Caitlin Conahan: Kyudo

When I first began searching for a study abroad program in Japan, I already knew that I would like to try kyudo. I did not really think that I already liked kyudo, I just have an intense interest in archery no matter its form. I was mostly interested in how kyudo and archery compared to each other. More so than any other type of archery, kyudo has a unique asymmetrical bow and accompanying form. I wondered how the equipment affected practice and how the people who practiced it viewed it. As a result, doing it as a CIP in which I had to go and speak with people in Japanese seemed perfect as it combined language and cultural learning with something I already had a interest in. Kawaguchi-sensei of the Budo Center seemed perfectly happy to take me on as a student, and I really appreciate her putting up with me and my terrible Japanese. Although the other teachers and older member of the dojo spoke with me from time to time and offered some advice, Kyudo is primarily about individual practice. While I am used to practicing archery completely alone, I was a little surprised by the fact that even as a beginner, the teacher does not really help after showing you the proper form. Unlike western archery, the focus on kyudo is on improving yourself rather than your aim and, rather ironically, proper form is actually more important than in western archery. In archery, if you hit the bulls-eye every time, your form is good regardless of how “proper” it is, but in kyudo, you improve yourself through proper form and as an added benefit your aim will also improve. Unfortunately, I had some trouble getting into actually practicing kyudo because everything from the equipment to the stance to the way the bow is held is completely, if subtly, different. I felt frustrated by the teacher’s lack of involvement with the students because I did not just have to learn kyudo, I had to unlearn archery. Perhaps if I was going to be in Japan for a full year or more, I would have gone to kyudo as often as possible and really got a feel for it. But I feel I bit off more than I could chew, trying to learn an art that takes a lifetime to master in one semester, two days a week. Despite those feelings though, I really enjoyed my time at the dojo. Although people who prefer competitive archery may not understand the spiritual element of kyudo, as someone who practices archery for the fun of it, I really felt a connection between western archery and kyudo. The form it takes may be different, but I feel people who truly enjoy archery whether it be western or kyudo, understand how important patience and diligence is in both archery and life. I hope people across the world can continue to forge connections when they are similar and learn from each other when they differ. I hope can give kyudo another try one day and can give it the time and care it deserves.

2 thoughts on “Caitlin Conahan: Kyudo

  1. Caitlin, I’m glad that you found a CIP that you have a passion for. Your description makes Kyudo seem very Japanese; Kyudo has the deliberation of the tea ceremony, the attentiveness that goes into ikebana, and the intensity of taiko. However, from your description it seems that Kyudo is a very individualized sport. Which begs the question: how do you mark personal improvement if accuracy isn’t the most important skill?

    • Hi Malcolm,

      I do think that kyudo is distinctly Japanese and has the ability to be as difficult or easy as you want it to be since it is driven almost entirely by your own desire to improve. Even through accuracy is not something you strive to improve directly, you are likely to have someone better as a teacher the entire time you practice kyudo, who will correct your form over the years. Unlike in archery, in which I took about two weeks of lessons and then struck out on my own, kyudo assumes that you will have a teacher until you master it.