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FocusWeaponry - Bow
Country of originJapan Japan
CreatorNo single creator
Olympic sportNo

Kyūjutsu (弓術) ("art of archery") is the traditional Japanese martial art of wielding a bow (yumi) as practiced by the samurai class of feudal Japan.[1] Although the samurai are perhaps best known for their swordsmanship with a katana (kenjutsu), kyūjutsu was actually considered a more vital skill for a significant portion of Japanese history. During the majority of the Kamakura period through the Muromachi period (c.1185–c.1568), the bow was almost exclusively the symbol of the professional warrior, and way of life of the warrior was referred to as "the way of the horse and bow" (弓馬の道, kyūba no michi).[2]


A Japanese archer with targets. Ink on paper, 1878.

The beginning of archery in Japan is, as elsewhere, pre-historical. The first images picturing the distinct Japanese asymmetrical longbow are from the Yayoi period (ca. 500 BC–300 AD). The first written document describing Japanese archery is the Chinese chronicle Weishu (魏書; dated around 297 AD), which tells how in the Japanese isles people use "a wooden bow that is short from the bottom and long from the top."[3]


The changing of society and the military class (samurai) taking power at the end of the first millennium created a requirement for education in archery. This led to the birth of the first kyūjutsu ryūha (style), the Henmi-ryū, founded by Henmi Kiyomitsu in the 12th century.[4] The Takeda-ryū and the mounted archery school Ogasawara-ryū were later founded by his descendants. The need for archers grew dramatically during the Genpei War (1180–1185) and as a result the founder of the Ogasawara-ryū (Ogasawara Nagakiyo), began teaching yabusame (mounted archery).[5]

Civil war[edit]

From the 15th to the 16th century, Japan was ravaged by civil war. In the latter part of the 15th century Heki Danjō Masatsugu revolutionized archery with his new and accurate approach called hi, kan, chū (fly, pierce, center), and his footman's archery spread rapidly. Many new schools were formed, some of which, such as Heki-ryū Chikurin-ha, Heki-ryū Sekka-ha and Heki-ryū Insai-ha, remain today.[6]

16th century[edit]

The yumi (Japanese bow) as a weapon of war began its decline after the Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543 bringing firearms with them in the form of the matchlock.[7] The Japanese soon started to manufacture their own version of the matchlock called tanegashima and eventually the tanegashima and the yari (spear) became the weapons of choice. The yumi, however, would be continued to be used alongside the tanegashima for a period of time because of a lack of sufficient numbers of firearms, something samurai repeatedly complained about during the Imjin War. The tanegashima was far more powerful than the yumi and also did not require as much training, allowing Oda Nobunaga's army consisting mainly of farmers armed with tanegashima to annihilate a traditional samurai cavalry in a single battle in 1575. By the time of the 1598 invasion of Korea, samurais were armed almost exclusively with matchlock muskets and swords, having abandoned the yumi.

17th century on[edit]

During the Tokugawa period (1603–1868) Japan was turned inward as a hierarchical caste society in which the samurai were at the top. There was an extended era of peace during which the samurai moved to administrative duty, although the traditional fighting skills were still esteemed. During this period archery became a "voluntary" skill, practiced partly in the court in ceremonial form, partly as different kinds of competition. Archery spread also outside the warrior class. The samurai were affected by the straightforward philosophy and aim for self-control in Zen Buddhism that was introduced by Chinese monks. Earlier archery had been called kyūjutsu, the skill of bow, but monks acting even as martial arts teachers led to creation of a new concept: kyūdō.

Since then, especially due to changes brought by Japan opening up to the outside world at the beginning of the Meiji era (1868–1912), kyūjutsu has experienced a steep decline.

Koryū (old-school styles)[edit]

  • Ogasawara ryu 小笠原流
  • Heki ryū 日置流
  • Heki ryū Sekka-ha 日置流 雪荷派
  • Heki ryū Dōsetsu-ha 日置流 道雪派
  • Heki ryū Chikurin-ha 日置流 竹林派
  • Heki ryū Izumo-ha 日置流 出雲派
  • Heki ryū Insai-ha 日置流 印西派
  • Heki ryū Yoshida-ha 日置流 吉田派
  • Yamato ryū 大和流
  • Yoshida ryū 吉田流
  • Ikkan ryū 一貫流

See also[edit]

  • Kyūdō – Japanese archery martial art.
    • Yumi – Traditional Japanese bow.
    • Ya (arrow) – Traditional Japanese arrow.
  • Yabusame – Japanese archery involving riding a horse.
  • Inuoumono – A Japanese sport that involved mounted archers shooting at dogs. The dogs were released into a circular enclosure approximately 15m across, and mounted archers would fire upon them whilst riding around the perimeter.
  • Kasagake – A type of Japanese mounted archery; in contrast to yabusame, the types of targets are various and the archer shoots without stopping the horse. While yabusame has been played as a part of formal ceremonies, kasagake has developed as a game or practice of martial arts, focusing on technical elements of horse archery.
  • Tōshiya – The Tōshiya, "passing arrow", or "the arrows which hit the target", was an archery exhibition contest held on the west veranda of Sanjūsangen-dō temple in Kyoto, Japan.
  • Shihan Mato – A traditional style of Japanese archery using a short bow from a seated position.
  • The Japanese culture and lifestyle television show Begin Japanology aired on NHK World featured a full episode on Kyūdō in 2008.
  • A European's take on kyūdō in Zen in the Art of Archery.
  • Tsurune – A Japanese light novel series about a school kyūdō club, later adapted into an anime in 2018 by Kyoto Animation.


  1. ^ Samurai: The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior, Author Clive Sinclaire, Publisher Globe Pequot, 2004, ISBN 1-59228-720-4, ISBN 978-1-59228-720-8 P.121
  2. ^ Mol, Serge (2001). Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A Complete Guide to Koryū Jūjutsu. Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd. pp. 70. ISBN 4-7700-2619-6.
  3. ^ Yamada Shōji, The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 2001 28/1–2
  4. ^ Thomas A. Green, Martial Arts of the World, 2001
  5. ^ Onuma, Hideharu; DeProspero, Dan; DeProspero, Jackie (1993). Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery. Kodansha International. pp. 13–16. ISBN 978-4-7700-1734-5.
  6. ^ Onuma, Hideharu; DeProspero, Dan; DeProspero, Jackie (1993). Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery. Kodansha International. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-4-7700-1734-5.
  7. ^ Tanegashima: the arrival of Europe in Japan, Olof G. Lidin, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, NIAS Press, 2002 P.1-14