The Standing—Requirements of a Good Position—What to Observe and what to Avoid—How to Grasp the Bow—Waring's Method—The Correct One—Whether the Bow should be held Perpendicularly or Otherwise.
Ascham has made standing the first of his well-known five points of archery; but, as the term appears a most insufficient one for including all that has to be said respecting the attitude and general bearing of the archer whilst in the act of shooting, I have preferred the expression "position" as being more applicable and comprehensive. Under this head will be included, not only what may be considered as more particularly appertaining to it, namely, the footing (or standing according to Roger) and attitudes of the archer (irrespective of what may more properly belong to the point of drawing), but also the manner in which the hand should grasp the bow, as well as the exact position of the bow itself.
And, first, as to the footing or standing, and attitudes of the archer. Concerning these, it may safely be asserted that as many varieties exist as there are archers to give them existence. At any rate, certain it is that hardly any two shoot precisely in the same form, and very few without some individual mannerism, suus cuiqne modus. Such being the case, it would be venturing too far to assert that but one position is good, or any particular one the best (indeed, it is doubtful if any archer could be instanced as having attained perfection in this respect); but, nevertheless, some general rules are necessary to be borne in mind, and can with confidence be laid down, in order to control such mannerisms, and restrain them within harmless limits. For numberless examples might be given, where the un¬fortunate body and limbs are twisted and contorted to such a degree, and made to go through, such wonderful acrobatic evolutions, as not only to violate all the requirements of grace and elegance, but also most effectually to prevent the possibility of even moderate hitting. Such faults would appear to have been common in Ascham's time, as well as in our own, for he gives us many instances of them. None, however, will be quoted upon the present occasion; but it will be rather endeavoured to lay down such plain directions as may prevent the assumption of attitudes inimical to good shooting, the reader being left to his own common sense to avoid such as do violence to gracefulness, and are repulsive to the looker-on.
An archer's general position, to be a good one, must be possessed of three qualities—namely, firmness, elasticity, and grace: firmness, to resist the force, pressure, and recoil of the bow; for if there be any wavering or unsteadiness, the shot will probably prove a failure;—elasticity, to give free play to the muscles, and the needful command over them, which will not be the case should the position be too stiff;—and grace, to render the shooter and his performance an agreeable object to the eye of the spectator. It so far fortunately happens that the third requirement, namely that of grace, is almost the necessary consequent of the possession of the other two; for the best position for practical results is almost sure to be the most graceful one. At any rate, experience proves that an awkward and ungainly style of shooting is seldom or never successful. Bearing in mind, then, the above three requisites, I shall endeavour to discuss what is and what is not the beat position for combining them.
The first point that calls for remark is the footing or standing, and to this part of "position" there is little or nothing to be added to what has already boon recommended in other treatises on Archery. The heels should be about six or eight inches apart, not further; for it is neither necessary nor elegant for the shooter to straddle his legs abroad, and look as if he were preparing to withstand the blow of a battering-ram, whatever his feelings upon the subject may be. The feet must be flat and firm on the ground, both equally inclining outwards from the heels, so that the toes be some six or seven inches wider apart than they; the position of the feet as regards the target being such, that a straight line drawn from it would intersect both heels—that is to say, the standing must be at right angles with the mark.—(Vide Frontispiece.)—The knees must be perfectly straight, not bent in the slightest degree. Some Archers violate this rule; but could they once see themselves, or understand the ludicrous-looking object they present to the spectator by doing so, they would hardly be tempted to continue the practice. The weight of the body should be thrown equally on both legs; for, as Mr. Roberts very justly observes, a partial bearing on one leg more than on the other, tends to render the shooter unsteady, and enervates his whole action. In short, the footing must be firm, yet at the same time easy and springy, and the more natural it is the more likely it is to possess these qualities.
If the foregoing rules respecting the footing be accurately observed, it will be found that the side only of the Archer's person is turned towards the target; and this is what has been invariably recommended by every author upon Archery, and is indeed the proper attitude. The left shoulder must not, however, be additionally forced forward, set in a vice as it were, but allowed to maintain its natural position—otherwise the required element of elasticity will be lost. The body should be upright, but not stiff; the whole person well balanced; and the face turned round, so as to be nearly fronting the target, with the expression calm, yet determined and confident—for nothing is more unsightly than to see the "human face divine" distorted by frowning, winking, sticking out the tongue, and the like—the whole attitude, in short, should be generally suggestive of power, command over the muscles, and the will to use them so as to produce the desired result.
During the brief period of time between the assumption of the footing and the loosing of the arrow, some slight alteration of the body's attitude first assumed will of necessity take place. During the act of drawing and aiming, the right shoulder will naturally come a little forward, and the left shoulder retire a little backwards. Indeed, were it not so, the shooter would be the very personification of awkwardness. The slightest possible inclination forward should also be given to the head and chest. The object of this is to bring the muscles of the chest into play to assist those of the arms, and is what good Bishop Latimer called "laying the body in the bow."
Not stooping, nor yet standing straight upright.
As Nicholl's "London Artillery" hath it.
A great many Archers bend the body very considerably from the waist; but this is most highly objectionable on every account. There is nothing to be said for it, and everything against it. Indeed, the shooter who adopts this position requires so much of his wits and muscles to keep himself from tumbling on his nose, as to have but little of either left to enable him to hit the mark. Not that he is to run into the opposite extreme, and look as if he had a ramrod down his backbone, or was without vertebrae at all; but the same rules apply to this point as to every other connected with the modus operandi of shooting, namely, that any strained or unnatural attitudes are not only ungainly and awkward, but also highly prejudicial to the success of the shooter. A warning must likewise be given against bending the head too much forwards. This, however, brings with it, fortunately, its own speedy punishment; for when it takes place, the string, in recoiling, will every now and then give the unfortunate Archer such a merciless rap upon the nose as effectually to cure hint of the fault,—for the time being at all events; for Archers who have once experienced the penalty of this mistake, will not be at all inclined to undergo a repetition of it, if it can by any possibility be avoided.
I shall now proceed to the second part of my subject—which is indeed a most important one,—namely, the manner in which the hand should grasp the bow whilst in the act of shooting, and the exact position of the bow itself; that is, whether this should be perpendicular, or more or less oblique.
As regards the first matter, namely, the manner in which the hand should grasp the bow, it may be once more asserted that the most natural and easy position is also the best; in fact, this remark is applicable to almost every point connected with Archery, and cannot be too much and too often insisted on. Should the wrist and hand, then, be any way unnaturally employed, bad results immediately ensue. For example, should the grasp be such as to throw the fulcrum much below the centre of the bow, the lower limb runs great risk of being pulled awry and out of shape, which sooner or later will cause it to chrysal and break. And, again, if, as Waring and others inculcate, and too many follow, the wrist be "turned in as much as possible," the left arm must, perforce, be held in such a manner, and in so straightened a position, that not only will it present a constantly recurring obstacle and diverting influence to the free passage of the string, but also be the cause of an increased strain and additional effort to the shooter himself, besides taking all Spring and elasticity out of him. If the reverse of this method be adopted, and the wrist be turned intentionally outwards, as some do (by the by, this is rather a peculiarity of the fairer sex), the whole force of the bow is then thrown entirely upon it, and it becomes unequal to the task of sustaining its pressure and recoil: thus, as in every other instance, extremes are bad, and to be avoided.
When the arrow is nocked and the footing taken, let the bow lie easily and lightly in the left hand, the wrist being turned neither inwards nor outwards, but allowed to remain in that position that nature intended for it; as the drawing of the bow commences, the grasp will intuitively tighten, and by the time the arrow is drawn to the head, the position of hand and wrist will be such as to be easiest for the shooter, and best for the success of his shot.
Some Archers have a habit of letting the thumb of the left hand lie extended along the belly of the bow, whilst others extend the forefinger, apparently to keep the arrow in its place. Both these habits are bad, as tending to weaken and unsteady the grasp, and as causing the jar of the bow to be more sensibly felt.
Regarding the position of the bow, whether it should be held, when drawn up for the aim, perpendicularly or more or less obliquely, opinions are pretty equally divided—the preponderance being, perhaps, rather to the side of the latter. I think, however, that sufficient reasons can be adduced as to leave no doubt that the oblique is the better method. For, firstly, the bow comes a little to that position naturally, the wrist requiring a slight twist to hold it quite perpendicularly; secondly, in a side wind blowing towards the face of the Archer, the arrow is more easily retained on the bow; and, thirdly, it gives the elbow of (he left arm a slight inclination outwards, which is so far advantageous as assisting to keep that arm out of the way of the string. I know of no advantage possessed by the perpendicular holding of the bow to counterbalance the above advantages appertaining to the oblique. It is therefore recommended that the bow be held somewhat in the latter direction.