Kyuudou is a form of Japanese archery that uses a unique asymmetrical bow. While you’re enjoying the Olympic archery competitions, take a moment to learn about this Japanese sport and martial art for another perspective on the ancient art of archery. Kyuudou varies from other forms of archery most simply due to the use of an asymmetric bow called a yumi. The yumi has the hand grip about 2/3 of the way from the top of the bow, rather than at the center like other types of bows. This results in a bow that is shorter at the bottom. Kyuudou also differs from other forms of archery in that it the practitioner often fires from a kneeling position, though standing or horseback firing also exist.
The first yumi were noted in the 3rd century AD and the design became more or less standardized in the Heian Period (794-1185 AD), with the yumi featuring a height of about two meters and a laminated wood construction. The reason for the shape of the yumi is not entirely known, though some sources speculate that it may be due to the shorter bottom end of the bow being easier to manage while firing from horseback or while kneeling. Yumi were used for centuries by warriors on foot or on horseback and are featured in many Japanese historical accounts and mythological events. The use of yumi in warfare declined in the 16th century with the arrival of firearms to Japan. However, this unique type of bow continues to form the basis for the sport and practice of Kyuudou today.
Kyuudou has a military and hunting origin like all archery, but is also a sport or art form in different contexts. Kyuudou can take place in a competitive, sports environment like other forms of archery, and a variety of teams, associations, and clubs exist for Kyuudou practice and competition. In some cases Kyuudou is also used as a ceremonial or meditative practice separate from or in addition to competitive athletics. Kyuudou is a martial art as well as a sport, and a practitioner can engage with kyuudou as a method of striving for self-discipline and clarity of thought, as well as the pursuit of athletic skill. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will offer visitors the chance to experience modern international archery competitions as well as this traditional sport and martial art. We recommend that you experience both during your visit!