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Book Review

Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery

by Hideharu Onuma, with Dan and Jackie DeProspero.

Review by Meik Skoss

It's not often that one has the opportunity to review a book that is the definitive work in its field, but I got lucky. Kyudo is one such. Hideharu Onuma Sensei was the 15th-generation headmaster of a classical archery tradition, the Heki-ryu Sekki-ha, and at the time of his death in 1990 was a hanshi kyudan (9th dan), one of the most senior teachers of modern kyudo. The DeProsperos have lived and studied kyudo and aikido in Japan for more than a dozen years, much of that time living with their teacher. Dan DeProspero is a renshi rokudan (6th dan), an authorized kyudo instructor, and his wife, Jackie, is the first non-Japanese woman to be promoted to the rank of godan (5th dan) in the art. The text of Kyudo was written by the DeProsperos, but the words and spirit are largely those of Onuma Sensei. This book is a fitting tribute to their teacher and an example of their deep devotion and thorough knowledge of kyudo in particular and the Japanese martial arts in general.

The book begins with a discussion of what kyudo is and why people pursue it as a lifelong study. The art of Japanese archery is seen as a means of directly experiencing, thence understanding, truth, goodness, and beauty through shugyo, the austere training of spirit, mind and body, using the bow as a vehicle and one's Self, as the target. Chapter Two is a succinct discussion of the history and development of kyudo, beginning with the prehistoric period and continuing to the foundation of the All-Japan Kyudo Federation. The third chapter deals with the spirit of kyudo. It examines the manner in which the cognitive mind, or shin (kokoro), combines with vital energy, ki, producing the self-control and emotional stability essential to proper technique. The next two chapters are detailed descriptions of the archery range and equipment used in the art of kyudo. The technical core of the book is contained in Chapters Six, Seven and Eight. Chapter Six is entitled "Hassetsu: The Eight Stages of Shooting." Chapter Seven deals with "The Technique and Practice of Kyudo." Although no book can substitute for practicing under the direct supervision of a competent teacher, the explanations and illustrations in this section are of such high quality that many readers may well be tempted to try to do so, and come close to succeeding. They are that good. The last chapter is "Problem Solving." For the dedicated archer, these three chapters alone are worth the cost of the book. They sum up years of training in a manner that is easy to understand, give a wealth of information, and never overload the reader with too much detail.

The appendix is another feature of this book that makes it an important reference for everybody who is interested in martial disciplines in particular or Japanese culture in general. Entitled "Shitemon_do: Student-Teacher Conversations," it is a series of talks that the DeProsperos had with Onuma Sensei over a period of several years and covers a variety of subjects ranging from the purpose of training in kyudo (or any martial art or way), the way budo training changes its practitioners, the mental processes and attitudes involved in training, to some of the aesthetic and philosophic principles intrinsic to the martial arts. Regardless of the particular discipline that one studies, the topics covered in these conversations are of immediate bearing to all budoka and should prove invaluable in their training. A brief bibliography and a directory of kyudo dojo and organizations all over the world follow the appendix and provide the interested reader with means of further study and investigation of Japanese archery.

In closing, just a few more words: Buy This Book!!

Reproduced with permission of Meik Skoss and Koryu Books.
Copyright ©1993 Meik Skoss. All rights reserved.

This review orignally appeared in Aiki News #96,Vol.20,no.2., Summer/Fall 1993 and also appears on the website of Diane & Meik Skoss:

Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery is available from the FightingArts Estore:

(160 p., 7½ x 10½"
hardbound., fully illustrated)

(+$5 shipping within US)

About The Reviewer:

Meik Skoss is one of the foremost non-Japanese researchers and practitioners of the Japanese classical martial arts; his masters degree is in Physical Education. He began his martial arts training in 1966 in Los Angeles and moved to Japan in 1973. During his twenty-one year stay in Japan he received dan grades in a variety of Japanese martial arts, including jodo, jukendo, aikido, tankendo, and atarashii naginata. He holds the licenses of okuden mokuroku and shihan in Toda-ha Buko-ryu and sho-mokuroku in Shinto Muso-ryu. He is also a member of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and Tendo-ryu. He teaches classical martial arts at his Shutokukan Dojo in New Jersey, and also serves on the local volunteer rescue squad.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Kyudo, Japanese Archery

Read more articles by Meik Skoss

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