Kyudo alongside of Judo, Aikido and Kendo, is another form of Japanese budo. The rules are fairly simple: competitors wear a white tight-sleeved kimono and hakama with white tabi socks, and concentrate on hitting the target which is usually set on a wall.
What makes kyudo special is the fact that it is a very rare type of budo in which the competitor is not another human being but a set target. It can simply be described as an equivalent to Western archery, but this kyudo in fact is probably the type of budo which most rigidly follows the basics of budo spirit.
First of all the archer takes a slow and deep motion with sharp concentration and adjust the timing to release the arrow. Then he hits the target whenever he is ready. After shooting the first arrow, he considers how well or bad he did and develops his concentration again to prepare for his second shot. This cycle becomes the mental and spiritual training.
This is exactly the deepest appeal of kyudo - to completely concentrate on your own world where you are the only being in it.
Because of the silent but deep motion and the tense atmosphere, kyudo continues to attract a number of campetitors and fans today.
As compared to other types of budo in which the goal is to defeat another competitor, the "competitor" here is no one else but yourself. Through the tense and quiet "fight" against yourself you aim to train your spirit and improve your technique. Each movement and each shot reflects the state of your mind, thus each hit precisely shows the strength of your spirit. When your mind is distracted your body and hands get shaken so a good archer requires discipline of strong spirit and sharp concentration through daily training.
The rules of kyudo are rather simple, but the way is profound and sophisticated.
Kyudo is the "way of rei (courtesy/ respect)" and the "way of jin (benevolence/ humanity)". To begin with rei and to end with rei, this is the way of the yumi (bow), hence "kyudo". Kyudo is the way to correct yourself, so even if you make a mistake or display disrespect, you are taught to never resent or blame anybody else.
"The greatest mistake is not to amend the mistake. Do not be afraid to look back at your mistakes."
"The bow leads you to find truth in yourself. If you are true to yourself, your mind is pure."
Shooting an arrow is commonly mistaken as the ultimate form of concentration on a target, however, the real significance lies in the shot itself. Each arrow is shot with a sincere mind, and such arrow flies straight on its own.
In another words, you do not intend to shoot straight. It goes straight as a result.
Since it includes some "Zen" beliefs, and also because the discipline puts great emphasis on mentality and spirituality, kyudo is sometimes referred to as ritsuzen (standing Zen meditation) as compared to zazen (sitting Zen meditation).
The history of bows is very old - it dates back to the stone age. Since this beginning of the history of bow, bow martial arts (kyujutsu) developed as a form of sacred and symbolic ritual performed in the court, arisrtocratic and warrior households. Aside from its symbolic development, bows and arrows also developed as battle weapons but since the age when fire arms, spears and javelins became the main weapons, bows and arrows faded away.
From about the same time, kyudo started to gather attention as a means of spiritual discipline. Long later in the history after Meiji Restoration and the Wars, kyudo gained wide educational and cultural recognition and came back to the society.
Today, kyudo continues to preserve the traditional significance in its spiritual disciplinal perspective as well as to take in modern tastes. To an extent, the sport-competitive aspect is standing out more. Yet, the traditional symbolic and sacred essence of kyudo can still be appreciated today in events such as yabusame (horseback archery) performed on special occassions.