Before I dive into the history of Yabusame, I would like to recommend you a link to an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. He is an amazing guy and he will show you what it means to learn the skill set for the Japanese Horseback Archery in a very short amount of time. Enjoy the ride here.
Yabusame is a special type of mounted archery in traditional Japanese archery where an archer on a running horse shoots three wooden targets with three turnip-headed arrows. The history of this archery can be traced back to the Kamakura Period when Minamoto no Yorimoto organized it as a way for his samurai to practice archery. Today, Yabusame is practiced at Shimogano Shrine in Kyoto during the Aoi Matsuri (early May) and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu in Kamakura. It is also practiced in Zushi at the beach and in Samikawa, among other areas in Japan. Generally, Yabusame is held near Shinto Shrines throughout the year.
Yabusame is a ritual that was designed in such a manner to honor the gods that watched over Japan, and this encouraged blessings for the people, prosperity of the land and the harvest. The archer gallops down a 255meter long track at high speed while maintaining control of the horse with the knees as he needs the hands to shoot. He then draws the arrow past his ear when he nears the target, and lets it fly with shout of In-Yo-In-Yo, which translates to darkness and light. The arrows used in this ritual are usually round shaped and blunt, to ensure they a loud noise once they hit the target.
The targets and their placements in Yabusame are designed to be a ritual replication of the optimum target for a lethal blow on an opponent wearing O-Yoroi, the full traditional samurai armor, which also leaves space beneath the helmet visor bare. Hitting all the three targets is considered an admirable achievement in Yabusame.
Due to its religious aspects and solemn style, Yabusame is considered more of a ritual rather than a sport. However, it is also performed at special events to entertain heads of state or foreign dignitaries. Demonstrations of the centuries old ritual have been given for formal visits of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. A similar demonstration was also given in United Kingdom for Prince Charles, who was quite delighted at the performance.
There are two major schools in Japan that teach Yabusame. The first one is Ogasawara School, whose history dates back to the twelfth century when Ogasawara Nagakiyo was instructed by his teacher to start a school of archery. As a form of martial art, Yabusame helped the samurais to learn refinement, concentration, discipline and concentration. The second school is Takeda School of Archery, which is much older and dates back to the 9th century.