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Awa Kenzo + Zen Archery Tips

Awa Kenzo was a Zen Archery Master who lived in Japan, born in 1880, died in 1939. He is one of the most important archery masters of the last century. In Western/European culture he gained notoriety because he was also the teacher of Eugen Herrigel, the author of "Zen in the Art of Archery".

Awa studied the art of Kyudo first in the tradition of the Heki Ryu Sekka-ha and Heki-ryu Chikurin-ha. At the time archery in Japan was very ceremonial and ritualistic. It is still used even today in Buddhist ceremonies to banish demons. (This concept isn't unique to Japan, many cultures believe in the power of the bow and arrow to banish evil. Simply making a sound by plucking a bow string is said to scare evil away.)

However following a religious enlightenment experience Awa Kenzo developed a totally unconventional and new approach to teaching archery, believing that the spiritual dimension also played a role in one's ability to shoot a target, especially if under stress. This part is certainly true from a psychology perspective as people who lack confidence and are under pressure will shoot particularly badly when they are distracted / unable to concentrate on what they are doing. Using Buddhist Zen principles to control (or unleash) the mind an archer can overcome difficulties and shoot just as accurately as they normally would under less stressful circumstances because they are able to calm their mind and shoot accordingly.

Knowing this Awa Kenzo deliberately turned away from the then-recognized tradition of Kyujutsu which was much more ceremonial to become an outsider in his training methods, focusing not so much on ceremony but on the spiritual enlightenment of his students.

In doing so his revolutionary approach resulting in his numerous students creating a lasting impact throughout Japanese culture. Awa Kenzo's doctrine of "Daishadõ-kyo" (Great Learning by Way of Shooting) followed a holistic transformation of the shooter in the sense of religious enlightenment through the practice of archery.

In the video below you can see Awa Kenzo's students taking turns shooting in a film made during the 1930s. Awa is recognizable for his rather long goatee.





#1. In the beginning learn to shoot quickly, don't worry about your accuracy so much as that will come later.

#2. Don't worry about form so much. Worrying about it will distract you. Just get the basics right.

#3. Breathe into your belly. Let it be the rock that holds you in place.

#4. Shoot even when your mind isn't in it. The best time to practice is when under stress.

#5. Embrace stress but don't let it control your mind.

#6. Your body will be honed with time, but only you can hone your mind.

#7. As you progress take your time to aim, but don't spend too much time aiming. Let your spirit guide you.

#8. Refine yourself to become a purer person. Avoid the distractions of vice and such things will no longer distract you.

#9. Take pleasure in the simple joys of shooting, even if you don't hit the target.

#10. Don't gloat over your successes. They are well earned, but don't let your ego become your downfall.

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