For those who are interested, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of traditional Japanese bowmaking is the use of the traditional Japanese bow known as the yumi in Kyudo, Japanese for “the way of the bow,” the name for the martial art of archery.
This is a combination of Zen philosophy, martial arts, ballet and lethal force. There are many videos of this on the Internet, and the ceremony and skill involved in loosing a wooden shaft towards a target is nothing short of entrancing. The ultimate form of this art/sport can be seen in competitions among certain Zen monk archery masters who actually shoot while blindfolded with amazing accuracy.
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The yumi is an asymetrical long bow constructed of bamboo and wood that is carefully chosen and then split and formed into the ancient shape and size of bows going back into antiquity. Many are over 7 feet in length and contain five curves. Modern yumis require as much as 150 pounds to achieve a full draw before releasing the arrow. The bows are decorated with rattan wrappings and irushi, a lacquer in various colors made from the sap of the sumac. They are nothing short of exquisite.
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This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.