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Home > Books > The Archer's Guide > Chapter IV
Chapter III
The Five Points of Archery

Ascham's five points of archery are, standing, nocking, drawing, holding, and loosing.

In the first point, the footing and attitude of the archer are to be considered; "and therefore," says Ascham, "it requires such attention as shall be both pleasing to the eye of the beholder, and advantageous to the shooter; setting his countenance and all parts of his body in such a manner and position, that both all his strength may be employed to advantage, and his shot made and managed to other men's pleasure and delight."

It were perhaps impossible to give a written description of the proper manner of holding the body while shooting in the common way. It is less difficult, however, to point out the particular attitudes to be avoided. Hence, Ascham, and all succeeding writers on the practice of archery, direct us rather what we should not do, than any precise position which we are to study.

"One foot must not stand too far from the other, lest the shooter stoop too much, which is unbecoming; nor yet too near the other, lest he should stand too upright; for so a man shall neither use his strength well, nor yet stand steadfastly. The mean betwixt both must be kept; a thing more pleasant to behold when it is done? than to be taught how it should be done."

Enumerating the faults of archers, he continues:

"Faultes in archers do exceed the number of archers, which come with use of shootinge without teachinge. All the discommodityes which ill custome hath grafted in archers can neyther be quickly pulled out, nor yet soone reckoned of one, there be so many. Some shooteth his head forwarde, as though he would byte the mark; another stareth with his eyes, as though they would flye out; another winketh with one eye, and looketh with the other; some make a face with wrything their mouth and countenance so, as though they were doinge you wotte what; another blerith out his tongue, another byteth his lippes; another holdeth his necke awrye. In drawinge, some set such a compasse, as though he would turn about and blesse.[1] all the field; another maketh such a wrestling with his gere, as though he were able to shoot no more as long as he live; another draweth softlye to the middes, and by and bye it is gone you cannot know howe; another draweth his shaft bowe at the breast, as though he would shoote at a roving marke, and by and bye he lifteth his arm up pricke-height; another maketh a wrynchinge with his back, as though a man pinched him behinde; another coureth downe, and layeth out his buttockes, as though he should shoote at arrowes; another setteth forward his left legge, and draweth back with heade and shoulders, as though he pulled at a rope, or else were afraid of the marke. Another, I saw, which at every shote, after the loose, lifted up his right legge so far that he was ever in jeopardy of faulinge; some stampe forward, and some leap backwarde. Now afterwarde, when the shafte is gone, some will geve two or three strydes forwarde, dauncinge and hoppinge after his shafte as long as it flyeth, as though he were a madde man; some. which feare to be too farre gone, runne backwarde, as it were to pull his shafte backe; another runneth forwarde when he feareth to be short, heavinge after his armes, as though he would help his shafte to flye; another wrythes, or runneth asyde, to pull in his shafte straight; one lifteth up his heele, and so holdeth his foot still so long as his shafte flyeth. Now, imagine an archer that is cleane without all these faults, and I am sure every man would be delighted to see him shoote."

For a representation of the proper attitude of an archer, at the moment previous to loosing his arrow from the string, the reader is referred to the frontispiece of this volume, which, having been first most carefully designed, and afterwards submitted to the inspection of a master of the art, will doubtless convey more instruction in a few minutes, than could be comprehended, from a written description, in as many hours.

In "Nicoll's London Artillery," the position of an archer is thus described:

"Setting his left leg somewhat forth before,
His arrow with his right hand nocking sure,
Not stooping, nor yet standing straight upright;
Then, with his left hand little 'bove his right,
Stretching his arm out, with an easy strength,
To draw an arrow of a yard in length."

Proceeding to the second point, nocking, we quote our author again:

"To nock well," says Ascham, "is the easiest point of all; and therein is no art, but only constant attention to nock truly, not setting the shaft either too high or too low, but exactly straight across the bow. Inconstant nocking makes a man lose his length; and besides, if the shaft hand is high and the bow hand low, or the contrary, both the bow is in danger of breaking, and the shaft, if it is small, will start; if great, it will hobble. You must always nock the cock-feather upwards; and be sure the string does not slip out of the nock, for then all is in danger of breaking."

That part of the bow-string which is to receive the nock of the arrow, is usually whipped.

Care should be taken that it fill the nock of the shaft so tightly as to prevent the arrow from moving, but not so tightly as to render it liable to burst the nock. In nocking, the arrow should be carried under the string until the pile pass about an inch on the exterior of the left side of the bow. When fixed, the arrow should rest betwen the bow and the first joint of the fore-finger, pressing against the bow, the finger being somewhat raised, in order to make a sort of groove for the arrow to lie in.

The second point being thus accomplished, we proceed to the third, and important point, of drawing.

In this movement, it should be borne in mind that method will effect what force cannot. "Let an archer," says Moseley, "who in shooting has learnt to draw the arrow to the eye or ear, draw it to his breast, and he will find that the bow he in the former case could draw with ease, will in the latter appear infinitely stronger." The Honorable Daines Barrington, who was the author of a tract on archery, in the seventh volume of the Archaeologia, relates that, several years ago, there was a man named Topham, who exhibited most surprising feats of strength, and who happened to be at a public house at Islington, to which the Finsbury archers resorted afte their exercise. Topham considered the long-bow as a plaything fit for a child; upon which, one of the archers laid him a bowl of punch that he could not draw the arrow two-thirds of its length. Topham accepted the bet with the greatest confidence of winning; but, bringing the arrow to his breast instead of his ear, he was greatly mortified by paying the wager, after many fruitless efforts.

In spite of the comparative inefficacy, as illustrated in the above anecdote, of the mode of drawing to the breast instead of the ear, it appears that the former was the universal practice in ancient times, and that it actually continued to be so for many ages. It was deemed a great improvement in the art of archery when the Roman auxiliaries were first taught to draw the bow to the ear. Thus Procopius, describing the archers in the Roman army, says, "they ride with ease, and shoot their arrows in every direction, to the right, the left, behind, or in the front, while in full speed; and as they draw the bow-string to the right ear, they drive their arrows with such rapidity, that it is certain death to him on whom they fall; nor can the stoutest shield or helmet resist the violence of the stroke."

It is observable, however, that on all the medals and basso-relievos which have descended to us from the ancients, the figures are represented as drawing the hand to the breast; and that Cupid, an archer of no mean estimation, is also invariably pictured in the same attitude.

But, to return to our instructions. Archers differ in opinion as to the best mode of drawing. Some extend the bow-arm completely before they begin to draw; others extend it gradually as they draw. The latter is the easier method; but Ascham, observing on it, says that, in his time, some, and those very good archers, drew their arrows within about two inches of the pile, then paused for a moment and corrected their aim, and afterwards drew home and loosed. This method he terms a fault or shift, insisting that the drawing and loosing should be but one continued action throughout; notwithstanding which, many of the best archers of modern times have approved of, and practised, this very fault or shift, if such it be, and others draw their arrows within two inches of the pile, and then draw and re-draw within that compass (as though playing with and humouring the bow,) until they loose.

The mode of drawing as at present practised is as follows: Standing perfectly upright, with the left foot about ten inches in advance of the right, the archer gradually presses his bow downwards with his left hand, while he draws the string towards him with his right. Then raising the bow to an elevation proportioned to the distance of the mark, he completes the drawing of his arrow, keeping his bow-arm firmly fixed on the bow, until the release of the arrow, which, as will be seen in treating of the loosing point, should be simultaneous with the completion of the drawing.

Whether for a short or a distant length, the rule of archery is, that the arrow should always be drawn home. From what Ascham observes on this point, it should seem that, in his time, the archers drew very near to the head or pile of the arrow. As however, in so doing, the shaft is very apt to be "set in the bow," as it is termed, many archers, from the revival of archery towards the close of the last century to the present period, have established a practice of never drawing their arrows beyond the point where the pile joins to the wood; that is, not beyond the wood of the arrow.

In Latimer's Sermon, which we have before quoted, in chapter II., we have a hint as to the mode of drawing, which is here worthy of recital:

"In my tyme, my poore father was as diligent to teach us to shute, as to learne any other thynge. He taught me howe to drawe, howe to laye my bodye in my bowe, and not to drawe wyth strength of armes, as other nacions do, but with strength of bodye."

By laying the body in the bow, is meant the inclination of the head and chest a little forward; but the archer must bend as little as possible from the waist, and must beware of inclining to his left side.

The steady flight of an arrow is greatly influenced by the string being drawn evenly. The bow-string, it should be observed, is very apt to be twisted, if not carefully drawn; hence a young archer often finds the arrow turn from his bow, and fall away from the string, during the operation of drawing. This may be attributed to some twist in the string.

In target-shooting, the position of the arrow, when drawn, should be somewhat under the ear of the shooter, (see frontispiece); but in more distant shots, as the bow must be more elevated, the drawing-hand must be more depressed, and the nock of the arrow is consequently brought down towards the right breast.

Ascham's fourth point, holding, is applied by him to the manner of holding the string when the bow is drawn up. In this sense, he says, "holding must not be long, for it puts a bow in danger of breaking, and also spoils the shoot; it must occupy so little time, that it may be perceived better in the mind when it is done, than seen with the eye when doing."

As to the position of holding the bow, the perpendicular position is the most common, especially for shooting straight, and for distant marks; though several good archers hold their bows rather obliquely.

"Loosing," which is the fifth and last point, "must be performed much in the same manner as holding, so quick and hard, that it be without any twitches; so soft and gentle, that the shaft fly not as if it was sent from a bow-case. The mean betwixt both, which is perfect loosing, is not so hard to be followed in shooting as it is to be described in teaching. For clean loosing, you must be careful of not hitting any thing about you, (i. e. about your person,) and remember to hold your hand always the same height on your bow, that you may keep the length truly."

To loose well is the most difficult point in shooting; but, as good shooting depends greatly upon the loose, it is a branch of the art which must be studied, and practised with attention and care. The material points to be attended to in performing this movement, are, holding the bow-arm very firmly at the moment of loosing, making as it were a vice, (upon which the steady flight of the arrow much depends); bringing the elbow of the drawing-arm round, and loosing while drawing, without making any pause immediately before the loose.

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