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.


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


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.


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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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.


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


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: Kyūba no Michi

This year, an area of interest I hope to cover in its entirety is the different phases of Japan’s martial systems and the different paths they developed on. Throughout the history of Japan, especially when the influence of militaristic rule was at its highest, the names tied to martial combat, as well as how it was approached, changed a good number of times. This also played a significant part in the types of weapons and armor used at certain points.

The first entry to start off with will be “Kyūba no Michi”, which is written with the characters “弓馬の道”. Kyūba no Michi loosely translates as “The way of bow & arrow and horseback riding”. Considered the 1st phase of a systematically formalized martial system, it was under development early in Heian period, and came into full form from Kamakura period onward. To get a full understanding of what Kyūba no Michi is, we’ll look at not only its components and how it systematized how battles played out, but how it was directly influenced by the growth of Japan’s society. Old texts used for information on this includes the following

  • Heike Monogatari (平家物語)
  • Mōko Shurai Ekotoba (蒙古襲来絵詞)
  • Azuma Kagami (吾妻鑑)
  • Genpei Seisuiki (源平盛衰記)
  • Ōshū Gosannenki (奥州後三年記)


Japan, like many countries before the advancement of technology, had a strong adaptation of the bow & arrow in its early civilization. Known under older titles such as “yumiya¹”, it would first be used for combat as early as Yayoi period (300 BCE – 300 CE), having a sense of virtue and honor among warriors at that time. Later it gained influences from China, and certain practices were put into order. This spanned from formal customs & etiquette to the type of materials used for crafting a bow. These influences are documented in ancient texts such as the Shurai², Gokanjo³, and Raigi⁴.

The Imperial family, along with those families of nobility, supported the ceremonial and cultural practices adopted from China, thus spreading this to many aspects of life. Warrior groups and families followed in suit, as they did not have the same form of power or sway to challenge these aristocratic pursuits. With the combination of the above factors, the use of bow & arrow was treated with great respect, like a sacred and honorable art.


For Kyūba no Michi to point towards horsemanship meant that horses were a vital resource. At specific times in Japan’s history, horses gained different roles depending on the development of society. For example, during the Heian period they were primarily used for horse breeding (basan, 馬産) and for racing (keiba, 競馬), while in Kamakura period they were vital for transportation (unyu, 運輸) and farming tasks (nōkō, 農耕). What is similar between the two time periods, however, is that there was an even greater need of horses for military activities (gunji, 軍事).


A picture of warriors on horseback with bow & arrows, accompanied by their retainers. From “Mōko Shurai Ekotoba”.

Areas that raised horses were very important, as they not only provided the means for warriors to develop and hone their horsemanship, but these horses needed to be in top condition. One of the more well known areas for this was named Senma⁵ located in the north-eastern region once known as Ōshū (present day Higashi Iwashi District, Iwate Prefecture). An example of this is the war horse named Tayūguro⁶, the prized possession of the famous warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune. In 1180, Yoshitsune first acquired this horse from the warlord Fujiwara no Hidehira while passing through Ōshū seeking assistance against the Taira. At the time, his horse was named “Usuzumi⁷” due to its hairs being black in complexion. Yoshitsune would later ride his new horse and accomplish impressive feats, especially during a major battle at Ichi no Tani⁸ in the western region of Japan. Not only was Yoshitsune rewarded for his performances, his horse was honored with a rank as well, and was renamed “Tayūguro”⁹.

Cavalry was an important position in an army during Heian period, and in Kamakura period. Bearing a label such as kibamusha (騎馬武者), warriors were very active with capable horses. Choosing the correct horse in itself was a skill. A common advice from warriors at the time was to choose a horse that was neither too big or too small, not too timid or too wild. As they were ridden for long periods when conflicts between warlords were inevitable, well-trained horses were needed to handle tough conditions, such as long journeys, climbing up and down rough terrains, and dealing with the chaos found in skirmishes against enemy armies.


From the Kamakura period, the establishment of Kyūba no Michi truly took form once Minamoto no Yoritomo took governing power over Japan. Directing the country to operate in a more militaristic fashion, the growth of the warrior class and their activities took off. Military families took precedence in many aspects of life, for example controlling lands and areas, building their army with locals, and ensuring that they are sustained with supplies from farms and artisans that live in their territory.

Delving deeper into the meaning of Kyūba no Michi, it was a label that stood for a system where one understood and/or takes part in martial & military affairs. Usage of the bow & arrow, and skills of riding horseback were the main components, as they cemented the basis of what a true warrior was supposed to know, as well as were involved in their activities. As an example, there were 3 activities they took part in as a pastime, as well as a stake of honor as it tested their archery ability while horseback:

  • Yabusame (流鏑馬) = Shooting targets while on a running horse
  • Kasagake (笠懸) = Riding alongside a strategic course shooting designated targets
  • Inu Oumono (犬追物) = Dog chasing

Collectively, they were known as “Kisha Mitsumono” (騎射三物). Along with this, hunting was also part of a warrior’s lifestyle. They would head out as a pack while on horseback, and split up in multiple directions in search of deer or boars in a forest, and taking their prey down through the use of their bow. This act was generally labeled as “makigari¹⁰”.


A miniaturize ōyoroi (large armor), complete with yumiya (bow & arrows) and tachi (battlefield sword). Taken by Nanahito Wing (ナナヒトウイング) and used with permission from “ShashinAC“.

For their martial training, warriors were expected to be verse at various aspects. Some specialized in certain areas, such as setting up camp or makeshift forts in enemy territory, commanding army formations, and so on. They were also trained to be versed in using many different types of weapons for battle at the time, including swords (tachi, 太刀¹¹) , spears (yari, 槍¹²), (naginata, 薙刀¹³), and war axes (masakari, 鉞¹⁴). High ranking warriors also wore large, box-shaped armor called ōyoroi (大鎧). This type of armor provided significant protection, but hindered mobility greatly. Ōyoroi was deemed suitable while on horseback.


In Japan’s early history, those who possessed a form of power knew about one another one way or the other. Japan being a small island contributed to this. There were many reasons for this, such as by word of mouth from travelers, scouts, or through (in) direct involvement with each other. There were minimal oppositions that were foreign, if at all, in Japan that would’ve posed a surprise in battle tactics. Due to this, those with military power established their strongholds and armies almost the same way.

During Heian period, military families would do as much as they could to occupy land areas, establish their stronghold, and build their army. Their strongholds would either be on flat lands, hills, or up in the mountains. However, during the Kamakura period, those loyal to Yoritomo and his Bakufu¹⁵ (shogunate) could get land appointed to them, while others who were seen as an opposition would be attacked and have their land taken away from them by the Bakufu’s massive army. Since the Japanese earned much of their fighting experience against one another, many military families adopted similar, if not the same, battle tactics and etiquette for engaging in war, with Kyūba no Michi playing a heavy role of how this unfolded.


A section from the “Gosannen Gassen Emaki” (後三年合戦絵巻) called “Gankō no Midare” (雁行の乱れ), where Kibamusha (cavalry warriors) from the Minamoto were notified about hidden enemies in the brush through the sudden flight of wild geese. From Wikipedia.

Here is an example of how the engagement for battle described in historical documents played out. When 2 powerful individuals had a dispute (i.e. over the control of land), in worst case scenario, they would send their armies to clash with each other in a big battle, which is called gassen (合戦) in Japanese. There were certain criteria many followed when confronting an imposing force was inevitable, which is described in the example below:


1. Both sides would set up camps and such away from each other, and prepare for the battle by gathering supplies, weapons, troops, and the like.

2. Scouts would be used to keep tabs on each side and gather intel, such as the size of the army, layout of camp, terrain advantages that can be exploited, and so on.

3. On the day of the battle, both sides take up their formations. Words may be exchanged between the commanders or such regarding the situation at hand.

4. Day of battle begins with each side shooting off a signalling arrow called kaburaya (鏑矢), which notifies to begin ya-awase (矢合わせ), or raining arrows at each other.

5. Infantry from both sides, under the cover of arrows, make their way to clash against one another, which is called kumiuchi (組打). Cavalry, along with their retainers on foot, galloped through the field fighting as well.

6. When 2 elite warriors met face to face¹⁶, each side would exchange their name and title, and fight on horseback.

7. The two warriors attacked first with a bow firing arrows at each other, in a yabusame-like fashion. When this proved ineffective, they would then move on to close range weapons, such as a tachi or naginata.

8. In the event one warrior had gained the advantage over the other, such as knocking the other off his horse, retainers of the losing side would jump in to save their master. This would cause everyone from both sides to engage in battle.


This is how Kyūba no Michi influenced the flow of a battle. This also happened, more or less, when an army went to besiege an enemy castle.


This concludes the discussion regarding Kyūba no Michi. Japan’s development and other influences contributed to it being the way for martial combat. Be on the lookout for the next entry, as it is in the works and will be posted within the next few weeks.

1) 弓矢

2) 周礼

3) 後漢書

4) 礼記

5) 千厩

6) 太夫黒

7) 薄墨

8) Known as “Ichi no Tani no Tatakai” (一の谷の戦い) in Japanese, this battle took place at Ichi no Tani in Settsu Province (divided between present day Hyōgo Prefecture and Ōsaka Prefecture). While the Taira was stationed there with a defensive stronghold, the Minamoto were able to besiege and defeat them, which was a great victory on their side.

9) Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Tayūguro’s feats while on the battlefield is a representation of the phrase “Jinba Ittai” (人馬一体), which means a person and their horse performs as if in perfect unison.

10) 巻狩

11) In some cases, also known as an ōdachi (大太刀).

12) Generally written with the character 槍. Before the yari was its predecessor called hoko (鉾). The spear came to popular use from the Kamakura period onward.

13) While generally written as 薙刀, it is known to have been written as 長刀 in the past. Although the naginata saw great usage in earlier periods such as the Heian period, it went into decline from the Kamakura period onward. This is due in part to the more effective attributes of the yari against armored warriors.

14) Another name for an axe is ono (斧).

15) 幕府

16) These warriors tend to stand out due to their armor, or components on their armor, being a lighter or brighter shade of color.