“To some, archery looks like sport. To some, it looks like spirit. If you ask one hundred people, you will find one hundred different answers.” – Kazuhisa Miyasaka
Many people dream of exotic getaways to East Asia, perhaps dreaming they’ll discover a deeper understanding of themselves. One writer did both on an exciting archery adventure in Japan.
That writer is Leigh Ann Henion, author of “Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World.” Henion wrote a long-form piece in March for the Washington Post about her 2016 adventures studying kyudo at the Uotoshi Ryokan in Yamanouchi in mountainous central Japan.
Kyudo, or traditional Japanese archery, roughly translates as “the way of the bow.” You can read more about it here.
In the Post article, Henion details some magical features of Japanese archery and training under one of its masters, Miyasaka, while mixing in humor along the way. In one passage, she recalls waking up in a jet-lagged fog to hear an arrow hitting the target.
“In kyudo, the sound of a pierced target is meant to awaken the archer from a dream-world clouded by ego and cultural conditioning, revealing the interconnectivity of self, nature, everything. When I realize that I’ve had a literal awakening, I chuckle quietly. Miyasaka notices.
“Japanese archery is serious,” he says. “You have to have poker face at all times.”
“Because if your mind is empty, there’s no expression to read?” I say.
“Exactly,” Miyasaka says, nodding. “If enemies can read your face, they know what you might do next.”
With her long family history in archery, Henion weaves a story of connecting with her teacher, much like archers today connect with an archery coach. It turns out they’re both there, ultimately, because of their grandfathers. Her tale examines archery as a tool for self-discovery that’s familiar to many archers. Likewise, kyudo is a martial art that turns archery into a spiritual discipline.
Henion isn’t the first Westerner to train in Japan. A short book titled “Zen in the Art of Archery” was written in 1948, and tells about the first Westerner to study kyudo with a Japanese master. It’s a classic text more about Zen than archery, although it remains the world’s most famous book with “archery” in its title.
Japan boasts other archery treasures, too. In Tokyo and elsewhere, you can watch spectacular demonstrations of yabusame, or horseback archery. If these attractions sound like a great vacation, you’re in luck. You can try kyudo at many places in Japan that accept English-speaking guests.
If Japan is just too far to visit, you could try archery much closer to home – and still gain more of Zen’s mindful benefits than you might imagine. These rewards include less stress, increased awareness, and physical and mental strength, to name a few of archery’s many benefits.
If that sounds like your kind of sport, visit a nearby archery store and ask about lessons. After all, it’s possible to study kyudo in the United States and many other Western countries.
Read Henion’s article on the Washington Post website here.