asymmetrical in that the bow arm is extended first, and much of the draw takes place OVER the archer's head. It is a slow, graceful movement, that is measured by the archer's breath. The spirit of the archer is fully demonstrated by the poise and concentration exhibited during the draw, the release, and the aftermath.
Marie-Antoinette Crivelli:
egs firmly planted on the ground, chest relaxed and open, the head turns slowly toward the target. The long bamboo bow rises, bends and stretches. Suddenly the sound "Eh", and the arrow strikes the target. The archer remains still...

8. The Art

Patrick Darden:
More than half of Kyudo is learning different ceremonies done in tandem with a number of other archers. This is perhaps a leftover from working together in armies. In a normal tournament, groups of six shoot together in perfect coordination, step by step, each archer a half step behind the archer in front of him. Shooting from horseback is still an active practice (although I did not learn this!) and is shown at certain public events like festivals at shrines. When archers turn twenty-one they travel to Kyoto and shoot at the great Buddhist temple Sanjusangendo, in a huge coming of age ceremony. The girls who participate wear incredibly beautiful, brightly colored, ornate formal dresses called kimono, and the boys wear simple yet elegant traditional clothes that bring tuxedos to mind. In 1992 there were (as I remember) fifteen thousand participants. Kyudo is never used to hunt with.
E. Clay Buchanan:
By diligent practice Confucian theory teaches that the archer will become morally good (Zen), and this sincerity of personality will excite the aesthetic sense of anyone watching at an intuitive, emotional level giving the performance a beauty derived not only from the technical skill of the archer but also from the archer's emotional maturity and spiritual sincerity.

9. The Archer

Patrick Darden:
Kyudo archers search for truth. This is their main characteristic. Secondary traits of the beginning successful archer are: sincerity, courage, patience, alertness, and commitment. If a beginner does not search for truth, he does not study Kyudo. If a beginner does search for truth but lacks one of the other characteristics, he has a good chance of gaining it.

10. The Dojo

Patrick Darden:
When you step into the dojo you step into another world. A quiet world composed of just archery. It is a place conducive to peace. The dojo is usually set off from the bustle of people, perhaps in a park, a shrine, or a temple. It is enclosed by walls, and usually girdled round by plants: plum trees, cherry trees, flowering shrubs. One end has a large wooden floor, highly polished and clean, on which the archers stand, or kneel, and shoot. The other end has an embankment of moist dirt wherein the targets are mounted. Both sides are enroofed, and the courtyard between is open to the sky and covered with grass. The seasons are a true part of Kyudo. If it is cold, the archer is cold, if it is hot, the archer is hot. To the side of the wooden floor is a raised dais on which the masters rest.

11. Training:

E. Clay Buchanan:
Students typically begin by practicing visualization: performing the shooting motions with no equipment and then perhaps using the gomuyumi (rubber bow), a short stick with a length of rubber tube attached, to acquire the feel of real bow resistance. The first actual shots are fired into a straw bundle, called a makiwara, from a short distance of about three feet. The student then progresses to target shooting at a fixed regulation distance of 28 meters.
Marie-Antoinette Crivelli:
. . . in basic practice, you shoot in a hay bale placed at a distance of roughly two meters. The target is not important. The beginner first learns a sequence of movements called the seven coordinations. They are precise and flowing gestures that synchronize body and mind in order for the archer to pull the bow and shoot in the proper manner.

12. Styles

E. Clay Buchanan:
Technically, styles can be divided into two broad categories, shamen uchiokoshi and shomen uchiokoshi, the modern shomen uchiokoshi style having been developed by Honda Toshizane. Shamen archers predraw the bow at an angle to the body and fix their grip on the bow before raising it. Shomen archers raise the bow straight over the head and fix their final grip on the bow in a predraw above the head.

13. Schools

E. Clay Buchanan:
There were dozens of traditional schools before World War II and many of them survive today provoking endless debate as to the superiority of one over the other. In fact, some traditional schools still do not use the word kyudo preferring the word kyujutsu instead to describe their teachings. Some styles heavily emphasize the spiritual aspect of shooting and some proponents of Zen Archery view kyudo as a way to further their own spiritual development in Zen Buddhism.

14. Miscellaneous

Patrick Darden:
There is a contest several centuries old wherein seated archers fire as many arrows as they can through a corridor with a low ceiling at a target at the end. This also takes place at Sanjusangendo, the longest temple in Japan, and possibly the longest wooden structure in the world. The distance is 120 meters and the record is somewhere around 14000 arrows that were shot and 13000 hit the target, all in about 24 hours. This was done long ago and is considered superhuman today. The eaves of the temple are shot away by the thousands of arrows that have hit the overhanging beams of the corridor--thick massive cedar beams that have been replaced time and again!
Patrick Darden:
Effective range? A practiced expert is effective at 120 meters, 60 meters is considered the regular long distance event, and 28 meters is the normal practice range. 5 feet (varies according to height of student) is the distance that people stand from the Makiwara--at this range even beginners are *very* effective!!! (Makiwara are targets for developing and maintaining proper style and form.) Effectiveness, however, in Kyudo is not measured by in terms of deadliness. It is, rather, measured in terms of progress.

VI. Credits

Much of this FAQ was the direct result of Tom Utiger and E. Clay Buchanan. They added citations, wrote articles, found problems, proposed solutions, and in general did a good job.

Thanks go to Bill Blohm for his interest and his active part in getting Kyudo added to the Archery FAQ.

I take full credit for whatever mistakes this FAQ contains. If you feel that you have found a mistake, or that a viewpoint is incorrect, e-mail me at and I will either fix it or add your view to the FAQ

eWorld (Apples Online Service) has articles on Kyudo and Western Archery in
the Martial Arts Forum.

Kent Krumvieda
D.B.A.  Wizard Works
eWorld Martial Arts Forum Admin

>From: Pascal Colmaire (
Organization: Canadian Sport & Fitness Admin. CENTRE

Jacques NORMAND, President of the French Traditional Kyudo Federation
(FFKT) - 37 rue Gabriel Peri - 92300 Levallois Perret - France - Tel:
(33) 1 47578647.

ASAHI Archery - Mrs ONUMA - 3.23.3 Minamiotsuka Toshimaku - Tokyoto -
Japan Tel: (81) 3986 2301 or 3971 2046 - Fax: (81) 3986 2302.

Centre Zen "Le Taille" - Maitre Jyoji - La Raille - 07800 Saint Laurent
du Pape - Tel:  (33) 75851039 - Fax:  (33) 75853949

Guillaume FRANCK, President of Europe Kyudo - 53 rue de Lisbone - 75008
Paris - France - tel: (33) 1 42255822

General DIrector of the "Federation de Tir a l'arc du Quebec (FTAQ)
4545 Pierre de Coubertin
Montreal, PQ
H1V 3R2
Ph.: (514) 252.3054     Fax: (514) 252.3165
Note:  Gilbert is one of the main leaders of a Kyudo group in Montreal,
he also can provide information regarding modern archery due to his
professional position

ASAHI Institut
25 rue petion
75011 PARIS
Ph.: (33) 1 43560719

Here is the address of the International Kyudo Federation:
   ZNKR (which means something like Zen Nippon Kyudo Reimi)
   Kishi Memorial Hall
   1-1-1, Jinnan

This is a section of the FAQ for alt.archery. It is maintained by me at the following e-mail address: Comments, flames, etc. on the FAQ are welcome and should be directed to me. Comments on the specifics of the section can be addressed to either me or the person responsible for this section. If addressed to me, I will forward them to the author of the section. If you wish to see this section cross-posted to another group, please e-mail me a request to do so. If I can access that group, then I will so cross-post whenever I post this section.

Terry Trier

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