painting by Chris Skillicorn-Aston

The Way of The Bow

A meditation on archery.

Keith Parkins
Nov 17, 2013 · 5 min read
What is a bow without arrows? Like an author without books.

The Way of the Bow by Paulo Coelho, centres around the story of Tetsuya, the best archer in the country, who conveys his teachings to a boy in his village.

Unbeknown to the villagers, until an archer seeks him out, Tetsuya, the best archer in the country, a legend in his own lifetime, is the local carpenter, no one had ever seen him holding a bow.


The boy looked at the stranger, startled.

‘No one in this city has ever seen Tetsuya holding a bow,’ he replied. ‘Everyone here knows him as a carpenter.’

‘Maybe he gave up, maybe he lost his courage, that doesn’t matter to me,’ insisted the stranger. ‘But he cannot be considered to be the best archer in the country if he has abandoned his art. That’s why I’ve been travelling all these days, in order to challenge him and put an end to a reputation he no longer deserves.’

The boy saw there was no point in arguing; it was best to take the man to the carpenter’s shop so that he could see with his own eyes that he was mistaken.

Tetsuya was in the workshop at the back of his house. He turned to see who had come in, but his smile froze when his eyes fell on the long bag that the stranger was carrying.

‘It’s exactly what you think it is,’ said the new arrival. ‘I did not come here to humiliate or to provoke the man who has become a legend. I would simply like to prove that, after all my years of practice, I have managed to reach perfection.’

Tetsuya made as if to resume his work: he was just putting the legs on a table.

‘A man who served as an example for a whole generation cannot just disappear as you did,’ the stranger went on. ‘I followed your teachings, I tried to respect the way of the bow, and I deserve to have you watch me shoot. If you do this, I will go away and I will never tell anyone where to find the greatest of all masters.’

The stranger drew from his bag a long bow made from varnished bamboo, with the grip slightly below centre. He bowed to Tetsuya, went out into the garden and bowed again …

The stranger takes out an arrow, lets it loose at something in the distance the boy cannot see. The stranger orders the boy to go and retrieve his arrow. When the boy finds the arrow, he finds it has pierced a cherry, forty metres away.

Tetsusya bows to the stranger, goes to retrieve his bow, and asks the stranger if he can borrow one of his arrows. Seeking assurance from the stranger that he will keep his promise, he beckons the stranger to follow him. They then set off into the mountains.

After an hour trek, they come to a mountain torrent, flowing between a crevice in the rocks, crossed by a frayed rope bridge on the point of collapse.

Tetsusya walks to the middle of the swaying bridge, bows, then looses off an arrow. They see it has pierced a peach twenty metres away.

‘You pierced a cherry, I pierced a peach,’ said Tetsuya, returning to the safety of the bank. ‘The cherry is smaller. You hit your target from a distance of forty metres, mine was half that. You should, therefore, be able to repeat what I have just done. Stand there in the middle of the bridge and do as I did.’

Terrified by the sheer drop, the stranger makes his way to the middle of the bridge, bows, and looses off an arrow. It sails past the peach. He returns to the bank, deathly pale.

‘You have skill, dignity and posture,’ said Tetsuya. ‘You have a good grasp of technique and you have mastered the bow, but you have not mastered your mind. You know how to shoot when all the circumstances are favourable, but if you are on dangerous ground, you cannot hit the target. The archer cannot always choose the battlefield, so start your training again and be prepared for unfavourable situations. Continue in the way of the bow, for it is a whole life’s journey, but remember that a good, accurate shot is very different from one made with peace in your soul.’

The stranger made another deep bow, replaced his bow and his arrows in the long bag he carried over his shoulder, and left.

The boy is excited at all what he has seen and asks will Tetsuya teach him. Tetsuya reflects on this for fifteen minute, and then agrees. He says what he knows can be taught in an hour. What is required is practice to master the art. He then, as they walk down the mountain, teaches the boy on how to meditate on the way of the bow.

Paulo Coelho practices archery as a form of meditation.

The Way of the Bow is available as an e-book on FrostWire and as an audio book on bandcamp. On bandcamp, free downloads are limited to 200 per month (limit set by bandcamp), listen as often as you like on-line.

If you like The Way of the Bow, then please pass to your friends, please recommend.

Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is best known for The Alchemist, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. His latest book is Manuscript Found in Accra.

worth their weight in gold

The painting of the archer was exhibited by Chris Skillicorn-Aston at The Barn in Farnham last summer.

I. M. H. O.

The Editorial Page

    Keith Parkins

    Written by

    Writer, thinker, deep ecologist, social commentator, activist, enjoys music, literature and good food.

    I. M. H. O.

    The Editorial Page

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