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Home > Books > Arab Archery > XXXVII. On the names of the various kinds of arrows and their different parts; and on the length of each kind, the desirable wood from which to make it, and the manner of its paring
XXXVII. On the names of the various kinds of arrows and their different parts; and on the length of each kind, the desirable wood from which to make it, and the manner of its paring
Part 1 of 2

BEFORE a shaft is fletched it is called featherless (qidḥ) ;after it is fletched it is called feathered (murayyash) ; and after the head has been added it is called an arrow (sahm). The notch cut into it for the string is called the nock (fūq or kazz); the two cusps (sing. sharkh) of the nock are called the two branches, or edges, or sides. The sinew whipped around the base of the nock is called the ring (uṭrah). The part where the feathers are fixed is called the scraped place (ḥafw) ; while the part next to it is called the breast [literally—the copious portion, wāfirah ]. The part next to the breast is called the body, or trunk, or stem (matn), and is the tapered portion up to the arrowhead. The sinew whipped around the end of the shaft for the purpose of securing the arrowhead is called the ligament (raṣfah or raṣafah). The place where the arrowhead is inserted into the shaft is called the socket (ru‘ẓ); and the arrowhead is the metal point [literally—iron, ḥadīd ] of the arrow, no matter what shape it may be; while the extreme point (ẓubah) of the arrowhead together with its corners constitute its edge.

The mirrīkh [literally—a flexible branch] is a long arrow with four feathers; while the ḥaẓwah [literally a small rod] is a little arrow called by the professionals ḥusbān [literally—a hailstone] or dawdan and is shot in the groove of a reed or cane. The rahb [literally—emaciated] is an enormous arrow with a large arrowhead.

Great disagreement exists among experts concerning the length of an arrow. Abu-Hāshim maintained that the length Of an arrow should equal one cubit, measured against the archer's own arm, plus the length of his forearm; or the length of his own leg and foot, or leg and forearm; or the length of his forearm plus the width of his chest. Ṭāhir, on the other hand, maintained that the length of an arrow should equal the distance between the base of the armpit and the extreme tip of the middle finger. Isḥāq held that it should be equal to the extent of one's ability to draw fully with ease and grace.

Others advocated the length of eight fists of the archer's own hand, others said nine, others ten, others eleven, and others twelve. Still others maintained that it should equal the distance between the outer ends of the horns of the archer's bow when the bow is strung, while others said when the bow was unstrung. I hold that all these theories and views are worthless except that of Isḥāq, the principle which he laid down as being the most reasonable and correct. It is the one that should be followed.[53]

The best kind of wood is that which combines in itself hardness and lightness as well as even texture and smooth surface. It should be strong—not loose, nor swollen, nor thin—and be such as would split lengthwise and not breadthwise; since when it breaks breadthwise it means that the wood is thin and slender, as well as weak, loose, light, and dry; while when it breaks lengthwise it means that the wood is hard, rich, and strong. The best wood in the East is shawḥaṭ,[54] which is the same as khalanj, and in Andalusia the best wood is red pine which has become dry and light. The older it is, the better.

Arrows made of some kinds of wood are heavy and travel slowly when shot, while others are light and travel fast. To find out which. is which, take the sawdust of several woods and place them separately in water; the one which moves the slowest in water is the one which travels fastest when shot.

Another way to determine which wood is the more suitable is to take two billets and split from each one an arrow stave which you will trim, force through a ring to obtain uniformity of size, and then balance against the other on scales. The one which is lighter is the one you should use. You will then—after having trimmed them and forced them through the ring—fletch them with feathers which weigh exactly the same, fix on them arrowheads which are also of equal weight, and then shoot with each. The one which travels faster is the one you should use.

All this pertains to the arrows of competitive shooting. In shooting for other than competitive purposes, however, a heavy arrow is sometimes better than a light one, as we shall describe later—particularly in shooting at a ring or a hair, and in other such stunts of trick shooting.

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