Katja and Christopher Triplett (edited and completed by Hans Geissberger)

Nowadays Kyudo is practiced by thousands of people all over the world for mental training and spiritual development. The simple elegance of the movements, the beauty of the yumi - 弓 (bow), the ya - 矢 (arrows) and the atmosphere of peace and dignity that prevails in the dojo - 道場 (practice site) exert a great fascination on those who want to walk the path of self-knowledge. Because the beginning of the walk on the path of Kyudo - 弓道 (path of the bow) is at the same time the beginning of the journey of knowledge, where one learns to see with new eyes and hear with new ears. Seen from the outside, Kyudo seems to be archery. Drawing the bow and then shooting at the target is like a test of skill, but Kyudo is not a sport. To discover the true essence of Kyudo, one must look inward and cut through and transcend any preoccupation, be it worries, hopes, doubts or fears, by hitting the target. Though the Kyudo form has been changed and refined over the centuries, it has been divided into different Ryu - 流 (teachings) and these in turn into Ha -派 (subgroups) according to the Kata - 形 (style) and specifics of Waza - 技 (technique). The essence of the true Kyudo practice, however, always remains the same: it is Ritsu Zen - 立禅 (Zen standing).

The development of the bow

The fertile soil in which the Japanese bowed path grew to become what we know today is composed of different layers of the spiritual traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto and Buddhist teachings. At different times, these traditions came from the mainland to the Japanese archipelago, where they were inextricably intertwined with the indigenous fabric of thought in a very specific, "typically Japanese" way. Of course, not only religious ideas and practices and models for social organization came to Japan from China and Korea, but also countless material cultural assets. Thus the prototype of the asymmetrical bow was probably not invented in the archipelago, but was introduced to Japan in the 3rd century B.C. with the bearers of the Yayoi culture.
These immigrant ethnic groups of clearly Mongolian origin used bows and arrows mainly in warlike conflicts over land and water rights. They mixed to a certain extent with the local Jomon people, who in turn had brought with them knowledge of pottery making, hunting with bow and arrow and other cultural achievements from the mainland (from about 10,000 BC onwards). The excavated Jomon and Yayoi bows, as well as the bows of the Ainu ethnic group, who were later pushed into the north of Japan, are made of a single piece of wood, i.e. so-called stick bows, in contrast to the much more elastic and stable composite bows or reflex bows, which only gradually appeared in Japan at the beginning of the 11th century. Here, too, one can assume that the knowledge of the composite bow came from China. The significance of the invention of the bow for the history of mankind could well be compared with the harnessing of fire. It is interesting to note that the bow, whether as a weapon of war and hunting, as a drill for fire, as a prototype of the stringed or plucked instrument or as a ritual object, was invented independently in the various continents.

The bow as a weapon

For warfare, not only in Japan, especially the mounted archers were of extraordinary importance. At the beginning of the battle, they were able to inflict devastating losses on the enemy who was still far away, all over the country and within seconds. Archers were also used during sieges and sea battles.
Today's Japanese bow, the yumi, is not only unique because of its asymmetrical shape, but also because it is the longest bow in the world, averaging 2.3 metres. Its toughness and durability on the one hand, and its sensitivity and tendency to change on the other, are most vividly comparable to a wooden musical instrument, such as a handmade violin.

The magic bow

In Japan, however, the bow was not only used as a practical weapon for capturing animals or killing people, but also as a ritual and cult object. In fact, plucking the bowstring is part of the ancient ritual of shamanesses in Japan, which serves them to put themselves in a state of receptivity to messages from the afterlife.
The magical Azusa-Yumi is made of catalpe (azusa) or cherry and coloured with urushi (lacquer), decorated with gold leaf and silk cords. This can be traced back to an ancient Chinese magical tradition, which has to do with soothing the souls of the dead. Every 20 years 59 Azusa-Yumi are offered in the great Shrein of Ise. There are 29 vermilion and 30 black. Vermilion stands for male energy and black for female energy. The Ise-Shrein is Japan's most important Shinto-Shrein with the seat of the god Amaterasu Omi-Kami. The last time this took place was in 2013.
About 700 years ago, a demon appeared in the Imperial Palace. It came in at night and made the emperor ill. The distinguished archer Yorimasa Minamoto was sent to the palace. He came on a full moon night, because the demon only made himself known at night by his call. He spotted him on the roof of the temple and fired. Hit, the bird fell into the white sand and red blood appeared in the moon's light. To be on the safe side, Yorumasa shot a second arrow. The Emperor regained his health and Yorimasa was promoted. This was the origin of the Hama-yumis. Since that legendary event, Yorimasa's family with the clan name Shibata has been in the service of the emperor.
Furthermore, the Hama-Yumi, the "evil destroying bow", is used in numerous ceremonies in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines (e.g. Shihobarai) and, placed in the niche of honour or on the house shrine, protects private households from evil influences.

From the technique to the archway

Confucianism taught archery as a suitable form for the formation of the perfect personality. This teaching had already found enthusiastic approval in the aristocratic circles in the 4th century. Although the contact between Japan and China broke off for some time in the 9th century for political reasons, the influence of Chinese thinking about the world order, about the harmony of heaven, man and earth to be striven for, continued to influence Japanese archery. The Shogun Yoritomo did his utmost to train his warriors more efficiently. He instructed Ogasawara Nagakiyo to teach a new way of archery on horseback, the famous Yabusame. This was also the start of the Ogasawara Ryu or Ogasawara School. Takeda, the founder of the Takeda-Ryu, and Ogasawara were both descendants of the founding father of the first archery school in Japan ever: Henmi Kiyomitsu (The name of his school is Henmi-Ryu).
During the period when the Shogunate was located in the city of Kamakura (1185 - 1333), the samurai adopted the methods and teachings of Zen Buddhism. Zen or meditation Buddhism had just been introduced from China by the monks Dogen (founder of the Soto School) and Eisai (founder of the Rinzai School). The Zen monks' concept of unconditional devotion to the master and their emphasis on strict ascetic practices, which focus on the direct, intuitive experience of the non-dual nature of reality, found great interest and imitation among the warriors. The new Zen practices allowed them to perform their duties more effectively and to go into battle unmoved by hope and fear. Only much later, however, did the Zen aspect of practicing with the bow come to full maturity.
One of the most influential archers is the legendary master Heki Danjo Masatsugu (ca. 1443 - 1502). His shooting technique, which was revealed to him in the form of a flash of inspiration, was downright revolutionary and quickly spread among the archers. In the course of time, many "new schools", Heki-Ryu subgroups were formed, some of which still exist today (Sekka-ha and Insai-ha). The Chikurin-ha was founded by Heki Yazaemon Noritsugu, who possibly came from the same family as Heki Danjo Masatsugu.
Although the samurai initially regarded European firearms with disgust, from the 16th century onwards, initially in the form of Portuguese muskets, they replaced the bow as a weapon of war. Some efforts were made, such as the introduction of a sports-oriented archery competition (Toshiya - 通し矢) at the Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto, to preserve the bow as a weapon. Nevertheless the days of the war bow were numbered. This is the reason why the emphasis in archery practice was ultimately placed on mental training and character building, especially since the centuries under the Tokugawa shoguns were a comparatively peaceful time.
The term Kyujutsu continued to exist until the Edo period (1600 - 1868), although Morikawa Kozan, founder of the modern Yamato Ryu, first mentioned the term "Kyudo" as early as 1660.

The bow path in modern times

In 1868, the year of the quasi-forced opening of Japan and the reinstatement of the emperor (tenno) as an active political ruler, the imperial government attempted to abolish the "warrior ways" (Bushido). However, the attempt was not very successful. At the same time, the samurai status, which had been state-bearing until then, was dissolved.
Around the turn of the century another reformer entered the stage of the Kyudo events: Honda Toshizane (1836 -1917). He himself learned Kyudo in the Edo period in the Heki ryu Bishu chikurin ha. After the Meiji Restoration (1868) many samurai turned away from the Budo (martial arts paths), also Kyudo almost died out. Honda did not want to be satisfied with this and taught at various schools and universities in the Tokyo area since about 1890. With his new practice, which combined the warrior style (Chikurin ha) and the ceremonial style (Ogasawara ryu with Yabusame) into a single unit that included a central lifting of the bow (Shomen), he initially met with fierce resistance from the old schools. But in the form of a new school, the Honda Ryu, it found acceptance with the general public. So this form spread quickly and paved the way for the form that is today declared as Shomen style to be the standard by the ANKF. In the thirties the Great Japanese Association of Warrior Virtues (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai) tried to establish practice standards for Kyudo, which succeeded in 1934.

After the defeat of the Second World War, the martial arts were initially banned under pressure from the USA. Since the re-admission in 1952, the classical martial arts, which are organized in associations, have been openly accessible to everyone, and for the first time also to women, regardless of their financial situation. Since 1946, most schools have belonged to the All-Japan Kyudo Federation (Zen Nihon Kyudo Renmei), which in 1953 established practice standards according to which the members, also in the groups outside Japan, are guided. In May 2006 the "International Kyudo Federation" (IKYF) was founded in Kyoto.
The Heki ryu Bishu chikurin ha does not belong to any of these organizations, because the Shibatas reject a ranking system in their school and a meditation practice does not require a dan examination.
Today the number of Kyudo practitioners is estimated to be about half a million.

A Spiritual Path

Kyudo is not a religious practice, yet it is strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism and Shinto. The ceremonial aspects, the etiquette and the respect paid to the bow, the arrows and the place of practice (dojo) are to be seen as reflections of Shinto thinking. So while the outer forms of kyudo are very similar to Shinto ritual, which in turn incorporates elements of court archery from the Chinese tradition, the heart of kyudo is connected to Zen philosophy and the concept of Dao, which has been melted into it.
In the Zen teachings it is said that our true self is hidden under thick layers of habitual thought patterns, self-deception and ego. We live in a dream world that we have fabricated ourselves. The goal of Zen practices is to remove these layers of illusion and ego so that we can free ourselves from the dualistic attitude. This attitude prevents us from recognizing our own true nature and living in harmony with ourselves and others - the entire universe.
In zazen - 座禅 (sitting meditation) one strives to unite body and mind by paying attention to the breath and maintaining a certain sitting posture. Kyudo as "active Zen" includes the same concept of the merging of mind, breath and posture. Thus the experience of Zen can be helpful for understanding the essence and philosophy of Kyudo.
For serious practitioners, Kyudo is a way of life; there is no separation between Kyudo practice and the activities of daily life. Every arrow is shot as if it were the only one, just as every moment is the actual and ultimate one. The bowman (Kyudoka/-jin) does not look at the target to see if he has hit, but inwards, because the target is understood as a mirror of myself. And if the heart is set correctly, each shot wipes away a little more of the clouds that obscure our view of our true nature.