View Full Version : Kyudo/Kyujutsu Koryu

Mike Praskey
7th August 2000, 01:10
Is anyone here familar with or just Knowledgable about any
kinds of Koryu Kyu-jutsu styles ? I've heard a little bit
about the Heki-ryu but I was never sure if it was Koryu or
a transitional style.

Earl Hartman
7th August 2000, 16:50
The Heki Ryu is said to have been founded by a man named Heki Danjo Masatsugu, who lived around the time of the Onin War (ca. 1477). Some scholars believe that he was a fictional character, but the late Ishioka Hisao, a respected kyudo historian, and other scholars make a convincing case that he actually existed. In any case, it is a historically verifiable fact that his teachings were carried on by the Yoshida family, members of which were responsible for establishing many different branches of the school, such as the Sekka-ha, the Dosetsu-ha, the Insai-ha, and others. Many of these schools still exist in some form or other. The Heki Ryu Chikurin-ha, another Heki school, was supposedly founded by Chikurinbo Josei, a priest of the Shingon sect . The Chikurin-ha is still active in the Nagoya area and other places.

Modern kyudo was synthesized after WWII from the elements common to all of the traditional schools. The Chikurin influence, at least from a philosophical point of view, is strong. Most of the traditional schools share many common elements since they originally sprang from the same source. Elements of the Ogasawara Ryu, which predates the Heki Ryu by several hundred years, were also included in this synthesization. Most archers in Japan today practice the synthesized form, but many also practice the traditional forms, and there are various preservation societies that manitain the study iof the traditional methods. My teacher, for instance, holds a very high position in the All Nippon Kyudo Federation, the national federation that oversees kyudo activity in Japan; but in her private dojo she primarily teaches the traditional Insai-ha method. There is a good deal less incompatibility than one might think; modern kyudo was not made up out of whole cloth, but simply amalgamated existing elements and emphasized certain ceremonial and spiritual aspects of archery that had always been present in the practice. Japanese archery has always been a synthesis of the military and the ceremonial; even the most martial schools had ceremonial forms which, while not suited for the battlefield, were used for formal ceremonial occasions. It is this aspect that is more emphasized today.

Traditional martial applications of kyudo are still taught today. Equestrian archery (yabusame) is still actively practiced by the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu, and the Satsuma Heki Ryu still actively practices what is called koshiya kumi-yumi, battlefield archery where the archers shoot in tight formations while dressed in full armor. However, one cannot practice the Satsuma Heki Ryu if one is not at least a 5th degree black belt in modern kyudo.


Mike Praskey
7th August 2000, 17:33
Much appreicated. I've studied other martial arts before but
as far as Kyudo is concerned I'm almost completely ignorant.
I'm about to leave for Japan in roughly two weeks and I'll
be in Kyoto for at least a year. (longer if I can manage it.) I'm intrested in getting involved in Kyudo, preferably a style that emphsizes military technique if at all possible. What would your advice be to a novice like
myself ?

Earl Hartman
7th August 2000, 18:06

Finding a traditional school that emphasises military technique will be quite problematic, I think. As I said, even those people who practice traditional scools have a solid grounding in modern kyudo. As far as I know, the only school which emphasizes battlefield archery as practiced by foot soldiers is the Satsuma Heki Ryu, and they are in Kyushu. Also, you cannot learn that method without solid grounding in how to shoot a bow first. This is why a person must be at least a 5th dan in regular kyudo before being accepted as a member of that school. A year is not enough time for that; even in a best case scenario, achieving a 5th dan in kyudo will take at least 5-7 years if not longer. If you were to begin kyudo in Kyoto the minute you stepped off the plane you might be able to get a 2nd dan in conventional kyudo in a year's time if you practiced very hard (as in every day). While the Ogasawara Ryu specializes in equestrian archery, they also teach foot archery, but they appear to emphasize formal archery as practiced at court. I do not know if they teach battlefield archery. From what little I know of them I doubt it.

There may be some teachers of traditional schools which are not associated with the All Nippon Kyudo Federation. I have no idea how one would go about finding such teachers, however. There is a group in Tsukuba University, in Chiba, I think (near Tokyo) which prctices Heki To Ryu kyudo as taught by the late Inagaki Genshiro Sensei, but I do not know much about them.

I suggest that you contact the All Nippon Kyudo Federation in Tokyo. They should be able to direct you. The address is:

All Nippon Kyudo Federation
Jinnan 1-1-1, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan

In Japan: (03)3481-2387
From the US: 011-81-3-3481-2387

Good luck.


Mike Praskey
7th August 2000, 22:19

That's about what I expected. Though I'm trying
to find ways to extend my stay in Japan, I realize
that I probably won't be able find exactly what I'm
looking for anytime in the near future. On the other
hand, what I think I can do is lay the ground work
for a later date. What I am hoping to do in the coming year is gather as much information as I can so that when I
(hopefully) make my residence more or less permanent some
time in the future, I'll have a better idea of what's out there.
I admit to being a little curious though, your comments
make it sound as if the basic technique of drawing and shooting the bow is very similar despite the stylistic diffrences between indvidual schools, enough so that a background in modern Kyudo is an asset rather then the liablity it might be when " crossing over " in some other
arts. If that's the case, maybe I should just worry about getting involved and worry about the complicated things
down the line.

Earl Hartman
7th August 2000, 22:55

My guess is that learning modern kyudo will be much more of an asset than a hinderance. I have watched the Satsuma Heki Ryu in action, and the main difference between what they do and what modern kyudo archers do is that they simply shoot much faster. The mechanics of the draw are, in their fundamentals, very much the same. On thing that is different is that rather than wearing helmets they wear hats called eboshi, which do not interfere with the path of the string as the bow is drawn. Consequently, they can draw the arrow to the cheek, as is done in modern kyudo. In actual battle, however, archers would be wearing helmets, and the cheek and neck armor would make it impossible to draw the arrow to the cheek. Thus, the arrow was drawn either to the chin or to the chest. There are many old pictures showing this method. Heki Danjo, for instance, is shown drawing the bow that way. While I am interested in looking into whether or not anyone still shoots the bow like this any more (this is never seen in modern kyudo) I have not made any concerted efforts in this direction.


Mike Praskey
7th August 2000, 23:25

Very intresting, I'll keep that in mind and try to make
some inqueries when I get there to see if there are people
still practicing that form of Kyudo. If nothing else it
would be intresting to know. Thanks for all your help.


Earl Hartman
8th August 2000, 00:11

Let me know what you find out. Work and family prevent me from undertaking a research trip at this time.


11th August 2000, 00:35
I have a question for Hartman-dono. I am reading a book called "Nihonshi Kohyakka-Budo" by Tokyodo Shuppan and am browsing through its sister-book "Bushi". Maybe you are familiar with them. It is a compilation of essays by academics and researchers (alot of whom seem to be alumus of Kokugakuin Daigaku somehow, but anyway) on a variety of topics. It is quite comprehensive in that it covers ancient warfare, works through Yayoi, and gets more detailed from there. They have several articles and mentions of Kyujutsu, Kyubajutsu, etc., incluing many of the more well known schools (such as Heki and its branches). As resources they used many japanese texts (oogles might be a more appropriate word), so, instead of tracking all of these down to get a look at whether they are what i am looking for, i was wondering if you had any recommendations for books that covered Kyujutsu and/or Kyubajutsu fairly comprehensively? Ican always run down to Takayama Honten and check the shelves or request a search. Thanks.

Greg Ellis
Grandmaster of Strawberry Cheesecake-Ryu

11th August 2000, 04:17

Does anyone in Japan teach Hankyû that you know of?

In the Bujinkan, were suppossed to learn Kyûjutsu which includes Hankyû and Kishajutsu. Its part of Togakure-ryû Ninjutsu and Kukishin-ryû Happô Bikenjutsu, but its not taught actively in the Bujinkan :cry:

I wonder how different it is from Kyûdô? :confused:


Earl Hartman
11th August 2000, 16:47

There are two books on kyujutsu/kyudo that I can recommend:

"Gendai Kyudo Koza", published by Yuuzankaku Publishing. This is a set of seven volumes that covers various aspects of kyudo. You must buy the whole set, but I don't remember how much I paid for it. It is very comprehensive, and is a newer version of an older 12 volume set called Kyudo Koza, I believe. I do not know if this older set is still available; I do know that it is available for viewing, at least, at the Diet Library. If Takayama Honten could find a set of these I would be most interested; but I get the impression that a full set is extremely rare and would, as a consequence, be prohibitively expensive.

The other book is "Kinsei Nihon Kyujutsu No Hatten" by the late Ishioka Hisao. It is published by the Tamagawa Daigaku Publishing Division, I think. This is an excellent volume on the development of the Heki Ryu and all of its branches. It is very concise and presents a detailed analysis of the historicity of Heki Danjo. A really excellent resource if you are heavily into sudying about kyujutsu/kyudo. It even has complete lineages for all of the major branches of the Heki Ryu, some extending up to the very recent past.

Hope this helps. If you find any neat stuff at Takayama Honten, let me know. I am always on the lookout for anything about kyudo.


Earl Hartman
11th August 2000, 17:00

I don't know anything about the Bujinkan and its curriculum, therefore I am not competent to comment in any authoritative way on any differences between archery as taught there and modern kyudo.

The only thing I can say is that the use of the hankyu (half-bow, or short bow) is not taught in modern kyudo. The bushi normally did not use short bows, and from what very little I know about it, I get the impression that this might have been more of an assassin's weapon, or perhaps a self-defense weapon that might have been carried when it was not feasible to carry a longbow (such as when travelling in a covered sedan chair).

I heard from a friend of mine in Japan who is/was a member of the Bujinkan that he saw the sensei there (I don't know what his name is) shooting at moving targets with a short bow. I have heard that up until Meiji kyudo archers would sometimes shoot at moving targets or would stand in front of a line of targets in full draw and shoot at different targets in response to shouted commands; but this is no longer done in modern kyudo. As I said, I know very little about the actual practice methods of the older ryu, and since modern kyudo has no martial application any more and is not taught that way, I have seen nothing like this in my own practice. Modern kyudo consists of standing (or sometimes kneeling) and shooting at stationary targets at distances of 30 or 60 meters using a longbow.

As far as kishajutsu (mounted archery) is concerned, the only two schools that I know of that still teach this are the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu. Since I know nothing about ninjutsu, I have no idea if this would bear any resemblance to any ninjutsu-style mounted archery method.


11th August 2000, 18:52
Originally posted by Earl Hartman

I don't know anything about the Bujinkan and its curriculum, therefore I am not competent to comment in any authoritative way on any differences between archery as taught there and modern kyudo.

The only thing I can say is that the use of the hankyu (half-bow, or short bow) is not taught in modern kyudo. The bushi normally did not use short bows, and from what very little I know about it, I get the impression that this might have been more of an assassin's weapon, or perhaps a self-defense weapon that might have been carried when it was not feasible to carry a longbow (such as when travelling in a covered sedan chair).

Thanks for the info Earl! I have also heard (where I forget) that the hankyû was also used indoors due to the low ceilings. Just wondering if you heard anything about this too?

I heard from a friend of mine in Japan who is/was a member of the Bujinkan that he saw the sensei there (I don't know what his name is) shooting at moving targets with a short bow. I have heard that up until Meiji kyudo archers would sometimes shoot at moving targets or would stand in front of a line of targets in full draw and shoot at different targets in response to shouted commands; but this is no longer done in modern kyudo. As I said, I know very little about the actual practice methods of the older ryu, and since modern kyudo has no martial application any more and is not taught that way, I have seen nothing like this in my own practice. Modern kyudo consists of standing (or sometimes kneeling) and shooting at stationary targets at distances of 30 or 60 meters using a longbow.

Sounds very interesting, would love to try shooting at the duckies for a prize :D

As far as kishajutsu (mounted archery) is concerned, the only two schools that I know of that still teach this are the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu. Since I know nothing about ninjutsu, I have no idea if this would bear any resemblance to any ninjutsu-style mounted archery method.

Ok thanks again, I'll have to look into that! As far as the differences, there can't be much. Just digging, thanks again!

12th August 2000, 00:09
Thanks for the info. I am going down to Takayama tommorrow or next Sunday, and will ask the owner if he has any other nice books on the topic. If i find anything i will let you know (the name AND the price). Thanks again.

Shihan Greg Ellis
14th Headmaster of Greasy-Spoon-Izakaya Ryu (Unacknowledged) National Living Treasure

Stéphan Thériault
12th December 2000, 02:20
I've read a few of the Osprey military books dealing with the samurai, as well as some of Stephen Tunrbull's books. And I have to ask, what tactics did they used for mounted archers? I am especially wonderering about the Sengoku-jidai period. None of these books really ever get into the types of tactics used. I am wondering; considering their earlier experience with the mongols, wether there mounted tactics were influenced by them in any way?

Any info is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

12th December 2000, 05:53
Are you referring to the techniques used by mounted archers, or against them? Sorry, it's late..:)

Aaron Fields
12th December 2000, 18:40
The Japanese exposure to Mongol mounted tactics was minimal, as the invading armies were not largely composed of Mongols (they were conscripts.) Them there Mongols were at home doin' Mongol stuff, which is not sailing. “Why walk, when there is a horse?”

ben johanson
12th December 2000, 19:48

First of all, mounted archery was almost none existant on the battlefields of the Sengoku period, so there really aren't any tactics to speak of during that time. In fact, when Shimazu Toyohisa carried a bow with him into the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, it was considered so unusual for the time that a chronicler of the battle took particular note of it.

That said, I have to ask the same question as Soulend: which tactics do you mean? Those used by mounted archers or against mounted archers?

I do know that by the Mongol invasions the Japanese were given an impetus to rely more on fighting on foot. Their antiquated tactics of mounted archery proved rather ineffective against the Mongol armies, forcing the samurai to dismount and engage them in close hand-to-hand combat. Many scholars believe that the Mongol invasions were really what jump-started the developement of swordsmanship because the sword assumed a much more important and expanded role in the sruggle than it ever had before.

Meik Skoss
12th December 2000, 21:14
As Aaron (hi, Aaron! Are we gonna meet at Kagami Biraki in January?) says, most of the invading forces in the Mongols' army were Chinese and Korean conscripts. Yes, some Mongols came along, with their horses and bows 'n arrows, but most of the other guys were forced to participate.

If you're interested in mounted archery, probably the only thing to do is look at yabusame. It's not really *tactics*, so much as it is *technique* for shooting from horseback. I rather doubt that there's anybody doing formation shooting these days, at least while mounted. Dismounted yumi guys're training down in Kumamoto, moving and firing in formation, but it's a completely different style of shooting. Withal, it's really neat stuff. The name of the style was Nihon-ryu if I remember correctly; it's been a good fifteen to twenty years since I saw it.

So, for mounted archery, Ogasawara-ryu. For archery on foot you probably want to look at the old-timey Heki-ryu guys if there are any still around. Most of the Heki-ryu is pretty much the same as standard kyudo nowadays, with little or no effort being made to preserve "battlefield" techniques.

Stéphan Thériault
13th December 2000, 00:28
Thank you all for your replies. What I meant by tactics, was simply the way in which the mounted archer would have been used historically. For exemple would they have been used as front line troops, or more as skirmishers to harass the enemy lines?

Earl Hartman
13th December 2000, 05:07

The bows `n` armor guys down in Kumamoto are the Satsuma Heki Ryu. Their school is originally based on the teachings of Issuiken Insai (originally Yoshida Genpachiro Shigeuiji), founder of the Insai-ha of the Heki Ryu. As you say, seriously cool stuff. According to what I was told when I went down and visited them, their use of organized formations and alternating volley shooting was instituted by the lord of Shimazu (Nariaki, I think) about 200 years ago and is based on European battlefield musket drill (French, I think).

Their technique consists of two distinct elements: "sashiya", or long distance shooting where the archers lay down a covering barrage to allow their spearmen to advance on the enemy, and "koshiya", close distance shooting, where the archers form ranks and advance on the enemy as they fire in turns, eventually reaching the enemy lines, where, after firing their last arrows, they use their bows, the upper tips of which were apparently fitted with something resembling a spear point, as thrusting weapons.

Yabusame is presently practiced by the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu.

I have never heard of the Nihon Ryu. Draeger mentions it in his first book, but I`m fairly certain that he was referring to the Yamato Ryu (written with the characters for Nihon, but read as "Yamato"), which, according to what I have read, is one of the names for a semi-mythical ancient school for which there is no hard historical evidence.

Karl Friday
13th December 2000, 20:38
Originally posted by Stéphan Thériault
I've read a few of the Osprey military books dealing with the samurai, as well as some of Stephen Tunrbull's books. And I have to ask, what tactics did they used for mounted archers? I am especially wonderering about the Sengoku-jidai period. None of these books really ever get into the types of tactics used. I am wondering; considering their earlier experience with the mongols, wether there mounted tactics were influenced by them in any way?

The combination of weak bows, sturdy armor and arrows carried in numbers too few to permit any to be wasted forced the early samurai to shoot only at very close range-usually ten meters or less-and to target with precision the gaps and weak points in the armor of specific opponents. The combination of puny mounts, awkward, weighty armor, and the rarity of open terrain would have precluded the sweeping charges and feigned retreats favored by the warriors of the Asian steppe--such as the Mongols--even if the samurai had wished to fight that way.

Instead therefore, Japanese warriors developed a distinctive, somewhat peculiar form of light cavalry tactics that involved individuals and small groups circling and maneuvering around one another in the hopes of getting a shot at an enemy from an angle at which he could not return fire.

The angle of approach was, in fact, a key consideration, because the bowman could shoot only to his left side, along an arc of roughly 45 degrees, from the ten or eleven o'clock to about the nine o'clock position. Attempting to shoot at a sharper angle to the front would result in either bumping the horse's neck with the bow or bowstring, or spooking the mount when the arrow was released and flew too close to his face. Attempting to shoot at a sharper angle to the rear would have twisted the archer right out of his saddle. And shooting the lengthy Japanese bow to the right of the horse's neck would have called for the flexibility of a contortionist.

Accordingly, the tactics for combat between mounted samurai bore an intriguing resemblance to those of dogfighting aviators. In this sort of fighting, horsemanship often counted for as much as marksmanship, as Oba Kageyoshi's report of his encounter with Minamoto Tametomo during the Hogen Conflict (1156) illustrates:

"Tametomo was a bowman without peer in our realm. . . . For this reason when . . . I found myself facing his left side and he attempted to draw his bow . . . I galloped around to his right side and rode past him, below his bow sights. Thus the arrow he meant for my body struck my knee instead. Had I not known this trick, I surely would have lost my life. A stalwart needs only to be expert at horsemanship."

The political structure and the composition of armies in early medieval Japan further determined the tactical options available: Heian and Kamakura era armies were temporary, irregular assemblages, constructed through complex private military networks. Warriors knit together needed forces by calling on the members of small core bands of fighting men, subordinate allies, and (unless the conflict was a purely private affair) military officers of provincial governments. This arrangement offered commanders few, if any, opportunities to drill with their troops in large-scale, coordinated group tactics, and mitigated against fielding disciplined and well-articulated armies.

Instead, tactical cooperation devolved to smaller units and components. The fighting men who composed these monadic organizations lived and trained in close proximity to one another, honing their skills through a variety of regimens and competitive games. Hence they were able to coordinate and cooperate on the battlefield, and to harmonize their actions to those of close associates with an impressive degree of discipline and fluidity. The result was that early medieval battles tended to be aggregates of smaller combats: melees of archery duels and brawls between small groups, punctuated by general advances and retreats, and by volleys of arrows launched by bowmen on foot, protected by portable walls of shields.

Light cavalry dominated the warfare of the tenth to thirteenth centuries. But by the sixteenth century it had all-but disappeared from Japanese battlefields. By this time samurai armies were built around light infantry augmented by heavy cavalry and heavy infantry. The sequence and timing of the evolutions that led to this very dramatic shift has become a topic of wide-ranging debate among a handful of scholars. To date, very little has emerged by way of new consensus, but the broad outline of developments does seem clear enough to permit the conclusion that mounted archery began to fall out of favor with politically-determined changes to the composition and organization of armies and the objectives of war.

Stéphan Thériault
14th December 2000, 02:21
Thank you mr.Friday, that pretty much answered all the questions I had.

1st April 2002, 18:00
I have just recieved two unstrung yumi. Could someone give me an idea of the lenght of string, and where I could purchase them from.



J. A. Crippen
2nd April 2002, 11:08
Is the length and size of the yumi used in kyudo the same as the yumi used as the samurai's primary weapon in the early times when mounted archery was the norm on the battlefield? Or has it undergone structural changes after being used for some time in a more 'philosophical' manner?

I was just looking at a picture in one of Draeger's books and was struck by how inconveniently large the yumi used today in kyudo must have been on horseback. This prompted me wondering whether the yumi in earlier times was smaller, closer to the size of the Mongolian bow. But then, not being a professional archer I guess I really wouldn't be entitled to an opinion... ^_^

2nd April 2002, 15:07
Hi sir.
I am not one who trains in one of the Bow arts from Japan, however...a point that I would like to make is that the Bow size is STILL used from horseback as in performances like the Yabusame demonstrations held at festivals still..The size of the bow DOES perhaps look 'excessive' but causes no hinderance to the Horsebacked archers..Indeed it was designed so that most of the length of the bow is above the arrow arm (Approx. one third).
An excellent book to read on the subject of the Sword and the Bows use in Japan is "The Armed Martial Arts of Japan" by G.Cameron Hurst..There are large sections devoted to the histories of both and the developments in them along the timeline;

"Archery came to be practised for spiritual purposes and physical improvement and eventually became a sport. This was NOT a radical transformation for archery, which had since ancient times served both martial and sport functions."

"One change in shooting style..during the Muromachi period was the introduction of 'Yumigaeri', the rotating of the bow upon release of the arrow"

There are many good quotes from the book...But it is best read in context. However, I have not found anything suggesting that the actual length was changed from its original form, although just about everything else about the art was at one time or another..
One small possible change is mentioned in reference to the practise of Toshiya or 'Dosha'; (Temple shooting..Archers took shots indoors along a set distance to a target requiring a low, straight shot without hitting the roof beams...)

"Toshiya shooting differed from earlier forms of archery in that contestants shot arrows while sitting along the veranda, rather than standing. This required the use of slightly different equipment. Bows were shortened by about 4 inches to allow seated shooting as well as to accomodate the new 'sashiya' arrow, a special arrow for gallery shooting, pointless and thinner than arrows used during the Sengoku period."

However it does not mention that the bows were left shortened for the standing or riding demonstrations so I assume that it was standard to use a 'usual' sized bow for these and a 'specially shortened' variant for the seated shooting.
Structurally the modern bow was apparently strengthened;

"One critic noted that real archery 'Shajutsu', practised by such earlier heroes as Minamoto Yoriyoshi, involved using a weak bow and shooting strongly. The archer had to co-ordinate his entire strength with the bow and arrow. In Toshiya, by contrast, the archers "Prefer powerful bows and light arrows; the bow and arrows are constructed so they shoot for distance. This is not archery"....The difficulty of Toshiya shooting was underscored in a television special in December 1987, in which Ashikawa Yuichi, a skilled fifth degree archer with 13 years experience in Kyudo tried his hand at Sanjusangendo (Shooting hall in the Rengeoin, a Heian Shingon temple used for Toshiya) after assiduously preparing for several months. Shooting slowly and deliberately, he was able to score only nine successful shots out of one hundred, not clearing one until his sixty-second shot!"

(By a contrast, a Yoshida Okura managed to hit 1,333 in 1623 and this was raised to 4,312 clearing arrows by Nagaya Rokuemon in 1637!!! :saw: )
Sorry for the lapse there...I love that story:smash: But I think that the short answer is that in all essentials the bow has remained unchanged now and more or less dependant upon personal choice and ease of individual use as regards the power and length etc..
Hope this helps..

Karl Friday
2nd April 2002, 15:08
Japanese bows have always been long, but the construction of the bow stave has evolved quite a bit over the centuries. Stone arrowheads unearthed by archeologists suggest that bows and arrows have been used in Japan from as far back as 10,000 BCE. During the Jomon era, the bow appears to have been only a hunting tool, but skeletal remains make it clear that it was being trained on more sapient game by the Yayoi period, when fighting and war became frequent and widespread. Slings, used to hurl fist-sized rocks or spheres of clay shaped roughly like miniature rugby balls, also appeared during the Yayoi period, distributed in a geographic pattern that suggests mutually exclusive regional preferences for the sling or the bow.

Compound or composite bows of the sort favored on the continent--made by laminating together layers of wood, animal tendon and horn--were known in Japan by the late ninth century, but never widely adopted. Instead, without ready access to supplies of bone and horn, the Japanese fashioned their bows from wood or from laminates of wood and bamboo.

The earliest designs were of plain wood--usually catalpa, zelkova, sandalwood, or mulberry--made from the trunk of a single sapling of appropriate girth (marugi yumi) or from staves split from the trunks of larger trees (kiyumi), and sometimes lacquered or wrapped with bark thongs. Most were straight when unstrung, but some were steam-bent into arc shapes, and strung against their curves, an innovation that greatly enhanced their power. Simple wood bows of this sort were limited in range and penetrating force, but they were also easy to draw, and therefore well-suited to repetitive shooting at short distances. For this reason they continued to be used for ceremonial and competitive archery, for hunting, for some kinds of training, and even on the battlefield throughout the medieval period and beyond.

The first compound bows, called takefuse yumi, featured a single strip of bamboo laminated to the outside face of the wood, using a paste (called nibe) made from fish bladders. Sometime around the turn of the thirteenth century, a second bamboo laminate was added to the inside face of the bow, to create the sammai yumi. In the fifteenth century, two additional bamboo slats were added to the sides, so that the wooden core was now completely encased, producing the shihochiku yumi. The higo yumi used for Kyudo today appeared sometime during the seventeenth century. It features a core of three to five bamboo slats, with additional bamboo facings laminated to the front and back edges, and strips of wood laminated to the sides. To protect the glued joints from moisture, which could cause the bow staves to delaminate or lose springiness, takefuse yumi and later composite bows were lacquered-usually in black or vermilion-and bound with thongs of rattan, birch bark or silk.

Simple wood bows will not bend very deeply without breaking, and over-flexing wood-and-bamboo composites stresses the adhesive and makes the laminations separate. To achieve significant power, therefore, wood or wood-and-bamboo bows must be long. And medieval Japanese bows were long--some over two and a half meters--which would have made them impossibly awkward to use from horseback but for their unique shape, with the grip placed a third of the way up from the bottom, rather than in the middle in the manner of European longbows.

Some historians have speculated that this unusual grip was adopted to facilitate the use of the weapon by mounted warriors, but there is evidence that the shape of the bow predates its use from horseback. Other scholars argue that the lopsided proportions were originally necessary to balance the bending characteristics of the wood: Simple bows, produced from a single piece of wood, were made from young trees, using the root end of the tree for the lower part of the bow stave. The branch end of the tree is, however, springier than the root end. Thus the grip needed to be located closer to the bottom of the bow-the stiffer end of the wood-in order to balance out the elasticity of the weapon, so that it would draw evenly, without over-stressing either end.

Earl Hartman
2nd April 2002, 20:26
Regarding the below-center grip of the Japanese bow, a scene on a Yayoi-period dotaku (ceremonial bronze bell) excavated from Kagawa prefecture shows an archer using a bow which clearly shows the below-center grip. As Dr. Friday says, this feature of the Japanese bow is of very ancient origin, and is also mentioned in 4th century Chinese chronicles.

The toshiya is one of the things that led to great changes and advances in kyudo equipment and techniques. Advanced higo (laminated) bows, the stiff-thumbed shooting glove, and different shooting techniques are all a result of it. However, contrary to common belief, the bows used in the toshiya were not that strong: weaker ones were in the 17 kilo range, about 35 lbs. The special flight arrow used in the toshiya was extemeley light and had a barreled shape (muginari), making it more aerodynamic than a war arrow, which was extremely heavy at the tip and carried a heavy, armor piercing point. Also, the toshiya shot required no penetrating force. In my discussions regarding the toshiya, I have been told that the archer would start out using a weaker bow, but as he got tired and his technique became sluggish, he would use progressively stronger bows to compensate for poor technique. The toshiya bow had a somewhat different shape than a regular bow and the grip was set even lower than was usual. The all-time record for the toshiya, 8,133 successful shots out of a total of 13,053 shot over a 24 hour period, was set by Wasa Daihachiro of the Kishu domain in 1686.

It is not surprising that the modern kyudo archer mentioned upthread was unable to do very well at the toshiya. The toshiya has not been actively practiced on a large scale since the Meiji period. Nobody really knows how to do it anymore.

Also, shooting technique has changed greatly over the years. Although the Japanese bow never reached the strength of its Mongol counterparts, for instance, war bows during the Sengoku period had to be powerful enough to penetrate armor using a heavy war shaft at ranges of >50 yards, so they certainly were more powerful than the bows commonly used today in modern kyudo, which are in the 17-22 kilo range. Shooting technique was dictated by armor; pictures of Heki Danjo Masatsugu, the reputed father of the ryu which bears his name, show him drawing the string to the chest, not the ear as is done nowadays. Drawing to the chest or the chin allowed the archer to avoid catching the string on the fukikaeshi on his kabuto. Also, the stiff thumb glove used today in modern kyudo was invented specifically for the toshiya and was unknown before the Edo period, so far as I know. Shooting gloves used in battle were simple deerskin gloves, with the inner part of the thumb (which drew the string) reinforced with rawhide, which served the same puropse as the thumb rings used by the Chinese. In war shooting, the "yugaeri" (not yumigaeri) was not used, as recovering from it would take too much time.

Also, Dr. Friday is right about the length being partially determined by material considerations; laminated bamboo bows will break if they are overdrawn. Not only will the glued joints be stressed, the bamboo itself will give if it drawn beyond its capacity. There are different bow lengths for longer or shorter draw lengths. One of the interesting developments in modern kyudo is the appearance of extremely long bows made specifically to accomodate the longer draw-lengths of taller foreign archers, some as long as 8 inches over the standard length, which is already over two meters.

A brief discussion of the history of kyudo (part of a discussion of Herrigel) can be found here:


Click on the "List of essays and book reviews", scroll to the Spring 2001 issue, almost at the end of the list, and click on entry #586, "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery" by Yamada Shoji. You will need Adobe Acrobat to read the PDF file.

J. A. Crippen
2nd April 2002, 21:52
Wow. I'm awed by your respective detailed posts. Thank you for so much information.

Someone should archive these somewhere... Like in the articles at koryu.com...

Stéphan Thériault
3rd April 2002, 03:51

You could try contacting the folks over at Bugei Trading Co., their site is at:

They don't seem to have any tsuru(strings) on their site, but I know from an old print catalog I have that they used to sell them. And since they still sell bows they might still be able to obtain them.

3rd April 2002, 14:29
I think that the Tozando site sells various Kyudo accesories but I am not too sure if they sell Tsuru currently..I'd try e-mailing them and asking though.
Website is at www.tozando.com

5th April 2002, 14:20
You might try Asahi America Kyudogu:


If you don't have experience in kyudo it would be a good idea to seek out a qualified teacher before attempting to string or use a yumi. Bamboo yumi in particular are easily damaged, even one shot performed incorrectly could ruin a nice bow for good. The method of shooting is quite different from that of western-style bows.

Stéphan Thériault
16th July 2002, 03:47
There is this interesting picture I ran across here: http://wwwimp.leidenuniv.nl/~vvliet/IMAGES/OLD2.JPG
I am curious about the chest protector he is wearing. Is it part of the quiver's harness? It looks alot like the ones worn by female practitioners of kyudo. So any comments by those in the know are greatly appreciated.

Stéphan Thériault
16th July 2002, 16:35
I think I've answered my own question. Looking at another pic on there site, reminded me that when wearing a kimono they will take off the left side. This is so that the bow string will not catch in the kimono. So the guy in the pic looks like he's dressed to go out. I'm thinking part of an escort for his lord or a member of the lord's family. So of course you don't want to be walking around with half your kimono off. And if there is a scurmish, you don't have time to slip the left side of your kimono off. But with the kimono on, the string might catch and send your shot wide of the target. Therefore the breast plate keeps your kimono flat, and stops the string from catching on it. So does this make sense at all to anyone?

27th August 2003, 21:10

My apologies in contacting you this way, your PM box is full and your account does not allow for email to be sent to you.

I have come across a copy of Hans Jochim Stein's KYUDO: THE ART OF ZEN ARCHERY at my library. The Zen reference tends to put me off because I am aware of the strong criticisms of Herrigel's book.

I am wondering if you would recommend this book. I am, by the way, not a kyudoka myself but just someone interesting in Japanese martial arts.

Thank you,
Al Heinemann

Earl Hartman
27th August 2003, 22:29
I wouldn't recommend it. The only really good book about kyudo in English that is easily obtainable is "Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery" By Onuma and DeProspero.

I have Stein's book and couldn't really get through it. There seemed to be some worthwhile stuff in it, as I recall (I tried reading it years ago) but there was too much bloviating about sprituality, which always puts me off.

If you can find a little book called "Japanese Archery" by William Acker, it is also worth reading. Acker was roughly contemporaneous with Herrigel, and practiced Bishu Chikurin style kyujutsu in Kyoto before WWII. While I'm pretty sure the book is out of print, it is pretty good. Very straightforward, clear, and easy to understand.

Eric Montes
29th August 2003, 16:23
Earl (and Allan)

Acker's book has been republished. I saw it on the shelves of Kinokuniya yesterday.


29th August 2003, 17:22
To Earl and Eric,

Thank you for your help.


Earl Hartman
29th August 2003, 18:32
Well, good. It is interesting to compare Acker and Herrigel; they were in the same country practicing the same art at roughly the same time, but the two books could hardly be more different.

Anyway, DeProspero and Acker are the way to go; Acker's book is little more than a long pamphlet, but addresses the basics quite well; DeProspero gives a more thorough presentation and deals with the history and philosophical side of kyudo in more detail than does Acker. In particular, the question-and-answer between teacher and student at the end of deProspero's book is, by itself, worth the price.

Also, you should be aware that Acker does not discuss kyudo in broad general terms, he discusses specifically the Bishu Chikurin school that he learned.

Joseph Svinth
30th August 2003, 06:52
Photos of Acker in shootin' togs appear at http://wwwimp.leidenuniv.nl/~vvliet/acker.html

The book is 88 pages, and US $9.95. It's also available in French.

11th January 2004, 15:21
Hi Mr. Hartman,
I have a question regarding Kyudo/kyujutsu. First of all I must admit I have no formal training in kyudo. I have never even handled a japanese style bow for that matter. I have read various articles about the subject. And I must admit my interest in kyudo started with the book, "Kyudo:Zen and the art of archery" by Mr. Herrigel. I have also read Mr. Yamada's article on that book. It was a quite interesting read. My question is," When you are practicing archery do you always wear a "yugake"? Or do you also practice without it? I was thinking an archer sometimes could find him/herself in a situation where s/he does not have time to put one on. If you practice without a yugake is the shooting style different and does the string have any affects on your fingers?

Thank you in advance for your answer.

P.S. I did not know where to post this question since there is not a specific Kyudo forum. If this thread is not suitable for this forum please move it to to appropriate one.

Earl Hartman
12th January 2004, 20:37
In modern kyudo, the archer always wears a yugake. The original type of stiff-wrist, hard-thumbed yugake that is used universally in kyudo today was developed for use in the toshiya to allow the archer to shoot as many arrows as possible with as little fatigue as possible. Because the thumb is made of a hollowed-out piece of wood and is provided with a groove for the string, the archer does not need to use a lot of strength in his thumb and fingers to draw the bow.

This type of glove, obviously, was never used in battle, since wearing it renders it impossible to grip a sword or other weapon after one's arrows have all been shot and one has to resort to close-quarter fighting. The archers of the Satsuma Heki Ryu for example, which maintains the practice of battlefield kyujutsu of the Shimazu han in Kyushu, use a glove with a heavily padded thumb, but the thumb is soft and flexible and does not interfere with the free use of the hand. AFAIK, the yugake that is used in yabusame is simply a tight-fitting glove of soft deerskin, the thumb of which is reinforced with rawhide where the string is drawn.

I have experimented with drawing a bow without a hard-thumb glove. It is not impossible, but if the bow is over, say, 18-20 kilograms in draw weight, without some kind of glove which protects the inside of the thumb, it would be impossible to shoot more than a few arrows (unless one has a pretty high threshold of pain). However, it seems to me that if the inside surface of the thumb were sufficiently protected, say with a combination of padding and/or rawhide (that would serve the same purpose as the continetal Asian thumb ring), it would be possible to shoot a fairly strong bow without much problem.

There are some people in Japan who are experimenting with soft-thumbed gloves since if the bow is too weak, learning to properly use a hard-thumbed glove is quite difficult. However, as far as I know a soft-thumbed glove is only really suitable for bows <15 kg. in draw weight.

This is an interesting area, and I look forward to further research on this subject.

15th January 2004, 01:13
Hi Earl!

What about those teeny-tiny "waraji"? Just playing around, I used to place my index finger through the waraji's loop, then pinch & twist the string with the thumb/forefinger -- fully padded by the waraji.

Now, I don't know if that was the appropriate use of those thingamajigs, but it worked.


Earl Hartman
15th January 2004, 01:29
Hm. I had never thought to use a waraji like that.

I doubt that you could draw a very strong bow with the pinch-draw method you described.

However, it is unclear exactly when the Japanese went over fully to the Mongolian draw that is used today. Artwork from the Heian/Kamakura period indicates that in Ye Olden Dayes of Yore the draw was somewhat different, although it is hard to tell exactly what they were doing.

Also, it is still uncear to me exactly how strong war bows were during the feudal perisod. The early bows were essentially self bows, with the laminated construction reaching the peak of sophistication as a result of the popularity of the toshiya during the Edo Period, but I have heard it said that toshiya bows were roughly equivalent in strength to modern kyudo bows, which are generally about 17-19 kg for men. In Kanazawa, I saw a bow in a museum that had been used by a man named Okura (a native of Kaga, where Kanazawa is located) in the toshiya, where he set a number of records. It did not look particularly strong. On the other hand, I saw video of Awa Kenzo (Herrigel's teacher) shooting a bow that looked like it was easily about 30 kg in draw weight (almost 70 pounds). You also hear stories from Ye Olden Dayes of Yore about "3 men bows" referring to the number of men it took to string them. Unfortunately, there are few if any actual bows from pre-Edo times still extant, so it is really hard to say.

15th January 2004, 14:27
Mr. Hartman,
Thanks for your reply. I also have another question if you don't mind. In Mr. Yamada's paper he writes that Awa Kenzo became very good at archery within a two year period of time. On the other hand Herrigel supposedly spend three years shooting at makiwara targets. In his book he also says that first time he shot at 28 yards his arrows did not even reach the target. Now I know that Herrigel's practice time is nowhere close to Kenzo's practice time but why do you think there is such a difference in achieving proficiency in kyudo? Can it be because Herrigel was trying to understand zen and thinking about kyudo as a tool to achieve it? Or is it because Awa Kenzo was an extraordinarily talented person?
Thanks again

Earl Hartman
15th January 2004, 19:11
When I read Professor Yamada's article in preparation for translating it, one of the things that most surprised me was the fact that Awa was able to get a menkyo kaiden (license of full transmission) in Heki Ryu Sekka-ha in only two years.

There are a number of possible explanations:

1) Awa really was that good
2) He purchased his rank
3) A menkyo kaiden is not as big a deal as we make it out to be nowadays
4) Maybe kyujutsu just isn't all that difficult

Regarding 1) it appears, at least from P. Yamada's article, that Awa was quite an expert archer. Being able to hit the target almost 100% of the time is no joke. The best I have ever been able to do is 18 hits out of 20 shots, and that still translates out only to 90%, even if I had been able to maintain that average for 100 shots (which gets pretty tiring, buckaroo). I was able to do that a few times many years ago, but I have not been able to repeat it. It was a flash in the pan, and even on a really good day I can't get above 70-75%. That's not too shabby, but it still ain't 100%. There is an old saying "an expert is anybody who can spit over a boxcar" (if you've ever stood next to a boxcar, you'll understand how difficult that is). If a guy can shoot so well that he practically never misses, he knows what he's doing. Awa was apparently in this league, so I believe that he probably had an extraordinary talent for archery. I have seen film of him shooting, and his technique was crisp and sharp.

Speaking from my own experience, practicing several hours a day every day is not uncommon; indeed, among traditional archers, you're nothing but a dilletante if you shoot less than 100 arrows a day (this will take at least >2 hours). Herrigel only practiced with Awa once a week, hardly a rigorous course of study. Indeed, he practiced as only a dabbler can. Perhaps once he got some experience, he practiced more on his own, but when I first began kyudo, I practiced with my teacher 3 times a week, and then, as I got good enough to shoot on my own, I started practicing >3 hours a day. It was very rare that I shot less than 100 arrows at each session. If you want to get any good, that is what you have to do. If Herrigel only practiced once a week, I can see why it might have taken him 3 years to progress from the makiwara to the actual targets. There is also the issue of Awa's evolving understanding of the purpose of kyudo, so perhaps he made Herrigel practice longer at the makiwara than was normal. At any rate, speaking from personal experience, if you really want to become skillful, long training at the makiwara first is a must. And, yes, when you first start shooting at the target it is not uncommon to have difficulty reaching it.

Regarding 2), P. Yamada states that Awa's teacher used to be employed as a kyujutsu teacher for the Sendai domain. I suspect that, after the dissolution of the feudal domains, he was, like many other bugei instructors, down on his luck. Indeed, after the bakumatsu kyujutsu came to be looked upon with a great deal of disdain by well-bred people; many unemployed kyujutsu teachers opened archery ranges in town (often near the red light district) which were frequented by prostitutes and gamblers who would hold arhcery contests and wager on the outcome (sort of like poolhalls, I guess). As a matter of fact, I have it on pretty good authority that Anzawa Heihachiro, Awa's senior disciple, used to run a brothel before he apprenticed himself to Awa (licensed prostitution used to be legal in Japan). This is entirely speculation on my part, but it is not inconceivable that Awa gave his teacher a certain financial consideration in exchange for his rank, but I want to emphasize that I have absolutely no proof whatsover for this. Still Awa's skill is a matter of record, so I tend to think that he just was some sort of kyudo genius and earned it legitimately (there is such a thing as prodigies, you know).

Regarding 3), there is no doubt that a hanshi (master) rank (roughly equivalent to a menkyo kaiden) in modern kyudo is perceived differently than it used to be. Nowadays, it is extremely rare for anybody under 60 years of age to get a hanshi ranking. Up until quite recently, people with such ranks were usually much older than that. Recently, there have been a few expert archers who have been awarded that rank (which requires at least an 8th degree ranking before they can be considered) before the age of 60, so perhaps things are changing. However, during the Dai Nippon Butokukai period (up until the end of WWII), it is clear tha a hanshi raking meant something different than it does today. My teacher's teacher (and father-in-law), Urakami Sakae, received his hanshi rank at the age of 47, something that is completely inconceivable today.

I believe that practical skill counted for a great deal more in the old days, and there was less of an emphasis on ceremonial etiquette as a component of skill. In the old days, certain elements of protocol and etiquette were much more a part of everyday life than they are today, so people did not obssess over them. Nowadays, when young people in Japan cannot even sit seiza anymore, there has been an increasing emphasis on the petty details of protocol and bearing. Judging from the film of Awa I have seen, and the more "rough and ready" ceremonial practices of the warrior schools of kyujutsu, I have a feeling that the overall prettiness of the performance wasn't as much of an issue as it is today, and actual skill in target shooting was much more important.

Regardng 4) Herrigel simply made kyudo into a bigger deal than it is. It is of the utmost importance to note that Awa supposedly only came to believe that technique wasn't important AFTER he had spent may years as a dead-eye shot. I don't care how "spiritual" a person may be, if he doesn't know the technique cold, he isn't going to be able to hit the broad side of a barn. Basic kyudo technique simply isn't that involved. People spinning fantasies in their own minds is what makes it difficult

Herrigel, like any intellectual, out-thought himself. He was convinced going in that kyudo was Zen, and since Zen is deep, abstruse, mystical, cryptic, and almost impossible to understand, so must kyudo be.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. Kyudo is, in reality, very simple. People make it difficult when they make it into a metaphor for something else instead of just doing it for what it is. Awa took traditional kyujutsu and tried to make it into a religion. Herrigel was looking for some transcendental spiritual experience; therefore, every little thing he did, no matter how piddling or inconsequential, became freighted with meaning and had to be analyzed endlessly for its metaphysical significance. This is utterly contrary to the real spirit of traditional kyujutsu.

Anyway, I don't believe for a second that Awa really disparaged technique as much as Herrigel indicates he did. Herrigel just didn't understand what Awa was really talking about. (I have read Komachiya Sozo's memoir of his experience with Awa and Herrigel; he describes Awa teaching Herrigel how to shoot a bow, so obviously he was teaching technique; Herrigel simply wasn't interested in it since it wasn't "spiritual". Therefore it has no place in his book.) That Herrigel couldn't understand Awa is not so strange, since Herrigel 1) only trained in kyudo for maybe three years, 2) couldn't speak Japanese, and had to rely on obviously faulty interpreting, 3) was determined to make kyudo into a Zen experience, which led him to understand Awa's words through the veil of his own preconceptions, and, finally, 4) had no understanding of the cultural framework in which Awa was operating.

15th January 2004, 19:34
Mr. Hartman,
Thank you for your long reply. I hope you did not have to miss anything important to write that. And also thank you for clarifying a couple of points.

John Lovato
15th January 2004, 19:39
Mr Hartman,
Thanks for the interesting responses. I have always been interested in the differences between kyudo and kyujutsu. What kind of things are done in kyujutsu that make it more combative?

Earl Hartman
15th January 2004, 19:52
Kyudo and kyujutsu are the same thing, really. Don't let words fool you.

The only group I know of that still does actual battlefield kyujutsu is the Satsuma Heki Ryu in Kyushu. Many other groups maintain the traditional practices of the older pre-Kyudo Federation schools, but AFAIK the Satsuma Heki Ryu people are the only ones who actually shoot in armor. There are of course, the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu for yabusame and other forms of mounted archery and ancient court archery rituals and contests.

Roughly speaking, in battlefield (foot archery) kyujutsu:

1) the archer does not wear a hard-thumb glove.
2) the archer shoots from many different positions (kneeling or sittng) rather than the single straight-up standing stance used in modern kyudo
3) the release is different depending on the distance to the target
4) the bow is not allowed to spin after the shot
5) the arrow is released almost immediately after it is fully drawn rather than being held for a few seconds
6) there is no ceremonial etiquette (it's a BATTLE, dude! Who has time for that stuff?)
7) the distance to the target varies instead of being fixed at 28 meters as it is in modern kyudo competition (there is also a 60 meter distance)

I want to emphasize, however, that while the Ogasawara Ryu has always been considered the fountainhead of all knowledge of correct ceremonial/court etiquette, all traditional schools of kyujutsu have their versions of formal ceremonial shooting.

16th January 2004, 08:16
Hi Earl,

I was wondering why the Mongol type horn, wood, sinew composite recurve didn't catch on in Japan? The asian/mongol composite bow is (by reputation at least) superior to most bows I've heard of.

Could it be
1) lack of materials
2) weather (water causing composites to come apart)
3) lack of a proper Mongol invasion.
4) Some other reason

Mongol style bows seem conspicous by their absence in Japan.

Jairaj Chetty

Bustillo, A.
16th January 2004, 13:06
Originally posted by Earl Hartman
When I read Professor Yamada's article in preparation for translating it, one of the things that most surprised me was the fact that Awa was able to get a menkyo kaiden (license of full transmission) in Heki Ryu Sekka-ha in only two years.

There are a number of possible explanations:

1) Awa really was that good
2) He purchased his rank
3) A menkyo kaiden is not as big a deal as we make it out to be nowadays
4) Maybe kyujutsu just isn't all that difficult

Regarding 1) it appears, at least from P. Yamada's article, that Awa was quite an expert archer.
Speaking from my own experience, practicing several hours a day every day is not uncommon; indeed, among traditional archers, you're nothing but a dilletante if you shoot less than 100 arrows a day (this will take at least >2 hours). Herrigel only practiced with Awa once a week, hardly a rigorous course of study. Indeed, he practiced as only a dabbler can. .....


A well thought out analysis. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Great info.

Earl Hartman
16th January 2004, 17:55
While I have not researched this issue to any great extent, my (somewhat educated) guess is that Japan lacked a ready supply of the materials needed to make such bows.

The Mongols were sheep herding nomads who got pretty much everything they needed from their herds of sheep and horses. Japan, on the other hand, is a very mountainous country, and the weather makes it eminently suitable for wet rice culture. As a result, all of the available flat land was given over to farming. There is simply no room to run the large herds of ruminants that could provide the necessary horn and sinew for the short, heavily recurved Mongol-type bows. On the other hand, Japan is blessed with large forests and bamboo groves which provided suitable material for bows. So, they built what they could with what they had.

That's my guess, anyway.

Earl Hartman
16th January 2004, 18:18
Blast this 15-minute edit window!

Anyway, to continue:

There is evidence that the extremely long bow with the off-center grip, which is unique to Japan, has been used in one form or another for almost 1,700 years. Chinese visitors to Japan in around the year 300 C.E. commented on the unusual bow that Japanese soldiers used, and a dotaku (a ceremonial bronze bell) from roughly the same period shows a man shooting an arrow at a deer; the bow he is using appears to be about as long as he is tall, and he is clearly gripping it below center.

With a tradition of bow design of such hoary antiquity, it is not so surprising that "those damn new-fangled furrin bows" never caught on in Japan and that the Japanese decided to stick with their traditional design.

However, somewhere roughly around the time of the Mongol invasions or before, the design of the Japanese bow started to change. Originally, the bow was just a very long bow with a simple curve, made out of a single piece of wood. 400-500 years after the Mongol invasions, the Japanese bow had become a double recurve made of a composite bamboo and hardwood laminate of a very sophisticated construction.

I am guessing that this change was a result of the Japanese encounter with the Mongol bow combined with native fiddling with design and materials. They Japanese adopted the recurve design and the composite construction while adapting it to their native materials, but stuck with their traditional longbow design, since this works best with bambo and hardwood (bamboo will splinter quite easily if it is over stressed, thus necessitating a longer bow for the equivalent draw length compared to other materials).

Regarding the dampness of the climate, I have heard that English Crusaders took some Saracen composite recurve bows back with them to England. The bows promptly fell apart in the damp English climate, proving to the English, at least, that their yew longbows were obviously superior. The Japanese solved the dampness problem by sealing their composite bows with laquer.

So, anyway, each people will make bows that are suited to the environment in which they live. Yes, it is true that in a simple one-to-one comparison the Mongol bow is probably superior to the Japanese yumi. But it was not superior in Japan.

Ron Tisdale
16th January 2004, 18:58
The Japanese solved the dampness problem by sealing their composite bows with laquer.

Is this the same laquer that is used an saya? I have heard that it is made from a plant which can cause allergic reactions similar to poisen ivy in some people.

Just currious,

Earl Hartman
16th January 2004, 19:05

16th January 2004, 22:08
Hi Earl,

thanks for your thoughtfull reply. The mongol bow seems to have had a profound influence on bow design across Asia and Eastern parts of Europe, I guess roughly mapping the course of the Mongol invasions.

On technical merits it would seem to outclass all traditional bow designs I've come across. They are probably the most difficult bow to make as well.

I've been toying with the idea of trying to make such a bow using gemsbok horn on the back. I've made a couple of maple Native American style flatbows so far - I've got bows that shoot but with a some set.

The Mongol bow is intriguing though.

Thanks again.
Jairaj Chetty

P.S. If you have any info on kyudo dojo in Johannesburg, South Africa I'd be interested in hearing of it.

Earl Hartman
16th January 2004, 22:29
Unfortunately, I do not know of any kyudo dojos in South Africa.

17th January 2004, 21:57
It actually looks like a Yabusame uniform (Kyudo on horse back)

17th January 2004, 22:27
Mr. Tex,

Could you be kind enough to sign your full, real name to all of your posts?

Many thanks!


Robert Miller
14th April 2004, 12:48
I was wondering how the japanese bow was constructed, historically. Any resources? Thank you.

R A Sosnowski
14th April 2004, 13:44
Originally posted by Robert Miller
I was wondering how the japanese bow was constructed, historically. Any resources? Thank you.

Laminated - bamboo facings over hardwood strips.

Check out the late Onuma-s.'s Kyudo.


Earl Hartman
15th April 2004, 21:14
The Japanese bow was originally what is called a "self bow"; that is, a bow made from a single piece of wood. Over the centuries it developed in a number of stages, to wit:

Fusedake yumi - a wooden bow with a bamboo facing

Sanmai uchi yumi - a core of wood sandwiched between two strips of bamboo

Shihodake yumi - a core of wood completely enclosed with bamboo strips on all four sides

Higo yumi - a core of bamboo slats (higo) glued together, enclosed between two bamboo strips, and edged with hardwood. In the higo yumi, the central core is usually made from an odd number of slats (3, 5, or 7, usually) the grain of which is set at right angles to the grain of the bamboo facings. The hardwood edging is usually made from a very stiff hardwood called haze (waxwood).

As mentioned above, Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery by Onuma and Deprospero gives a good historical overview of the development of the Japanese bow.

Shin Buke
30th June 2004, 07:38
I was just browsing around the forum when this question popped into my head. Not sure what triggered it, but... I've read about pretty much every weapon of feudal Japan being taught in one ryu or another, however, I can't ever remember hearing of a kyujutsu ryu. I'm sure they existed as the bow was the principal weapon of the bushi up until, I believe, the Muromachi period and continued to play a major role in warfare after that. So, are there any extant ryu of koryu kyujutsu?

Much appreciated! ^_^

1st July 2004, 15:21
AFAIK, both Ogasawara-ryu and Heki-ryu are still alive up to this day :)

Earl Hartman
1st July 2004, 17:21
I suppose the answer to that question really depends on what is meant by "koryu kyujutsu". The practice of yabusame is mainained by the Ogasawara Ryu and the Takeda Ryu, and there are various factions of the Heki Ryu (which has, or had, a very large number of regional branches).

However, the only group I know of that still actually practices the battlefield shooting techniques of the foot-soldier is the Satsuma Heki Ryu, based in the town of Izumi in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu. I believe that this school is based on the teachings of the Insai-ha of the Heki Ryu, which was founded by Yoshida Genpachiro Shigeuji, also known by the name Issuiken Insai.

One thing to remember about kyujutsu is that it has always played a very prominent role in court ceremony. The bow was, originally, the aristocratic weapon par excellence. The bushi referred to themselves as kyuba no ie (the house of the bow and horse) and the way of life they followed as kyuba no michi (the way of the horse and the bow). This is in contradistinction to the West, where the bow was the weapon of the yeoman or the villein. In addition, archery was one of the six Confucuian gentlemanly arts, and this attitude was absorbed by the Japanese. Kyudo/jutsu, from the very beginning, and especially at court, was treated as an aristocratic pastime. In addition, the bow was used in various quasi-religious archery ceremonies done to ensure a good harvest and peace for the realm, etc. This use of the bow is pretty much the province of the Ogasawara Ryu, as I understand it. In any case, archery of this type has no battlefield application whatsoever, no matter how old it is.

The Heki Ryu has always been considered the archery of the foot soldier. It has, AFAIK, no mounted techniques. The Satsuma Heki Ryu is probably the closest one can get nowadays to the actual battlefield techniques of the feudal warrior, altough their fire-and-manouver tactics were, I was told, influenced by 18th century French musket drill (!). In addition, while they wear armor, they do not wear kabuto but wear an eboshi (a black peaked ceremonial hat) which allows them to draw the arrow to the cheek in the modern fashion. Due to the presence of the fukigaeshi (armor protecting the sides of the face) on the kabuto, it was not possible for a fully armored figter to draw the arrow to the cheek; it apparently was drawn either to the chin or the chest.

Shin Buke
2nd July 2004, 01:11
Very interesting indeed.

What, do you think, is the reason why battlefield koryu kyujutsu has nearly been expunged? Do you think, perhaps, that it became so relegated to the place of the foot-soldier that it was ignored during the Edo period's sword craze?

Joseph Svinth
2nd July 2004, 01:36
During the Korean campaign, the Japanese military largely re-equipped with matchlocks. Archery was then relegated to specialist functions. During the subsequent Tokugawa regime, the firearms makers went out of business, but there were still armorers polishing the muskets in the government arsenals, and professional soldiers still studied their proper employment on the battlefield.

Earl Hartman
3rd July 2004, 00:46
Just as in Europe, the introduction of firearms spelled the end of the bow as a major weapon, and for the same reasons: it takes less training to become proficient with a gun than a bow.

However, traditions die hard. Bushi continued to train in archery, but it changed just as many of the other bugei did: most of the pre-Edo martial traditions were comprehensive systems; the Edo period saw the proliferaton of schools dedicated to the use of the sword as a personal dueling weapon for unarmored fighting, where training was done mostly in a dojo, as opposed to a battlefield weapon. The same thing was true for kyujutsu.

The continued existence of the Satsuma Heki Ryu is roughly analagous, it seems to me, to the continued existence of a school such as the Tenshinshoden Katori Shinto Ryu, which still emphasizes the battlefield use of their weapons (if I understand it correctly).

Shin Buke
3rd July 2004, 05:53
The adoption of the gun over the bow is something that I've always wondered about. I understand that it requires much less training to learn how to use a firearm, however, even after firearms became the mainstay weapon of the battlefield (in Europe at least) the bow could brag of having much better performance. If I recall correctly, an English longbow (of the type used during the 100 Years War) had an effective range of roughly 200 meters while several centuries later, most Brown Bess muskets topped out at 50-60 meters. Not to mention that bows had a MUCH higher rate of fire than early firearms. Then again, using a longbow frequently took years of practice to build up the proper muscle to fire one effectively and probably had less energy than firearms projectiles. Then there's there's the point of comparing a "normal" European bow against a firearm. *shakes his head* Such a topic. ^_~

Joseph Svinth
3rd July 2004, 07:50
Archery takes a lot of strength, and the weapons cannot be stored strung. Thus, putting them into action takes awhile.

Meanwhile, early matchlocks were essentially improved crossbows and arbalests. The stocks and sights are the same, and like crossbows, they could be loaded by people in back and handed to shooters at the walls. Not too good offensively, to be sure, but outstanding in the defense, as they penetrated armor and frightened horses.

Muskets can also be stored in government arsenals, and only brought out in times of war, thereby ensuring the masses are less likely to shoot down tax collectors and landlords.

One other thing. Archers needed pikemen to defend them from cavalry. Musketeers, on the other hand, could form squares, and go anywhere they liked, regardless of what else was on the battlefield. This leads to Napoleonic warfare, where battalions form squares, and cannon stand alone. You can see some of this in "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals."

As for the Japanese use of musketry, read "Giving Up the Gun," or watch "Kagemusha."

Earl Hartman
4th July 2004, 10:48
I hadn't ever thought of it before, but it seems to me that archers could form squares just as easily as soldiers with guns. And concentrated fire from English longows is pretty good defense against cavalry (at least if it's French).

However, we must remember that it was not the bow that carried the field against the flower of French chivalry at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. It was the English (or, more properly, the Welsh) longbow that did it. The English weapon was far superior to anything the continental Europeans had, and could shoot through just about anything until armor finally was improved to the point where it took a gun to pierce it.

Joseph Svinth
4th July 2004, 21:20
Earl --

My guess is that the smoke, noise, and flame associated with black powder musketry kept horses back.

Consider, for example, the 93rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Balaklava ("the thin red line tipped with steel"). Despite all the paintings, the Highlanders were actually standing on the back side of a small hill, so were partly protected by terrain, and there were no Russians falling dead from their horses at the tips of the British bayonets. Anyway, from http://www.xenophongi.org/crimea/war/balaklava/balabat.htm :


The Russian cavalry marched forward, then began its galloping charge. The British first volley was delivered at 600 yards with no effect. The second volley at 350 yards and the one artillery battery's fire caused the Russians to wheel leftward and the third volley at 150 yards broke the cavalry attack. They turned about in the thick smoke and retired across the Causeway, leaving no casualties on the field. The moral effect, however, was significant. There were plenty of Russian casualties, but they all managed to remain in the saddle until they reached their own lines.


In short, the effect of the British musketry wasn't what you'd see in the US Civil War just a decade later. That is, the folks didn't start killing at 600 yards, and then keep killing all the way in. Instead, the noise, flame, smoke, and unbroken appearance of the Highlanders caused the Russian horses and riders to panic. The Russian generals were thereby forced to withdraw and regroup.

Earl Hartman
5th July 2004, 07:52
Speaking of Balaclava, have you read Flashman At the Charge by George MacDonald Frasier? Great book. Flashy describes the incident you mention.

First volley at 600 yards? If that's a musket volley as opposed to an artillery barrage, well, of course nothing happened.

Oh, yeah, another thing: you can see arrows coming and maybe, if there are only one or two of them and you can see them in time, you can duck, get your shield up in time, or knock them out of the way. AFAIK, nobody has yet figured out how to dodge a bullet.

Joseph Svinth
6th July 2004, 07:00
It's been probably 30 years since I read Flashy at the Charge. Flashy is always lots of fun.

At 150 yards, I'm not surprised the folks didn't cause any casualties, as a Prussian study showed that a flintlock-armed battalion literally couldn't hit the broad side of a barn at 100 yards. By the 1860s, though, things were a lot different -- the .50 caliber Sharps rifles that slaughtered the bison herds and (at least according to legend) made the 1,200 yard shot near Adobe Walls in 1874 were military surplus Sharps Model 151 rifle-muskets converted to percussion cap ignition systems and rebored to .50-70 Government. (Big Fifty, made famous in the books and movies, cost $118 in 1874, which would be a bit spendy for the average hide hunter of the 1870s.)

Anyway, I think we're reading history backwards. In the musket days, you had to hold your fire until 30 yards or less to ensure killing. The flame, smoke, and noise, however, would have discouraged most cavalry. The cavalry meanwhile hoped that the sight of mounted men moving 20+ mph en masse would panic the infantry, and make it flee, in which case it would be run down and lanced...

Earl Hartman
6th July 2004, 08:04
Well, damn, >30 yards to make sure you could hit somebody? I'm completely confused, now. A good archer could certainly hit his target at, say, twice that distance, and had a more rapid rate of fire, too. An English longowman was fined if he practiced at a target closer that >200 yards and was expected to be able to get off 12 shots a minute, or one shot every 5 seconds. Even if he was a klutz, if he was within 50 yards, which was outside the effective range of a musket, and could get off more shots, it seems he would have the advantage.

Actually, I heard that Ben Frankln suggested that the new American army have archer squads to fight the Brits. You're the historian: did it ever happen?

Earl Hartman
6th July 2004, 17:13
Sorry, I meant >30 yards.

Shin Buke
6th July 2004, 19:43
The closest thing we ever got to archer squads were probably the Kentucky Riflemen we used to pick off officers and other high-value targets on the British side. If I recall correctly the Kentucky rifle had an effective range of 100 meters or so, roughly twice that of a Brown Bess. *shrugs* I still think a few good longbowmen would have been more effective. ^_~

Earl Hartman
6th July 2004, 20:38
Those Kentucky long rifles were tres cool. Still, you have to be a very good archer to be consistently accurate at 100 yards. One of the reasons the English longbow was effective against the French cavalry in the Hundred Years War (aside from the fact that it was French cavalry) was its concentrated firepower. The English armies were, essentially, longbowmen supported by mounted and unmounted knights and men-at-arms. When you have thousands of massed longbowmen shooting in volleys from behind a pallisade of sharpened stakes at a close-packed mass of cavalry attacking head on up a hill into the teeth of the barrage, you have a recipe for disaster. How effective individual longbowmen would have been at ranges of >100 yards aiming at individual targets is a good question. But at <50-30 yards (which is what I meant to say upthread; for some reason, I couldn't edit my own post), a squad of good longbowmen must have been better than guys armed with Brown Besses.


Shin Buke
6th July 2004, 20:55
I see your point. The Continental forces would have needed massed longbowmen to have been effective. A unit of 100 couldn't have hurt. Sure would have made things a LOT more interesting and probably would have finished off the American War for Independence a lot sooner. ^_~ God only knows what sort of effect it could have had on the face of European warfare if everyone decided to jack the gun in favor of the bow.

Regarding the Kentucky Rifle... that this was on fine weapon for it's day. I'm sure more than one British officer had his day ruined while trotting around on his horse issuing orders. Didn't a Kentucky Rifleman take out some British general at some point in the war?

About editing posts, I know that you have 15 minutes after posting in which to edit your post. You have to contact the moderator after that if you wish to edit something. If you were within' those 15 minutes then I'd chalk it up to the mystical (and frequently annoying) force we know as "the internet." ^_~

Joseph Svinth
7th July 2004, 01:22
Ben Franklin did indeed propose longbows. However, the problem would have been finding people qualified to shoot them, as by then, even the Iroquois had largely shifted to firelocks.

Anyway, some background on military musketry. The Brown Bess, or Tower, musket dates to 1705. It was a .75 caliber flintlock, and the idea was to standardize ammunition issue. Tower muskets remained popular with British generals and politicians for the next 140 years. Reasons included comparatively high rates of fire, relatively low manufacturing costs, and reliability. Yet, as they weighed 14 pounds each, they cannot have been especially beloved by the rank-and-file, especially since the training that soldiers received with the weapons consisted mostly of carrying them about and fixing and unfixing bayonets. Contemporary musketry training was rudimentary at best. Partly this was because military weapons were designed for speed loading rather than accuracy. But it was also because the flash from their pans was so fearsome that soldiers were taught to close their eyes and turn their heads away to prevent eye injuries. For the safety of officers and NCOs, ammunition was only issued after ranks had been formed and the enemy sighted. Viewed this way, close-order drill was actually nothing more than an early form of industrial safety.

About 1718, the Prussians introduced iron ramrods and funnel-shaped touchholes. These provided the Prussian soldiers a faster and more reliable means of loading flintlocks, and this increased rates of volleyed fire to nearly six shots per minute. Still, using an iron rod and hammer to pound lead balls into a steel tube is a noisy process. So hunters continued wrapping their rounds in greased patches and pounding them home with wooden mallets and ramrods. Which is another reason why European soldiers preferred smoothbore muskets while North American frontiersmen preferred long-barreled rifles. Unfortunately, those rifles were also fragile, meaning that they weren't really suited to handing to privates.

In 1767, a Prussian study revealed that an infantry battalion could fire five shots in volley per minute, at an average rate of about two rounds per man per minute. While this put as much lead into the air as a modern machine gun, it did not mean that the fusillade hit as much, as during another musketry test conducted in 1813, another Prussian test battalion put just 40% of its shots into a target 6 feet high and 100 feet long at a range of 100 yards.

This was not just the Prussians, either, as contemporary British tests showed that to hit a target 11’6" high (about 3.5 meters) and 6’ wide (about 1.8 meters) at 200 yards range with a Brown Bess, a shooter had to aim 5-1/2 feet (about 1.75 meters) high. Fired from a rest at 250 yards, 10 shots out of 10 missed. Fired from the same rest at 150 yards, 5 shots out of 10 missed. Effective range against people was less than 40 yards.

Similarly, the Russians began to make muskets at the Tula Arsenal in 1712. The weapons made at Tula were rifles rather than smoothbore muskets, and they were accurate to about 100 yards. In this case, accuracy meant hitting a target seven feet in diameter most of the time.

Pennsylvania rifles, on the other hand, could put five bullets into a 2" group at 100 yards, and knock down horses at 400. Pennsylvania rifles also weighed half as much as Tower muskets, and used less lead and powder. But they remained expensive, fragile, and subject to problems with fouling.

Rifled muskets were introduced to North America about 1709. The early weapons were brought by Swiss and German settlers, and they were more accurage and pleasant to shoot than were Brown Bess (Tower) or Charleville muskets. Pennsylvania Dutch gunsmiths began making these rifles locally around 1725. British settlers and hunters called these new weapons "long rifles" or "Pennsylvania rifles," and buying large numbers of them during the 1750s. Prior to that, most Americans trained with pikes at militia drill, and used snares and traps to do their meat hunting.

Both Tories and Continentals used long rifles during the American Revolution, as did Kentucky and Tennessee volunteers during the War of 1812. (Indeed, the weapons received the name "Kentucky rifles" following their use by Kentucky volunteers during the Battle of New Orleans.) In Europe, while the Germans raised a few rifle companies, the British did not begin seriously experimenting with them until 1800. Supposedly this was because rifles were slower to reload than muskets. But this wasn’t true, as a good man with a Ferguson rifle could fire four shots a minute while walking or six shots a minute while standing. Furthermore, rifles required no more cleaning than any other firearm. So more likely reasons were that the weapons did not take standard cartridges, of which there were millions in existence, and that their stocks were too fragile to use for butt-stroking.

One thing to consider is that archers generally require a little space between shooters. Musketeers, on the other hand, stand shoulder-to-shoulder. This may sound silly, but standing shoulder to shoulder presents a solid wall to horses, and horses won't happily charge an unbroken human wall. Watch police horses during riots, and you'll see what I mean. John Keegan discusses this in Face of Battle, I think it is.

I keep coming back to the smoke and noise, though. Why? Well, in 1780, a Tyrolean clock maker named Bartolomeo Girandoni manufactured some 20-shot air rifles for the Austrians. While they worked well, these technologically advanced .56 caliber weapons were withdrawn from service in 1801 and banned outright in 1802. In theory, this was because the weapons were fragile, but in practice it was more probably because the roar of a flintlock musket was too thrilling to give up for mere range and accuracy. The noise and smoke of firearms has also been suggested as a reason why firearms replaced crossbows during the sixteenth century. As a 14-year old Los Angeles gangster of the 1980s told a reporter about the lure of automatic weapons such as MAC-10s and AK-47s, "Man, them booms made you happy. Boom! Boom!"

29th September 2004, 06:04
First off, sorry I'm a bit behind on this one--I caught the train a little late, obviously.

I would like to get some more info, from anyone who may have some, regarding Chikurin-ha Heki-ryu (or any other trainable Heki-ryu for that matter). Above it is mentioned that "Chikurin-ha is still active in Nagoya and other places." If anyone has any contact info, or a name, it would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I found some [potentially dubious] information regarding a Heki-ryu ha called Yoshida-ha. Now, I know that the Yoshida family was responsible for carrying on Heki's teaching, but I can find no other info regarding this line of Heki-ryu.

Finally, and in summation (I suppose), anyone who has ever picked up a book about ancient Japanese warfare in general, or ancient Japanese bow-work in particular, will note that there is a veritable cornucopia of stories telling how insanely adept these archers were at their craft: giving birds a pair of horns in mid-flight, leaving a business card in the eye-socket of an opposing lord's guard at a hundred yards, that sort of thing. I have dabbled a bit in kyudo, and seen a helluva lot of demos, and I have no doubt in the veracity of the skill of anyone of higher level that I have seen. [Insert 'However,' here.] I am a bit reticent to accept that anything any kyudoka I have seen do has any practical connection to the traditional archery of Japan (and rightly so, I'm not arguing that). I am interested in fieldcraft, as well as actual Robin Hood accuracy. I do have full appreciation (for my level of experience) for the deeper spiritual emphasis that is put on modern kyudo, but it just does not interest me exclusively with regards to this art.

I am fully appreciative of any questions, comments, criticism and advice that anyone in here can supply--and from what I've seen in this place, that should be a pant-load.


29th September 2004, 12:15

A quick question. Is there any link between kyudo/kyujutsu and hunting?

Jairaj Chetty

30th September 2004, 00:16
That's a good question. I would assume 'yes.' But then again, I am under the impression that the Japanese did not eat a whole lot of meat once the Feudal Era began. I'm just going off of Archaeological and some historical info. Bows have been around about as long as fire, and that is also the case for Japan. Unfortunately, given most contexts, it's hard to assertain whether the bow was used for hunting or ceremony or war. The rule of thumb for Archaeology is that if you don't know what it was used for, it was ceremonial.

So, I would imagine that if anyone was so inclined to actually hunt for some meat, they would've wanted to get the best shot around so as not to waste too much time or energy. It stands to reason that (in later periods) those shooters would be archers (as opposed to regular guys who could shoot a bow if they really needed to). Most of my info comes from primary sources in Archaeology and like second-, third- or fourth-hand sources in history (due to my complete lack of Japanese). The historical stuff gets a bit dicey when it comes to budo (generally speaking), as with most historiographic writing, there is oft times an agenda. And as far as I have ever read, no one writing about kyujutsu or pre-kyujutsu archery has ever broached such a lowly practical subject as meager hunting.

There are numerous higher-grade types in here who can answer the question far better than I from the bujutsu side, and maybe even the historical side, as well. But a level of nerdy common sense would tell me that a shooter is a shooter, whether it's stationary targets, fleeing game or someone charging you, sword in hand, in armor. I suppose at that point, it would ultimately come down to what the shooters preference was.

Jeeze that was wordy, sorry. Hope that helped... I would be interested to hear any other answers to this question, too.

Charlie Kondek
16th June 2005, 17:49
Hi, all. I wasn't sure where to put this since it seems we do not have a kyudo section. There's a discount book store right by my work and I often see great martial arts titles and sometimes post here about them. Anywho, they have several copies of Kyudo by Feliks Hoff for sale for about $6 American. Not sure if the Hoff book is any good but FWIW.

After words
219 S. Main
Ann Arbor, MI 48104


Joseph Svinth
17th June 2005, 01:31
Earl Hartman's review appears at http://ejmas.com/ejmasreviews.htm . See also http://fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=394 .

16th August 2006, 14:18
What's the difference between kyudo and kyujutsu? Does anyone have any links where I can watch online video clips of kyujutsu? Also, I have heard of a kyudo ryu which has no dans. No exams. Is that approach common? Is there any like that around Tokyo or Saitama? Anyone have any opinions on the matter? To me that souds less ego or competition oriented, which I would reckon may tend to be more in line with "do".
Thank you

16th August 2006, 14:58
Dear Mr. Woodland,

I don't know much about kyudo ryu, but I understand there is a Heki-ryu kyudo branch in Satsuma that teaches the old method of shooting in formation and in full yoroi. I think they require a high dan rank in modern kyudo before allowing entry though. I think a lot of modern kyudoka also learn the various koryu methods. You may want to do a websearch on Takeda-ryu. They teach mounted archery. In many koryu groups, not just kyudo, there is no test for ranks, if any are even given. Many still issue densho. In Jikishinkage-ryu after part of the school is learned the headmaster would just give you a scroll. Yagyu Shinkage-ryu issues no scrolls or ranks at all, you just show up and train.

Good luck,

11th September 2008, 13:14
Being completely unfamiliar in the practice of Japanese archery, I was wondering if it is also kata based instruction. If so would a ryu have a number of different kata? I understand that there are a number of different ceremonies that are performed at specific times. Would those be the equivalent of kata?


2nd October 2009, 11:08
YouTube user Aektan (http://www.youtube.com/user/Aektan) has uploaded two archery clips from the Riga Taikai 2009.

Clip one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0UupHzkv-Q&feature=channel)

Clip two (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTpf0krhDrc&feature=channel)

While we are on the subject, are there any ryuha (left) that practices archery in full armour?

2nd October 2009, 11:56
Don't know much about Kyujutsu really, but Satsuma Heki Ryu 薩摩日置流 practice in full armour and also do group exercises in formation.

You can see them here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTLCKDRIg14)

2nd October 2009, 12:57
Don't know much about Kyujutsu really, but Satsuma Heki Ryu 薩摩日置流 practice in full armour and also do group exercises in formation.

You can see them here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTLCKDRIg14)

Nice one! Its a Nihon Kobudo episode.

Thanks for the link. :)

3rd October 2009, 11:48
Another archery clip from the same uploader:


The performer does it more battlefield style in this one.

Steve Delaney
3rd October 2009, 15:59
Another archery clip from the same uploader:


The performer does it more battlefield style in this one.

That is very much Heki-ryu. I like that school a lot.

10th November 2009, 11:54
I should preface this by saying that I have no training in kyudo, and that any inaccuracies in this post are entirely the fault of my own, admittedly meager, research into the topic. That being said, I do have extensive experience with (traditional) Western archery. My knowledge of budo comes solely from my involvement with Kendo, and self-study (the reading kind, not backyard ninjery), and it's from this background that I base the following.

My question, to those who are better informed than myself, is this:

Are there any koryu that teach archery as it was/would have been used in combat/in a martial context? By "in combat" I mean shooting at variable range, shooting at moving targets, shooting from unconventional/inconvenient positions, and acquiring targets and loosing arrows with rapidity.

Beyond that, I'm interested to know of any koryu archery practise that differs from modern Kyudo.

I'm familiar with yabusame, but beyond that all I've seen and read about Japanese archery as it exists today (ie: Kyudo) implies a singular emphasis on, and rigid adherence to a fixed technique, and always with static targets at a fixed distance (not to mention extreme (to me) slowness).

(((Feel free to skip the rest of this post. I just thought I'd share my motivation behind the question.)))

I've never had the opportunity to shoot a yumi, though I've always been interested by them, if only because they're so very unique. With regard to Kyudo however, I've always been bothered by the "seisha hitchu" mantra.

Archery is unique among the martial arts in that it can be practised more-or-less exactly as it would be applied in battle. While there is no impending threat of death, pressure can still be applied in the form of competition or (immensely so) in hunting.

Striving after perfection is a core aspect of budo, and strict adherence to technique is an important part of preserving koryu (which are a living history), but as a bow hunter and (amateur) skeet/sporting clays shooter I know that when it comes to shooting, technique is just one part of the equation.

I've seen people with $10000 shotguns and perfect International Skeet technique miss more birds in a round than a quarter-blind 93-year-old with a temperamental old Remington. More apropos to the topic, I once saw my father take a wild turkey with a longbow while lying on his back.

I was always taught, and have observed that consistency is more important than technique (ie: there is no one "right" way), and both pale in comparison to the importance of internalizing the sight-picture. Granted I don't think anyone takes up Kyudo (or any shooting activity) just to get really good at shooting things, but accuracy is, in the end, the real judge of how well you're using the tool.

I welcome any and all feedback, and thank you for your time.

- James Lawler

Lance Gatling
10th November 2009, 13:49
If there are, I've never seen them, and would like to know. Now you have my curiosity up a bit, too.


10th November 2009, 18:23
Hi James,

Try a youtube or google video search for the Satsuma Heki-ryu (This might be the link I can't check video at work: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSxuQ5ahRJ4 ). There used to be a great demo of them doing formation shooting in full armor. They have a very interesting technique of ducking down in a half squat to reduce the target area they present and use the o-sode to cover much of their bodies. They also do rapid fire shooting and if memory serves they have a small spear tip on the tip of the yumi that they use once in close combat. I don't think they have much need of moving targets for practice since the techniques are for large volleys of lots of archers. I hope this helps.

Best regards,

10th November 2009, 19:33
Thanks Christopher!

I had read somewhere about a group that did formation shooting, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the name. This must be them.

I was really pleased to see their individual positioning and movement. I'd always wondered if the yumi's size would make manoeuvering under cover difficult, and seeing that demo has answered some questions for sure.

I was also happy to see them shooting more organically. Don't get me wrong, Kyudo is beautiful to watch, and I appreciate the budo in it, but as an archer reared on instinctive shooting, the formality has always struck me as stifling and counterproductive.

Satsuma Heki-ryu... Another thing to add to my list of things to check out when I finally get myself to Japan!


James Lawler

Lance Gatling
10th November 2009, 22:25
Centered on Okuyama University.

Satsuma Heiki ryu

I know almost zero about kyudo, but this seems fairly widespread - a quick look at Google discloses references from Kumamoto to Okuyama to Sendai han.


Lance Gatling
10th November 2009, 22:43
If anyone has a burning desire to possess a Heiki ryu densho, I just found one for about US$4000......

10th November 2009, 23:32
Hey Jim,
Here's another vid of Heki ryu that I like ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5VtVCQ7IpY&feature=sub

It shows a bit of battlefield styling without the formation.

11th November 2009, 02:33
Thanks for the links Lance, and Paul, loved the video. He even drops an arrow whilst nocking and maintains composure, good show.

I also found this alternate video of the one suggested by Christopher, which shows a little more detail: http://video.yahoo.com/watch/1113295/4064537

I have to say, the videos have really piqued my interest in their quivers; they draw very easily, and from the back no less. I'd love to see one in greater detail. Would anyone happen to know the Japanese term for a quiver? (thing which holds arrows)? My dictionaries only give words for the physical act of quivering :P

The search continues!

- James Lawler

11th November 2009, 02:45
The Aikido dojo I practice at is at same time and same gym area as a Kyudo dojo..... so if I remember and have time I will try and ask them what quiver would be called and also what are various Koryu ryuha.

Josh Reyer
11th November 2009, 03:52
The term for quiver is yazutsu, or ebira.

Josh Reyer
11th November 2009, 04:44
I should amend my post. The general term for "quiver" is yazutsu or yaire. An ebira was a box-like quiver worn on the right hip. Other terms include yugi, a Heian period quiver worn on the back; yanagui, another quiver worn on the right hip; utsubo, a quiver worn on the hip that protected the feathered ends of the arrows, and shiriko or shiko.

11th November 2009, 05:55
Josh beat me to it.... but if I remember I will ask about various koryu this weekend.

11th November 2009, 10:29
Thanks Jeff, and Josh.

After a little more inspection, and finding some photos, they do seem to be using a version of an ebira, albeit affixed to the rear rather than the flank. It's a clever design. Not unlike some modern bow and hip quivers, but the string's the real genius; gives you control over how the arrows sit/spread.

I might have to try my hand and creating a replica to play with...

Ebira photos (best I found):

A little trivia, a google image search for "ebira" will get you a lot of pictures of African people. Searching "japanese ebira" gets you a lobster monster and a harem of scantily-clad Japanese women. Is Ebira a popular name, by chance?

- James Lawler

11th November 2009, 11:36
It would help if you used the kanji in search engine ie 箙. As to the shirmp images.... えび ie ebi is shrimp and it looks like style of cooking shrimp maybe? or at least form quick google search I just did using えびら。Hope that helps you some.

11th November 2009, 12:09
Looks like it's ebi-ra, like goji-ra and mosu-ra. I don't remember a Godzilla flick with a shrimp monster, but then I doubt I've seen even a quarter of them.

EDIT: And thanks for the kanji, it definitely improves the search accuracy :)

12th November 2009, 12:53

I have the Nippon Budokan dvd of the heki ryu showing the battle formations in full armour.

very interesting

Tim Atkinson
17th November 2009, 20:39
Can anyone provide information about this Kyudo ryuha?
MuyoShingetsu-Ryu 無影心月流 の 欧洲道場 is available to me within an hours drive. I want to establish a bit of information about the school before I go any further and waste their time.

Are they an off-shoot from a more well known school? Do they concentrate on the internal aspects or more on technique? What is the history of the school and its' founder?

Any help would be welcome as information in English and even Japanese (once translated) seems very light.

Michael Wert
20th November 2009, 23:05
I'll give you the short version: founded by Umeji Kenran who died in 1951. Focuses on the "mind" aspect of kyudo. Was greatly respected by Awa Kenzo, the teacher in "zen in the art of archery" and himself into the "mind" stuff. Very small following, most kyudo practitioners in Japan wouldn't have heard of it, or if they did, will know nothing about it. I.e. Not a koryu if that's what your looking for.

Tim Atkinson
23rd November 2009, 20:12
Mr Wert,

Thanks for taking the time to put togeather your reply.

I appreciate the effort.

16th January 2010, 02:53
Finally had a chance to ask the Kyudo group that practices at same place my Aikido dojo does. These are the ones that they gave me.

Satsuma Heki

Hope this helps!