Kyudo · Nobiai

Nobiai, and other Kyudo points

Ocean near my apartment.
Ocean near my apartment.

This is nobiai.

The perfect horizontal line that is stretching from side to side, and just is at the same time, that is nobiai in nature.

It is the expansion of the universe from inside of the void all the way to it’s outer reaches of infinity.

Around my apartment, Tsunogi
Around my apartment, Tsunogi

Specifically, nobiai is a very important term we use in kyudo to describe the stretching outwards in equal directions horizontally from your chest while you hold the position in the full draw (actually it exists throughout the whole form, but is most apparent in the full draw). It is also the stretching of our spines reaching down into the earth and up into the clouds. Without this nobiai we are just standing there shooting a bow and arrow with small technique. When utilizing nobiai we make our kyudo considerably stronger technically, and we accomplish a lot of the spiritual stuff as well. I’m not so clear on the latter, so I’ll mostly just talk about physical technique here.


Simply put, you’re stretching outwards and upwards and downwards. But just being told this, “stretch outwards and upwards“, while standing there under the physical pressure of the bow in the full draw … it probably won’t come that easy.


The very very first time I experienced nobiai is when I read something about pulling the bow and string to a point of tension and holding it, then when you release, it is like cutting a piece of string that you’re pulling apart with both hands. Now reflecting after more experience, that certainly seems to be true, but I didn’t get it quite at the time. I still don’t.

The next time I actually experienced nobiai was when my sensei in Toyama told me that while I hold the draw, I can’t just sit there and wait (like I thought I was supposed to) but spread out from my center. Specifically, he told me to spread out from my chest like you’re splitting it open. I’d be there in the full draw and tell me “Stretch! Stretch! Stretch!” and I would, the best I very could. Sometimes he said, “Yes, yes, that’s it!”. Other times he walked away shaking his head saying, “Nope, that’s not it.” I understand it better now. But I still don’t quite get it.

Nakatsu oceanside neighborhood
Nakatsu oceanside neighborhood

It’s just like the last two instances I said, but just those alone I don’t quite get it. Actually, it’s like the first time you’re told these things you focus on them in such a pure way that you can actually achieve them. But for some reason, with each try, that brilliance fades, and eventually you revert to what you were before. It’s so strange, and very frustrating at first, but is very much an important part of kyudo.

Anyway, so how else can we talk about nobiai in a way that can help you.

Japanese house

Well, first of all, what you can’t do is just say pull with the hands, because if you just pull with the hands (which makes sense since that’s what you hold the bow and string with) you eliminate all of the strength in your chest and body and use only the physical muscles in your hands and shoulders, which isn’t as strong as using your chest, back, legs, and the entire earth itself.

So some tricks I’ve heard lately are:

-Instead of pulling the bow, act like you’re pushing it apart with your elbows as you put yourself in the middle. You split the bow apart by pushing it with your elbows.

-When you release, don’t stop spreading outwards, but spread outwards throughout the release continuing expansion of your chest. (Essentially, this is zanshin, arguably the most important and difficult part of shooting a bow and arrow, and something I will talk about in more depth very soon.)

-As you extend outwards, if that’s all you think about then you hunch over. You must remember spreading up and down as well.

-In standing up straight, must remember you need to stay in the center and pull equally with both sides, not leaning to far into the pull of the string or pushing of the bow.

-As you release, imagine you front thumb (that holds the bow) extend stabbing the target, and your left thumb doing the same to the mirror imaginary target exactly behind you.



The examples fade, and in the end, I’m in very elementary stages of nobiai.

One of the biggest parts of the technique of shooting in kyudo is this expansion of the self from the core which is called nobiai.



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