A Glance at Satsuma’s Heki ryu Kyujutsu: Part 2

Here we continue with part 2 of the talk on kyujutsu, with the focus on the Satsuma style of Heki ryu. While part 1 focused on Heki ryu’s history and development, this time around we will look at the technical aspect of this archery system. If you have yet to read part 1, you can access it here.

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Archers wait patiently during a public exhibition. Photo from “Izumi Terebi Digest

Heki ryu is categorized as a busha style of archery, or battlefield-centric. This involves heavily structured group formations and moving in patterned sequences while shooting at targets in a wide field clad in armor. This is different from the more commonly practiced “reisha”, or ceremonial-centric, style of archery found in schools such as the Ogasawara ryu, where the attire is much lighter, and archery performed either standing up or on horseback. Kyudo, the non-violent form of kyujutsu, is heavily structured through both reisha-style and busha-style of archery and is practiced in not only Japan, but in many countries all over the world that offer classes. In kyudo, one trains in the process of shooting where archers shoot stationary at a target through form and breath in a training hall. Kyudo is studied under Heki ryu as well, and can be considered the first step necessary to learn Koshiya Kumiyumi.

Groups that train in the Koshiya Kumiyumi system perform annual public demonstrations and events. It’s here that we can get a glance at what Koshiya Kumiyumi is all about. Usually the number of participants are small (from 8 to 10 people), and they proceed to present this system’s shooting skills donning light armor all the while shooting at a row of large white board targets.

What consists of Satsuma style Heki ryu? The major component is Kumiyumi, and comprises of basic tactics such as “Koshiya”, “Sashiya”, and “Shintai Oshitsume”. There are other strategies common to archery that is designed for militaristic engagement, which is studied in manual associated with Heki ryu called “Mokuroku”1.

Starting off with Kumiyumi, this is the cooperative formation between archers and spearmen. Archers coordinate to assist in advancement towards the enemy line so that spearmen can get close enough for close quarter combat. The training in Kumiyumi is said to be very regimented; under the lead of a commander, there are signaling, movements, and formation patterns an archer must be familiar with through many hours of training. On the battlefield, from 10 to 20 archers can utilized for Kumiyumi.

Next, we turn our sights to Sashiya, which is considered the 1st stage of Kumiyumi. Sashiya is a tactic not unfamiliar to other archery schools, although its adaption here can be considered unique. A quick definition taken from the book “Heki ryu Isai Ha Hosha Kyudo Kyo Hon” written by Inagaki Genshiro states:

“さしや (差矢・指矢) 矢の種類のうち、堂前に使用するためにとくにつくった矢のこと。または差矢前、すなわち矢数多く連続して射る射法の略称。”

With my translation:

“Sashiya – It’s a particular type of arrow made for use in the training hall. Or, it’s the abbreviation of “Sashiya Mae”, a title given for a shooting method where many arrows are repeatedly launched.”

The highlighted portion of the definition more suitably fits here. Under Koshiya Kumiyumi, Sashiya involves archers forming a line that runs parallel with the opposing side. They release a fast, steady stream of arrows one after the other, to pin the enemies down and keep them on the defensive. This tactic is especially focused on keeping the enemy archers at bay, behind their barricades or shields2. Warriors on their own side can mobilize under the cover of the arrows and assault the neuralized enemies.

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Archers demonstrating Koshiya. Photo from “Heki ryu Koshiya Sashiya

Now we move on to Koshiya, considered the 2nd stage of Kumiyumi. The archers are now advancing, moving in 2 groups. Both groups are intertwined with each other, but can be distinquished as so through this example: In a line of 10 archers, the 1st archer on the farthest right represents group 1, while the 2nd archer after the 1st from the right side is part of group 2. Using the sequence of odds and evens, every other archer on the line going towards the left that is an odd number belongs to group 1, while the even number archers part of group 2.

There are two roles the groups assume, which are Mae Yumi (Front Archers) and Ato Yumi (Back Archers). For example, if group 1 is the Mae Yumi, they will advance several paces, kneel down and shoot. While this is taking place, group 2 will take up the role of Ato Yumi, and prep their arrows. As group 1 finishes and prepares for the next shot, group 2 advances past, kneels down and prepares to shoot. The roles switch, with group 2 taking the role as Mae Yumi, and group 1 hanging back as Ato Yumi. The sequence continues as so, with this duality in the roles guiding the archers forward. This advancement pattern helps to assist in closing in on the enemy soldiers steadily so the spearmen can engage.

What makes Koshiya stand out is the intricate use of low postures. As a whole, Koshiya represents a methodology of being in a low posture involving kneeling down with the left knee down & right knee up, and with the arrows bunched together and angled tip-down towards the back of the right hip in the ebira, or a box-shaped quiver. The bow is held in the left hand, while it is drawn with the right hand. In this posture, one is stable while shooting an arrow, which is keen in different types of terrains and weather conditions. After taking a shot, archers compact themselves for protection with their bow and the armor shoulder flap on the left arm, while moving the right leg to get clearance to retrieve another arrow from behind the right hip. Standing up to advance, and kneeling down once again can be done seamlessly and without falter while maintaining one’s shooting structure. An archer can also lay down to make themelves an even smaller target, all the while in perfect position to pull out another arrow with their right hand. Koshiya is systematically and strategically designed with the idea of offense and defense through both one’s weapon and armor, staying low to be a difficult target to hit, and covering angles necessary for an archer to do his job.

Other tactics involve the use of “Shintai Oshitsume”. Looking at the 1st component, “Shintai” means to move, either advancing forward or retreating. A perfect example of this is during Koshiya, where the archers meticulously advance forward while shooting arrows. This helps the other soldiers to get in for upclose skirmishes. In return, the archers can cover retreats by keeping the enemies back with their arrows and slowly drawing back while the other soldiers can pull away quickly without worrying of pursuit. The 2nd component, “Oshitsume”, stands for packing in the targets together into one spot. In order for the spearmen to successfully fight the enemy soldiers, the archers not only pin down the opponents, but make sure they don’t fan out and surround their side by picking off flankers. This is done by the archers at the ends of the line, called Hidari Hashi no Musha (Left-End Warrior) and Migi Hashi no Musha (Right-End Warrior) respectively. While the other archers’ stick to their primary goal and shoot forward, the Hidari and Migi Hashi no Musha archers can turn at different degrees to shoot at targets coming from the sides.

The tactics used in Koshiya Kumiyumi are well devised for a team of archers, but are not 100% original. Togo Chozaemon Sanetaka, the one credited for the creation of Koshiya Kumiyumi, was inspired by researching military tactics in the 19th century. At this time, matchlock guns such as the Tanegashima were viewed as having a more larger role for the battlefield, thus had an inclusion in troop formations. A statement on the webpage “Heki ryu Koshiya Sashiya”3 mentions a theory behind the source of Koshiya Kumiyumi’s inspiration, quote:

“織田信長の用いた鉄砲のニ段構えの戦法より考案されたものであろう。”

With my translation:

“It’s believed that this archery style borrows concepts from the Ni Dan Kamae4 specialized by the gun troops utilized by Oda Nobunaga5.”

Despite the resistance against being overshadowed by firearms, it is a bit ironic that gun troop formations actually helped in keeping Heki ryu Kyujutsu viable. This is present through Koshiya Kumiyumi.

This concludes the in depth look into Satsuma Heki ryu Koshiya Kumiyumi, one of the branches of Heki ryu Kyujutsu. Below is a video that provides a demonstration, along with explanations of each sequences, although in Japanese. The video is pretty old and grainy, but it’s easy to understand what’s going on. It also captures the essense of discipline and skills to perform Koshiya Kumiyumi. I am also including my explanations of the narration that are marked with time stamps below the video. I had originally gave an explanation of this video on my dojo’s FB page knowing that there are a few fellow archery lovers who would get a kickout of it. Hope there are more who will find not only the vid explanation, but the entire post useful.

(0:01) The archers are demonstrating Sashiya, which involves shooting a volley of arrows together in a line.

(1:05) When approaching the enemies in the tactics of Koshiya, archers used a 2-line formation where there are Mae Yumi (Front Archers) and Ato Yumi (Back Archers). In a specific pattern, the Mae Yumi move forward and shoot, then the Ato Yumi move forward to become the Mae Yumi and shoot, while the previous Mae Yumi take the role of the Ato Yumi and prep their next arrow, and repeat.

(2:40) Ei and ya signals allow the archers to communicate with each other. For example, yelling “Ei!” after shooting, then laying low to prepare your next arrow by yelling “Ya!” not only tells the others of your actions, but allows another archer close by to take their shot, knowing that you are out of the way.

(3:17) In line shooting, the archers on the far ends are called the Hidari Hashi no Musha (Left-End Warrior) and Migi Hashi no Musha (Right-End Warrior) respectively. They can turn 90 degrees to 180 degrees to shoot arrows at approaching enemies so to cover the other archers.


1) “Mokuroku” (目録), also called “Heki ryu Yumi Mokuroku” (日置流弓目録), is an ancient documentation/scroll of 60 entries essential for archers of Heki ryu that range from principles regarding one’s posture with a bow, wearing armor and carrying other weapons, to how to deal with wet weather conditions.

2) Shields were used differently than those in Europe. Instead of handheld shields, the Japanese primarily used large rectangular wooden boards that were planted on the ground with use of a prop called a “kaidate”.

3) This webpage is part of the website “Furusato Izumi”, and is managed by Uchinoura Akira. Webpage can accessed here, while the website can be viewed here.

4) Loosely translated as “2-Tier Stance”. Gun troops equipped with matchlock rifles (aka Tanegashima) were utilized greatly in Oda Nobunaga’s army. To cover the reload time of rifles, Oda used a strategy of 2 teams where one is shooting while the other team is reloading their rifle, giving the sense of continuous fire.

5) Oda Nobunaga (6/23/1534 ~ 6/21/1582) was a powerful warlord during the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States Period, who strove to unify all territories in Japan under his control.

4 thoughts on “A Glance at Satsuma’s Heki ryu Kyujutsu: Part 2

  1. Hi. Thank you for your share. Recently I found a video on YouTube.

    https://youtu.be/tJVC6ExVUi4

    In this video, the 主将 command them to show their 礼, then to load the 矢 onto the 弓, etc. I found them in the video at
    0:21 礼(れい)
    0:37 倒(たお)
    0:46 衛(えい)
    2:08 ジェス形
    4:09 最攻(さいこう)

    I don’t know whether I got the right word.

    Could you please tell me what does the 主将 exactly said during the times above?

    Thank you very much!

    • Hi Leo. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I’ve seen this video earlier this year. I’ll do my best to answer your question.

      0:21 Rei (礼) = bow
      0:37 Tou/Toh (トウ, 倒) = Command to ready for attack
      0:46 Ei (エイ, 鋭) = Attack
      2:08 Detsuke (でつけ, 出付け) = Command to start the forward advancement (Koshiya)
      4:09 Saigo (最後) = Final sequence

      For the 掛け声 shouts at 0:37 & 0:46, their main purpose is for signalling to others what sequence is happening. While in the past they were represented with 漢字 Chinese characters, these are merely 当て字 ateji, or phonetic symbols that have no real meaning to the shouts being used. Hope this helps.

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