XLIII. On shooting with the ḥusbān, dawdan, and ‘uṣfūri arrows through the hollow of a guide
Part 1 of 3
THE Moslems, in their raids against the Turks, were wont to use the long arrow. But, whenever they missed, the Turks would pick up the arrow and shoot it back, inflicting serious injury upon the Moslems. In desperation, therefore, they held a council of war and vowed they would discover a method of shooting which would make it impossible for the Turks to return their arrows. After long study they evolved shooting with the ḥusbān arrow through the hollow of a guide. The Turks, having seen nothing like these small arrows, were unable to return them against the Moslems, who achieved several victories through the use of this new device. According to al-Tabari's statement, quoted by him on the authority of his Moslem masters, this was the reason for the invention and development of shooting with the ḥusbān (hailstone), dawdan, and ‘uṣfūri (birdlike) arrows through the hollow of a guide.
Others said that it was the Persians who invented the device. When the Persians, as a result of their fine and accurate marksmanship, defeated the Turks, the latter invented the shield for protection against the telling arrows Of the Persians. This was suggested to the Turks when their king, having received a fish, noticed that its teeth were arranged one overlapping the other. He, therefore, got the idea of constructing shields consisting of different layers of gradually receding size laid one over the other. Armed with these new weapons they raided the Persians, whose arrows failed to penetrate the new protective device, and who were, consequently, defeated.
The Persians were then on the lookout for a stronger arrow to penetrate the Turkish shields and gradually developed the oblique method of shooting as well as the taking of their aim from the outside of the bow. This method resulted in the lengthening of the arrow and, therefore, in the increase of its driving force. Once the arrows became long and their force was increased as a result, the Persians were able to penetrate the Turkish shields. The Persians, accordingly, for the use of old men and youngsters who were unable to effect the long and hard draws resulting from the very long arrows, evolved shooting with the ḥusbān and dawdan arrows; thereby bringing up the driving force of their shots to a par with the shots of the strong men who could draw a long arrow to its full limit.
If this story is true—that the Persians developed the device for use against shields—then it might be said that shooting the ḥusbān and dawdan arrows through the hollow of a guide gives greater strength and driving force than shooting the long arrow. On the other hand, it might be said that they evolved this device and, after actual trial in combat, found it weak and ineffectual and were, consequently, driven to the development of the long arrow and the oblique stand in shooting, which, in fact, is the method current among them.
The ḥusbān and dawdan arrows are not used in stunts nor in any type of shooting except against shields and strong armor.
The Persians also developed shooting with stone balls, long iron needles with or without nocks, and with iron missiles known as "the beans of the prince" (ḥimmaṣ al-amīr), as well as hot needles and flaming arrows. All except the last are shot with the aid of a guide.
The guide (majra) is made of a trough that is one fist (which is the width of four fingers) longer than the archer's arrow; or the width of the hand when the fingers are arranged for the count of one (which is the width of three fingers) longer than the archer's arrow. It should be scooped out carefully, with a narrow opening and an interior slightly wider, so that the ḥusbān arrows can move freely in the hollow without being too loose. The size of the hollow should be as large as the end joint of the little finger, in order to permit free movement of the arrow, while the opening should be as wide as the arrow is at its nock end.
The end of the guide which is toward the bowstring at the time of shooting should be slightly thinner than the other end and should also be pointed like a pen. Through this end a small hole is bored into which a strong string of silk or leather is inserted and made into a loop which fits around the little finger or the ring finger of the right hand at the time of shooting. Or, if the archer so desires, he can attach to the end of the string a small bead resembling the top of a spindle, and hold it between his little finger and ring finger at the time of shooting. Such a bead is better than the loop, because of the ease with which it can be released from between the fingers, especially in battle.
Guides are of four different kinds: square, round, hexagonal, and octagonal. The square kind is the best and simplest, especially for beginners and fighters. The round is good for target shooting and for practice, for which the hexagonal and octagonal are also suited.
The best guides are those which are somewhat flattened at the place where they rest against the grip of the bow and, therefore, do not turn or move. The other side may still be round, or hexagonal, or octagonal. The guide which has a wide hollow and a narrow opening is superior and safer in the hands of a beginner, while one with a fairly wide opening offers a greater driving force.
Guides are usually of hard, seasoned wood, free from moisture in order to avoid warping and contortion. They are also made of copper and iron, with narrow hollows, for the shooting of hot iron needles.