April 23, 2014

Traditional Archery

Why Try Traditional?
Whether you are fascinated with history, entranced by the legend of Robin Hood, or simply want the challenge of shooting without a sight or other modern adaptations, traditional archery might be the right fit for you.

Traditional archery means different things to different people. For some, it means shooting a longbow or recurve without sights, stabilizers, or other tuning equipment. In this case, many traditional archers choose to shoot with carbon fiber arrows, or use a string made from durable synthetic materials. Others feel that to shoot traditionally, you must be shooting bows and arrows made only from natural materials such as wood, horn, and bird feathers. Although most traditional archers shoot bows made using modern techniques, there are other types to admire. Some archers value historical accuracy and prefer bows and arrows crafted using traditional techniques. They also might favor leather and other natural products when choosing armguards, gloves, quivers, and other gear.

Simple and Complex Types of Traditional Bows
Traditional bows may be very simple or very complex. One type of traditional bow is known as the selfbow, which has a stave crafted from a single piece of wood. The selfbow is the oldest type of bow known to man and has been found in many places all over the world. This may be due to the fact that it can be made from many varieties of wood with simple chopping, scraping, and shaving tools in a short period of time. Keep in mind, however, that the quality of selfbows can vary greatly, and when they are allowed to dry out they may become brittle and could splinter or break when drawn.

An example of a more complex traditional bow would be a composite recurve like those made famous by the Mongolian armies of Emperor Genghis Khan. Also used in flight or long-distance shooting by Turkish archers of the Ottoman Empire, this type of bow stave has a unique C-shape when unstrung. It consists of three main parts bound together by animal glue: a wooden core, a layer of horn on the side facing the archer, and a layer of sinew on the back.

Neither the selfbow or the traditional composite recurve are common at target, field, or 3D competitions, so it is best to contact the tournament director before signing up for competition.

Exploring Traditions From Around the World
Some archers feel an exciting connection with history when they shoot traditional archery. The question then becomes, what kind of history do you find most exciting? Some like the idea of shooting something exotic. Others want a bow style connected with their family heritage.

Generally, only longbows and recurves with draw weights under 60lbs will be eligible for target or field archery competitions. These can be made of modern materials, but must not have stabilizers or a sight.

Many shooters new to traditional archery wonder how they can aim accurately without the help of a sight. The generally accepted technique is called instinctual shooting, which is like throwing a stone. Other methods like string walking and gap shooting are not allowed during competition.

There are many different bow types worth exploring for their aesthetic qualities and historical value. Here are several classic traditional bows for you to discover:

  • English or Welsh longbow
  • Japanese asymmetrical longbow from the Kyudo discipline
  • Mongolian recurved composite bow
  • Native American flatbow used by tribes such as the Hupa and Karok of California, or the Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts
  • Selfbows from native cultures in Africa, Central and South America, Oceana, and Australia

Re-enacting History
Some archers enjoy historical recreationism in addition to enjoying target, field, or 3D archery. The Society for Creative Anachronism is the one of the most popular organizations, and focuses on re-creating and studying Medieval European cultures. This type of archery is generally performed for combat reenactment with recurves or longbows under 30 lbs of draw weight and arrows fitted with blunt tips.

Currently the SCA does not offer programs to teach new archers about technique or competitions. Instead members learn as they go and focus more on enjoying mock combat and exploring the historical aesthetic. However, the SCA might be worth exploring for anyone interested in the history of archery in warfare.