Phoebe Horgan: Kyudo

For my CIP I chose to practice kyūdō, or Japanese archery, twice a week for an hour. I chose it mostly because of my previous experience with archery in the US. I practiced and competed in archery all throughout high school, but once I got to college I didn’t get the chance to keep up with it, and ended up dropping it completely. In my CIP, I wanted to try something uniquely Japanese, but also building off of my personal interests, so I ended up with kyūdō.

I was really interested in learning the differences between kyūdō and archery, as there are many. You draw back with your thumb, not your fingers, and wear this massive stiff glove on the hand you use to draw back the bowstring. You place the arrow on the outside of the bow, not the side closest to you. But overall the objectives of kyūdō and archery are very different. In archery, the goal is to hit the target dead center with precision and accuracy, so you can make the same shot over and over again. Every adjustment you make, and every time you change your form is just to better your score. But in kyūdō, the emphasis seems to be more on the act of shooting itself, and less on the results. There’s a formality to it that you find in martial arts and not so much in sports. Just a couple of months isn’t really enough to learn a great deal about practicing kyūdō, but I am thankful that I had the opportunity to try it.

Even so, I ended up quitting it a few weeks before the end of the semester, due to time constraints and stuff. Anyway, apparently it’s really important to Japanese people to have a proper formal farewell and apology if you ever decide to stop doing something, so the three of us who had continued doing kyūdō all had to go and explain our reasons for quitting and thank sensei profusely for all that she had taught us so far and for taking the time to teach us. Although to be frank, the teaching style for Japanese martial arts is very hands-off, so it didn’t particularly seem to take sensei much time at all. Still, it felt marginally better to have that closure than to just stop showing up, so I guess that’s a good thing.

4 thoughts on “Phoebe Horgan: Kyudo

  1. 弓道とアーチェリーは同じように見えるスポーツでもアプローチの仕方が全く違うのですね。日本の武道は、実際にやる前に「見て」学ぶという部分が多いと思うのですが、それはなかなか難しいことですよね。武道をやりたいと思っている後輩に、その点について何かアドバイスはありますか。

    • I think my advice for future CIP-seekers would be to only seek out a martial art if it’s either a lifelong dream of yours or if you’ve been taking classes for it already. Otherwise it’s just going to wear you down.

  2. I like your insight into the difference between sports as Westerners recognize them and the martials arts–“art” definitely being the operative word–as Japanese people understand them: succinct and direct. It does sound like something you’d need to immerse yourself in to really understand, and it’s a pity our time in Kyoto was too short to do so. Still, at least all’s well that ends well, right?

    • Thanks! Yeah, I’m honestly not sure if I’d want to immerse myself fully even if I did have enough time though. I felt very ‘soto’ at my classes and it never really eased up. But yep, all is well!