As with most civilizations, ancient Japan relied on the bow and arrow for hunting and warfare. In Japan the practice of archery also had deep cultural and even religious ritual importance. When firearms made archery obsolete, the cultural roots were too deep to let it go. So the Japanese kept the practice of archery as a sport, an art form, a contemplative practice, and a culturally important ritual.
As with many aspects of Japanese culture, the prehistoric ceremonial religion of Shinto merges peacefully with the contemplative practices of Zen in Kyudo. Inside the highly formalized, ceremonial movements of Kyudo live the meditative breath practices, and ultimately the non-abiding mind, of Zen.
Kyudo is widely practiced in Japan. Essentially every college and most High Schools have a kyudo club. In school, kyudo is practiced as a competitive sport. After graduation, those who continue the practice emphasize the artistic and contemplative aspects. So it is rather easy to find a place to study and practice kyudo in Japan. Not so elsewhere.
Unlike karate, judo, and aikido, kyudo is not widely practiced outside Japan. There are qualified instructors in America, but so few that testing for rank can only happen when instructors visit from Japan to lead seminars. The photo above was taken at such a seminar in South Carolina in 2019.
Kyudo can be learned and practiced in Tucson, Arizona thanks to Bill Savary Sensei, seen here winning the competition at the South Carolina seminar.
The University of Arizona has what is probably the only university Kyudo club in the USA. It practices jointly with the private Arizona Kyudokai club. Practice locations vary. The above photo was taken at a special New Year shoot at Bill Savary Sensei's kyudojo in Vail. Practice also has been held on the University campus and indoors at a leased warehouse.
Obviously, the practice of kyudo requires a bow. But the traditional Japanese bow is unique. Like all traditional Asian bows, the arrow is shot from the right side of the bow. Unlike any other bow, the Japanese bow, or Yumi, is asymmetrical. Instead of gripping the bow in the center, the Yumi is gripped about one third of the way up from the lower end. You will notice that the yumi is also very long: mine is about 90 inches unstrung. Traditionally made of bamboo, most beginners start with bows of synthetic materials.
Arrows need to be correspondingly long. Mine are 42 inches long with 7 inches of fletching. Also made of bamboo historically, they are now more often aluminum.
Kyudo archers shoot with a glove on the right hand. The glove has a hard thumb with a notch in it that catches the string when the bow is drawn.
With some exceptions, all of this unusual equipment needs to be ordered from Japan. And it's super cheap! Just kidding. It's kind of expensive. But any kyudo club will have equipment you can borrow.
I have been practicing Kyudo since 2017. Twenty years from now, ask me how I am doing.