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: http://www.hornbow.com
The oriental arrow is long, slender, and flexible, usually made from bamboo (see http://www.bambooarrow.com ). 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.
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