Budo/Martial Arts · Douzukuri - The Making of the Torso · Kyudo

How to Prevent Shoulder Pain in Kyudo

How to prevent right shoulder pain in kyudo:

1.) Don’t raise the shoulder (particularly in the phases of uchiokoshi and daisan)

2.) Don’t pull your right elbow behind your back (pull it directly to the side, pushing it outwards with your shoulder blades standing straight up)

3.) Protect proper posture made with the kihontai (fundamental form) at all costs

Greetings everybody. It’s been a while since I’ve come back to the topic of “shoulder injuries” in kyudo, but then again maybe some of you are wondering if I’ll ever talk about anything other than shoulder pain in kyudo. For those that have kept up with my posts on shoulders since around late January, here are some more ideas for the conversation, and for those who may be reading about this for the first time here, here’s a short background:

Last year in March I hurt my shoulder by pulling too strong of a bow too quickly. From that March until the next January I went through different phases of taking breaks, using different strengths of bows, basically further antagonizing the injury and preventing it from healing. I could pull the bow, but it didn’t feel good, and it was blocking me from doing correct form and doing what I wanted to do with the bow. In January I finally decided I was sick of it and went to a orthopedic specialist. I found out it was an issue with mostly with my biceps, and that it was diagnosed as “biceps tendonitis.” I took a full month off of the bow and started taking some medicine everyday and visiting a physical therapist about 2 to 3 times a week. I still continue the medicine and physical training. After a month I returned to kyudo practice using a light bow and only doing a few shots. I’ve gradually increased the number of shots, and after a month tried to use a stronger bow, but it started to bring pain back so I returned to the light bow. After a couple weeks the pain went away and I believe I’m back on the track of healing.

Now it’s been a little over three months since my initial visit to the doctor. Massive healing has taken place. I can shoot a light bow comfortably, and I have almost complete range of motion with my shoulder. However, I can still feel something funny in my shoulder and I’m not ready to move on to a stronger bow. If I don’t stretch the area, sleep on my right shoulder, or use bad form in kyudo it starts to hurt again.

Slowly. Slowly. Slowly.

I initially thought that if I just took a month off of the bow it would heal.

HAHA! I spent the better part of a year abusing my shoulder, how could I expect it all to go away in a mere month by sitting on my ass staring at the calendar.

I have a test coming up in late June, and I’m going to stick with my current practice and bow weight until then. That gives me two more months of working on proper technique, giving time to heal, still visiting a physical therapist and taking medicine. After the test, I guess I’ll readdress the situation.

It’s been an incredibly frustrating journey, but I can say with complete certainty that I’m glad I’ve injured my shoulder. I’ve realized all the mistakes I’ve been making, and have been finding out how to properly pull the bow, take care of the body, and maximize my potential.

Failure truly is the seed of success. It is our job to find meaning in our losses, and turn them into progress.

There is a whole book’s worth of information I’ve learned about kyudo and shoulder injuries, but here I’ll just restate a couple simple thoughts that I think lay at the root of it all (which you read at the beginning of this post.)

How to prevent right shoulder pain in kyudo:

1.) Don’t raise the shoulder (particularly in the phases of uchiokoshi and daisan)

2.) Don’t pull your right elbow behind your back (pull it directly to the side, pushing it outwards with your shoulder blades standing straight up)

3.) Protect proper posture made with the kihontai (fundamental form) at all costs

This is so clear to me now. But you know what the scary thing is? There are a lot of high level teachers that teach raising the right shoulder and pulling the right elbow behind them. I believe my injury was caused because I blindly followed a teacher that told me to raise my right shoulder in the daisan posture. I know that one idea with this is that in the daisan posture you raise your right shoulder and make a straight line with the arrow and your forearm, thus linking your arm to the arrow, pulling solely with your elbow and taking tension out of your hand. These are all great things, but when I try this it lifts my shoulder up putting a huge amount of tension in my shoulder joint when I pull the bow moving into the full draw position instead of into the proper structure of my body. To me, that compromise isn’t worth it. Instead, what’s most important is protecting the form of your torso (dozukuri) by not raising your shoulder anywhere in the shooting process, sinking your shoulders, and standing your shoulder blades straight up and down. It feels right, this is reiterated over and over again in volumes 2 and 3 of the kyudo kyohon (kyudo manual) which I’ve been reading lately, and this is what is being taught by my most trusted teacher who can back up his theory with actual technique.

And so what can I say to high level teachers and anyone for that matter who believe in the idea of lifting your right shoulder? Absolutely nothing. Maybe it’s all a misunderstanding to me. But I know that my shoulder issues were caused by this, and so I will kindly refrain from lifting my shoulder, and continue experimenting with sinking my right shoulder.

I used to think there was just one way to shoot, but now looking around I can see a different way for as many archers as there are shooting. Interesting. Perplexing.

Well, it’s an interesting time for kyudo. I’ll head to Kyoto the day after tomorrow for the big tournament and festivities. It’s my first time, so I’m not sure what to expect, but am excited for this new experience in the art that will be open for me to explore. Due to time and monetary costs, I imagine it will be a while until I get to go again, so I’ll just do my best to soak it all in.

You wanna know what the two most important abilities for an archer are?

Listening and watching.

Exciting stuff. Onward and upward.

See you around!

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2 thoughts on “How to Prevent Shoulder Pain in Kyudo

  1. Thanks for the interesting post!

    How about stretches prior to shooting? can this protect the shoulder?

    Any stretches in particular?

    I recall that few times, I saw in the dojo some young archers who did massage to the elder ones

    1. Apologies for the late reply and thank you for the great comment!

      I’m not sure if there are any single particular stretches I would recommend. I have my own set routine of stretches I’ve taken from practicing karate, aikido, and tai chi chuan. They work for me, and if you have your own then I think that’s fine. If you don’t have any, I guess just search for some videos about simple stretches for the shoulder and back. What’s really important I think is that you warm up and get the shoulder moving around in it’s socket SLOWLY!!!! Wake up your shoulder slowly and carefully. Then, start stretching the muscles around the shoulder, like the back of the shoulder, triceps, and especially chest (pectoral muscles). This is the number one thing my physical trainer says to do, STRETCH THE PECTORAL MUSCLE. I do this by simply making an L-shape with my arm, hand at the same level as my head and palm facing the same direction as my face. Then I put my elbow and arm against a stable pillar or door and stretch my chest muscles. There’s no need to do it too much or until it hurts, just a little to wake up and relax the area. This might be a special case for me though with my injury, since when my shoulder gets tired and isn’t used properly it puts additional stress on the chest. Stretch the back, neck, and legs, because they are all connected and tension in the rest of your body will affect your shoulder.

      Then do a few kata-iri, which means pulling the bow a few times with empty hands (and not releasing the string!) to warm up the bow and your body. I’ve been doing this lately while properly doing torikake (gripping the string) with my kake (glove on the right hand) and keeping my shoulders sunk down so that I don’t start setting strange habits subconsciously in my shoulder when pulling the bow (which I think I’ve done the whole time in kyudo until now.)

      That being said, learn to sink your shoulders down so you start to use your back muscles instead of your shoulders. For this I practice raising my shoulders to my ears (with arms dangling at the side) and then rolling my shoulders back and down as far as possible SLOWLY about 20 times, doing it while concentrating on my breath. This teaches me to use my back muscles, relaxes my shoulders, and I feel like its kind of like a massage of everything around my spine. The breathing also helps me to relax and focus.

      As for massaging, I want to visit your dojo so I can get a massage! But then maybe I’d have to be the one giving them. Massage would be great to relax and warm up the muscles I think. My physical trainer tells me to massage my pectoral muscles and muscles at the back of my shoulders when they feel tight, which I do.

      It’s important to warm up the muscles before you use them in shooting, and equally, if not more important, to stretch them again afterward to release the stress made by all the shooting.

      Please contact me again if you have any other concerns. A healthy body is vital to kyudo. There’s no point to the art if we can’t do it due to physical pain and discomfort.

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