Kyūjutsu (弓術) ("art of archery") is the traditional Japanese martial art of wielding a bow (yumi) as practiced by the samurai class of feudal Japan. Although the samurai are perhaps best known for their swordsmanship with a katana (kenjutsu), kyūjutsu was actually considered a more vital skill for a significant portion of Japanese history. During the majority of the Kamakura period through the Muromachi period (c.1185–c.1568), the bow was almost exclusively the symbol of the professional warrior, and way of life of the warrior was referred to as "the way of the horse and bow" (弓馬の道, kyūba no michi)
What is Kyūjutsu
Kyūjutsu is a form of Japanese archery, from this principle Kyu
means "bow" and Jutsu means "method of“. So essentially
Kyujutsu is the technique of fighting with the bow. It has been
around for many centuries and was used in many battles
amongst the various warring clans of feudal Japan, at one
point in history it was the primary weapon of the samurai class.
Although the samurai are perhaps best known for their swords,
kyūjutsu was actually considered a more vital skill for a
significant portion of Japanese history. During the majority of
the Kamakura period through the Muromachi period (c.1185–
c.1568), the bow was almost exclusively the symbol of the
The beginning of archery in Japan is, as elsewhere, pre-
historical. The first images picturing the distinct Japanese
asymmetrical longbow are from the Yayoi period (ca. 500
BC–300 AD). The first written document describing
Japanese archery is the Chinese chronicle Weishu (dated
around 297 AD), which tells how in the Japanese isles
people use “a wooden bow that is short from the bottom
and long from the top
The changing of society and the military class (samurai)
taking power at the end of the first millennium created a
requirement for education in archery. This led to the birth
of the first kyūjutsu ryūha (style), the Henmi-ryū, founded
by Henmi Kiyomitsu in the 12th century. The Takeda-
ryū and the mounted archery school Ogasawara-ryū were
later founded by his descendants. The need for archers
grew dramatically during the Genpei War (1180–1185)
and as a result the founder of the Ogasawara-
ryū (Ogasawara Nagakiyo), began
teaching yabusame (mounted archery).
From the 15th to the 16th century, Japan was ravaged by civil war.
In the latter part of the 15th century Heiki Danjō
Masatsugu revolutionized archery with his new and accurate
approach called hi, kan, chū (fly, pierce, center), and his footman’s
archery spread rapidly. Many new schools were formed, some of
which, such as Heki-ryū Chikurin-ha, Heki-ryū Sekka-ha and Heki-
ryū Insai-ha, remain today.
The Yumi as a weapon of war began its decline after
the Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543 bringing firearms with
them in the form of the matchlock. The Japanese soon started to
manufacture their own version of the matchlock
called tanegashima and eventually the tanegashima and the
yari (spear) became the weapons of choice. The yumi, however,
would be continued to be used alongside the tanegashima for a
period of time because of its longer reach, accuracy, and
especially because it had a rate of fire 30–40 times faster. The
tanegashima however did not require the same amount of
training as a yumi, allowing Oda Nobunaga’s army consisting
mainly of farmers armed with tanegashima to annihilate a
traditional samurai cavalry in a single battle in 1575.
Heki Danjō Masatsugu teaches kyūjutsu to Yoshida Shigekata.
In Kyūjutsu the bow, (Yumi), has a long history of use in
war, it was also used for hunting, ceremonial events, and
court games. The Yumi bow is over two metres in length
and asymmetrical in shape with the grip (nigiri) located
one third above the bottom portion of the bow. The yumi
is constructed today using the same methods as used
centuries ago, primarily with bamboo and wood but can
and are also made using todays more modern materials
too (e.g. Carbonfibre).
The string on the bow (tsuru) was traditionally made
from natural fibres e.g. hemp or horsehair and arrayed in
different ways for multiple uses, but today can also be
made using more modern synthetic fibres, like Dacron.
Ya refers to the arrows used by samurai during the feudal era of Japan.
Unlike Western arrows, the ya is close to a metre long or longer.
Traditional ya are made from natural materials, usually bamboo, while
modern ones may use aluminium or carbon fibre.
The arrows are fletched with hane (feathers) about fifteen centimetres
in length and can be the most expensive part of the arrow. Traditionally,
the outermost tail feathers of large birds of prey were considered the
finest. Many of these birds are now endangered – in particular the sea
eagle – therefore, feathers of lesser eagles, swans, geese or even
turkeys are being used in modern times. On the other hand, owl feathers
were never used, as they were thought to be bringers of misfortune.
They would use feathers from both the left and right wing, because wing
feathers naturally curve left or right. Ya with feathers from the left wing
are called haya and they spiral clockwise, whereas ya made from the
right wing feathers are called otoya and they spiralled counter-
Ya used for target practice have a conical iron tip called a ne.
Ya used in war by the samurai had a variety of tips called yajiri or
yanone; these arrowheads were forged using the same steel
(tamahagane) and methods as traditional Japanese swords. There
are many different kinds of arrowhead and they all have their own
special name. Togari-ya is a simple pointed design. The yanagi-ba,
also known as "willow-leaf", is known for its elegant
design. Karimata have a unique split point, and are sometimes
referred to as "rope-cutters". The barbed "flesh-torn" is known
as watakushi. The tagone-ya is shaped like a chisel. Kaburi-ya was
used for signalling and creating fear with the loud whistling noise it
would produce. They were also large enough that they could be
signed on the tang by the fletcher in the manner of Japanese
Tsuru / Tsurumaki
The string on the bow (tsuru) was traditionally
made from natural fibres e.g. hemp or
horsehair and arrayed in different ways for
multiple uses, but today can also be made
using more modern synthetic fibres, like
Tsurumaki, is a traditional woven Japanese
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