Recently I have become interested in kyudo, 弓道, literally translating as “the way of the bow.” Up front it certainly seems like archery, I mean, few other disciplines involve a bow, arrows, and a target to be hit, but there is a all-pervasive Japanese spirit to the discipline.

I had the opportunity to attend a competition on the invitation of one of my acquaintances, and there happened to meet a member having graduated not only from the same university as I am studying at, but the same laboratory (indeed, I have read his graduation paper.) He offered to teach me during training hours, and I took him up on the offer this Saturday.

So, what makes it so different from normal archery? Well, anyone having ever been to Japan will know they have an obsession with form. There is a correct way to do everything, even if any other way would do just as well. This ranges from the simplest things, like how to pull your disposable chopsticks apart (and hold them, and use them, and God save you if you don’t sit down first!) to the elaborate rules laid out for the art of tea ceremony.

Probably every foreigner goes through at least three of the following four stages relating to these (sometimes very arbitrary) rules:

  1. Fascination – Oh, it is so interesting how they do things here!
  2. Disgust – So what if I poured my own beer!?
  3. Acceptance – Why do you… Screw it, I give up.
  4. Re-fascination – You know, there is a certain beauty to kendo/sado/kyudo.

I was at no. 2 around Christmas, when a close friend pointed out that although she could understand my frustration with the strange ways, I really ought to grow some balls and stop whining. Bam! Hit no. 3 right then and there. Considering my recent interest in tea ceremony and kyudo, it seems I might just be slowly moving towards no. 4.

It just looks so damn cool!

Okay, back to the actual topic! Kyudo is an art perfected over almost two thousand years. Now mind you, “perfected” does not mean in the sense of “being able to kill a soldier hiding in a bush a hundred meters away while riding a horse. The perfection of kyudo lies in the grace that is achieved in the actions immediately prior to and following the shooting of a longbow. Seeing it in movies I always thought it looked beautiful. Seeing it in real life made me go “kakkoii! (trans: cool!)”

Indeed, the goal of kyudo is not so much to hit the target, but to achieve this grace in the manner of firing the bow. This is witnessed by university clubs on average taking one year before club members get to try their luck on the archery range. In the club I joined, it was closer to one month. It was said that if one trained hard every day for a week, they might be good enough for a first try at a real target.

Today, I spent six hours with a personal trainer, and to my surprise was allowed to shoot three arrows at half-distance by the end! And no, I did not hit anything, but was complimented on my form (which basically means that I sucked, but slightly less than they imagined…) I have the chance to see a video of me shooting though, and to my untrained eye it actually looked decent!

Who is that handsome guy in hakama? Ohhhh, I recognise him now! 😀