I got asked if archery was a martial art the other day, and it made me think. Surely, shooting my bow in the backyard doesn’t count as practicing martial arts, right? Well after hours of research, I’ve got a comprehensive answer to this question.
Is archery a martial art? When archery is practiced as a form of military fighting, it is considered a martial art. Kyudo, Gungdo, and Yabusame are examples of traditional martial arts using archery. Modern day archery that is more competitive in nature, is considered a sport rather than a martial art.
There are many similarities between archery and martial arts, and at one point in time, archery was mostly used for hunting and war. Although archery now is more practiced as a competitive sport, there are still many archers who practice traditional archery as a martial art.
Martial Arts And Archery
When I think of martial arts, the first thing that comes to mind is hand to hand combat fighting styles like karate or jujitsu. But armed martial arts is something I don’t normally consider, however, a traditional warrior would have been trained in both armed, and unarmed martial arts.
Armed martial arts are things like archery, swordsmanship, and spearmanship. Some forms of martial arts also including training with a staff or other weapon. The traditional practice of martial arts produced a well rounded warrior capable in battle.
Martial art, any of various fighting sports or skills, mainly of East Asian origin, such as kung fu (Pinyin gongfu), judo, karate, and kendō.WRITTEN BY: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (source)
Archery and martial arts have been very closely related practices through most of human history. Modern day archery however, is either practiced competitively or as a hobby. There are archery tournaments and competitions all over the world where archery is considered a sport, and military applications are not at all involved.
Let’s take a look at some forms of martial arts that involve archery. These martial arts are still practiced today, and in this form, archery is considered a martial art still. It takes years of practice to perfect these martial arts and archery skills.
Kyudo is a martial art based on Kyujutsu, meaning the art of archery. This form of martial arts was formed in feudal Japan and was prominently trained with the samurai.
The bow used to practice Kyudo is over 6 feet tall, usually taller than the archer. The Japanese bow, called a Yumi, are traditionally made of bamboo. leather, and wood. Modern day Yumi are also made from laminated wood and fiberglass, but traditionally made Yumi bows are still used.
Here’s some footage of Kyudo being practiced in the traditional way of samurai culture and beliefs.
Gungdo, sometimes referred to as Gungsul, is known as a traditional Korean archery practice. Literally meaning ‘skill with the bow’, Gungdo is still practiced today as a recreational sport.
The bow used in this traditional Korean martial art form, is called a Gakgung, meaning horn bow. This is because the bow is made out of water buffalo horn. Designed to use your thumb to draw the bow rather than your fingers, many archers will use a thumb ring when practicing with this bow.
Here is a video explaining Korean traditional archery and how the bow is made and properly used.
Yabusame is a type of traditional Japanese mounted archery. The archer will fire their bow on horseback while the horse runs at speed. Traditional Yabusame requires the archer shoot three arrows at three separate targets while riding the horse.
The bow used is a traditional Japanese archers long bow. The archer must guide the horse with their knees as both hands are needed to operate the bow. The targets are meant to replicate the weak spots on traditional samurai, indicating that a hit target was a kill shot.
Here is cool video of women horseback archers competing in Yabusame. You’ll see in the video how fast they actually run the horses while they shoot their bows.
Similarities Between Archery And Martial Arts
Although modern archery is mostly practiced competitively as a sport, there are still many similarities between them. Some professional archers will even use some meditation techniques often found in many martial art forms.
Martial arts and archery both require the use of larger and smaller muscles throughout the body. Training in archery is considered a great form of exercise.
Both martial arts and archery require patience and focus. Many martial arts involve becoming closer to ones self or the practice of zen. This is also a very helpful technique in archery, to help train focus, accuracy, and body awareness.
It takes years of effort and practice to master any martial art, this is true for archery as well. It’s easy to get started in archery, and learn the basics. But it takes years of practice to become a professional expert archer.
Controlling your body movements and technique is a huge part of martial arts and archery. With more practice, an archer gets better at muscle memory and knowing how to position their body for accurate shots. From the stance of the archer, to the way a bow is drawn, body control plays a major role in an archers success.
In the article, How To Properly Shoot A Bow, I explain in more detail the form, stance, and muscle movements an archer must make to properly shoot a bow. There’s a lot that goes into it, and you’ll see how important body control really is.
History Of Archery As A Martial Art
The first people recorded to have regularly used bows were the Ancient Egyptians. They used archery for hunting and in combat starting around 3,000 BC. In China, archery was first seen in the form of war chariots around 1500 BC. The war chariot had an archer, a lancer, and a driver.
Archery was originally a martial art, when it started to be practiced widely across the world. Archery was probably used as early as 20,000 BC in the stone age, mostly for hunting and combat. But when archery became thought of as a martial art, it was really the beginning of archery in human history.
When gunpowder was invented however, archery’s use in warfare declined drastically. It was at that point in time that archery lost its interest as a martial art. Archery has made a come back since the invention of firearms and gunpowder though.
Archery competitions started appearing around the world, and practicing archery as part of cultural history grew in popularity. The first known modern, competitive based, archery competition was held in England in 1583. Since then, archery has developed as a recreational and competitive sport, rather than as a martial art.