Peak Sports Mailbag: Kyudo

Ask and answer both SFU and non-SFU related sports questions.

Nicole Magas, the Opinions Editor at The Peak, practicing kyudo. — Photo credit / Ariel Hudnall

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

Hello readers of The Peak sports section,

Welcome to the Peak Sports Mailbag. My name is Nicole Magas and I’m this week’s host of the kyudo-themed Mailbag. I practiced kyudo for about two years in Vancouver, Canada before I moved to Kyoto, Japan and practiced there for another year. I currently hold shodan (1st) rank in this martial art. This is the lowest rank of eight.

Thanks so much to all of our readers for submitting their kyudo-related questions, and my apologies if your question didn’t make it into this week’s edition. Usually, the Mailbag host will only answer three questions. Don’t worry though, as all questions submitted count for an entry into the raffle draw whether or not they are addressed in the Mailbag. Now, onto the questions!

Question 1: What does a kyudo tournament consist of ? – Cooper

This depends a little on how big of a tournament (international, local), and what kind of kyudo (the competition at Sanjusangendo — performed in vibrantly colored, traditional-style clothing — is a lot different from a regular tournament, both visually and physically). Speaking very generally, a tournament will involve members of a like-rank competing in groups of three to five. 

Kyudo is a very stylized martial art, often compared to standing meditation. As such, each individual motion — from one’s first step onto the floor, to the way one nocks an arrow, to the number and length of each breath taken — are as essential as hitting the actual target. Anyone can hit a target with enough practice and the correct posture. The beauty, and the great difficulty, in kyudo is in the path created between the archer, the bow, the arrow, and the target. 

Once the competitors have completed their entry, which will consist of bowing to the judges and the targets, they will line up and kneel in a line facing the judges, with the targets on their left. If they are shooting at close range (28 m), each competitor, starting with the one at the front, will stand and shoot, staggering when they stand, shoot, and kneel, in time with the sound of the string snap of those in front of them. This allows each judge to clearly see the current archer who is firing and to judge the correctness of their motions without being impeded by other archers in the line. If the shooting is long distance (90 m), competitors remain in a kneeling position while they shoot.

The number of arrows allotted to each archer will depend on whether or not they are in a team or individual competition, and on the individual guidelines and regulations of the tournament. The World Kyudo Tournament, for example, allows teams 12 arrows (four for each of the three archers) over two rounds, while individual archers are allowed four arrows.

Competitors are judged as much by how accurate their shots are to the center of the target, as they are by the poise, beauty, and intention of the motions performed in getting the arrow to its destination.

Question 2: What equipment is required to practice kyudo? – Murray

As with kendo, kyudo requires a large investment in specialized equipment for dedicated individuals. But, for those who are just starting out, comfortable clothing that is easy to move in, with a colour scheme of white top and black or dark colored pants without patterns, will do. Most established clubs will have equipment that can be borrowed once an archer is ready to start firing arrows (which can actually take quite a while).

At early levels, kyudo practitioners will want a set of keikogi, which consists of a white gi top, black hakama bottoms, white tabi socks, and a thick cotton obi belt. A specialized glove made from deerskin and resin called a yugake is used to draw the string back. In Kyudo, you do not pinch or pull the arrows or string with the fingers. Rather, the string is hooked on the hardened resin horn of the yugake where it is held in place with torsion strength as the archer pulls back. This specialized glove is therefore essential to correctly practicing kyudo.

The bow (yumi) and the arrows (ya) represent the largest investment, and can range between several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the material. Specialized cases for both the yumi and the ya will also need to be purchased. Kyudo is a longbow form of archery, with the arrows drawn all the way back to the ear, rather than to the mouth as in western archery. As such, ample dry storage space is required to keep the equipment in good working condition. 

Small items for the maintenance of bows, strings, and arrows will also become necessary in the long run. 

Question 3: What are some of the similarities and differences between kendo and kyudo? – Dylan

Aside from the obvious difference in weapon (kendo uses a bamboo sword while kyudo uses a bow and arrow), the big difference between the two is how energy is expended. Kendo relies on a mixture of cardio and short-burst strength motions over short periods of time to score points between opponents. Kyudo, on the other hand, is a marathon-like activity that requires intense mental and physical concentration to perform slow, intricate actions that require strength, accuracy, and dexterity. A 15 minute round of shooting four arrows in kyudo can be just as exhausting as an hour-long bout of kendo.

The two are similar in that they both come from a tradition of self-improvement through physical discipline. An emphasis on the correctness of motions as much as the accuracy of strikes creates a deeper understanding of how the body works and for what purpose. They also both cultivate strength of character, as practitioners are encouraged to turn inward for self-improvement, rather than outward to external factors such as opponents. 

If you would like to participate in future editions of the Peak Sports Mailbag and be entered in a raffle for an end-of-semester prize, here’s what you can send to

  • Sports-related questions that our weekly host will answer
  • Weekly theme ideas to guide our questions
  • Short (100–200 word) responses to our bi-weekly Reverse Mailbag (get paid $5) 

Or: sign up to host the Mailbag (and get paid)!

Thanks to all of you SFU sports fans for blowing up my inbox!

The next original Mailbag theme is: Wrestling

The host for the wrestling Mailbag is: Lauren Mason

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