This is the second part of my traditional archery bows series.
If you haven’t read the first part, make sure you head over there to read all about the English longbow.
Today I will talk about the Japanese Yumi, which is the bow used in Kyūdō or Kyūjutsu which are both Japanese forms of archery used originally by the samurai.
Keep on reading:
The Yumi is easily the world’s longest bow. Its length ranges from 212 cm – 245 cm (6 ft 11 in – 8 ft).
Compared to the longbow this is pretty amazing, as the longbow is already longer than many archers are tall.
It is not only the length that makes the Yumi special, though.
Most people will remember its special form when they have seen one of these Japanese bows.
The Yumi is an asymmetrical bow and I absolutely love how it looks.
The lower part (hankyū) is shorter than the upper part (daikyū).
If you are already an experienced archer with a longbow, recurve bow or compound bow, it will be tricky to shoot a yumi, as the feeling is quite different, as is the technique.
In prehistoric times, this bow was made of a single piece of wood, but later it was made of a combination of wood and bamboo.
The bow evolved over the centuries, but the materials stayed the same for a long time.
Only now, in the modern times, can you find Japanese bows that are of similar materials like other modern bows: wooden laminate enhanced with fiberglass.
Maybe you already knew that the Japanese word “dō” means “way” and the word “kyū” stands for “bow”.
So, when you practice kyūdō you are walking the way of the bow.
Just like judō (the gentle way), kyūdō is much more than just a sport. It is not just about holding a bow and loosing arrows on a target.
There is a whole philosophy behind it.
It is a lot about meditation and bringing your mind to rest and piece.
Kyūdō today is famous for its slow movements which follow always the same pattern.
If you want to succeed in kyūdō you need to find your inner center. Masters of kyūdō will say that “correct shooting is correct hitting”, which means that you have to get the technique right before you will be able to hit your target consistently.
The ultimate goal is, that you can perform this form of archery without thinking and with your mind at peace.
There should be no pressure, but only you, the bow and the arrow.
The arrow will find its target automatically when you have mastered kyūdō, the way of the bow.
However, this is not to be mistaken with “Zen”.
Kyūdō can be very spiritual, but this is not a must.
Many who practice kyūdō, like to join competitions and compare themselves to other archers.
If you are interested in kyūdō, I highly recommend reading this book.
It explains very detailedly what kyūdō really is about and how you can get started with it.
It also talks about its history and helps you understand this amazing form of archery.
I would say it is “archery of the next level” in some ways.
While western archery has many health benefits and can bring your mind to peace, kyūdō takes it a little further.
If you are a fan of Japanese philosophy and love archery, I would like to recommend you to try it, if you get the chance.
It is actually not really known why the Yumi is asymmetrical.
Some theories say that it is asymmetrical so that it can be shot more easily from horseback and from a kneeling position.
Others say that it has to do with the reduction of vibration or with the techniques they used in ancient times to craft the bow.
In modern kyūdō, the draw weight is usually around 30 LBS.
It is more about the meditation and not so much about hitting a target at a big distance, so heavier bows are not needed.
You can get heavier bows, though, if that is your wish.
Kyūdō follows its traditional path and you won’t see any fancy stuff attached to the bow.
Archers who practice kyūdō might be wearing protective gear and a quiver, but many will hold their extra arrows in their hand and won’t even use a quiver.
Yumi bows need a lot of care and can lose their shape if not treated well.
This is another part of kyūdō. You need to know your bow.
It has to become part of your life.
If mistreated, it will be unusable after a short time. If treated correctly, it can last for many generations.
You need to learn when you have to keep your bow strung and when unstrung.
Don’t get a Yumi, if you don’t have a kyūdō master who can teach you the way of the bow.
It is not like a western bow at all!
I would really like to know what you think of the Yumi and kyūdō.
I still have to try it, but I have a close friend who is very fond of kyūdō. He is practicing for a long time already and absolutely loves it.
Let me know if you have ever tried it and what you think about it.
Don’t forget to take a look at the book “Kyūdō, The Way Of The Bow” if you this Japanese archery form interests you.
I am looking forward to discussing the Yumi and other traditional archery bows with you.