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Archery is a precision sport where competitors aim to hit targets using a bow.

Modern Archery

The sport of modern archery derives from the archery contests of the Olympic Games. For the most part, therefore, it is Occidental archery (see below), with modern materials, and compound bows.

Almost all archery competitions score the competitors' accuracy. The competition is to hit fixed targets some distance from a stationary archer. In normal competition, matches are against one other archer. The archers take turns shooting arrows at a fixed target with ten concentric rings coloured 2 each white, black, blue, red and yellow. An arrow that lands in the outermost white ring is awarded one point, the next smaller white ring two points, and so on up to ten points for the innermost yellow ring. An arrow that misses the rings completely is not awarded any points.

There are three types of bows in archery competition, but Olympic competition only uses the "classic" type bows, typically made of advanced alloys and composites. These are expensive precision equipment.

Successful archery requires a steady hand, a good eye, and the ability to calm one's nerves.


Archery is descended from the use of the bow and arrow for military and hunting. It is known to be at least 5000 years old and possibly much older. Organised archery competitions date from no later than 1583 in England, not long before bows were superseded by firearms in war. Archery has been an Olympic sport since 1900 (with some interruptions).

There are two classical traditions in archery, the occidental, and oriental. They are not similar at all. The oriental tradition has a more powerful technique.

Archery bows usually have two working limbs but compound bows have been made with only one limb (and eccentric pulleys on the opposite side of the riser (handle)). Symmetrical bows are easier to make and use but many cultures have nonetheless developed assymetrical bows. The projectiles shot by bows are arrows.

A standard archery target has five colored rings each divided in two bands. each band of the target has the same width, The central two bands (bullseye, 10 points) and the ring valued at 9 points are yellow. The next two bands from the center out (7, 8) are red. The 6 and 5 rings are blue; the 3 and the 4 are white and the lowest, outer bands are black. When counting points, an arrow shaft that breaks the line dividing two zones is counted as being in the higher zone.
Most archery competitions have the archers firing rounds of three arrows, collecting their arrows and summing points at the end of each round.

Occidental Archery

Occidental archery uses a wooden bow that resembles a straight staff. To prevent damage to the bow from shrinking bowstrings and to prevent "memory" in the wood, the bow is unstrung when not in use. The occidental bow is made from yew, but can also be made from willow or lemon wood. The ends of the bow are notched to hold a bowstring. A handle is wrapped around the center, usually leather or cord (classically, a spare bowstring). The occidental bowstring is linen, waxed with beeswax to keep it from absorbing water and changing length.

The occidental arrow is straight, constructed of beech or boxwood, relatively rigid, fletched with three fin-like feathers, and painted with colored rings to show its owner. Hunting is with knife-like broadheads. Archers in a war used chisel-points to penetrate armor. Soft brass-headed practice arrows were developed in England so yeomen could practice more innocuously, without any possibility of being thought highwaymen or insurgents (chisel points) or poachers (broadheads). Occidental points are bronze, brass or steel.

The occidental archer holds the bow extended with the weak hand. and holds the string with the index and middle finger of his strong hand. He protects the strong hand's fingers from the bowstring with a square of leather or a half-glove called a tab. The bowstring can hit the extended weak arm quite painfully, so this arm is protected with leather strips or a partial gauntlet called a brace.

The most powerful and effective occidental archers were probably the English and Welsh using longbows. They made a national sport of training.

Oriental (Asian) Archery There are many different types of bows that were used in Asia, though many have similar materials and characteristics. The bow most often associated with Asian archery is the horn bow. The hunting bow belonging to Odysseus described by Homer in book XXI of the Odyssey is a composite recurve bow. Such a bow has a core of some type of wood (usually bamboo), was backed with sinew, had a strip of horn on the belly, spliced ears of some type of wood, with everything held together with an animal glue, especially a fish air bladder type (from the brown croaker, predominantly). Although some horn bows are made in China and also by a few Western bowyers, the only regular production of these types of bows is done in Korea. For more information on horn bows, see:

The oriental arrow is long, slender, and flexible, usually made from bamboo (see It visibly ripples around the bow when shot. The arrows are identified by calligraphy on the fletching. One form of fletching is small, thin, and fluffy, and either trail behind the arrow or flatten when shot. Some traditions (notably Kyudo) fletch arrows from one wing or the other of a bird, so the arrows spin in particular directions. Such an archer will learn to shoot "handed" arrows (Ya) in a particular sequence. Traditional premium fletchings are made from warlike birds such as eagles and hawks. Modern fletchings are from non-endangered species such as turkeys and chickens.

Hunting points are traditionally broadheads chipped from flint or volcanic glass, to assure that they cannot be used by insurgents against armored soldiers. Practice is with hunting points. War arrows use iron chisel points, and iron was a state monopoly of China for most of Asia's history.

The most common oriental school of archers starts a bowshot by holding the bow clasped to the chest, arrow point slightly up. Both arms are extended, the weak up, and toward the target, the strong 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 strong arm is permitted to flex. The bowstring and fletchings are held behind one's head. The arrow is held at the first joint of the strong-arm's thumb, and the string rests on a thumbring (mongol) 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, usually a gi, protects the arms and chest from the bowstring at release. The soft fletching and flexible shaft cause less damage if they hit. Professional soldiers wore leather gauntlets, chest armor and helmets with flared ridges to protect against the bowstring.

The most powerful and effective oriental archers were probably the Mongols, who trained from childhood and shot from horseback.

See also: Kyudo, Japanese archery.

External Links -- Korean archery -- Asian archery