Drawing traditional Japanese poses: Kyūdō “archery” edition

We often see archery scenes in anime – either in fantasy action battle scenes, or in school scenes where the “poised, rich high school girl practicing archery” is a rather common trope. Kyudo is in fact a very popular school club activity in Japan, with an estimated 130,000 people practicing the art.

Japanese archery has a long history of over 1000 years, and is a very tricky art to learn – shooting accurately demands a particular, correct posture. So if we are to incorporate Japanese archery and bows into our work, it is important to learn all about these traditional aspects, including the special equipment, the posture and movement. This way we can be sure our work looks authentic.

So today we’re going to study a variety of poses that will help you learn how to draw kyudo scenes accurately!

What shape is a Japanese “kyūdō” bow?

The traditional Japanese bow is actually a bit longer than those from other countries, with a length of over 2m. Because of this extra long size, the bow is held slightly off-centre, with the grip of the bow coming a little lower down the bow. You can see in the picture above, that the top half of the bow is quite a bit longer.

This means that a particular posture is needed to correctly shoot the bow!

How to hold a Japanese “Kyūdō” bow and arrow

The creaking sound of a bow string being pulled tight in a quiet archery classroom. The stillness as the archer focuses in on their target, becoming one with their bow. This is the kind of beautiful atmosphere we want to convey when drawing an archery scene.

Point 1

The arrow should form a line pointing at the target, and the character’s eyes/gaze should be following this same line. The index finger of the left hand points to the target, and the left and right arms are raised to the same level, so that the shoulder and arms form a straight line.

Point 2

The folds of the hakama pants should be shown with shading. The legs should be about shoulder width apart with feet planted firmly on the floor.

Point 1

The hair is tied up in a ponytail to avoid being caught up in the bow string.

Point 2

From this angle, we can see inside the sleeve, so some of the armpit area should be on show.

Point 1

Pulling the bow string requires a great deal of strength, so we should see tendons on the neck tensing and sticking out a little more than usual. Overdoing this will make the character look masculine, so make sure to use carefully drawn, elegant lines – using shading rather than lots of heavy linework for the tendon area will help to make the effect subtle.

Point 2

When the character braces, and sticks their chest out, the sleeve will be pulled forming creases from the sleeve to the peak of the breasts.

Traditional sitting pose for Japanese archery: “Kyūdō seiza”

Respect and courtesy are very important in Japanese archery, as with other traditional martial arts. Showing this in your illustrations is a good way to respect the spirit of kyūdō. The “seiza” seated pose is actually different in kyūdō and kendo. For kyūdō, the knees are placed firmly on the ground, and the feet are on tiptoes behind, with the buttocks raised up off the ground. This way of sitting is called “kiza”

Using lots of reference images to study the correct form and poses will help you to draw them convincingly.

Point 1

The upper body should be straight upright, with good posture.

Point 2

Take care to raise the buttocks up from the ground, and have the feet on tiptoes, rather than flat on the floor like with other seiza poses.

I hope you found these poses and tips informative! Look out for more articles on traditional Japanese poses in the future.

And don’t forget to check out our previous traditional pose article here:

Drawing traditional Japanese poses: Kendo “sword fighting” edition!

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