Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 2

This is part 2 of the discussion on Kyūsen no Michi. Here, we narrow our focus more on the components that defined how this militaristic system worked to craft those into warriors according to how battles were engaged and played out. Whereas the usage of the word “kyūsen”, along with militaristic history of Japanese archery was covered in part 1, for part 2 we will go over the known different groups & styles of archery, as well as a few recognized innovators concerning the bow & arrow. This discussion will also include some categorizing within the world of kyūsen, along with some comparing and contrasting, will be in order.

A good number of handy sources were used for this discussion, including the following:

Take note that part 2 became much bigger than intended in order to give a proper insight of Japan’s archery. Despite it’s size, it does not give a 100% definitive overview, as there are some information not added, lest it grows into something on the level of a research paper. Still, part 2 should provide enough insight on how significant and respected Kyūsen no Michi was to the point that many warriors invested their lives into it.

KORYŪ VS SHINRYŪ

In order to properly cover the specifics that make up Kyūsen no Michi, it is important to know that, on a technical and cultural level in relations to combat purposes, there are two types of archery (kyūjutsu in Japanese). The first is called Koryū kyūjutsu (古流弓術, Old-style archery), while the second is called Shinryū kyūjutsu (新流弓術, New-style archery). The categorization of these are both based on time period, equipment, and technique:

  • Koryū – Ancient times, with notable structuring from Heian period until early 1400s period
  • Shinryū – Around late 1400s onward until the abolishment of the warrior class in late 1800s

MANY SCHOOLS OF ARCHERY

Due to how integral kyūjutsu was in a warrior’s career, many groups specialized in it. Some groups preserved the lessons on archery as their own family styles, while others would learn that particular style and represent it usually indicating that they are a branch of it. Below are lists of some of the well known archery styles throughout Japan’s history, along with the founder and the time they were alive.

The first one is for those that fall under the Koryū kyūjutsu category:

Kyusen List01

The next list shows the styles that fall under the Shinryū category:

Kyusen List02

Along with this, are the different branches related to Heki ryū:

Kyusen List03

While the records pertaining to archery found in manuals & documents list these mentioned above and many more, take note that a lot of them are no longer in existance. The styles that are still active include Ogasawara ryū, Honda ryū, Takeda ryū, and Heki ryū Insai ha.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD & NEW

Here are some general descriptions between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu. Note that this is more in reference to how they were conducted before the warrior class was abolished as a whole.

A listing of archers of Taishi ryū, by rank. From Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū Kyūjutsu

  • Generally categorized as reisha (礼射), or “ceremonial-centric archery”, due to the emphasis on etiquette, customary practices, and focus on displaying shooting prowess.
  • During battles, archery was primarily use, both from long range to close range
  • Off the battlefield, archers demonstrated great focus and control while shooting targets at various distances.
  • Engaged in outing activities requiring feats of shooting while on horseback, such as hunting, and special target courses classified under Kisha Mitsumono (騎射三物)
  • Unison between rider and horse, called “jinba ittai” (人馬一体) in Japanese, was important
  • Considered a developing practice since ancient times, ceremonial practices within archery slowed abit due to power struggles from Heian period to early Muromachi period, as archers in battle was of necessary use
  • Once the ways of Koryū kyūjutsu was seen non-viable in combat during Muromachi period (around start of 1400s), it was revitalized and preserved in Ogasawara ryu through restructuring.

NOTES

  • Despite being considered reisha due to its high focus in shooting ability and ritualistic customs, Koryū kyūjutsu had fighting elements and was indeed acceptable training for combat
  • While much of the skillset emphasized on shooting from horseback, archers did also practice shooting while on foot
  • On foot, the bow was held at an angle when shooting arrows.
  • Although some existing styles such as Ogasawara ryū Reihō (小笠原流礼法) practice solely reisha, few groups such as Bushido Shinkōkai and Dai Nihon Kyūbakai preserve the fighting element of Koryū kyūjutsu not only with the bow & arrow, but with the tachi and naginata.

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Generally labeled as busha (武射), or “military-centric archery”, as this was designed specifically for use on the battlefield according to the new direction wars were approached.
  • Developed during Muromachi period between mid to late 1400s, when the tactics of war switched to large infantry, formations, and close range skirmishes
  • For the sake of combat efficiency, archers primarily performed on foot, but also had knowledge on how to shoot while on horseback
  • Archers were trained to coordinate together using group tactics
  • Trained to work under all types of conditions, including wet/bad weather, at night, on a boat, in a tower, and when the need to switch to close range fighting arised
  • Used barricades, such as tate (楯), as defense against long range attacks, as well as fenced areas as protection against flankers/disrupters
  • Contested with firearms (i.e. rifles, cannons) from mid-ending 1500s.
  • From Edo period (1603~1868) onward, once firearms took precedence in how wars were conducted, groups such as the Shimazu clan retained the effectiveness of archery by studying & incorporating rifle formations.

NOTES

  • Shinryū kyūjutsu isn’t completely unique and different. It was built off of koryū kyūjutsu, inherited certain aspects, then redefined specifically for combat purposes, thus why it’s called “the new style of archery”
  • Yoshida Shigeharu (吉田重春) is credited for implementing customary practices to Heki ryū starting in the mid 1600s. However, as it is not the same as reisha of Ogasawara ryū, Heki ryū’s is called taihai (体拝).
  • Today, existing Shinryū kyūjutsu styles such as Heki ryū retain busha, as well as practice taihai.

DIFFERENCES IN TECHNIQUES/EQUIPMENT

Here’s a short comparison between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu.

A mokuroku (list of techniques) of Ban Dōsetsu ryū kyūjutsu. Fron Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū kyūjutsu

  • Archers used larger bows, such as fusedakeyumi (伏竹弓, made out of wood and bamboo) and marukiyumi (丸木弓, curved wooden bow)
  • During the Heian period, wore large box-like armor called ōyoroi for added protection
  • Smaller draw due to technical issues such as mobility limitations while on horseback, large kabuto (helmet), etc.
  • Archery done by cavalry was called kisha (騎射)
  • Closing the range while on horseback increase accuracy to vulnerable areas
  • Wore tomo (lefthand glove) to prevent string from injuring hand on return
  • Carried tachi on left side

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Used smaller bows
  • Archery done while walking was called hosha (歩射)
  • From the Muromachi period onward, archers wore revised, slim fitting armor, which allowed less restrictions in drawing skills and mobility while on foot
  • Used larger draw and other techniques to increase an arrow’s power and penetration capabilities (i.e. allowing the bow to turn ccw in the hand)
  • Carried uchigatana (slightly shorter battlefield sword for upclose fighting) and unique equipment to adapt to certain situations, such as uchine (打根), spear point on top of bow, etc.

DISTINGUISHED INDIVIDUALS

Below are a few renown archers that are pioneers in Japan’s history of archery.

Ogasawara Sadamune / 小笠原貞宗

Picture of Ogasawara Sadamune. From Shūko Jisshu (集古十種). From Wikipedia.

 

  • Born in 1292, Sadamune was a warrior from Matsuo, Shinano Province (present day Ida City, Nagano Prefecture)
  • As a member of the established Ogasawara clan, he worked for the Kamakura Bakufu through Hōjō Sadatoki
  • Made a name for himself in Heian Kyō (Imperial capital, present day Kyōto) during the early-mid 1300s, as he participated in many battles such as the campaigns against the Mongol invasions, assault on Emperor Go-Daigo, the attack on Kusunoki Masanari’s Akasaka castle, and the battle of Kamakura
  • Sadamune earned merits for his efforts, was named “Shinano Shuei” (信濃守衛, Protector of Shinano), and established his residence in Shinshū prefecture.
  • Known for his involvement in zen, and was a worshiper of Marishiten, the “God of War” (武の神, Bu no Kami)
  • Sadamune created “Ogasawara ryu Reihō”, which features the rituals, etiquette, and customs practiced by high-ranking warrior families
  • Ogasawara ryū Reihō contains reisha, the preservation of Koryū kyūjutsu, which includes ceremonial practices, expert level with the bow & arrow, and feats of archery while on horseback
  • Sadamune established the principles of “sha – go – rei” (射・御・礼), which are the standard for reisha
  • His contributions inspired others to learn and add this to further their worth as warriors

Heki Danjo Masatsugu / 日置弾正正次

A picture of Heki Danjo Masatsugu. from the collection of the Toda household of the Bishu-Chikurin branch. From Wikipedia.

 

  • Birthdate is uncertain, although some sources say around 1444
  • Believed to have been born in either Yamato Province (present day Nara Prefecture) or Iga (present day Mie Prefecture)
  • Originally studied Henmi ryū, Masatsugu participated in many battles in the northern parts of Japan, such as Ōnin War (1467~1477)
  • While serving as a warrior, Masatsugu had opportunities on the field to utilize the bow & arrow according to how it would prove useful
  • Main focus on the redivision of archery was on militaristic usage, both in and outside of the battlefield.
  • Established the principles of “kan – chū – kyū” (貫・中・久¹) as the highest level of Heki ryū kyūjutsu
  • After a life of battles, Masatsugu traveled around Japan to test his methods. It is from this time he meets Yoshida Shigekata.
  • After choosing his successor (Yoshida Shigekata), Masatsugu retired by living in one of the temples within the mountainous region called Kōyasan located in Kishu (present day Wakayama Prefecture)
  • Some of the titles he used includes “Rurikōbō” (瑠璃光坊) “Dōi” (道以) , and “Itoku” (威徳)
  • Masatsugu is known as the “pioneer who revitalized the archery of Japan”, as he brought attention to the new ways the bow & arrow could be used in battle during a time where many viewed them as obsolete.
  • Despite his fame through the effectiveness of Heki ryū, much mysteries surround his existence, to the point where some researchers speculate that Masatsugu could be a fabrication

Yoshida Shigekata / 吉田重賢

  • Born 1463, Shigekata came from Gamō County, Ōmi Province (present day Ryūō Town, Gamō County, Shiga Prefecture)
  • Was a retainer of Rokkaku Sazaki in Ōmi Province (present day Shiga prefecture)
  • Shigekata was a skilled archer, studied different archery styles such as Ogasawara ryū, Takeda ryū, and Henmi ryū
  • When Heki Danjō Masatsugu came to visit the Rokkaku clan, he encountered Shigekata and tested him on his archery abilities. Yoshida was able to pass the test, which from there Masatsugu instructed him on the highest levels of Heki ryu before passing successorship to him.
  • Discerned the effectiveness of Heki ryū according to the times by organizing the lessons
  • Shigekata is recognized for passing down the teachings of Heki ryū to others through his family style “Heki Yoshida ryū”, which held the highest teachings of this style of archery.
  • Not much info on him, despite his legitimate family line
  • Due to the lack of info, some researchers speculate if he and Heki Danjō Masatsugu were the same person

CONCLUSION

We’ve come to the conclusion of Kyūsen no Michi. This is just a small sample of the large amount of information found in Japan’s archery history, especially when dealing with the technical side of things. Stay tuned, as we will move on to a different phase pertaining to how Japan’s methodology to combat changed and developed.


1) There is another version, which is “hi – chū – kan” (飛・貫・中). They are not 100% the same. Here’s a quick explanation.

  • kan – chū – kyū = Penetrate the target, always hit the target, and last long enough to keep doing the first two points
  • hi – chū – kan = Shoot from long range to hit the target, always hit the target, and penetrate the target

They are both associated with Heki ryū. The difference may be between the different branches and the methodology that was passed down in each one.

On another note, there are other modernized 3-point principles, but they pertain to kyūdo and are geared more towards one’s shooting form.

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 1

The next martial system that influenced how the bushi fought is called “Kyūsen no Michi” (弓箭の道), which translates as “the path of the bow & arrow”. An older term that comes from China, there is very little differences, if any, from Kyūba no Michi (弓馬の道). Much of the practice of archery as a system for military purposes has been covered in a previous post part of this series. Due to the role the bow & arrow played in Japanese history, the topic of Kyūsen no Michi will be divided into 2 parts. For the first part, to avoid restating similar info from before, I will go over the existence of the term in various documents, as well as a brief summary of the use of archery in Japan during warring times based on certain criteria.

DOCUMENTATION

The word kyūsen, which can also be pronounced as “kyūshi” or “yumiya¹”, is but one of the preceding labels that identify the use of the bow and arrows for war purposes. The term may have been 1st adopted sometime after the 9th century, with one of the influences possibly being a song found in “Heishakō²”, which is a collection of war-related songs composed by a renown Tang Dynasty poet named To Ho³. Although short, the stanza goes as the following:

“行人弓箭各在腰”

This line translates as the following below:

“The warrior departing for war carries a bow and arrows at his side”

Artwork called “Ujigawa” (宇治川), which depicts two warriors riding into the Uji River with bow in hand, rushing towards an ongoing battle. Artist is Haishi Kōji. From the book “Jōyō Kokugo Benran” (常用国語便覧).

As much of the culture from China was being brought over to Japan, many aristocrats would share contents such as Chinese poetry and literature, and adopt what was written into their lifestyles. The warrior class would do the same, as they adopted many things related to the bow, from methods on how to make a bow from specific materials, to adding ceremonial customs that would treat archery almost like a religious practice.

The word “kyūsen” would appear later in Japanese works, such as Heiji Monogatari (平治物語), Heike Monogatari (平家物語), Taiheiki (太平記), and Azuma Kagami (吾妻鏡). In the way it’s used, kyūsen depicts someone who’s a warrior, or those who were disciplined for military activities. It is expressed that for one to be accepted as a bushi (武士, warrior) or trained in bugei (武芸, martial skills), learning how to use the bow & arrow was an important part of it.

EARLY HISTORY

We learn that the bow & arrow was placed in the center of the warrior culture from written accounts of warfare from the 12th century onward. With bows in hand while on horseback, warriors were ready to let their arrows fly as depicted in events such as the attacks in Kyōto during Heiji no Ran (1159-1160), disputes between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the Genpei Gassen (1180-1185), and the continual unrest due to the establishment of militaristic governance throughout the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

Pic of part a of picture scroll where warriors using bow & arrow are attacking residence of the burning Sanjō Palace. From “Heiji Monogatari Emaki” (平治物語絵巻).

For combat, common tactics with the bow & arrow included ya-awase (矢合わせ, raining arrows) at the commencing of a battle, and kibamusha (騎馬武者, mounted warriors) using the bow while closing the distance. Despite acting as an army, infantry and elite soldiers engaged with the enemy in 1-on-1 skirmishes predominantly. Outside of combat, warriors spent their time using the bow & arrow in pasttime activities known as “Kisha Mitsumono” (騎射三物). This included equestrian recreations where one displays their skills in shooting. Hunting was also an activity warriors spent their time doing, usually in groups.

Since the Japanese spent centuries battling one another due to internal strife and a struggle for power, their tactics were, for the most part, universal amongst the many warrior families and armies commanded by feudal lords. This would change, however, once their country was in danger to an outside threat.

MONGOL INVASION

In the 13th century, Kublai Khan declared himself not only emperor of Mongolia, but acquired sovereign power in China and made Korea submit as a vassal state. In the mid 1200s, he would then turn his sights on Japan and threatened them to submit under his control and order several times. Despite advise from the Imperial court, the current shogunate at that time (primarily controlled by the Hojo clan) refused. After making preparations, Kublai would set out troops from both Mongolia, China, and Korea, and put forth the 1st Mongol Invasion on Japan in 1274⁴. As the first real foreign threat, almost all feudal lords and warrior families combined their efforts to fight for their country instead of for personal gain against one another. They did their best to prepare their forces and head to the northern border of Kyūshū, which is where the Mongolian forces used to embark on Japan.

While the Japanese expected the same customs for conducting battles based around their tried and true strategies, they were gravely mistaken; their customs and strategies were ineffective against an enemy that did not abide to them. Instead, they were faced with unpredictable tactics from the invaders, which included advancing and retreating tactics by archers, and multiple attackers against single opponents. The Mongol force also utilized weaponry far advanced, such as smaller bows that had a heavier draw, poisoned and fire-rocket arrows, explosives, and swords with more curvature. The leather armor that the Mongol invaders wore also gave them favorable defense against the Japanese weapons such as the tachi; although long, the blade of the tachi was thin, with accounts stating that they broke after becoming snagged in the leather armor. As for the bow & arrow hailed favorably by the Japanese warriors, it did not fair so well either; its initial purpose of shooting down single opponents proved difficult against enemies who would retreat out of its effective range, or close the gap in groups. Such unforeseeable tactics brought much fatalities within the Japanese warriors’ ranks, especially in the earlier battles.

Section of the artwork depicting invaders from the Mongol army fighting against Japanese warriors. Here, a kibamusha (cavalry warrior) is slain. From “Mōko Shūrai Gassen Emaki” (蒙古襲来合戦絵巻)

In the end, the Japanese warriors were able to win through the natural occurrence of high winds that sank many of the invaders ships at night, alongside with night raids on any surviving ships. Defeated, Kublai Khan would wait several years before attempting another invasion in 1281, only to face similar results due to ill-prepared sea vessels against turbulent winds on the sea. Despite their overall victory, the Japanese discovered that there were flaws in their current arms & tactics, especially those that heavily depended on fighting on horseback and using the bow & arrow. In order to compete with the outside world, they had to adopt new weaponry, and improve on their tactics.

NEW TACTICS

Although starting after the 1st phase of the Mongol Invasion, military groups and specialists put great effort in redefining their approach to warfare once the threat of Kublai Khan was over, especially during the later years of the Kamakura period. For starters, greater emphasis was placed on larger numbers of troops. In order to utilize troops better, battle formations were also incorporated, which divided them into groups and serving specific purposes. With a larger army, swarming & rushing upon the enemy became the prime objective, which had troops focus more on using close-range weapons, such as the uchigatana, nagamaki, and the yari.

While the skill level and etiquette associated with the bow & arrow were retained for high-class warriors, it saw less use than normal as they did not fit in well with the new tactics for battle. On top of this, armor was modestly improved with added defense against arrows. Instead, the yari was given precedence in overall use and versatility⁵, as seen in the increase of group tactics of spearsmen. The yari was also used by cavalry, which was specialized on and made popular by certain feudal lords such as Takeda Shingen in the mid 1500s. While raining arrows was still a valuable strategy, archers would stay back, hidden behind cover or surrounded by fences.

Woodblock painting called “Samurai Archer”. Dated 1899. Artist is Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方). From ukiyo-e.org.

At certain points did the bow & arrow see improvements. For example, in the late 15th century, new tactics incorporating groups of archers shooting while walking was being incorporated into the battlefield. Credited to Heki Danjō Masatsugu⁶, this allowed specially trained archers to advance and give addition cover to fellow troops, as well as to better assist with retreating tactics. In the mid 16th century, some armies would have archers work side by side with gunners, and incorporate long range tactics to both deal damage while dealing with flankers. On top of this, the use of fire arrows by archers, which was learnt from the tactics by the Mongol and Korean soldiers during the aforementioned Mongol Invasion, became commonplace, especially by those who commanded navy fleets such as the Murakami clan.

All in all, dwindling use of the bow & arrow would continue throughout the Sengoku period (1467-1600) until the end of civil battles due to the Tokugawa shogunate from Edo period onward. In its demise, the dependency on firearms in battle would grow immensely due to factors such as the influences from Western countries, improvements in the overall technology, potential damage they deliver, and the less demand of skills to use them. Despite the shift in focus, some warrior groups who still saw value in the bow & arrow kept the skills and tradition alive, where it is still practiced even today.

ENDING

We’ve come to the end of this brief overview of what Kyūsen no Michi is and how it depicts the importance of the bow & arrow throughout the history in Japan. In part 2, the discuss will focus on specific groups that represented excellence in the use of bow & arrow, as well as few individuals who are considered pioneers in Kyūsen no Michi.


1) When referring to the kanji “弓箭”, both pronunciations “kyūsen” and “yumiya” share this. “Kyūsen” is a more “foregin” way of stating bow & arrow, whereas “yumiya” is more native dialect. Later, yumiya would use the kanji “弓矢”, possibly to make the term more Japanese-like.

2) 兵車行. Pronounced as “Bīng Chē Xíng” in Chinese. This roughly translates to “Songs of the War Chariot”.

3) 杜甫. Pronounced “Dù Fǔ” in Chinese.

4) This particular matter concerning Kublai Khan is generally known as “Genkō” (元寇). This term was 1st used during the Edo period by the Tokugawa shogunate to refer to this event. Before that, another name was used, which was “Mōko Shūrai” (蒙古襲来). Both literally mean “Mongol Invasion”. Within this event, there was 2 invasion attempts, with the 1st one called “Bunei no eki” (文永の役, Campaign of Bunei period), and the 2nd one called “Kōan no eki” (弘安の役, campaign of Kōan period).

5) Before the Kamakura period, Japanese warriors used another type of polearm called the hoko (鉾), which was a shorter, single or double-edged bladed weapon. Derived from a Chinese variant, it was primarily a stabbing implement. The yari, on the other hand, was a much larger polearm with a longer blade that, depending on design, was versatile for not only thrusting, but for cutting and striking.

6) 日置弾正正次