Kyudo Techniques and Equipment
The Kyudo | What is Kyudo | History of Kyudo | Kyudo Description | Development of Kyudo | Techniques and Equipment | Kyudo Way Of The Bow | Yumi Care Guide | The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery | The Evil Destroying Yumi | The Spirit of Kyudo
The yumi (Japanese bow) is exceptionally tall (standing over two meters), surpassing the height of the archer (Kyudoka). Yumi are traditionally made of bamboo, wood and leather using techniques which have not changed for centuries, although some archers (particularly, those new to the art) may use synthetic (i.e. laminated wood coated with glassfiber or carbon fiber) yumi.
Even advanced Kyudoka may own non-bamboo yumi and ya due to the vulnerability of bamboo equipment to extreme climates. The suitable height for yumi depends from the length of archers draw (yatsuka) which is usually about half the archers height.
Ya (arrow) shafts were traditionally made of bamboo, with either eagle or hawk feathers. Most ya shafts today are still made of bamboo (although some archers will use shafts made of aluminum or carbon fibers), and ya feathers are now obtained from non-endangered birds such as turkeys or swans.
The length of an arrow is the archers yatsuka plus between 6 to 10 centimeters. Every ya has a gender (male ya are called haya; female ya, otoya); being made from feathers from alternate sides of the bird, the haya spins clockwise upon release while the otoya spins counter-clockwise.
Kyudo archers usually shoot two ya per round, with the haya being shot first. It is often claimed that the alternate spinning direction of the arrows would prevent two consecutive identically shot arrows from flying identically and thus colliding.
The Kyudo archer wears a glove on the right hand called a yugake. There are many varieties of yugake, they are typically made of deerskin. Practitioners can choose between a hard glove (with a hardened thumb) or a soft glove (without a hardened thumb), there are different advantages to both.
With a hard glove, the thumb area is not very flexible and has a pre-made groove used to pull the string (tsuru). With a soft glove, the thumb area is very flexible and is without a pre-made groove, allowing the practitioner to create their own, based on their own shooting habits.
Typically a yugake will be of the three or four finger variety. The amount of fingers on the glove is dependent on the school of Kyudo and the weight of the bow being pulled. Three finger yugake are usually used with bows below 20 kilo, while four finger yugake are used with bows above 20 kilo. Though rare, it is not unheard of for archers to use one finger or five finger gloves. Some schools, such as Heki-ryÅ« Insai-ha only use the three fingered glove, even with bows above 40 kilo. A practitioner’s nock and grip of the arrow can be dictated by the glove and bow they are using. It is not uncommon for practitioners who have upgraded or downgraded bow weight to continue to use the same glove and not change.
Technique: All Kyudo archers hold the bow in their left hand and draw the string with their right, so that all archers face the higher position (kamiza) while shooting.
Unlike occidental archers (who, with some exceptions, draw the bow never further than the cheek bone), Kyudo archers draw the bow so that the drawing hand is held behind the ear. If done improperly, upon release the string may strike the archer’s ear or side of the face.
Resulting from the technique to release the shot, the bow will (for a practised archer) spin in the hand so that the string stops in front of the archer’s outer forearm. This action of “yugaeri” is a combination of technique and the natural working of the bow. It is unique to Kyudo.
Kyudo technique is meticulously prescribed. The All Nippon Kyudo Federation (ANKF), the main governing body of Kyudo in Japan, has codified the hassetsu (or “eight stages of shooting”) in the Kyudo Kyohon (Kyudo Manual). The hassetsu consists of the following steps:
- Ashibumi, placing the footing. The archer steps on to the line from where arrows are fired (known as the shai) and turns to face the kamiza, so that the left side of his body faces the target. He then sights from the target to his feet and sets his feet apart so that the distance between them is equal to his yatsuka, approximately half his body height. A line drawn between the archer’s toes should pass through the target after the completion of the ashibumi.
- Dozukuri, forming the body. The archer verifies his balance and that his pelvis and the line between his shoulders are parallel to the line set up during ashibumi.
- Yugamae, readying the bow. Yugamae consists of three phases:
- Torikake, gripping of the bowstring with the right hand.
- Tenouchi, the left hand is positioned for shooting on the bow’s grip.
- Monomi, the archer turns his head to gaze at the target.
- Uchiokoshi, raising the bow. The archer raises the bow above his head to prepare for the draw.
- Hikiwake, drawing apart. The archer starts bringing down the bow while spreading his arms, simultaneously pushing the bow with his left hand and drawing the string with the right, until the arrow is level with his eyebrows.
- Kai, the full draw. The archer continues the movement started in the previous phase, until he reaches full draw with the arrow placed slightly below his cheekbone. The arrow points along the line set up during ashibumi.
- Hanare, the release. The bowstring is released from the right hand.
- Zanshin, “the remaining body or mind” or “the continuation of the shot”. The archer remains in the position reached after hanare while returning from the state of concentration associated with the shot.
While other schools’ shooting also conforms to the hassetsu outlined above, the naming of some steps and some details of the execution of the shot may differ.
Rankings: Using a system which is common to modern budÅ (martial art) practices, most Kyudo schools periodically hold examinations, which, if the archer passes, results in the conveying of a grade, which can be kyÅ« or dan level. Traditional schools, however, often rank students as a recognition of attaining instructor status using the older menkyo (license) system of koryu budo.
While Kyudo’s kyu and dan levels are similar to those of other budÅ practices, colored belts or similar external symbols of one’s level are not worn by Kyudo practitioners.
- Heki-ryu Chikurin-ha (see Onyumishi Kanjuro Shibata XX)
- Heki-ryu Insai-ha (aka. Heki To-ryu)
- Heki-ryu Sekka-ha
- Ogasawara Ryu
In popular culture:
- The character Shado first introduced in the DC Comics prestige format limited series Green Arrow The Longbow Hunters is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The character Kikyo from the anime InuYasha is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The characters Shizuka DÃ´meki and Haruka DÃ´meki from the manga/anime xxxHolic are practitioners of Kyudo.
- The character Naoji from the anime and GBA game Meine Liebe is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The characters Yukito Tsukishiro and Kaho Mizuki from the anime Card Captor Sakura are practitioners of Kyudo.
- The character Arjuna from the anime Earth Girl Arjuna is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The character Chikane Himemiya from the anime Kannazuki no Miko is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The character Yoko Tsuno from the comic books by French Roger Leloup is practitioner of Kyudo.
- The character Suoh Takamura from the manga Clamp School Detectives is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The character Komaki Sakurai from the anime Tokyo Majin Gakuen KenpuchÅ: TÅ is a practitioner of Kyudo.
- The three-volume Shonen-Ai manga Rin! by Satoru Kannagi & Yukine Honami features characters who are all practitioners of Kyudo, and many of the events are set in a KyÅ«dÅ DÅjÅ or in tournaments.