Almost 1,500 years ago, Japanese samurai began perfecting the form of horseback archery known as yabusame (yah-boo-sah-meh).
On this sun-after-rain afternoon, beneath a glistening, snow-capped Mount Fuji, I join the yabusame festival my rural community has celebrated for over nine centuries.
Every year, on the April 29 national holiday, mounted archers display their martial art at Lake Kawaguchi, a three-minute walk from the front entrance of Energy Doorways, the Japanese publishing company I established here.
After a ritual ceremony at the nearby shrine, male and female archers ride out in measured procession towards the lakeshore.
Their finery replicates 13th century formal hunting costume – jaunty hats, deerskin chaps, jewel tone silks, black velvet chest protectors embroidered with gold crests, and soft leather shoes that slip into stirrups shaped like oversized, decorated slippers.
And, of course, the elegant, recurve bow, one of the longest in the world.
Although many in the West are familiar with the mystique of the Japanese sword, early samurai defined their warrior creed as The Way of the Bow and Horse.
Yabusame echoes that lost era of thundering hooves and singing arrows.
Conditions this year are especially challenging.
Morning rehearsals under heavy rain have churned the dirt track to mud, and a ferocious wind gusts.
Galloping at full tilt each archer readies the arrow for aim at targets spaced along the narrow track.
In successive rounds these are replaced with ever smaller targets – a bulls-eye board, then a wooden square, finally a suspended clay pot.
Since the archer needs both hands to load the arrow, draw the bow, and shoot, the horse is controlled with the knees, implying total trust between rider and animal.
At the precise moment of aim, the archer raises the body, twisting the bow at full draw, and releases the arrow with a special shout meant to align energy and intention.
Even in these unfavorable circumstances, with some horses slipping and arrows blown off course, several archers achieve the satisfying thwack of targets soundly hit.
Yet yabusame is not a vying for the title of the best archer.
Traditional training taught discipline, focus, and finesse.
Breathing practice harmonized mind and body under the most intense pressure, allowing the horse archer to overcome doubt and fear.
Imbued with spiritual significance, the martial art accorded respect to the divine, natural cycles, and human skill in delighting the gods.
Can such aspirations have any relevance in today’s world?
I invite you to share your thoughts about the following personal growth inspiration I gleaned from this year’s horseback archery event.
Identify exactly what and where your target is.
Execute every step necessary to support your aim.
Become really good at what you want to do.
Root your efforts in confidence and spiritual purpose.
Display your flair by dressing for the part.
Go all out, galloping at full tilt.
Face hostile situations with equanimity.
Recognize that authentic action yields its own reward.
Trust what carries you forward.
Celebrate the moment as all there is.
It’s not about competing with others.
It’s about being the best only you can be in the present.
It’s not about winning applause.
It’s about dancing with your unique abilities and talents.
It’s not about taking home the prize.
It’s about reflecting harmony, prosperity, and shared abundance.
Be what you are:
Express your passion with your true colors flying.
Act with courage:
Hitting your target requires your initial willingness to try.
Adjust your attitude:
Adverse conditions are simply that – your real test is how you respond.
Discover your inner power:
True aim arises from the certainty of centered stillness.
See the bigger picture:
When your arrow misses the mark, sense the gods are smiling anyway.
Appreciate your horse and trust teamwork – each one needs and helps the other.
Leave the crowds gasping with astonishment at your bravado.
Live fully, live well:
Look back and say, “I had a great ride.”
How do you feel about hitting your target at full gallop?
What other comments would you like to share?
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