The two messages below first appeared in the Koryu section under the heading "book review." So that more people might notice Yamada's article, I am reposting them here.
Posted by W.Bodiford on 04-09-2001 07:29 PM
If you are interested in Herrigel's Zen and the Art of Archery, be sure to read the following article:
Yamada Shoji. 2001. "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 28, nos. 1-2.
This issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies should be available in the libraries of major research universities (and via inter-library loan) in a month or so.
Yamada's essay (which Earl Hartman translated into English as a selfless act of devotion to kyudo) explains how Herrigel's teacher came to create an odd new religion that had no relationship to Zen, how Herrigel came to misunderstand his teacher's archery as a form of Zen, and how that misunderstanding has been uncritically accepted by students of Japanese culture.
Yamada's article will become a classic account of the misunderstanding of Japan. I highly recommend it.
Posted by Earl Hartman on 04-10-2001 01:33 PM
Zen In The Art Of Archery is worth reading, so long as one goes into it with one's eyes open, but it is hard to imagine a book that would be worse as an introduction to kyudo as it is generally practiced in Japan. I speak from experience: Herrigel was one of my motivations for beginning kyudo, and it is only after many years of personal practice and independent research that I came to realize how skewed his presentation of kyudo was. I will not say completely mistaken; rather, his presentation deliberately concentrated on his (erroneous) understanding of the spiritual content of the practice to the exclusion of any disucssion of the practical side to what he was doing. The result is a lopsided discussion that does not do justice to the reality of kyudo training.
There are many things in the book that are interesting and valuable, but as far as kyudo is concerned, the book is quite worthless if by reading it one intends to get an understanding of what kyudo is all about. Taken out of context, Herrigel's pronouncements about the nature of kyudo are dangerously misleading; and a solid grounding in kyudo practice under competent instruction is a must if one is to understand, and properly evaluate, what Herrigel is talking about. A reader with no practical experience in kyudo will inevitably develop a completely distorted image of kyudo if he relies on Herrigel alone.
If one knows nothing about kyudo and wants to get a clear, objective, and balanced introduction to the art, the best book for this purpose is "Kyudo; The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery" by Onuma and DeProspero. There are other English language books on the subject, but they are, for the most part, quite flawed. The Onuma/DeProspero book is, by far, the single best English-language book on the subject, bar none.
Upthread, Professor Bodiford spoke about an article by Professor Yamada Shoji entitled "The Myth of Zen In The Art Of Archery". This article is a concise and dispassionate critique of Herrigel's work, and is, in my opinion, required reading for anyone seriously interested in understanding the true nature of Herrigel's "contribution" to the (mis)understanding of kyudo in the West.
The translated article can be found at the following URL:
I should also point out that although I did the original translation, Professor Bodiford did the editing, without which the article would not be anywhere nearly as readable as it is.
Dept. of Asian Languages & Cultures