I didn’t get into archery because of an Olympic event on TV. I believe that most of us first saw archery in a history book or a movie. In my case, many movies like Robin Hood or Braveheart stole my heart. I was that weird kid that played videogames mostly with archers, like in Age of Empires. Can you imagine an army of only English longbow archers? Well in that game it was possible to win like that. All those archers shot in a traditional archery style. Single piece wooden bow, a string and some arrows. Nothing else.
Traditional archery means you put technology aside and just focus on your bow and string. Aim, draw and shoot. It allows us to witness the arc made by the arrow flying, and most importantly, the incredible joy of hitting the target right in the middle with no sight.
Let’s get a little deeper into traditional archery.
Differences between traditional and modern archery
Modern archery is the one we watch at the Olympics. Bows separated into different pieces: riser, limbs, sight, clicker, plunger, etc. Like many other sports, it’s been upgraded by technology. It is beautiful, but it is not like the archery known by Greeks and Romans, or medieval English archers.
Traditional Archery is more about taking archery back to its roots. Shooting with a single piece wooden bow; with no sight or technology. It is a lot faster since you don’t have to assemble many pieces together; or move your sight up and down depending on if you’re 20, 30 or 40 meters from the target. You have to rely on your instincts and get to know your bow, know its strength.
Practicing with an Olympic recurve bow doesn’t necessarily mean that you will instantly shoot perfectly with a traditional bow. The technique will be the same, but you will need to get used to the idea of not having a sight to help you aim. If you don’t have a traditional bow, but you’re interested on getting to practice this form, you can try doing some shots without your sight. It will help you get a feel for what it’s like.
Why you should learn archery?
Talking about archery in general, it has many benefits for everyone interested in practicing this amazing sport. Let me share with you some of the thoughts my coach told me when I had just got started.
What are the benefits of Archery?
It improves mental toughness. This is the most important thing I was able to see on myself. You must focus like never before, it is all about focusing on your target, on your technique and the wind. You have to clear your mind and concentrate. For me, this is a lot like meditation, only that I was never able to meditate.
It grows your mindset. You must overcome each mistake and missed shot. In archery, you learn from each missed shot. For example, if it went too high, you have to aim a little lower next time. Archery will teach you how to control your emotions and analyze each shot, so you hit the target next time.
Improves physical development. Archery requires many muscles, upper body and core strength. You won’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger(!) but you’ll get stronger.
Teaches Goal Settings. You can’t go straight ahead shooting at 70m target distance. Everyone must start at 20 meters or less, from that point you set up goals with your coach and practice. As you reach your goals, increase the distance until you get to the Olympic range at 70m.
It is a social Sport. I have loved this and I am grateful for it. At a club or academy, you’ll practice with people from all ranges of ages and backgrounds. This sport brings us all together. I’ve met people younger and older than me; they have become like brothers and old advisers.
For me, I find it gratifying when you hit the target right in the middle with no help from technology. Not having the sight and hitting the target is such a rewarding experience and a great boost for self-esteem.
Is archery a useful skill?
You can bet on it. Practicing archery will improve your performance in body and mind as explained before. But it could also be so useful in specific situations. Imagine you decide to go camping and you and your friends get lost, your archery knowledge will be important since it becomes a survival skill for these situations. The most impressive thing about this is that you don’t need to carry your bow with you at all times, waiting to get lost and use your skill. All you need is a good pocketknife like a Victorinox and you can make a survival bow to hunt your own food.
Victorinox Swiss Army Tools
Every tool you could ever need for an outdoor adventure including knives and files for crafting your perfect bow!
To know how to craft this survival bow is also something useful to know, here is a video that taught me that in a simple tutorial.
Most common types of bows for traditional archery
There are two types of bow that are the most popular among traditional archers:
The recurve bow is the one with curves away tips on both ends of the bow. They point in the opposite direction from the archer. This kind of bow tends to shoot arrows a lot faster and straighter than other type of bows.
Longbows are a single piece that form like a D shape when you draw it. Historically, they are the preferred bow in movies and medieval times as they were simpler to make. They also make a lot less noise than the recurve bows.
Choosing the right one for this recreational use is absolutely something you must decide. I practiced with the recurve traditional bow for a while and it is a lot of fun. Nevertheless, I still want to try a traditional longbow. One of my drams is to get one from England, a traditional handcrafted longbow to feel what the English archers felt on their glorious medieval ages.
What is the best age to start archery?
In my experience, there is no perfect age to start archery. It is not a sport like soccer or basketball were your golden years will be between 16-27 so you must start at 12 to have a future in the NBA or the Champions League. No. This is not the case since archery is an inclusive sport. Everyone can learn, practice and compete at any age if you’re able to draw the bow and willing to have a go you can take part. It is all about practice, skill and will.
I started getting into archery at the same time as an old guy at my club, we took our first class together. I thought he wasn’t going to be able to draw a stronger bow than me, since I go to the gym and have played a lot of basketball growing up. It turned out he learned as fast as I did, and he was able to start with a stronger bow than I did! We became good friends although he is more than twice my age, and we compete together now for the same team.
While I believe there is no maximum age to begin at archery, some places think that there is a minimum age. USA Archery recommends starting at the age of 8, mainly because younger kids have less chances to draw the full length of a beginners bow.
Now you know a lot more about traditional archery, I would encourage you to try traditional archery. If you practice Olympic archery, you’ll love shooting a wooden longbow or recurve. And if you didn’t like modern archery, maybe a second try with and old robin hood style longbow will become your new favourite.
Give it a try and enjoy the ride through archery roots.
Clear your minds, and like generals told their archery teams when the enemy got closer:
“Set, ready, loooose”.