XXXII. On the variations in the length and construction of the Arab bow
Part 2 of 2
The target bow should be of moderate size and construction, with its wood less than its horn, and its sinew equal in thickness to its horn. Others have said that its component parts should be equal. The former opinion is, however, better. Furthermore, it should have a slender grip, while its arms should be recurved (mu‘ajjarah) and moderate in size and width; the siyahs should, likewise, be moderate in length and recurvature. If these characteristics obtain, the target bow will be free of defects and its usefulness and accuracy will be increased.
The competition bow should have a rounded grip and long siyahs, and be recurved both in the grip and in the siyahs. Its arms should be narrow and rounded, with the lower less prominent than the upper, or, according to others, exactly the opposite, namely, the upper arm less prominent than the lower. Its horns should be of five or six pieces and the width of two fingers shorter than the arrow—while the width of one finger may be added to the length of each siyah, which is equivalent to half the decrease in the length of the two arms. The longer and more dominant the siyahs and grip are, the faster and harder the arrow goes; while the looser the bow, the weaker it is and the safer from possible defects and flaws.
The weight in hand of the finished competition bow should be between twelve and fifteen uqīyahs [troy ounces of 480 grains], and the lighter in hand it is [i.e., the less its own heft], the faster and better is the flight of its arrow. Its string is always thin.
The bow for trick shooting, according to some archers, should be like that of the Persians, with a square grip of moderate size, short and thick siyahs of almost equal length, and arms, likewise, of almost equal length and width. Furthermore it should be very flexible: in weight not more than half the capacity of the archer. In the judgment of the author this statement is correct, except for that part which says that the arms and siyahs of such a bow should be almost equal in length, respectively, as they are in Persian bows; for it must be remembered that the center of the bow, according to the catholic consent of expert archers, is at a point the width of a finger from the top of the grip.
All of the details which we have mentioned concerning the construction of this composite bow are the result of long experience by master archers, all of whom are in agreement. Persian archers, however, have disagreed with them completely and said that the bow should be of symmetrical construction with both arms equal in size and both siyahs also equal, thereby making the central point of the bow at the middle of the grip. Some experts among the Persians, however, have maintained that the upper arm and the upper siyah should be slightly longer than the lower ones so that the center of the bow will fall at the two thirds point of its grip; that the arms should be wide and long, and that the sinew should constitute the smallest proportion in the construction of its parts. They claim that a bow so made will give a faster, harder, and more deadly arrow.
In the judgment of the author the claim of the Persian archers is decidedly wrong because, if the arrow leaves the bow at a point other than the central, it will be pushed by the bow in two different ways at the same time: with force by the shorter limb of the bow and with weakness by the long limb, with the result that it will wobble along its flight, and consequently its cast will be diminished and its accuracy decreased. It will not hit the mark, unless by accident. This may not be apparent to the eye but, if the disparity between the two limbs be accentuated, the wobbling will become noticeable.
The correct thing is what we have already quoted on the authority of the experts; namely, that the center of the bow should be at a point on the grip the width of one finger from its top, and that the upper arm of the bow together with its siyah constitute half of the entire bow, while the remaining part of the grip together with the lower arm and siyah comprise the other half of the bow. Consequently, the arrow passes at the middle of the bow which is the kabid; balance will then be obtained and the shooting will be accurate.
We have already mentioned that every individual has his own particular bow which is proportioned to his stature, and we shall soon show that every individual has his own particular arrow, also proportioned to his stature. This is based on a definite principle: the length of the bow is in direct proportion to the length of the arrow, and the length of the arrow is, in turn, in direct proportion to the size of the archer. The first we have already discussed; the second will be treated later.
It should be known that all the basic rules and principles which the experts and master archers, as a result of their long experience, have laid down concerning this science are completely unknown to the archers of our time. What now prevails and is known among our archers is the Persian system of archery which we have received from them, since the Damascene bows, which are at present the best and most perfectly constructed, as well as other bows now in use, are fashioned after the Persian bow in that their center lies at the two thirds point of the grip, or in the middle thereof, while the arms are of equal, or almost equal, length, and the siyahs, likewise, are of equal length or nearly so. Furthermore, the sinew constitutes the least of the component parts and the horn constitutes the greatest. Consequently, they are easily warped in this land of ours on account of the intense heat. For that reason it is almost impossible to find in the whole of Morocco a Damascene bow that is not warped. Likewise, you can hardly find a single arrow which fulfills the necessary and established requirements of construction or even a single archer who has a fair knowledge of the basic rules of archery.
Shooting, itself, in our days, is in a state of deterioration, far from abiding by the principles of experts. Consequently, it has become feeble and weak—lacking in force and accuracy—with the result that partisans of the foot bow and persons who are not familiar with the hand bow regard the latter as deficient in power and incapable of accurate aim. No intelligent man who understands the science of archery can tolerate such drivel. Has not God himself said in the Holy Koran: "Make ready against them what force ye can"? And has not the Apostle of God interpreted it as the Arab bow? "Say! Who knoweth best ye or God`?" Verily God is omniscient.
The best bows are those the horn of which is made of four to six pieces, or a little more or less, and the glue of which is plentiful, since the more glue the bow has, the harder it becomes, the more strongly its arrow travels, and the better it is in every respect; in fact, the quality of the bow depends on the glue. The more horn the bow contains, the more easily it is warped; while the more wood it contains, the straighter it will remain, although—with the greater proportion of wood—its arrow will fly with less force and it will become incurved more quickly, so that it may often seem to be strung while it is really unstrung. It is therefore advisable to strike a happy medium, using horn rather sparingly—a little more than wood—in order to avoid the flaws and defects already mentioned. This middle course will insure a strong and lasting bow since those characteristics, as well as a long and forceful cast of the arrow, result from a preponderance of the horn over the wood; whereas incurvation, weakness, and ineffectiveness of the bow result from preponderance of the wood over the horn.