Kyudo (Japanese: Kyu: bow. Do: a `way` or moral discipline) is easily recognised as a form of archery but its apparent similarity with other kinds of archery can be misleading.
Leaning Kyudo`s graceful movements requires self-control and a growing insight into the complex interplay between mind and body. As with, say, yoga or tai-chi, mastery of the outward forms leads to greater awareness of the true unity of the physical, emotional, and mental foundation of our lives.
With a sporting aspect but not a sport, with a spiritual aspect but not a religion, as a physical discipline but with a powerful psychological and emotional power, Kyudo is hard to frame within normal categories. But this diversity provides a means for balancing these very different dimensions of human life within a single activity. Especially in the West, where the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects have become so dislocated, Kyudo has a very special role to play.
-The aim of Kyudo-
It is often said that it is not important to hit the target in Kyudo. This is far from true. If the shooting is correct – correct in form, concentration, and mental attitude, the arrow will inevitably hit the target. At the highest level, this is attained by an expansion of spiritual energy, which results in an intuitive release. This is a unique feature of Kyudo as a form of archery.
-The form of Kyudo-
All practice of Kyudo follows the same form – an eight stage set of movements – every aspect of which is closely described and which must be followed exactly.
This following of a strictly set from, with no room for innovation or personal interpretation, may seem restrictive to some; however, it is in the moulding of the body and will within proper prescribed form that provides Kyudo with its basis for spiritual and moral training.
As an old Kyudo text puts it: “Shooting embraces the three spheres of mind, body, and spirit. These spheres, being linked together one to the other, bring a thousand upon ten thousand changes to the inner workings of the art… Cleanse your mind and correct your body, with singleness of purpose nurture the proper spirit, practice the correct technique, and throw yourself into your training with all the sincerity you can muster. This is the only way.”
-The Japanese bow-
Technically, the Japanese bow has a number of unique features. At over two meters in length it is the longest bow in the world. This shape of bow, with an asymmetrically placed grip, has remained unchanged for centuries. The bow is contructed from bamboo and hardwood with a complex internal lamination. Proper use of the bow demends that the archer use the energy of the bow to the fullest. To do this the archer must transfer the power of the bow through the hands into the centre of the body.
Unlike other methods of shooting, the Japanese bow is drawn from a position above the head until the right hand reaches a point over the right shoulder. The draw length is important in establishing a balanced body position of the draw. It also calls for uncommonly long arrows.
The string is drawn by using a groove in the deerskin shooting glove and is held in position by the thumb. On release, the pressure exerted by the bow pulls the thumb open, loosing the arrow at the target, while the bow swings round in the archer`s hand. Shooting is usually practised at a length of 28 meters at a target of 36cms.
Liam O’Brien (1946-2015), Kyoshi 7 dan, established The London Kyudo Society to promote the practice of Kyudo. O’Brien sensei started kyudo in Japan and trained there for 11 of the 40 years during which he practised kyudo.