Additional Notes on Arrow Release
Part 3 of 21
The Asiatic races employ a method far removed from those forms already mentioned. The string is drawn back by the thumb which is sharply bent over it, while the forefinger is bent over the tip of the thumb to aid in holding it. The arrow is held in the junction of the forefinger and thumb. This method of release necessitates the wearing of a stout thumb-ring made of bone, horn, jade or metal, the edge of the ring engaging the string. All the Asiatic races without exception use this release; the Mongols, Manchus, Tibetans, Koreans and Turks use this release with various forms of thumb rings, the Japanese using a glove with a grooved thumb. Even the Persians, who are not Mongoloid, have acquired this release from being interposed between Mongoloid people on the east and west.
In attempting to make out from ancient drawings, such as those on Greek vases, the attitude of the hand in drawing the bow the great difficulty arises from the fact that in many cases the artist was not an archer, and, furthermore, so long as the bow was stretched no attention was paid to the attitude of the hand in stretching it. When I began the study I was amazed at the inability of travelers to recall the method of arrow release, though they admitted they had seen the savages shoot a hundred times. I recall a striking illustration of this in the case of my friend, FRANK HAMILTON CUSHING, who had lived among the Zuni Indians for several years. He brought to Boston many years ago a number of Zuni Indians who were hospitably entertained by MRS. MARY HEMENWAY at her summer home in Manchester. I was invited to spend the day with them. I asked MR. CUSHING the method the Zuni used in shooting the arrow. He looked at me vaguely and said, "Why, I have shot with them a thousand times, isn't it this way?" pushing a lead pencil between the thumb and bent forefinger. I told him that was the lowest form of release and as the Zuni are Pueblo Indians I thought they must use the secondary release, that is beside the thumb and bent forefinger on the arrow, the second and third finger assisted in drawing the string. He immediately constructed a bow from a stick, made a rude arrow, strung the stick and invited one of the chiefs to illustrate the Zuni method of drawing the bow. We eagerly watched the hand as he drew the string and the attitude of his fingers was precisely as I had predicted. MR. CUSHING gave me a hearty slap on the shoulder while ejaculating "Spl - endid!" Nowhere was an acute observer who had lived and shot with the Zuni and yet had failed to observe the simple attitude of the hand in shooting. What must it have been with the ancient artists and sculptors, many of whom had never shot an arrow! The infinite variety of drawings on Greek vases of archers drawing the bow is sufficient evidence of their incompetency in regard to portraying the attitude of the hand in archery. In ancient rock sculpture the wear and tear of age render the details indistinct, the position of the fingers on the bow string is often obscure. These conditions coupled with the inaccuracy of the sculptor render these details unreliable. The general attitude of the hand, however, can be recognized. In all the releases except the Mongolian the attitude of the hand as a whole can usually be seen and it assumes the form of a more or less closed fist. In the Mongolian release, however, the attitude of the hand is with fingers bending downward at right angles to the back of the hand which is uppermost.