School of Social Sciences

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      Europe Japan Research Centre

  • Kyudo Archery

    Kyudo archery practice

    Kyudo is not simply archery. It is the art of finding the relationship between the bow, the body, and the spirit and uniting it into an harmonious whole. To balance all these elements in the shooting situation makes Kyudo both demanding and challenging.

    Kyudo practice started in Oxford in the late 1990s at Oxford Brookes University under the instruction of Liam O'Brien sensei Kyoshi 8th dan, the then Chairperson of  UKKA and Shidosha of the London Kyudo Society. As interest amongst students increased and with the aim of further promoting Kyudo at Oxford Brookes University, the  Oxford Kyudo Society was formed in 2002.

    Since then, the Society has maintained a small but dedicated number of members who have regularly participated in European Kyudo Seminars and International Kyudo Federation ( IKYF) examinations.

    The Society is a member of the United Kingdom Kyudo Association ( UKKA) and is affiliated to the London Kyudo Society ( LKS) where members regularly travel to train.

    The practice is under the supervision of Ray Dolphin, Kyoshi 6th Dan

    New members to Oxford Kyudo Society are always welcome. If you are new to Kyudo feel free to contact us at to arrange a visit and see first hand what is involved in Kyudo practice. Individuals who already have some level of experience are also most welcome.

    For more information on practice and costs please visit the Oxford Kyudo Society website.

    Find out more about Kyudo

  • What is Kyudo?

    The term Kyudo is composed of the two characters, kyu a bow, and do a path or way of training. In traditional Japanese culture there are many ‘do’ forms based around a particular art or discipline. Whatever the form of practice, it is the practice itself that is the purpose of training.

    = kyu = bow
    = dō = path/way
    弓道 =

    Kyudo is not just about archery and the bow, but how the simple act of shooting a bow and arrow is used to understand and find relationship to oneself. Without appreciating this, kyudo just becomes sport or recreation, and its true purpose is lost.

    = rei = etiquette
    = setsu = occasion/joint
    礼節 =

    Central to the practice of kyudo is the principle of reisetsu. The application of rei etiquette and correct protocol. The second character of the compound, setsu can mean a joint, like the joints on a piece of bamboo, but it also contains the concept of division, time and occasion.

    Reisetsu is about the awareness to know when to be polite, respectful and to obey the correct protocol and procedure.

    In feudal Japan, reisetsu was essential to the strict social order and the codes of etiquette that had to be obeyed. Whereas today, it is the choice of the individual to train themselves to have respect and sensitivity for others. This respect is not only towards other people, but objects and the world as a whole.

    Considered in this way reisetsu is more than an external code of discipline but a way to find a deeper relationship to life and oneself. In the shooting this is applied to every movement and action and in all aspects of attitude and relationship to others.

    The highest ideal of kyudo practice is the realization of shin, zen, bi - truth, goodness, and beauty. These values are not simply cultural but are really understood moreas something spiritual (naturally inherent) that finds form in human expression. This is important because shin, zen, bi is not not simply something to cultivate and see as self-created but as the expression of qualities that emanate from our deeper self.

    = shin = truth
    = zen = goodness
    = bi = beauty
    真善美 =

    Shin means the absolute truth of things as they are. Although the form and conditions may appear to change, truth does not. Practice must be based in a trust and faith in truth. Zen means moral goodness but in kyudo it also means the honesty of purpose to seek for the "rightness" of action that emanates from truth. When action is based in shin, with the purpose of zen, then it has a dignity and quality of appearance that is appealing and beautiful to observe. This is the expression of bi.

    無心 = mushin

    A popular view of kyudo is that it is a form of zen mediation. In some sense it is true. In trying to seek for the true nature of the person through practice, we meet our personality and our thoughts. In realizing that there is something other than self-centred thoughts (and sense impressions), then one is beginning to realize a state of awareness called mushin – the ultimate reality. This is not some vague esoteric idea, it is the living moment that is found when the sense of a separate self is transcended.

    The Art of Shooting

    Shooting technique is inseparable from feeling. Movements and actions are lead by the energy of concentration and spirit. Its acquisition should be gradual and natural and learnt through the body rather than through intellectual understanding. Any art or skill operates in this way, and has an inexplicable level at which understanding does not operate.

    Seeing a performance of kyudo the sequence of shooting looks deceptively simple. Having taken the footing and formed the body, the bow is raised above the head and drawn apart until the archer is encompassed by the bow in the full draw. Then at the right moment the release is made. The bow is lowered, the feet closed together and the cycle of movements completed.

    However, within this sequence of simply defined movements, see images below, is all the subtlety of balance and feeling that makes kyudo so difficult to master and yet so intriguing.

    Sequence of shooting



    Traditionally, kyudo is practised in a kyudojo, which is a simple timber building usually set in a park or garden, with a polished wooden shooting area (shajo) that forms the stage for the performance of shooting.


    Japanese bows (Yumi) are made from a lamination of bamboo and hardwood with the very best still using the traditional method of gluing that uses natural glue made from deerskin. These bows are "living" items that require skill and sensitivity to maintain them and to give them full expression. They are in some ways Analogous to fine musical instruments. With the advent of modern adhesives and synthetic materials such as fibre glass and carbon fibre more durable bows are available that are suitable for beginners and those of limited experience.

    bow or 'yumi'

    The length and weight of a bow is used that is appropriate to the archer's physique and skill. In kyudo the effectiveness of a bow is more dependent on mastering the subtleties of technique to express the energy of the bow than mechanical action. This is why a master archer can shoot a light bow faster than an inexperienced archer with one of heavier weight.


    arrows or 'ya'

    Arrows (Ya) are also traditionally made from hardened bamboo that is straightened and finished by hand. The more expensive flights are made from the wing and tail feathers of birds of prey such as eagle and hawk. The supply of these feather is diminishing due to the protection of these species so arrows of this calibre are extremely expensive and only used by archers of higher rank. Beginners use arrows with aluminium and carbon fibre shafts that have flights made from the feathers of geese or other fowl.


    gloves or 'yugake'

    There are several types of shooting glove (Yugake) depending on the weight of bow the experience of the archer and the traditional school that the archer follows. The most common for beginners is the three-finger glove. All gloves have a retaining groove and stiffened wrist to support the string and transfer the power of the bow from the hand into the body. The glove is made from deerskin and is also hand made. Although the better gloves can be very expensive, the type and quality used by beginners are reasonable in price.

    Training uniform

    kyudo uniform: kimono, dogi, hakama, obi, muneate and tabi

    The standard training uniform (Keikogi)consists of a white top (dogi), black Japanese style "skirt" trousers (hakama), Japanese style socks (tabi) and a Japanese style sash (obi). Women use a chest protector (muneate) and senior grades use kimono for formal shooting (see image below for individual items).

    The use of a uniform is part of the regime of practice, and must be kept clean and orderly at all times. The wearing of white tabi is part of the strict tradition of etiquette.