Zen in the Art of Archery

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Zen in the Art of Archery
Author Eugen Herrigel
Cover artist Joseph del Gaudio
Country Germany
Language German
Genre Philosophical novel
Published Pantheon Books
Vintage Books
Publication date
1948 (Germany), 1953 (United States), 1955 (Japan)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 90 pp (1953 edition, paperback)
ISBN 978-0-375-70509-0
OCLC 40962313

Zen in the Art of Archery is a short book by German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel, published in 1948, about his experiences studying Kyūdō, a form of Japanese archery, when he lived in Japan in the 1920s. It is credited with introducing Zen to Western audiences in the late 1940s and 1950s.


Herrigel (1884–1955) was a German professor of philosophy, with a special interest in mysticism. From 1924 to 1929 he taught philosophy in Japan, and studied Kyūdō (the art of the Japanese bow) under a master named Awa Kenzô. Awa taught kyūdō in a way that was regarded by some as a mystical religion, called Daishadokyo. Daishadokyo was an approach to kyūdō that placed great emphasis on the spiritual aspect and differed from much of the mainstream practice at the time.[1] In 1936, Herrigel wrote a 20-page essay about his experiences, and then in 1948 expanded the essay into a short book. The book was translated into English in 1953 and Japanese in 1955.


The book sets forth theories about motor learning and control that provide lessons for learning any sport or physical activity. For example, a central idea in the book is that through years of practice, a physical activity becomes effortless both mentally and physically, as if the body executes complex and difficult movements without conscious control from the mind.

Herrigel describes Zen in archery as follows:

"(...) The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art (...)"


The title "Zen in the Art of Archery" most likely inspired the titles of many other works, either directly or indirectly. Foremost among these is Robert Pirsig's wildly popular 1974 book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. More than 200 works have been created with similar titles, including Ray Bradbury's 1990 book Zen in the Art of Writing, as well as "Zen and the Art of Poker,", "Zen and the Art of Knitting", Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, and so on.

J.D. Salinger's fictional character "Seymour Glass" applied one aspect of Zen archery—aiming by deliberately not taking aim—to playing the children's game of marbles.

The wider theme of many of these works is that doing an ordinary task, such as fixing a motorcycle, can have a spiritual dimension.[2]


  1. ^ "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery" (PDF). Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 2001, 28/1-2. Retrieved October 2013. 
  2. ^ "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values"; Author: Rober Pirsig; Publisher: HarperTorch; Reprint edition (April 25, 2006) Language: English ISBN-10: 0060589469 ISBN-13: 978-0060589462

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