Kyudo · Kyudo Books

Upcoming Blog Carnival & More From “Zen in the Art of Archery”

The blog carnival hosted by Sophelia at  is only five days away!

So if you’re interested in joining get writing and contact Sophelia by email, and if you’re looking forward to reading all the different articles, mark April 19th on your calendar, yo. It should be good fun so don’t miss out!

Back to “Zen in the Art of Archery” by Eugen Herrigel, this is a book I recently picked up but am just about finished with. It’s not a large book, and it reads fairly quickly, but it certainly is a gem not be missed in any archer’s library, or anybody interested in zen practice or Japan for that matter.

The book follows the experiences of Eugen Herrigel, a German lecturer of philosophy who went to Japan in the 1930’s and practiced kyudo with the infamous Awa Kenzo for six years.

I’ve been marking pages to quote in the blog, but they are far too many, and if the book sounds interesting from here, one ought to just check it out for themselves.

But then again I can’t just leave it at that.

Herrigel has a theme he is talking about in his book, but it’s not so easy to describe in one sentence. Perhaps Herrigel isn’t even aware of this great theme. I believe the great theme of his book is also the great theme of kyudo.

So I guess I’ll make an attempt at it’s description on one phrase here:

Practicing many disparate skills, that combine together as the single experience of a great art that is forever worked upon so that the phenomenon of the entire experience can happen itself, using the practitioner as just a small part of many.

I guess that’s part of it. Not so sure about putting that in concrete or anything though.

One tricky part about kyudo is that we are putting specific effort into shooting the bow, using our entire conscious focus to pull the bow and arrow all by ourselves, and yet we’re also supposed to completely relax and not-shoot the arrow ourselves, letting it just happen itself. It’s a strange paradox found in almost every small detail of technique.

Herrigel seems to focus on the release as his greatest problem in practicing a kyudo that will satisfy his master. Below is an anecdote concerning this matter. It begins with Awa Kenzo scolding Herrigel for changing the technique in order to shoot better without having to wait for the proper release in the full draw:

‘You see what comes of not being able to wait without purpose in the state of highest tension. You cannot even learn to do this without continually asking yourself: Shall I be able to manage it? Wait patiently, and see what comes –  and how it comes!’

I pointed out to the Master that I was already in my fourth year and that my stay in Japan was limited.

The way to the goal is not to be measured! Of what importance are weeks, months, years?’

‘But what if I have to break off half way?’ I asked.

Once you have grown truly egoless you can break off at any time. Keep on practising that.’

And so we began from the very beginning (after three years of previous training) as if everything I had learned hitherto had become useless. But the waiting at the point of highest tension was no more successful than before, as if it were impossible for me to get out of the rut.

One day I asked the master: ‘How can the shot be loosed if “I” do not do it?’

‘”It” shoots,’ he replied.

‘I have heard you say that several times before, so let me put it another way: How can I wait self-obliviously for the shot if “I” am no longer there?’

‘”It” waits at the highest tension.’

‘And who or what is this “It”?’

‘Once you have understood that, you will have no further need of me. And if I tried to give you a clue at the cost of your own experience, I should be the worst of teachers and should deserve to be sacked! So let’s stop talking about it and go on practising.’

What do you think?

Lots of stuff going on here!

We put all of this effort into shooting and then are just supposed to wait for “It” to happen. I think a lot of archers get used to putting so much effort into shooting that they feel entitled to success, me included!

Look at what I’ve done! I put all of this hard work in and this is me! It is great!”


But that doesn’t work.  What you end with is just getting good at technically shooting a bow and arrow, which is great, but not exactly what we are doing in kyudo.

So what are we doing in kyudo?

My simple answers would be:

-learning to better cultivate ourselves

-making art that is bigger than ourselves

-experiencing the world for all it is

But I think a “real” answer cannot be described so easily here, because it’s not just about me, it’s about you. And it’s not just about you, but everybody else. And it’s not about everybody else, but about the Universe. And it’s not about the Universe but anti- Universe.

I will quote Awa Kenzo again here to let someone with great experience in the art shine some wisdom on us:

“Once you have understood that (the “It” that shoots), you will have no further need of me. And if I tried to give you a clue at the cost of your own experience, I should be the worst of teachers and should deserve to be sacked! So let’s stop talking about it and go on practising.”


You heard the man, let’s stop talking about it and go on practising!

Good luck to us all on the Path.




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