Budo/Martial Arts · Kihontai - Fundamental Form · Taihai - Ceremonial Movements

Are You Susceptible to Shoulder Injuries in Kyudo?

This is a kind of continuation from the past few posts on the “Kyudo Injuries: Shoulder” series discussing the causes and effects of a shoulder injury I’ve had from practicing shooting the bow and arrow.

As an update I’ve been taking medicine, rubbing creams, and going to rehabilitation with a physical trainer for about an hour at a time twice a week.

During each session I start out warming my shoulder up for about 10 to 15 minutes with a hot blanket and then the physical trainer massages the area around my shoulder while doing small stretching exercises for about another 15 minutes or so. (This is going to be hard to quit!) Then we progress to exercises that are designed to strengthen the inner muscle around my shoulder blades.

And so now we are coming to great theme of it all …


I found this video which is an advertisement but does an amazing job of describing what “inner muscle” is and why it’s important. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtCPpUSAmOw)

Core stability is the key to achieving correct posture, flexibility, and efficiency of movement.”

This is what we need in kyudo!

I’ve heard that kyudo utilizes these so-called “inner muscles” rather than the more commonly understood large and bulky muscles we can see on the outside, but until now I’ve never really opened up my ears and mind to what this is all about.

So, I’d like to just go over a few points concerning questions I’ve been asking my physical trainer just to get them off my brain, and then go on to talk about why I have been asking for this injury the whole time, and how there’s probably a lot of other people doing the same out there right now.

First of all, simple understanding of the difference between the need for heat or ice.

The physical trainer recommended using a “shippu”, which is a kind of compress that is easily found in drug stores. I went to get one and asked for help regarding which one I should get and couldn’t figure out if I should get a strong one that lasts for a short bit of time, or a hot one that lasts for a long time. I went back and asked the trainer what I should get and he said it depends on what’s going on. In my case, I’m seeking to help the blood flow to encourage healing, so I would get a hot one that lasts a long time. If I have just practiced kyudo and have inflammation, then I should use a strong short lasting cold compress. For me now, if at the end of the day my shoulder is tired and inflamed from work and moving all day, it might be a good ideal to apply ice or a cold compress. After that, to encourage blood flow to help healing, I should apply mild heat for a long time.

So, I didn’t get the compress, but instead went with a “yutanpo”, which is a plastic can that holds hot water which I apply to my shoulder. A heat blanket would probably be best, but their expense and size seemed a little bit more than I needed. I also wanted one with a timer so that I could put it on when I go to sleep and have it turn itself off after about an hour without having to wake up, but they didn’t have one at the store I went to and so I just went with the yutanpo. The yutanpo will naturally cool, and it was cheap, so that’s what I’m going for right now. It’s a bit too big and cumbersome though, so maybe a timed heat blanket really is the best deal. This is fine for now.

All this talk about heat and healing I asked about the effect of “onsen”, hot springs. He said some hot springs can have positive effects on healing, but the real fact of the matter is that we don’t spend that much time soaking our bodies in onsen, especially at the shoulder level. So, spending about 30 minutes (which in my opinion is a really long time to spend neck-deep in hot spring water at a time) is a lot less effective than a compress that will apply the heat and medicine directly to the concerned area for a prolonged amount of time.

In caveman simple language it seems like:

Cold to suppress inflammation. Heat to encourage blood flow and healing.

So, back to the importance of inner muscle, and why you may be in danger of hurting your shoulder.

Pulling too strong of a bow can cause injury to anybody, but especially someone like me.

Why someone “like me”? Because I spent a lot of time weightlifting in high school and have broken my collar bone.

Anyone who has played contact sports like football, rugby, hockey, wrestling, or judo, or any sports for that matter that can be benefited by weight training and have a risk of injuring the collar bone is at risk of injuring their biceps and rotator cuff like I have.

Why this happens is that when you break your collar bone you minimize the ability of your collar bone and shoulder blade to work together, which impedes flexibility and puts extra pressure on your shoulder muscles (including biceps and rotator cuff). When pulling the bow, we want to minimize the use of the shoulder muscles and instead use the proper form and structure of our shoulder blades and collar bones to spread the bow apart with our bodies (not “pull” the bow with our arms). If this is naturally difficult for you (like it would be if you have a history of a broken collar bone), then trying to pull a heavy bow with your shoulder muscles is asking for trouble, because you’re putting all that pressure of the bow on your relatively small and weak shoulder muscles, straining them to injury.

Add this weakness to a body that has been conditioned to work the muscles of the shoulder instead of proper form, which can happen through weightlifting. Now, I’m not bashing weightlifting, because I’m sure every trainer would tell you that weightlifting must be accompanied by proper form and balance. But, I can’t help but think about all the time and energy I spent weightlifting thinking about building big muscles because I thought they would make me a better athlete … and get all chicks. I spent a lot of time exercising all parts of my body like the weight lifting coaches said, but when I was spending 10 reps of mildly strong weights on most muscles of my body, I was spending 5 reps of as much weight as possible on the bench and with curls. I don’t think that’s a rare condition.

So what do you get?

A lot of guys with overly developed chests, biceps, and shoulders, and what’s worse?

A body that naturally will work prioritizing the use of these over developed muscles.

Combine that with a practice like the bow that is supposed to use these muscles as little as possible in favor of body structure … and you get injury, or sucky form.

We don’t need those big flashy muscles in kyudo. They get in the way and encourage injury.
What we need is inner muscle.

What trains inner muscle? Proper form and …

… here you have it …


All the other things involved in kyudo that don’t involve actually shooting like walking, sitting, and bowing.

Taihai teaches us to use proper posture and inner muscle, which helps us to shoot the bow more effectively.

From no on I’m going to be doing a lot to rest and encourage healing in my shoulder, slowly build inner muscle around my shoulder blades, and further find out how proper shooting and taihai can make us better and healthier archers … and people!



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