Traditionally Yabusame was only a training method for the samurai to increase their war skills, and in times of peace started being performed by priests in a ritual ceremony to the gods. The bow used in Yabusame is called a Yumi and is a very long asymmetric straight bow. The arrows are blunted with ‘onion heads’ which are now made of light wood, mostly balsa, to break the targets.
Three small breakable wooden targets are placed at 50m intervals along a 250m long, 3m wide track. They are placed 6m from the centre of the track, at a height of 160-210cm, representing the space just below the enemy’s helmet visor, the weakest point in the armour. Ritual festivals are scored on a “hit” or “miss” system, with the riders competing for a white sash, which signals favor from the gods for being the most accurate.
Point scoring in “Sports Yabusame” tournaments vary, with different awards for different specialties. Breaking the targets may be awarded 10points (target 1), 20 (target 2), and 10 (target 3), with a bonus score added for hitting all 3. The first arrow may or may not be nocked before starting, again depending on tournament rules.
As courses are set up around religious and historic sites they tend to vary, so no set rules for courses are available, but as usual the aim is to hit the target. If you are competing in Japan you will need to have arrows with blunted tips, like rubber ‘bunny blunts’. These make drawing from speed quivers impossible. Another quiver type arrangement would need to be figured out. The Obi, belt sash, worn by Yabusame riders is one option, or the use of your top boot to put the arrows down is another. Arrows cannot be held in the bow hand.
AHAA has an excellent working relationship with Japan and the organisers of Yabusame Tournaments, and we intend to send a team of competitors to Japan in the future.