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A legacy handed down from ancient wars to become a sporting activity of dexterity and accuracy.

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Archery is the practice of using a bow to shoot arrows. Archery has historically been used in hunting and combat, and has become a precision sport. One term for an archer is a "toxopholite", which derives from ancient Greek.


Archaeologists suspect that archery may have begun up to 15,000 years ago, but the earliest concrete evidence is between 8,000 and 9,000 years old. The bow probably originated for use in hunting, and was then adopted as a tool of warfare. Bows eventually replaced the atlatl as the predominant means for launching projectiles. Archery was practiced in antiquity on every continent except Australia, demonstrating that it is both basic and versatile.

Classical archery

Classical civilizations, notably the Macedonians/Greeks, Iranian Parthianns, Indians and Chinese, fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. Arrows proved exceptionally destructive against massed formations, and the use of archers often proved decisive. Archers sometimes rode on horseback, combining range with speed. Apollo, Odysseus, and other mythological characters are often depicted with a bow.

The phrase "A parting shot" comes from 'The Parthian shot' as a rider turned in the saddle to shoot as he rode away from the enemy.

Medieval European archery

During the Middle Ages, archery in warfare was not as prevalent and dominant in Western Europe as popular myth dictates. Archers were quite often the lowest paid soldiers in an army or conscripted from the peasantry. This was due to the cheap nature of the bow and arrow as compared to the expense needed to equip a professional man-at-arms with good armour and a sword. The bow was seldom used to decide battles and viewed as a "lower class weapon" or a toy by the nobility. This disdain was countered by the Vikings, whose widespread use of archery gave them success in their numerous raiding expeditions all over the Western European seaboard (and even well into the Mediterranean) in the 9th and 10th centuries.

By the time of the Hundred Years' War, the English had learned how to employ massed archery (as opposed to dispersed skirmishing) as an instrument of tactical dominance with their English longbows. Archers were drawn from the freeholding farmers known as yeomen, and trained rigorously from childhood. Every boy was given a bow of his own height and was required to train with it. Tournaments were sponsored to encourage proficiency.

In combat, they would often shoot two arrows, one on a high trajectory, and one on a low trajectory. These two arrows would hit the enemy simultaneously from two different angles, making defense difficult. The advent of the bodkin point also gave arrows better penetrative power.

The crossbow, while dating from classical times, became quite popular during the Middle Ages. While it took many years to train a longbowman, someone could become proficient with a crossbow with little training. The crossbow had about the same power and range as a longbow. Its major drawback was that it took a long time to reload. The armour piercing power of the crossbow caused fear amongst the well armoured nobility, and it was banned by the Second Council of the Lateran (at least between Christians), although to little avail.

The advent of firearms rendered bows obsolete in warfare. Although bows had a longer range and could shoot much more frequently than the earliest guns, guns could penetrate most armour and required minimal training. Later development gradually gave firearms advantages over bows in range, accuracy and eventually in reload time. An illustration of the declining popularity of the bow could be seen in the various edicts promulgated by 16th-century English monarch to make archery a mandatory practice for all men of fighting age, including Henry VIII's famous ban against the practice of all sports other than archery in Sundays.

The term "Second String" (or the phrase 'to have more than one string to your bow') derives from the fact that medieval archers would carry a second string in the event that their "first string" snapped.

Asian archery

Archery was also highly developed in Asia. In modern times it continues to be practised in some Asian countries but is not used in international competition. Central Asian tribesmen were extremely adept at archery on horseback, and the Mongols used it to dominate the Eurasian Steppe. Horse archers would shoot while approaching their target, then turn around in the saddle and shoot again after they passed.

The arrows are less stiff than western arrows with smaller fletchings. Bows vary widely.

The bow is held clasped to the chest, arrow point slightly up. Both arms are extended, the left arm up and toward the target, the right arm back and away from the target. The bow and arrow are drawn down into a line with both arms locked on opposite sides of the body, but the elbow of the right arm is permitted to flex. In some styles the bowstring and fletchings may actually be held "behind" one's head. The arrow is held at the first joint of the thumb, and the string rests on a thumbring (Mongol or Manchu) or a slot at the base of a gauntlet's thumb (Japanese tsuri), so it does not hurt the thumb. A headband may be worn to keep the bowstring from hurting one's ear or head. Thick, loose clothing protects the bowstring from the arms and chest at release. Warriors on the battlefield often wore leather gauntlets, chest armor and helmets with flared ridges to protect against the bowstring.

Foot-bows were known and sometimes used in warfare; they were preferred to crossbows because they had a faster firing rate and somewhat longer range. The basic technique was for archers to lie on their backs, with the bows held to to their feet; they would put the arrow between their feet, and pull back the string with both hands, using their back and legs to bend the bow. Aiming was poor, but with the weight and velocity of the five foot long arrows, combined with massed volleys, this became less important.

Archery was widespread in India. Arjuna's bow, Gandiva, was the Indian equivalent of King Arthur's Excalibur.

Recurve target archery

This section focuses on the accepted technique for modern competition which is used worldwide. Many other variations exist, some of which are documented below.

The bow is held in the hand opposite the dominant eye. This hand is referred to as the bow hand and its arm the bow arm. The opposite hand is called the string hand. Terms such as bow holder or string elbow follow the same convention. Right eye dominant people hold the bow with their left hand, have their left side facing the target, sight towards the target with their right eye, and handle the arrow and string with their right hand.

Generally one wears a bracer (more commonly known as an arm-guard) to protect the inside of the bow arm, and a tab to protect the fingers of the string hand. Some archers also wear protection on their chests called chestguards (see photo). Chestguards are to protect the bowstring from the archer but can also protect the archer from the bowstring.

To shoot an arrow with a recurve bow, an archer first adjusts stance. The bow shoulder is towards the target. The archer straddles the shooting line with his or her feet shoulder width apart.

To load, the bow is pointed toward the ground and the shaft of the arrow is placed on an arrow rest attached to the bow. The bowstring is then placed into the notch at the back of the arrow. This is called "nocking the arrow." Typical arrows with three vanes should be oriented such that a single vane is pointing away from the bow. This vane is often coloured differently and has numerous names such as "index fletch" and "cock-feather."

The bowstring and arrow are held with three fingers. When using a sight, the index finger is placed above the arrow and the next two fingers below. The string is usually placed in either the first or second joint of the fingers.

The bow is then raised and drawn. This is often one fluid motion which tends to vary from archer to archer. The string hand is drawn towards the face, where it should rest lightly at an "anchor point". This point is consistent from shot to shot, and is usually at the corner of the mouth or on the chin. The bow arm is pushed outward toward the target. The elbow of this arm should be rotated outward so that the bowstring doesn't scrape the inside of the wrist or catch on a bracer when released. The bow should always remain vertical.

In proper form, the archer stands erect, forming a T. The archer's back muscles are used to pull the arrow to the anchor point. Most bows will be equipped with a mechanical device called a clicker which produces a clicking sound when the archer reaches the correct draw length.

The arrow is typically released by relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand. An archer should pay attention to the recoil, or "follow through" of his or her body, as it may indicate problems with his or her form.

Compound Bow Technique

A compound bow is designed to reduce the force that an archer must hold, and increase the overall energy stored by the bow. Most compound designs use cams on the ends of the limbs to optimise the leverage exerted by the archer and reduce the holding force of the bow at full draw while maintaining the force through the draw.

The archer usually uses a release aid to hold the string steadily and release it precisely. This attaches to the bowstring at a point and permits the archer to release the string with a pull of a trigger. With less force required to hold a compound bow at draw, the muscles take longer to fatigue, thus giving a compound archer more time to aim. For these reasons, the compound bow is sometimes derogatorily referred to as a "training-wheel bow." In general, good recurve technique usually makes good compound technique. A compound bow must be adjusted so that its draw length is correct for the archer. The draw length is determined largely by the archer's arm length and shoulder width.

Source: Wikipedia

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