It is estimated that there are approximately half a million practitioners of kyūdō today.
The changing of society and the military class - the samurai - taking power in the end of the first millennium created a requirement for education in archery. This lead to the birth of several archery schools, such as the mounted archery school Ogasawara-ryū. The need grew dramatically during the so called Genpei war (1180–1185). From the 15th to the 17th century Japan was ravaged by civil war. In the latter part of the 15th century Heki Danjo Masatsugu revolutionized archery and his footman's archery spread rapidly. Many new schools were formed, some of which such as Heki-ryū Chikurin-ha, Heki-ryū Sekka-ha and Heki-ryū Insai-ha remain even today.
The use of bow as a weapon of war came to an end when the first Europeans arrived in Japan in 1542. The bow however remained along side the arquebus for a long time due to its longer reach, accuracy and especially because it was 30–40 times faster. Arquebus however did not require the same amount of training as a bow, so Oda Nobunaga's army consisting mainly out of farmers armed with arquebus annihilated a traditional samurai archer cavalry in a single battle in 1575.
During the Tokugawa-period (1603–1868) Japan was tuned inward as hierarchial cast society in which the samurai were at the top. There was a long time of peace during which the samurai moved to administrative duty, although the traditional fighting skills were still esteemed. During this period archery became a "voluntary" skill, practiced partly in the court in ceremonial form, partly as different kinds of competition. Archery spread also outside the warrior class. The samurai were affected by the straightfoward philosophy and aim for mind control zen-buddhism that was introduced by Chinese monks. Earlier archery had been called kyūjutsu, the skill of bow, but monks acting even as martial arts teachers lead into creation of a new concept – kyūdō.
During the changes brought by Japan opening up to the outside world in the beginning of the Meiji-era (1868–1912) the samurai lost their position. Therefor all martial arts, including kyūdō, grew less in teaching and esteem. In 1896 a group of kyūdō-masters gathered to save the traditional archery. Honda Toshizane, the kyūdō-teacher for the imperial university of Tokio, merged the war- and ceremonial shooting styles creating a hybrid called Honda-ryū. It took however until 1949 before the All Japanese Kyudo Federation (ANKF, jap. Zen Nihon kyūdō renmei) was formed. Guidelines published in 1953 kyūdō kyōhon define how in a competition or graduation archers from different schools can shoot together in unified form.
Kyūdō practice as all budō includes the idea of moral and spiritual development. Today many archers practice kyūdō as a sport, with marksmanship being paramount. However, the goal most devotees of kyūdō seek is seisha seichu, "correct shooting is correct hitting". In kyūdō the unique action of expansion (nobiai) that results in a natural release, is strived for. When the technique of the shooting is correct the result will be for the arrow to arrive in the target. To give oneself completely to the shooting is the spiritual goal, acchieved by perfection of both the spirit and shooting technique leading to munen muso, "no thoughts, no illusions". This however is not Zen, although Japanese bow can be used in Zen-practice or kyūdō practiced by a Zen-master. In this respect, many kyūdō practitioners believe that competition, examination, and any opportunity that places the archer in this uncompromising situation is important, while other practitioners will avoid competitions or examinations of any kind.
Since after the Second World War kyūdō has often being associated with Zen-buddhism. While kyūdō as such remains non-religious, this misinterpretation is a result of a single book Zen in the Art of Archery (1948) by the German author Eugen Herrigel. Herrigel did not speak Japanese and his view on kyūdō was in part due to miscommunication. Even so Herrigel's book, when translated into Japanese in 1956, had a huge impact on perception of kyūdō also in Japan.
Kyūdō Dojos vary in style and design from school to school, and from country to country. In Japan, most dojos have roughly the same layout; an entrance, a large dojo area, typically with a wooden floor and a high ceiling, a position for practice targets (Called "makiwara"), and a large open wall with sliding doors, which, when opened, overlooks an open grassy area and a separate building called a "matoba" which houses a dirt hillock and the targets, placed 28 meters from the dojo floor.
In kyudō there are three kinds of practice (geiko): mitori geiko - receiving with the eyes the style and technique of an advanced archer, kufu geiko - learning and keeping in mind the details of the technique and spiritual effort to realize it and kazu geiko - repetition through which the technique is personified in one's own shooting.
Learning of kyudo starts with a rubber practice bow gomuyumi and by practising the movements of hassetsu. The second step for a beginner is to do karabiki training with a bow without an arrow to learn handling of the bow and performing hassetsu until full draw. Handling and maintenance of the equipment is also part of the training. After given permission by the teacher beginners start practicing with the glove and arrow. Next steps may vary from teacher to teacher, but include practicing first yugamae, then the draw and last release and shooting at makiwara. When beginner is starting to shoot at mato, they may be asked to shoot from half or three-quarters distance from the usual.
Advanced beginners and advanced shooters practise shooting at makiwara, mato and some with omato.
Makiwara is a specially designed straw target (not to be confused with makiwara used in karate). The makiwara is shot at from a very close range (about seven feet, or the length of the archer's strung yumi when held horizontally from the centerline of his body). 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.
Mato is the normal target for most kyudo practitioners. Mato sizes and shooting distances vary, but most common is hoshi mato thirty-six centimeters (or 12 sun, a traditional Japanese measurement equivalent to approximately 3.03 cm) in diameter shot at from a distance of twenty-eight meters. In competitions and graduations hoshi mato is used. For ceremonies it is most common to use kasumi mato which is the same as hoshi mato but with different markings.
Omato is the mato used for long distance enteki shooting at 60 m distance. The diameter of omato is 158 cm. There are separate competitions also for enteki shooting.
The yumi (Japanese bow) is exceptionally tall (standing over two meters), surpassing the height of the archer. Yumi 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. Even advanced kyūdōka may own non-bamboo yumi and ya due to the vulnerability of bamboo equipment to extreme climates. The suitable height for yumi depends from the length of archers draw (yatsuka) which is usually about half the archers height.
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. The length of an arrow is the archers yatsuka plus between 6 to 10 centimeters. 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. Kyūdō archers usually shoot two ya per round, with the haya being shot first. It is often claimed that the alternate spinning direction of the arrows would prevent two consecutive identically shot arrows from flying identically and thus colliding.
The kyūdō archer wears a glove on the right hand called a yugake. There are many varieties of yugake, they are typically made of deerskin. Practitioners can choose between a hard glove (with a hardened thumb) or a soft glove (without a hardened thumb); there are different advantages to both.
With a hard glove, the thumb area is not very flexible and has a pre-made groove used to pull the string (tsuru). With a soft glove, the thumb area is very flexible and is without a pre-made groove, allowing the practitioner to create their own, based on their own shooting habits.
Typically a yugake will be of the three- or four-finger variety. The three fingered version is called a "mitsugake", and the four-fingered version is called a "yotsugake". Typically the primary reason an archer may choose a stronger glove like the yotsugake is to assist in pulling heavier bows. The Three-finger mitsugake is generally used with bows with a pull below 20 kilograms of draw weight, while the four fingered yotsugake are used with bows with a pull above 20 kilograms. This is only a generalization and many schools differ on which glove to use for their bows and glove use often varies from archer to archer and school to school.
The practical reasoning for the extra finger on the glove stems from having more surface area available to the archer for the heavier draws. During the draw, the thumb of the archer is typically placed on the last gloved finger of the drawing hand, with the first (or, in the case of a yotsugake, the first and index fingers) being placed gently on either the thumb or the arrow shaft itself. Sometimes a type of resin powder, called giriko is applied to the thumb and holding finger to assist in the grip during the pull. The extra finger allows for a stronger hold on the thumb, as it is then placed on the third finger of the hand as opposed to the second. Some schools, such as Heki-ryū Insai-ha only use the three-fingered glove, even with bows above 40 kilograms.
The one-finger glove, called an "ippongake" is generally used for beginners and covers only the thumb. some versions have a full wrist covering and others simply cover the thumb with a small strap and snap around the wrist. Because it has no glove over the fingers, it is typically uncomfortable for the archer to use giriko powder. Ippongake are generally not used by advanced archers, and cannot be used in Kyudo Federation competitions.
The five-finger glove, called a morogake is used almost exclusively by Ogasawara Ryu practitioners, and is not typically used in competition or by any other school.
A practitioner's nock and grip of the arrow can be dictated by the glove and bow they are using. It is not uncommon for practitioners who have upgraded or downgraded bow weight to continue to use the same glove and not change.
With the exception of the ippongake the yugake is worn with an underglove called a "shitagake" which made of cotton or synthetic cloth. The shitagake comes in two varieties, three fingered and four fingered, depending on whether it is used under the mitsugake or the yotsugake.
Because of the unique firing technique of kyūdō, protection on the left (bow) arm is not generally required. The bow string, when properly fired, will travel around the bow hand, coming to rest on the outside of the arm. However, on rare occasions a bow hand glove, called a oshidegake is used to protect the hand or wrist from injury, it is similar in design to the yugake, being made of deerskin or leather but it is not built with the same kind of protection as the yugake. Powder made out of burnt rice husks called fudeko is applied to the hand that holds the bow.
Female archers will also wear a chest protector called a "muneate", which is generally a piece of leather or plastic which is designed to protect the breasts from being struck by the tsuru (bowstring) during firing.
Because the yumi is a very strong bow, and repeated firings tends to weaken the tsuru (bowstring), it is not uncommon for a tsuru to break during firing. Because of this, many archers carry a spare bowstring in what is called a tsurumaki (literally "bow string roll"). Traditional tsurumaki are flat yoyo-shaped carriers made of woven bamboo, typically with a leather strap. Recently, however, tsurumaki can also be found made of plastic.
Many archers also have a small container of fudeko attached to the end of the tsurumaki strap, this container is called a "giriko" and is traditionally made out of a deer's horn (though it is cheaper and more practical for modern kyūdōka to have giriko made of plastic).
All kyūdō archers hold the bow in their left hand and draw the string with their right, so that all archers face the higher position (kamiza) while shooting.
Unlike occidental archers (who, with some exceptions, draw the bow never further than the cheek bone), kyūdō archers draw the bow so that the drawing hand is held behind the ear. If done improperly, upon release the string may strike the archer's ear or side of the face.
Resulting from the technique to release the shot, the bow will (for a practised archer) spin in the hand so that the string stops in front of the archer's outer forearm. This action of "yugaeri" is a combination of technique and the natural working of the bow. It is unique to kyūdō.
Kyūdō technique is meticulously prescribed. The All Nippon Kyudo Federation (ANKF), the main governing body of kyūdō in Japan, has codified the hassetsu (or "eight stages of shooting") in the Kyudo Kyohon (Kyudo Manual). The hassetsu consists of the following steps:
While other schools' shooting also conforms to the hassetsu outlined above, the naming of some steps and some details of the execution of the shot may differ.
In Japan, generally the kyū ranks are only really tested for and achieved in high schools and colleges, with adults skipping the kyū ranks and moving straight on to the first dan. Dan testing is infrequent, sometimes occurring as rarely as once or twice a year. It is generally held by the prefecture kyūdō federation and the archer may have to travel to the prefecture capital or a large city to test. Often testing includes many archers and may take as much as 6 to 8 hours to test all of the prospective students. Kyū ranking tests, are more frequent, tend to be held at schools and are not typically subject to difficult travel.
While kyūdō's kyū and dan levels are similar to those of other budō practices, colored belts or similar external symbols of one's level are not worn by kyūdō practitioners.
While kyūdō is primarily viewed as an avenue toward self-improvement, there are often kyūdō competitions or tournaments whereby archers practice in a competitive style. These tournaments often involve kyūdōka from all ranks and grades, including high school, college and adult schools. Competition is usually held with a great deal more ceremony than the standard dojo practice. In addition to the hassetsu, the archer must also perform an elaborate entering procedure whereby the archer will join up to four other archers to enter the dojo, bow to the judges, step up to the back line known as the honza and then kneel in a form of seiza known as kiza. The archers then bow to the mato in unison, stand, and take three steps forward to the shai line (firing line), and kneel again. The archers then move in lock-step fashion through the hassetsu, each archer standing and firing one after another at the respective targets, kneeling between each shot, until they have exhausted their supply of arrows (Generally four).
In Japanese kyūdō competition, an archer fires 4 arrows in two sets, placing one pair of arrows at his or her feet and retaining the second pair at the ready. He or she first fires the haya clasping the otoya tightly with his firing hand's pinky finger. He then waits until the other archers fire, then he loads the otoya and fires. Once all the archers have fired, the archer will then pick up the second pair of arrows at his feet and repeat the process, starting with the second flight's haya. During normal competition, this process is done with the archers standing, however, the complete firing procedure includes having the archer kneel in kiza while waiting between each shot.
For each hit on the mato, the archer gets a "maru" (circle) mark. For each miss, the archer gets a "batsu" (X) mark. The goal is to fire all four arrows and strike the target.
Many Japanese high schools and colleges have kyūdō clubs (called "kyūdō bukatsu") in which students gather after regular classes to practice kyūdō. Recently kyūdō bukatsu have begun appearing in junior high schools as well, but it is generally thought of as dangerous to start practicing kyūdō until high school due to the extreme danger of the sport. Because of the maturity needed in both mind and body to handle a bow and arrow, the Japanese culture tends to prevent teaching kyūdō until the age of 15 or 16.
Mounted archery (Yabusame)
In addition to the major traditions, there are many more recent and often more spiritual schools that are active outside Japan.
WIPO ASSIGNS PATENT TO SIEMENS FOR "APPARATUS FOR SEPARATING FLAT ARTICLES BY MEANS OF TWO LATERALLY OFFSET SEPARATORS" (GERMAN INVENTORS)
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