Makiwara (Japanese Archery) (巻藁 (弓道))

Makiwara is a target for practicing kata (form) in kyudo or kyujutsu (Japanese art of archery). It is made by binding straw so that the arrow doesn't pierce it. Straws are bound in a way that doesn't damage the arrow and the makiwara is placed on a stand at a suitable height.

Although it looks like a bag of rice, it doesn't contain anything. The necessary volume of straw is combined and fastened with straw rope. The straw is bound together with a great degree of force and, once they become loose, are incredibly difficult to refasten using human strength. Makiwara measure 30 to 50cm in diameter and are 80cm thick. It should be placed so that its center is as high as a human's shoulders and it should be also be placed on a special stand because of its weight. For safety, it is best that makiwara are relatively large, it is preferable to place a tatami behind in in case an arrow goes astray. Sometimes a large mirror is placed in front of the archer for kata training. It is important not to approach a makiwara while an archer is shooting at it.

During makiwara practice, an arrow known as a makiwaraya or waraya (an arrow for makiwara shooting) is used with a special arrowhead (with a clasp at the tip) is used. The majority of these arrows do not have feathers. It is for this reason that this type of arrow is also called a boya (lit. pole arrow). However, there are some arrows that are smaller than those for matomae (shooting an arrow at a target for practice) but do have feathers.

Beginners start by learning kata (kyudo-shaho hassetsu, or the eight steps of shooting an arrow). So, first they practice by using a rubber bow and draw the bow string with no arrow. Secondly, they practice drawing the bow string of an actual bow, and finally they begin makiwara practice, using the actual arrow and shooting toward the target. This is a usual practice procedure for beginners. The archer stands at a distance of two meters in front of a makiwara, raises the bow in his left hand and shoots the arrow. An archer learns the feeling of shooting an arrow through this makiwara practice. After this practice, an archer is allowed to progress to matomae and to practice shooting arrows toward a target 28m away. Makiwara practice is important enough as a preliminary step before progressing to matomae to be called "three-year makiwara practice" (under the old education system, in the junior high school, it was said that archers continued makiwara practice for three years before progressing to matomae).

Not only beginners but some accomplished archers perform makiwara practice in order to refamiliarize themselves and perfect their kata. Makiwara practice helps archers train their bodies as well as become familiar with bamboo bows by shooting arrows toward makiwara.

On the other hand, makiwara are not only used for practice or for beginners, but require some archery techniques based on manners and enbu (military exercises), including makiwara-jarei (a way of ceremonial shooting to aim at a straw target).

[Original Japanese]