Budo/Martial Arts · Kyudo · Kyudo Books · Reigi - Etiquette

Deeper Understanding of the Shaho-Kun and Raiki-Shagi Part III: Raiki Shagi and Rei (礼)

This is part III in a series about two very important texts in the kyudo world: the “Raiki-Shagi” and the “Shaho-Kun.” This series is based on information gleaned from the book “Michi no Yumi” (“道の弓”) written by Iwao Matsui Sensei.

In this post I’d like to talk specifically about the history of the Raiki-Shagi and the importance of “Rei” (礼) (“courtesy”, “etiquette”).


Record of Etiquette – Truth of Shooting

The shooting, with the round of moving forward or backward can never be without courtesy and propriety (Rei).

After having acquired the right inner intention and correctness in the outward appearance, the bow and arrow can be handled resolutely.

To shoot in this way is to perform the shooting with success, and through this shooting virtue will be evident.

Kyudo is the way of perfect virtue. In the shooting, one must search for rightness in oneself. With the rightness of self, shooting can be realized.

At the time when shooting fails, there should be no resentment towards those who win. On the contrary, this is an occasion to search for oneself.

So, where exactly does this text come from? And who wrote it?

It’s amazing that until very recently I never asked these questions, and just assumed that it was thrown together by the teachers who wrote the Kyohon (Kyudo Manual) around 1953. However, finding out the real answers changed a lot about how I view kyudo. Specifically, kyudo in my mind went from being a relatively modern martial art with it’s roots in bow techniques developed in war, to a practice with strong philosophical roots dating back at least 2,500 years …

… way back to the time of Confucius.

Basically (Most all of my explanations here are going to be relatively basic, because that’s the limit to my current understanding, and also scope of this blog. Hopefully someday soon more in-depth analyses can be made and be readily available to the English speaking kyudo world. For those with the time and energy, you might do yourself a favor by quickly going over the basic information on “Confucianism” available at Wikipedia) the Raiki-Shagi is believed to be written by Confucius in China around 500 B.C. It seems to be believed that Confucius himself wrote the Raiki-Shagi, however when researching briefly about Confucius and his famous works, “the Analects” which is the basis of Confucianism, it seems that the Analects were thought up by Confucius, but actually compiled and written by his students and followers many years after Confucius was actually alive. That seems to be the case with most all major written works around that time including those about Buddhism, classics written by Homer such as “the Iliad” and “the Odyssey”, and a few centuries later with the Bible.

For now, let’s just assume that the Raiki-Shagi was written directly by Confucius around 500 BC (apologies to all historians who are now writhing in their chairs and sending assassins to my address). What this means is that the Raiki-Shagi, arguably the most important text to the modern kyudo world, is Confucianist. (Is that the right word?) When I first learned about Confucianism in college, it came in the package of Buddhism and Shintoism as the 3 most important religions in Japan. What I don’t like about this though, is calling Confucianism a religion. Perhaps that is what it’s considered in a world history textbook, but really it would be better defined as a “tradition” or “philosophy of life”. I was actually talking about this with a few other members in the dojo the other day, and as Japanese, they said they felt the same way. If we think of kyudo as a “cult” based on the “religion” of Confucianism, I think we’re taking a couple huge steps in the wrong direction. What we should understand about kyudo, and the Raiki-Shagi is that the philosophy of kyudo is that which is shared with, and largely effected by the philosophy of Confucianism, which reaches back to a specific time around 500 BC in China. Furthermore, Confucius based his beliefs on traditions from the Zhou dynasty that occurred a few centuries before his time. So, where did those in the Zhou dynasty get their ideas? The more we research, the foggier and further the trail leads back into history.

OK, so generally assuming (watch out for that poison dart sent from the history department in my old university!) that the Raiki-Shagi was written by Confucius in China around 500 BC, it’s important to know that the Raiki-Shagi was actually one chapter (the 46th chapter to be exact) called, “Shagi” (“Truth of Shooting” if using the official English translation by Liam O’Brien Sensei in the title of the text), and a larger work called “Raiki” (“Record of Etiquette” if using the official English translation by Liam O’Brien Sensei in the title of the text [Were the current translations of the Raiki-Shagi and Shaho-Kun translated directly by O’Brien Sensei?]). Apparently the other chapters of the Raiki were about proper rites, beliefs, and activities of court nobles. So how does shooting a bow and arrow fit into noble court life?

Shooting was included as one of the tests for nobility. It was believed that the way in which a person shot a bow and arrow reflected their character, and thus reflected their ability to be an effective noble.

So, what did this look like in ancient China? A bunch of bad-ass archers nailing the target and earning their titles?

In my humble opinion (as formed by reading this great book “Michi no Yumi” written by Iwao Matsui Sensei) …

no way.

I imagine that those tests looked a lot like those held today. Teachers judging students by their “form.” Which means, they’re watching how the person shoots. Have you ever wondered how much the judges at test look at the target you shot at? I’ll answer confidently, almost never. They can hear if it was a hit or not, and if they’re unsure they are informed by people standing behind the shooters. But that’s beside the matter. The judges are judging your shot by “you.” That “you” isn’t defined completely by whether or not that piece of paper 28 meters away was pierced by an arrow, but rather by your movements, which reflect your thoughts, which reflect your … uh oh … here it comes … spirit.

“Spirit” is a word that has the potential to express the idea here, but it’s just too vague, isn’t it? Thanks to Confucianism, we’ve got a lot of specific ideas to use, so let’s go ahead and introduce the single most important idea in kyudo and Confucianism which can be summed up in one single character:


Rei can be translated as: “courtesy”, “politeness”, or “etiquette” and is written in older texts as 禮 as opposed to the more commonly used 礼.

For those who are reading about the concept of “Rei” for the first time, you’re probably nodding your head and just trying to get a grasp on it, and for others who have heard about “Rei” in regard to Japanese culture, or more specifically kyudo, before, perhaps you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before.” But I think one problem with only thinking about “Rei” at this superficial level of dictionary definitions is that we really don’t “get” what Rei is all about. The result is a bunch of kyudo practitioners trying to link these abstract ideas of “courtesy” and “politeness” to the seemingly awkward movements of walking, sitting, standing, and shooting in kyudo. What does being “a nice person” have to do with being an excellent archer, anyway? For those who like this idea of Rei, or just intuitively “get it,” then that’s fine, but for all the others who just want to hit the target as much as possible (no offense intended, that is what we’re doing when we’re standing at the mark aiming at the target, isn’t it?), we’re in for a really tough uphill battle. It’s like your dog who is foaming at the mouth trying to jump at that treat in your hand while you’re calmly trying to explain to him that he has to sit before he can eat.

What the hell is “courtesy”, “politeness”, and “etiquette”, anyway? Holding doors for people and not eating with your elbows on the table?

And what about court nobles? I have a lot of intelligent friends that shiver at the talk of “proper etiquette” and “nobles”.

And you know what … to a certain extent … me too!

Reflecting on that, it’s a miracle at all that I’ve come to find kyudo as my desired art, expression, and way of life.

But you know what, my ideas of “etiquette” and “nobles” are mostly defined by my American upbringing, which is going to be vastly different to what it means in East Asian culture. Which is why it’s really important for non-Japanese (especially those in “Western” countries) to understand the historical background of all of this.

Enough about me, though. Let’s get back to some specifics, because that’s where these Confucian abstract thoughts really come to life.

Iwao Matsui Sensei in the great book, “Michi no Yumi”, which all of these posts were influenced by, goes to great efforts to explain and give details about how the ancient Chinese court nobles went about shooting bows and arrows. The reason why shooting a bow and arrow was a part of the testing was because it was regarded as a great way to judge character. By looking at one’s shooting, one can find out a lot about a person’s character and how they view the world. Rei is an important quality that we can see in the movements and the hearts of people while shooting, but what the Raiki-Shagi is trying to tell us, is that we must “have”, “be”, or “abide” by Rei before we even shoot.

The Raiki-Shagi specifically states:

The shooting, with the round of moving forward or backward can never be without courtesy and propriety (Rei).

After having acquired the right inner intention and correctness in the outward appearance, the bow and arrow can be handled resolutely.”

What Iwao Matsui Sensei goes to great length to explain is basically summed up in the first part of the second line, “After having acquired the right inner intention” by explaining the process of the gatherings and tests that the nobles held.  This section of the book was one of the most difficult for me to understand, but to put it very very simply, if I understood it right, is that the nobles had banquets where only afterwards, only if someone had proper Rei, could they handle the bow and shoot. Only if they could successfully perform the “proper etiquette” with the proper “courtesy”,  were they allowed to shoot the bow and arrow to be judged.

So, were these nobles a bunch of strong-armed archers competing to be donned “the champion”? It’s very unlikely. What we get, are people searching for the proper state with which to handle the bow and arrow. To handle the bow and arrow without that proper state of Rei, is useless.

Or at least does little more than show whether an arrow was able to reach a target by the operation of your hands or not, which really isn’t so hard or complicated anyway.

To emphasize the necessity of proper Rei before shooting even more, it seems that the original version of the Raiki-Shagi was even longer, with preceding sentences explaining more about the importance of Rei and proper conduct before shooting.

Hopefully now we all have a better understanding of the history of the Raiki-Shagi and the importance of Rei.

Or, perhaps we’re even more confused than we were before.

For those who are still left wondering why the Raiki-Shagi is so important to kyudo, or why we must embody the abstract idea of “Rei” while shooting a bow and arrow, maybe in the next post we can talk about Rei’s other 4 friends:

・Jin 仁 (“Benevolence”)

・Gi 義 (“Righteousness”)

・Chi 知 (“Wisdom”)

・Shin 信 (“Faith”)

Rei, along with these other 4 virtues combine to make up what is considered, “the Five Confucian Virtues.”

Have any of you seen the movie “Stargate” and remember the scene where the main character Dr. Daniel Jackson is trying to figure out the mysterious symbols of a small gate and then finally sees the shutters rise to reveal the top secret “real” giant gate that everyone ends up walking through and passing into another world?

That’s kind of what all of this feels like.

Eyes wide. Jaw dropped. Imagination shaking with excitement.

The answers of ultimate shooting are waiting for us to find them.



4 thoughts on “Deeper Understanding of the Shaho-Kun and Raiki-Shagi Part III: Raiki Shagi and Rei (礼)

  1. Thanks for the last 3 posts about the Shaho-Kun and Raiki-Shagi.
    This indeed a treasure box, still waiting to be opened!

    The link between archery and Confucianism is actually not so vague.
    Buddhism was created by Sakyamuni in India around the 6th century B.C. Believing that human life is miserable and spiritual emancipation is the highest goal to seek. It was introduced into China through Central Asia around the time Christ was born.
    After a few centuries of assimilation, Buddhism evolved into many sects in the Sui and Tang Dynasties and became localized. That was also a process when the ingenuous culture of Confucianism and Taoism were blended with Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism has played a very important role on traditional ideology and art.

    if we can simply think about the Samurai culture, which adopted this (or better to say the Korean) Buddhism as its main religion and philosophy, we can understand why archery played a central role at that time.

    When I visited the Confucius museum in Taipei, they had a nice exhibition of the Six-Arts:
    1.Rites (禮)
    2.Music (樂)
    3.Archery (射)
    4.Charioteering (御)
    5.Calligraphy (書)
    6.Mathematics (數)


    “Men who excelled in these six arts were thought to have reached the state of perfection, a perfect gentleman.”!!

    1. Confucius museum?!?!?!?! A year ago I would have said, “Oh, that sounds nice.” But now, after all of this research I’m trying to figure out how I can go as soon as possible!!! It’s now becoming clear that in order to understand the deeper meanings of kyudo, we must seek to understand what exactly it is Confucianism is all about. There seem to be plenty of texts, but what better than to see and touch for yourself at a museum like that in Taipei. Thank you very much for your comment! Please let me know if you think of anything else that may aid this discussion and shed more light on the effects of Confucianism in kyudo.

  2. Very interesting series of posts (please go further into the golden body/half moon part of the shaho-kun, it’s been bothering me forever).

    The Raiki-shagi is probably pieced together from the Confucian standard “Book of rites” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Rites) and not the Analects; the kanji for 礼記 (raiki) I believe is a simplified from of the Chinese 禮記 (Liji) which is translated into English as “Book of rites”. Chapter 46 is titled 射義 (shagi/sheyi), so the literally translation of the raiki-shagi might be “Book of rites, chapter on shooting etiquette”. There’s a good translation online (http://ctext.org/liji/she-yi). Two parts should sound very familiar to you:

    1. “The archers, in advancing, retiring, and all their movements, were required to observe the rules. With minds correct, and straight carriage of the body, they were to hold their bows and arrows skilfully and firmly; and when they did so, they might be expected to hit the mark. In this way (from their archery) their characters could be seen.”

    2. “Archery suggests to us the way of benevolence. (The archer) seeks to be correct in himself, and then discharges his arrow. If it miss the mark, he is not angry with the one who has surpassed himself, but turns round and seeks (for the cause of failure) in himself. Confucius said, ‘The student of virtue has no contentions. If it be said that he cannot avoid them, shall this be in archery? (But) he bows complaisantly to his competitor, ascends (the hall), descends (again), and exacts the forfeit of drinking. In his contention, he is still the superior man.”

    Too bad kyudo got rid of the drinking part 😀 These two paragraphs also somewhat explain the connection between archery and rei from a Confucian perspective: namely proper shooting i.e proper rei allows the archer’s character (I interpret this as jin, or humanity/benevolence) to be evident. Confucianism places great importance on rulers having Jin (benevolence) towards their subjects and ceremonial archery was one way to “see” if a person had proper Jin during civil examinations for government posts.

    Like you, this is mostly my own self-research, so take everything with a grain of salt.

    1. Thank you Mr. Kirin!!!! Words cannot express my sincere thanks in this tiny comment box, so I will have to write a follow up post containing the valuable information you have given me. I send you cyber beers by the keg. Thank you. I want to talk about a few more things in the Raiki, but will get to the information about the Shaho-Kun that is discussed in the book “Michi no Yumi”, which will at least get us on the right path.

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