The Iaido Journal  Nov 2008
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Book Review: The Way of the Bow - The kyudo path to a disciplined mind

review copyright © 2008 Jeffrey Z. Brown, B.A.

The Way of The Bow: The kyudo path to a disciplined mindAuthor: Deborah Klens-Bigman, Raymond A. Sosnowski
Publisher: Cliff Road Books, Inc (June 30, 2008)
Language: English
Hardcover: 144 pages
ISBN – 10: 1602613125
ISBN – 13: 978-1602613126

The Way of the Bow by Klens-Bigman and Sosnowski is a well written, easy to read introductory text on kyudo, the Japanese art of archery. Both writers present with substantial experience in budo as well as in the particular subject matter of the title in review. It is not presented as a “how to” text but offers insight into various elements of kyudo including: aesthetics, history and what the authors refer to as the “higher aspects” of kyudo. The authors draw on a number of well documented sources throughout the text to support their ideas as well as to offer alternatives to a number of their points.

A theme present within the book is the idea of “kyudo is kyudo.” Throughout the years there has been much debate regarding the influence of Zen in the art of kyudo. The authors opt to discuss the commonalities as well as the differences between the various groups practicing kyudo. All the while giving equal airtime in the manner in which they discuss the various opinions, presenting very much a bipartisan approach to discussing the issues of Zen, religion and meditation in kyudo. At times the authors opt to discuss these topics in a general manner in what they refer to as the “higher aspects” of kyudo practice.

There is also a very nice discussion on the elements of aesthetics and its relationship to kyudo. The authors do an excellent job making reference to a number of other traditional Japanese arts such as; Noh, chado, shodo and kado to illustrate the role of aesthetics in Japanese culture as a whole. The authors site various texts to illustrate points covering a variety of topics including: wabi sabi, ma-ai, johakyu and inyo.

The authors conclude the text with a segment on the historical background on kyudo. This includes a discussion on the various training groups as well as touching briefly on the distinction between gendai and koryu traditions. Also included here is a description of the kyudojo, yumi, ya and kake as well as a very nice description of the kihon-no-kata referred to as hassetsu or shichido. One aspect that I found lacking in the historical section was in regards to the various ryu-ha. The authors listed the lineage of the various branches of Heki ryu but failed to discuss any (if there are) distinguishing features. I would also have liked to have had more information regarding the use of koryu kata by the ZNKR.

One aspect that I found interesting was the feeling of two voices throughout the book. Without knowing the process with which the book was written there appears to be two clearly distinct writing styles throughout the text. This at times gives a disconnected feeling to the writing. I got the sense that each of the authors represented a specific perspective and at times these did not mesh. However, I felt this blended well with their original idea that “kyudo is kyudo.” In closing this was a very well done and enjoyable introduction to the art of Kyudo. This is a book that I will give additional readings to as things come up in my own personal exploration of budo. Also of note the bibliography provides a number of excellent suggestions on reading material in regards to budo, kyudo, Japanese culture and religion.

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TIN Nov 2008