Yabusame is considered as one of the most divine martial arts practiced in Japan. The Japanese government DOESN’T consider it a sport but a traditional ritual that consists of shooting with a bow to different targets while riding a horse.

Yabusame is practiced in a 255 meter long track where there are three targets that you have to hit with a special arrow. Hitting the three targets in a row is very difficult, you need many years of hard training to be able to do it; at the moment no more than 30 Japanese people can achieve the feat. It is such an exclusive martial art that the government doesn’t allow teaching yabusame in exchange of money. Yabusame masters teach it for the love of it, not for money; they choose their student very carefully because the only benefit they can get from teaching is to be able to improve their reputation. Failing to do it and choosing a bad student could be fatal for their reputation.

Yabusame was born in the kamakura era when the most important clans at the time designed the 255 meters and 3 targets test so that samurais could practice and improve their bow skills. Nowadays it is performed and exhibited in some important festivals where supposedly yabusame entertains the gods, who in exchange show gratitude bringing good luck to the people of the place.

This year, yabusame will be performed the 6th of September 2010 in Kamakura at Hachimangu temple (Detailed map) and the 3rd of November 2010 in Meiji Jingu.

If you are not able to be in Japan in those dates, in the movies Kagemusha and Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) by Akira Kurosawa some yabusame scenes can be appreciated where “yabusame bowmen” enter combat, in fact, some of the actors (for example, Toshiro Mifune) where trained during years by some of the most important yabusame masters in Japan.

You can also watch this documentary where Tim Ferris, one of the only foreigners ever to receive training in yabusame, tells his five-day experience of intensive training in the mountains of Nikko.

yabusame archer
Photo by Kalandrakas

流鏑馬神事 yabusame

Yabusame 流鏑馬