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Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 5 of 17

Hansard, in his "Book of Archery," states that the Flemings use the first and second fingers only, a method adopted by some English bowmen. This Fleming variety of the Mediterranean release, as we shall soon see, was probably the usual form in the Middle Ages. Among the many curious matters of interest concerning archery, which may be found in Hansard's book, is the description of a quaint black-letter volume which the author dug out in the Royal Library of Paris. This volume was written at the close of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century. It is entitled "The Book of King Modus," and is a treatise on the use of the bow in hunting. Among other matters is a chapter of "Instructions in the Art of Archery;" and in regard to the release, it says that "you draw the arrow with three fingers, holding the nock between the forefinger and the next thereto."

Associated with this release is the necessity of placing the arrow on the left of the bow held vertically. This position is necessitated by the fact, that as the string is pulled back the friction of the fingers which clutch the arrow tends to swing the arrow to the right; at the same time the friction of the fingers on the string causes the string to rotate somewhat to the right, and this tends to displace the arrow.

In a release of this nature, the arrow must be to the left of the bow vertical; and carved figures, manuscript drawings, and sculpture, in which the arrow is represented otherwise in connection with the Mediterranean release, must be incorrect. This release is unquestionably an advance on the others thus far described, as it enables the drawing of a stiffer bow, and is exceedingly delicate and smooth at the instant of loosing the arrow.

Mr. John Murdock, who accompanied the United States Signal Survey Expedition to the northwest coast of Alaska, has kindly furnished me the information that the Eskimo of Point Barrow practice the Mediterranean release, using, however, only the first and second fingers in drawing the string. I am also indebted to Mr. Murdock for calling my attention to two other references concerning the practice of archery among these Arctic people.

Mr. Ludwig Kumlien, naturalist of the Howgate Polar Expedition, says of the Cumberland Sound Eskimo, "In shooting this weapon the string is placed on the first joint of the first and middle fingers of the right hand."[2]

The Krause brothers state that the natives of East Cape, Siberia, do not hold the arrow between the thumb and first finger, but between the first and middle fingers.[3]

Neither of these descriptions is complete, and yet both indicate unmistakably the Mediterranean release. It was somewhat surprising to find this release among the tribes of Eskimo, for I had supposed that the arrow-release of this people would be either in the form of the primary or secondary, release. As a confirmation of this unlooked-for method of shooting among the west-coast Eskimo at least, Mr. Murdock called my attention to the shape of the nock end of their arrow, which was greatly flattened at right angles to the nock, so that it offered greater convenience for grasping between the fingers. It is possible also that this peculiar flattening may have something to do with the flight of the arrow. This flattening of the arrow I have never observed before; and an arrow of this shape must indicate unmistakably the method of release employed, for in no other form of release with which I am familiar could the arrow be discharged. Fig. 10 gives the appearance of this arrow.

If Mr. Man's information be correct, then the tribes inhabiting the Little Andaman practice the Mediterranean release. In his work on the Andaman Islanders before alluded to, the author says (p. 141) that the Jar'awa, or the tribes which inhabit the Little Andaman and southern portions of the Great Andaman, "adopt the plan usual among ourselves of holding the nock of the arrow inside the string by means of the middle joints of the flare and middle fingers, and drawing the string with the same joints."

While the four releases thus far described may be considered successive modifications of each other, though I do not mean to imply that they are so necessarily, the release which we are about to examine is an entirely independent form, having no relation to the others. In this release the string is drawn by the flexed thumb bent over the string, the end of the forefinger assisting in holding the thumb in this position. Figs. 11 and 12 illustrate this release. The arrow is held at the junction of the thumb and forefinger, the base of the finger pressing the arrow against the bow. For this reason the arrow is always placed to the right of the bow vertical.

This release is characteristic of the Asiatic races, such as the Manchu, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Turk, and doubtless other cognate peoples. The Persians also practice this release, which they probably acquired from their proximity to, and association (friendly and otherwise) with, Asiatic people of past times.

As this release is practiced almost exclusively by Mongolian nations, it may be called the Mongolian release.