Budo World

Three Forms of Mounted-Archery

Medieval Japanese warfare was centred on mounted warriors, and so the principal martial techniques involved releasing arrows from horseback. This was very different from modern kyūdō where the practitioner draws his bow standing; it was necessary to master the method of shooting while leading the horse. In order to achieve this technical feat, warriors developed special ways of training referred to as the “kisha no mitsumono” or “three forms of mounted-archery”.

Yabusame—Training to shoot arrows in rapid succession from horseback. Three targets were set up along a straight path; the warrior aimed at the targets while the horse was galloping at full speed down the track. Warriors traditionally fought one-on-one in early medieval Japanese warfare, and are said to have bellowed their personal history and feats of arms in the midst of battle in order to find a suitable adversary. There was no merit gleaned from defeating a weak opponent. According to one famous episode, when two warriors faced off for battle both armies stopped and watched attentively as the two adversaries passed each other on horseback while releasing arrows at each other. As they were engaged in battle from a great distance, it was important to be able to release many arrows as quickly as possible, and training in yabusame was a means to acquire the necessary skills.

Inuōmono—There were several restrictions in using a bow from horseback. The biggest restraint was that a mounted archer could only aim at enemies on his left side. The traditional Japanese bow was more than two metres long, and was held in the left hand with the right pulling the string and shooting the arrow. As it was held with the left hand, it was always on the left side of the horse. It is very difficult to shift this long bow to the right side over the neck of the mount while straddling the horse, and drawing the bow with the right hand is virtually impossible. Therefore, only being able to attack an opponent coming from the left side, it was important to be able to lead the horse so that the enemy was positioned on this side.

Bushi trained in inuōmono in order to achieve this. Dogs were let go in the centre of a circular riding ground, and warriors practised chasing them and shooting them from horseback. Special padded arrows were used in order not to kill the dogs. The objective was to straddle the horse and always have the running dogs coming from the left.

The last of the three equestrian archeries was the kasagake. In this training method, a conical hat was suspended  a distance away and the warrior attempted to shoot at it from horseback.