Budo/Martial Arts · Kyudo

Arrow Count

How many arrows should we shoot in one standing?

By “one standing” I mean when we go to the mark to shoot, and so the question I pose is, how many arrows should we bring at once to shoot at the mark?

This is actually an interesting question I’d like to ask some archers outside of the kyudo realm.

But since kyudo is all I know and that’s what we’re talking about here, I’ll just stick with kyudo.


When I first learned kyudo my teacher told me to bring two arrows.

After I while I started training for my first tournament. In most tournaments you shoot four arrows in one standing, so my teacher told me to practice shooting four arrows.

After the tournament I wonder if I continued to shoot four arrows and my teacher told me to return to two, or if I just returned on my own. Interesting thing, our memory.

Soon I moved across the country to a new dojo, before which I was told to take the utmost care and humility in learning the ways of the new dojo and adhering to them. To this end, I only shot two arrows at each standing, because that’s the standard.

I got comfortable with the new dojo and especially those I trained with in the morning. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with few members and when I first joined, rarely visited by teachers. After one sitting zassha form in the beginning of training, it was all four arrows at one standing after that. Now I sometimes only go with two, but the norm is four, and I haven’t received any heat for that.

Sometimes when I’m all alone, I’ll take six arrows at one standing, which is almost always frowned upon in my experience. But when you’re alone … well … there’s no one to frown at you.

For the past few months I’ve been training with a guy who will shoot 6, 8, or even more arrows before going and retrieving them from the shooting bank (though he usually only takes four at one standing). Sometimes I join him in this. If you’re having fun with a partner … well … that’s fun.

The other day it was a normal morning practice. My teacher showed up and watched my practice while dealing with some dojo business printing things. Everyone else left and it was just us, me shooting and him printing. It was about time to go to work, but I wasn’t satisfied with my shooting. I thought, “Just a little more”, and I’ll have it.

So I shot four arrows.

Not yet.

Fine, nobody else around, I’ll shoot four more.


This is shit, I can’t leave like this. I’ll shoot my last four.

I had dug myself into a little hole, and there I was, already running late for the rest of my day and nowhere near close to happy with my shooting.

You just shot twelve arrows, didn’t you?

Fuck. Now he decides to say something. I figured this was going to happen. But he didn’t say anything before, or partway. There’s nobody else here. Who cares how many arrows that I shoot?

In my mind I know it goes against some rules in kyudo to shoot like this, but I’ve got a plan. I’m trying to forget everything else and condition my body to shooting. The immediate results might seem ugly, but I’m sowing seeds for the future. After rest, my body which has soaked up all this time in the bow will grow to great heights.

That’s what I thought, anyway.

“Yeah, I did.”

I wouldn’t recommend that.”

Wow. He’s taking care not bark at me. Probably because he knows I’ll hate it and not listen. I appreciate that. I still thought I was right and dreading his long speech about how many arrows I should shoot, all when I’m trying to get out of the dojo and off to work.

“Bad habits get worse when shooting so much. The brain stops thinking and your body finds the easy way to shoot, which makes for lazy and improper form.”

He’s explaining this. This makes me happy. I don’t really want to hear what he has to say in my current state, but explaining the reasons is a hell of a lot better than just saying “No”.

“By shooting only two or maybe four arrows, it gives you the time to focus on each arrow. This allows you to improve your technique and make each arrow better than the rest. It’s very difficult to remember to do everything you’re supposed to in shooting, which is why the body won’t just do it alone by habit.”

Starting to make more sense than my theory.

“Also, it gives the body time to rest while you retrieve your arrows. Your shoulder and hand have been hurting lately, right? Your body and mind need the break, not more arrows.”

Why is it that the more my shoulder hurts, the more I want to shoot? Strange thing, our minds.

“When you start kyudo, and during shodan and nidan (first and second ranks) you are told to shoot lots of arrows to get your body used to shooting, but after that it’s time to start putting more time into each arrow. For a godan test (fifth rank), one would be much better off putting more time into each arrow than simply shooting a lot.”

This was the end. I was free to go. I nodded my head and said hai hai in all the right spots. I was pissed. But to be fair, I was pissed at myself, for whatever reasons. That’s nobody else’s fault. I retrieved my arrows, got changed, and got to work on time.

Afterwards though, I was very affected by what my teacher had told me.

Everything he said seemed to click into place, and I wasn’t angry anymore. In fact, it was just in the car ride away from the dojo that I realized what amazing advice I had been given, and how astray I had taken myself. If he hadn’t have said anything, I probably would have continued to do the same kind of training, driving myself crazy and making my bad habits worse.

Finally back to the issue of how many arrows to bring in one standing, I’ve decided to go back to training shooting only two arrows at one standing, unless its specifically for a specific tournament coming up. Shooting four arrows at a time works well for getting in the rhythm of a tournament, but for improving your shooting, and benefiting from all the things about life kyudo can teach you, shooting two I believe is much more valuable. After shooting two sets of two arrows, I will go and retrieve them to rest my body and mind before the next set.

At least that’s how I feel now.

It hasn’t always been this way, and I’m sure I will change again, and then change again after that, and that I think is good. I don’t regret my mistakes, but am grateful to see something in them that might make me better.

So, according to my current idea of how many arrows we should bring at one standing:

two arrows for improvement,

four arrows for specific training for tournaments,

and twelve arrows for the frustrated youth.

Which got me thinking about one other thing.

I looked at a video of my shooting and thought I looked much older than I did before. Which makes perfect sense, because … HELLO! … I’m older than I was since the last video, last week, last minute, or even last second (funny things, our ideas). I’ve gone through many phases of shooting. That frustrated boy slamming himself against the bow has come, and perhaps it’s time for him to leave for a while. It’s time to let my form age with me. With that age comes dignity and patience. Such qualities are not just about “getting old”, but about better living our life. One could say more “effectively”, but I think that word is cold and concerned only with numbers and labels, which pisses me off … but in a way aging does help us to manipulate numbers and labels which create for real effects in our world.


There you go, I like that.


If there’s one thing I appreciate in the world, and want to nourish, it’s quality.

If kyudo can help me better refine and understand quality, then it’s damn worth doing.

If not, then I should probably be doing something else.

To shoot or not to shoot?

This is a question we can only answer ourselves.




2 thoughts on “Arrow Count

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