Kyudo in the West


Eugen Herrigel

From the later part of the nineteenth century, an interest in things Japanese and oriental grew in the West. Between Europe and Japan this evolved beyond the stage of simple curiosity and exotic fascination to become a basis for solid scholastic interest and a growing exchange of information and ideas. In the 1930s the German philosopher Eugene Herrigel wrote his small classic Zen in the Art of Archery in which he related his own experience of studying kyudo in Japan. This book was to be the first introduction of kyudo into the West.

Herrigel's involvement in kyudo was singular for the time, and it was only in the post-war period, when a greater contact with Japan took place, that slowly individual Europeans came into contact with kyudo and brought their direct experience back with them to their own countries. Since these introductions in the late 1960s there has been a slow but gradual growth of interest, with now 15 European nations forming a European Kyudo Federation, and in 2006 the establishment of an international organisation - The International Kyudo Federation (IKYF).

As a part of the mutually enriching cultural interchange between East and West, kyudo has much to offer. Not only does it represent many threads of culture and tradition but it focuses on the fundamental aspects of the human condition. With a sporting aspect but not a sport, with a spiritual aspect but not a religion, as a physical discipline but with a powerful psychological and emotional power, kyudo is hard to frame within normal categories. But this diversity provides a means for balancing these very different dimensions of human life within a single activity. Especially in the West, where the mental, physical and spiritual aspects have become so dislocated, kyudo has a very special role to play.


In Japan too, the period after the war saw the emergence of a fast-growing modern state. Reflecting the new social changes, in 1949, a national kyudo federation was formed to promote and develop an understanding of kyudo within a modern context. While its focus as a discipline on altruistic and aesthetic values was seen as having meaning to deepen and enrich people's lives, it was also recognised that in emphasising its sporting aspect, it could gain popular involvement. Kyudo became part of the school curriculum, and is practised at club level in high schools and universities. The All Nippon Kyudo Federation, which has over half a million members in Japan, has supported the growth of Kyudo in the West. Kyudo masters from Japan visit Europe on a regular basis and, through their teaching, an authentic understanding of the practice is maintained.

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