Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

Translated by R.F.C. Hull


103758Since its original publication in 1953, Zen in the Art of Archery has become one of the classic works on Eastern philosophy, the first book to delve deeply into the role of Zen in philosophy, development, and practice of Eastern martial arts. Wise, deeply personal, and frequently charming, it is the story of one man’s penetration of the theory and practice of Zen Buddhism.Eugen Herrigel, a German professor who taught philosophy in Tokyo, took up the study of archery as a step toward the understanding of Zen. Zen in the Art of Archery is the account of the six years he spent as the student of one of Japan’s great Zen masters, and the process by which he overcame his initial inhibitions and began to look toward new ways of seeing and understanding. As one of the first Westerners to delve deeply into Zen Buddhism, Herrigel was a key figure in the popularization of Eastern thought in the West, as well as being a captivating and illuminating writer.


I love this book for many reasons. One: Herrigel describes how a Zen master guides their pupil.

The instructor’s business is not to show the way itself, but to enable the pupil to get the feel of this way to the goal by adapting it to his individual peculiarities.

Watching the author advance in his practice of archery is interesting, but these asides about mastery and teaching/learning a craft spoke to me the most. I see shadows of these techniques in the way I was taught pottery, and plan to use some of the broadest ideas when I mentor others in my own craft.

Don’t think you need to be an artist to get something out of this book – I found all kinds of things I can apply to medical interpreting so I’m sure you’re passion will fit in somehow, too. All in all it’s a thinker of a book that I look forward to revisiting in the years (and hopefully decades) ahead.