Yabusame, or Japanese horse-back archery, is one of the traditional
military arts, but it is not actually martial in nature. It is looked upon
as a warrior's form of prayer or religious ritual. It is usually performed
in the Shinto shrine precincts by mounted archers who shoot at three stationary
targets while riding their steeds at full gallop. It may be performed as
a demonstration during the festivals of some Shinto shrines.
According to ancient records, the first performance of yabusame is as having been in the year 1096 in the presence of Emperor Shirakawa. The archer shot an arrow from horseback at a target while he was riding. This event is recorded in a Shinji, a Shinto ceremony denoting the spiritual and conceptual origin of something.
Now, there are two main methods of Yabusame: the Takeda School and the Ogasawara School. There is a little difference between them in costume and in their way of shooting.
In Kyudo there are two ways of shooting: standing and kneeling. Yabusame is
similar to the kneeling style. The purpose of Yabusame is to shoot a Kaburaya
(a turnip-head arrow, which is solid; Not to be confused with a humming-bulb arrow)
from a running horse. Riding and shooting practice are conducted in several ways,
such as:standard equestrian archery (Kisha), trying to break a clay dish (Kawarake wari),
and shooting at dogs (Inuoumono). These were typical examples of yabusame,
though Inuoumono is no longer practiced.
Takeda Ryu begins with a solemn Shinto ceremony called the Tencyo-chikyu-Shiki, in which various prayers are offered: Tenka Tai Hei (a prayer for world peace), Gokoku Hojyo (a harvest prayer for the five grains in advance), and Banmin Sokusai (a prayer for the safety and health of all mankind). There are some local festivals in some areas today that offer prayers for a good harvest in conjunction with a yabusame display. True yabusame, as a form of Budo (martial way), is descended from Prince Sadazumi, a son of the Emperor Seiwa. This line ran through seven generation of the Genji (Minamoto) clan. Later the line split into seperate branches: the Takeda Ryu and the Ogasawara Ryu.
The last direct Takeda descendant was Takeda Nobunao. He was succeeded by Hosokawa Fuji-taka, a close relative. Fujitaka was followed by Tadaoki and Tadatoshi. The latter became Lord of Higo (Kumamoto). His duties required him to devote his full attention to the management of local government affairs, in addition to the Edo residence requirements of the Shogun, which required all fuedal lords to live in Edo on a rotating basis (Sankin-Kotai).
Tada-toshi thus transmitted to his trusted retainer 'Takehara Koreshige' the documents of the Ryuha branch genealogy, the official seal, the initiation books of the Takeda-Ryu and a Goseimon, a letter of authority designating Takehara as the head of the Takeda Ryu. The Takehara family has served as Soke ( titular head) of the branch ever since.
We, the followers of the Takeda School, shoot at three square targets braided of split bamboo, with five-color circled paper pasted on, while the Ogasawara School use square targets. It is said that any mounted archer who missed his target was obliged to com-mit suicide, what we call 'seppuku' or 'harakiri.' Later on, by attaching some seasonal flowers on the fringe of each target, we have been preserving our school of yabusame so that it does not fade out.
In the 11th year of Meiji, Takehara Koremichi, then Soke, affiliated the Ryuha with the lzumi Shrine located in Suizenji park. Each spring and fall since then has been celebrated by a yabusame demonstration at the park. Takehara Masafumi, during the 36th year of Showa, was designated by Kumamoto Prefecture as a living cultural treasure in recognition of his knowledge and skill in the art of yabusame.
In Showa 46, Masafumi passed away. His son Takehara Yojiro became the 44th in the line of masters of Takeda Ryu. He became instrumental in founding a 'preservation society' to insure the continued existence and growth of the Takeda-Ryu. Under him, in Showa 50, the yabusame of Takeda Ryu was recongnized by Kumamoto Prefecture as an intangible cultural treasure again.
The traditional yabusame of Takeda Ryu continues to be performed regularly in Kumamoto as a part of cultural activities related to the lzumi shrine in Suizenji park, the Osiro Matsuri in front of the long wall of Kumamoto Castle, horsemanship and kyudo events, part of kobudo (old martial ways) events, etc.
The members of the society for the preservation of yabusame try to demonstrate the traditional skills and techniques of Takeda Ryu yabusame. Their goal is to preserve and disseminate true Yabusame.
by the 44th master Takehara Yojiro