Archery might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of martial arts, but it definitely qualifies in the strictest terms. There are a lot of interesting bits of crossover between this art and the feet-and-fists styles of martial arts that are perhaps more iconic. For starters, let’s take a look at the styles of archery that originated in the same territories as karate, taekwondo, aikido, and so many others: Japan.
Japanese archery, or kyudo, is actually one of the oldest Japanese martial arts, and so it has its roots in a lot of the same philosophical and religious principals that the others do. One of the earliest texts about the style in a European language, Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel follow’s the author’s pursuit of the style through a Zen Buddhist lens. A difference of note between kyudo and western styles of archery is that Herrigel didn’t even shoot at a target for the first couple years of his training; his first steps were in breath control, and learning to shoot almost meditatively.
Now, fellow martial artists, odds are, if you’re interested in archery and you’re not actually in Japan, you probably won’t find yourself shooting a Japanese yumi, which is a kind of bow that requires the kind of extensive training that Herrigel pursued. You’ll likely pick up either a recurve or a compound bow, depending on your personal preference, whether you’re more traditional or technical. You’ll also probably be hitting a target within minutes of your first steps into a range. However, despite the major differences in style, there is a lot to be learned from kyudo because so much of a successful shot in any style depends on calm nerves, measured breathing, and a steady hand.
As you pick up a bow, try and think of your practice in the philosophical terms in which you might have come to think of other martial arts. Think meditation, relaxation, and a little inner peace, and you might be surprised what that does to your shooting.