BOOK REVIEW: Zen Bow, Zen Arrow by John Stevens

Zen Bow, Zen Arrow: The Life and Teachings of Awa Kenzo, the Archery Master from Zen Bow, Zen Arrow: The Life and Teachings of Awa Kenzo, the Archery Master from “Zen in the Art of Archery” by John Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Awa Kenzo is variously known as an archer without compare, a Zen master, or as the teacher of Eugene Herrigel. Herrigel was a German philosopher who wrote a thin book entitled, “Zen in the Art of Archery” that gained a global following. Herrigel’s book was about his time as a student of Kenzo and the insight that he gained into both Zen and Kyūdō—Japanese style archery—through his studies. Kenzo lived from 1880 to 1939, a period during which arts like kyūdō were used more for development of character than as fighting arts, and Kenzo was important figure in this transformation.

Stevens’ book is a thin volume (< 100 pages) consisting of three parts. The first is a short biography of Awa Kenzo. One shouldn’t expect a thorough treatment, but that may be for the best (i.e. Kenzo’s life is of interest because of his mastery of archery, but probably only his most ardent fans would want to read a 400 page biography on his life.)


The second part is a set of lessons and aphorisms attributed to the master archer. This section includes a few pages by the author to put Kenzo’s brief statements in context. The lessons themselves are sometimes in prose, sometimes in poetry, and occasionally in the form of lists. These lessons offer insight into archery, mindset, and life in general. Archery is portrayed as a lifestyle.

The third section consists of three short (very short) stories in which archery as a means to develop one’s character is at the forefront.

In addition to the three sections, the book includes front matter, annotations, a bibliography, and a few photos.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for those seeking insight into the nexus between Zen and the martial arts.

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