Bows, Arrows … and
Martial Arts? Bows, Arrows … and Martial Arts?

Is archery a martial art? By definition, yes! The term dates to 16th century Europe, and refers to any military fighting system that soldiers use in battle. Many Western martial arts evolved into sports like fencing and javelin. Some even consider boxing a martial art.

Contrary to what encyclopedias say, most people believe “martial arts” refers to organized fighting systems that originated in East Asia as forms of attack or self-defense. Unarmed versions include judo and karate. Kendo, on the other hand, uses weapons. Nowadays, martial arts doubles as a sport when it involves competition. In fact, judo and taekwondo are Olympic sports, as is archery.

More so, when you hear the term “martial arts,” you probably envision action movies, a graded ranking system, colored belts, ancient traditions, and controlled and disciplined calmness. In fact, martial arts are a discipline requiring study under the guidance of an older teacher. But what does this have to do with archery?

Below are seven similarities between archery and martial arts.

Proper body alignment helps archers maximize their body’s strength. The Kyudo archer above shows great discipline in ensuring her form is strong and consistent. Photo Credit: driftingfocus

Proper body alignment helps archers maximize their body’s strength. The Kyudo archer above shows great discipline in ensuring her form is strong and consistent. Photo Credit: Robert JR Graham

1. Both use your body’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Archery, when practiced properly, requires that you use your back’s bigger muscles, rather than your arm’s smaller muscles, to pull back the bowstring. Advanced archers carefully align their bones to maximize their strength. Karate and jiu-jitsu similarly use the body’s biomechanics to optimize their attack or defense.

2. Both teach body control.

Archery and martial arts require focused repetition to master muscle and body movements – hallmarks of both activities. Such mastery proves extremely powerful when users connect their body and mind.

3. Both require a great teacher.

Archery and martial arts require teachers who can examine a student’s technique and correct their mistakes. Students must trust and respect their instructor to improve. To that end, use Archery 360’s store locator to find a qualified archery coach.

4. Both reward direct effort.

You will find no shortcuts to becoming skilled in archery or martial arts. Success requires discipline and practice. The “father of karate,” Gichin Funakoshi, said, “Karate is like boiling water: Without heat, it returns to its tepid state.” The same is true for archery. You must work for it, but you’ll find no greater satisfaction than getting there.

Martial arts stress the traditions’ contemplative, spiritual sides. Similarly, successful archery practice sessions cultivate a calm, focused mind. Photo Credit: Flickr

Martial arts stress the traditions’ contemplative, spiritual sides. Similarly, successful archery practice sessions cultivate a calm, focused mind. Photo Credit: Flickr – Teruhide Tomori

5. Both cultivate a strong, calm character.

The real magic is this: The discipline and focus required for each develop the mind-body connection, and working on one improves the other. Almost all martial arts stress the traditions’ contemplative, spiritual sides as much as their physical combat skills. Archery’s tools can be used similarly. Many archers credit their calm, focused mind to a successful practice session.

6. Both become part of your identity.

Once you’re invested in the activity, it becomes part of you and your character. You don’t just shoot arrows. You’re an archer. Similarly, you don’t “do judo.” You’re a judoka. You’ll likely feel proud when knowing you’re associated with a tradition and long-lived sport. It’s an honor to practice skills that many people before you perfected. In today’s fast-paced digital world, it’s good to be part of slow, deeply rooted traditions.

7. Both can keep you fit.

Archery and martial arts provide physical exercise for all ages. They can also improve your posture and strength, and adapt to people with physical difficulties.

The Korean national archery team, pictured here competing at the Rio 2016 games, still bows to their coaches and each other at international tournaments. These activities embrace a deep commitment to the group and the teacher. Photo Credit: World Archery

The Korean national archery team, pictured here competing at the Rio 2016 games, still bows to their coaches and each other at international tournaments. These activities embrace a deep commitment to the group and the teacher. Photo Credit: World Archery

Bonus: Archery as a Tradition

In East Asia, traditional and some modern archery practices include respectful martial-arts traditions, such as bowing upon entry and greeting. As with most Asian traditions, these activities embrace a deep commitment to the group and the teacher. The Korean national archery team, for example, still bows to their coaches and each other at international tournaments. Also, many international archery teams include techniques from yoga and other Eastern traditions (such as mindfulness) in their training.

In the East, archery helps develop the soul as well as the body. That connection has long been recognized. In 19th century Korea, archery was considered a basic skill of the scholar class. It was not simply useful for warfare or hunting. It was also a spiritual instrument for cultivating character. If you wanted to advance within the society, you took up archery.

 Kyudo, depicted above, means "the way of the bow." It’s one of Japan’s oldest martial arts, and is synonymous with the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty. Photo Credit: ninjaournal

Kyudo, depicted above, means “the way of the bow.” It’s one of Japan’s oldest martial arts, and is synonymous with the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty. Photo Credit: ninjaournal.com

Kyudo is a form of archery that’s considered a martial art in Japan. Kyudo means “the way of the bow.” It mixes hunting and military traditions with Eastern philosophy to form a deeply meditative, ritualistic practice. Kyudo is now studied worldwide. Westerners studying kyudo gave rise to “Zen in the Art of Archery,” a classic text about Zen Buddhism. Read more about kyudo here!

Be proud to call archery a martial art. It’s more than a dictionary definition. Archery lets you tap into a deeper stream of life than is possible in many other sports. If done properly, it can be more beneficial than you can imagine.

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