I fell in love with a tale about archers, and this led me to explore the world of Kyudo, the Japanese art of archery. This in turn provided the inspiration for the background for the novel I’ve just published in Spanish, Poderosamente Frágiles (Powerfully Fragile).
Kyudo means ‘the way of the bow’ in Japanese, and it is considered the highest form of discipline for the Samurai warrior. Originally, it was seen as a kind of ritual, like calligraphy or the tea ceremony. It was even thought of as a defensive discipline until the advent of firearms. Its roots lie in Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism. It is the meditative martial art par excellence in which the different postures connect us to something bigger than just drawing a bow. Considering its beauty and its profundity, I am surprised that it is so little known in the West compared to other martial arts.
The aim of Kyudo is not to hit the bullseye; rather, Kyudo is to be lived as a process of self-knowledge and personal fulfilment. For this reason, learning it takes a lifetime. In my novel, Kyudo is really only the pretext for starting a story which describes falling in and out of love, personal discovery, and the caress of our own weakness. I will now tell you about some of the key aspects of Kyudo which have inspired me…
Until we stop thinking about the aim of an action, we cannot execute the action properly. We live in a society in which ‘doing’ is highly prized. However, the path to self-knowledge lies in being; in Kyudo, the main thing is to live the process, not to hit the bullseye. As with happiness, the aim is not the destination but the journey.
In Kyudo, you only manage to draw the bow when you are anchored in your inner being, in your bones. This is a beautiful metaphor of where true strength lies. The Japanese bow, the yumi, measures more than two metres from top to bottom, and it is extremely difficult to draw fully. When you try to draw it using just your muscles, the effort is truly massive. However, when you connect with your inner strength, with your bones, the whole process becomes much more natural.
When you shoot the arrow, a physical reaction occurs which puts you in touch with emotions that may be unknown to you. At the beginning, letting go of a fully drawn yumi is scary, as the cord can brush your arm and injure it. However, when you perform the action without fear and without intent (which is no easy task), your arms open out in the shape of a cross and your heart is exposed. The yumi is the only bow in the world that creates this effect, and therein lies its meditative value.
The important thing is really the kamiza, the seat placed on the floor which symbolises the values of the school, tradition, the masters… When you draw the bow, your eyes are focused on the target while your heart is facing the kamiza. The metaphor is again very meaningful: if what we do is not aligned with what we believe, with our own individual kamiza, it is highly likely that we will not find true meaning.
Kyudo is based on three overarching principles, beauty, kindness and truth: the beauty of each of the movements, which must be slow and at the same time precise; kindness, which is expressed as courtesy, compassion and the avoidance of negative emotions that hinder the process, such as fear, anger or sadness; and lastly, truth, the meaning derived from the search for oneself.
These points remain in the background in the novel and provide a framework in which the different characters gradually penetrate the inner folds of their relationships and of themselves. As the master Chogyam Trungpa said: ‘Through Kyudo one can learn to live beyond hope and fear; one can learn how to be.’
To learn more about Kyudo:
Reporting a ceremony in Japan:
Report about Yumi on the National Geographic: