One shot. One life.
In Japan, archery offers a path to seek the truth. Through correct technique and form, archery becomes a spiritual concentration that cultivates the self.
In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Jessica Gerrity about Kyūdō, the intricate art of Japanese traditional archery.
Kyūdō is a mix of a lot of different things
“Explaining Kyūdō can be quite tricky. Each person takes it a different way. However, in essence, it's using a bow and arrow to shoot targets which are 28 metres away. So it's Japan's traditional archery taken into a modern setting. So after the Meiji restoration, and war, and everything subsided, it was made into do. Kyū means bow, so ‘the way of the bow.’ Or just looking after ourselves and it’s quite an introspective thing. It's also a sport, people do competitions. And it's a mix of a lot of different things.” - Jessica Gerrity
Jessica Gerrity is a TV personality, writer, and tourism ambassador for Saitama Prefecture in Japan. She moved to Japan from New Zealand over 20 years ago. Beyond her captivating roles, Jessica is a mother of three and also assists in managing a dojo for Kyūdō, a form of Japanese archery.
- Moving to Japan. At 2:50, Jessica recounts her journey of relocating to Japan.
- Various roles in Japan. At 5:54, Jessica talks about the various roles she plays in Japan.
- The Japanese martial art of archery. At 14:00, Jessica explains the martial art of archery, also known as kyudo.
- Eight movements of Kyudo. At 16: 31, Jessica discusses hassetsu, the eight movements of Kyudo.
- Te no Uchi. At 19:14, Jessica explains the proper way of holding the bow.
- Technique and accuracy. At 27:14, Jessica talks about the importance of technique and accuracy in Kyudo.
- Spiritual concentration. At 37:13, Jessica talks about how she's able to contemplate every time she practises kyudo.
- Yabusame. At 42:33, Jessica explains yabusame, the form of equestrian archery in Japan.
- Craftsmanship of the longbows. At 48:02, Jessica talks about the craftsmanship that goes into making longbows of Kyudo.
- You, Me and Zen. At 1:01:25, Jessica talks about the Kyūdō club she co-founded.
Moving to Japan
Following the completion of her master's degree, Jessica decided to relocate to Japan and explore new horizons, viewing it as an incredible place to reside. Initially, she intended to test the waters and secure a position as an English teacher. However, in the end, she decided to stay in Japan permanently.
Various roles in Japan
Jessica has been a Japanese TV host for around 16 years, where she introduces various aspects of her home country, New Zealand. She also writes for several magazines, primarily focusing on the topic of Kyūdō martial arts. Additionally, she serves as the ambassador of Saitama Prefecture, contributing to tourism promotions for the region. Beyond these roles, she is a mother of three, balancing her career and motherhood to preserve her sense of self.
The Japanese martial art of archeryKyūdō is Japan's traditional archery adapted to a modern context. Kyu means bow and do means way, so Kyūdō directly translates to the way of the bow. This practice is a fusion of various elements, serving as a path for introspection for some and a form of sport for others.
Eight movements of Kyudo
The eight movements of Kyūdō can be regarded as the kata (combination of positions and movements) of Japanese archery. These encompass distinct positions, from the initial stance to the arrow release, and are vital for achieving precise target hits. These eight movements include:
- Ashibumi - footing
- Dozukuri - forming the toros
- Yatsugae/Yugame - readying the bow
- Uchiokoshi - raising the bow
- Hikiwake - drawing apart
- Kai - full draw
- Hanare - release
- Zanshin - remaining spirit
Te no UchiThe term Te no uchi translates to "the inside of your hand." It's a technique for holding a weapon in your hands and varies in every type of martial art. It is not limited solely to martial arts but can also be applied in various aspects of life. In samurai etiquette, the way you hold your hands conveys different meanings to the person on the receiving end.
Aim the target with your bellyKyūdō is all about achieving balance in the top, bottom, left, and right as you release the arrow. Using the hara (belly) helps lower the centre of gravity and allows the arrow to fly more effectively. This parallels the art of calligraphy, where focusing on our centre point, the hara, is crucial for executing precise movements.
Technique and accuracy
In kyudo, when your technique is correct, the arrow will hit the target. According to Jessica, hitting a target can be achieved by using various methods. However, archery schools have distinct checklists for grading, you need to be walking, standing, sitting, and shooting in a specific way. Timing is important, and hitting the target requires proper technique utilisation. It entails a delicate balance between technique and aiming.
Practising kyudo provides Jessica with the opportunity to immerse herself in the moment. Each time she steps into the dojo, she finds peace, gaining significant stability both physically and mentally. Engaging in repetitive movements within a familiar environment and amongst recognizable faces enables her to engage in self-reflection and momentarily set aside the challenges of her busy daily life.
“Everybody has different feelings about Kyūdō and how it affects them positively. But for me, it's really a wonderful thing for my concentration and my health, both mentally and physically. Then, after I finish my practice and step back into the hectic world, it allows me to really just be a calm and nicer person.” - Jessica Gerrity
Equestrian archery, known as yabusame in Japan, is a tradition found in other countries. In Japan, Yabusame takes the form of a sport, Sports Yabusame, pursued purely for recreation, as well as traditional Yabusame, where skilled individuals perform at Shinto shrines as a form of prayer and blessing.
Washuma, the horses employed for Sports Yabusame are small and stocky, similar to the build of a pony, and are indigenous to Japan. In the case of traditional yabusame, larger horses are ridden as speed and size of the horse takes priority.
Craftsmanship of the longbows
Bow culture in Japan boasts a rich and extensive history. Various sizes of bows are used in archery, each dependent on its intended application. In the practice of Kyudo, practitioners make use of the daikyu, a larger type of bow typically spanning two metres in length. When selecting a bow's length, an individual's height and arm length are important factors.
There are three primary types of materials employed in crafting a bow: fibreglass, carbon, and take yumi (a bamboo bow). The process of creating a bow is intricate, involving the assembly of its components, followed by several years of drying. This procedure occurs during specific times of the year and is executed by specialised craftsmen using particular tools.
You, Me and Zen
"You, Me and Zen" is a Kyūdō club located in Tokyo. The club's name is a play on words, with a connection to the term yumi (Japanese bow). The underlying concept is to signify the club's inclusivity, welcoming individuals of all backgrounds.
Due to her youngest child's hospitalisation, Jessica was compelled to return to New Zealand for a certain period, which prevented her from practising Kyudo. Upon returning to Japan, she encountered difficulty in finding a dojo that would accept her after her 9-month hiatus from Kyudo. It was during this time that she crossed paths with Hiro, the owner of the “You, Me and Zen'' Kyūdō club. At that point, Hiro was facing personal challenges that hindered the smooth operation of his dojo. Together, they decided to collaborate and started offering weekly Kyūdō sessions.
What sets their dojo apart from others is their focus on cultivating a comfortable environment, where people can feel truly welcomed, like an ibasho, a sense of belonging. Since then, thousands of individuals from various countries have visited their dojo.
“Our club can be an ibasho. For me, Kyūdō itself is an ibasho. So the Kyūdō community, and not just my dojo, but the dojo that I practise every day, which is in Saitama, that's really my ibasho.” - Jessica Gerrity
Anyone can develop the ability to shoot a bow and arrow. However, when we delve deeper into this intricate art form, one can understand that there is far more to it than merely aiming at a target. From the use of equipment to adopting the correct shooting form, Kyūdō demands a substantial amount of dedication to truly progress the skill.