Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 13 of 17
Concerning ancient Persian releases, only two have fallen under my notice. One is preserved on a silver cup of the Sassanid Dynasty, fifth century B.C. This is figured in Monuments Inedits., Vol. III., Plate 51. In this figure the bow is a typical Manchu. The release is unquestionably a variety of the Mongolian release, the second and third fingers aiding the thumb, while the index finger is straight and, inactive. The hand has attached to it a curious gear of leather, apparently held by a band about the wrist. Whether this suggests a finger- and thumb-guard similar to that used by the Japanese it is difficult to determine. (Fig. 57.)
In the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. vii., Part i., p. 258, 1883, is a communication from Major General A. Cunningham, entitled "Relics from Ancient Persia in Gold, Silver, and Copper." These objects were found on the northern bank of the Oxus. Judging from the coins, the author regards the deposit as having been made not later than 180 or 200 years B. C. Among the relics was a stone cylinder, upon which were represented two Persian soldiers capturing two Scythians. The representations of the hands are too imperfect for one to judge with any precision of the character of the release intended. The attitude of the hand in every case, however, suggests the Mongolian release. The bow is short, and of a form similar to the Manchu bow of to-day. It is interesting to notice that the Scythians are represented as shooting left-handed, and in this connection to recall the advice which Plato gives in regard to archery,-that both hands should be taught to draw the bow, adding that the Scythians draw the bow with either hand.
In regard to Chinese archery in ancient times, the classics of China abound in allusions to archery, and there can be no doubt that the release as practiced to-day is identical with the release practiced three thousand years ago. The Analects of Confucius, the Doctrine of the Mean, and other ancient writings bear ample testimony to the high esteem in which this manly art was held.
In the Shi King, or book of ancient Chinese poetry (translation of Legge), the following allusions refer to the use of the thumb-ring, which was also called a thimble, and also a pán chí, or finger regulator.
"With archer's thimble at his girdle hung."
" Each right thumb wore the metal guard."
Concerning Japanese archery methods in past times, what little evidence we have on the subject points to a Mongolian form of release. The archers have always formed a favorite study for the Japanese artist, and many details of the bow and arrow and attitudes of the archer may be got from old paintings and drawings. The representations of the hand in shooting, though often drawn conventionally, are easily interpreted as releasing the arrow after the Mongolian method. Fig. 58 is copied from a vigorous drawing, showing the attitude of the shaft-hand in the attitude of release. In the Shinto temple at Miyajima is a picture over two hundred years old, in which the archer's hand is shown in the attitude of the Mongolian release. A picture of Tanniu, painted one hundred and fifty years ago and supposed to be a copy of a Chinese subject six or seven hundred years old, shows plainly the Mongolian release In a picture by Keion, seven hundred years old, the archer is represented in the act of wetting with his tongue the tips of the first two fingers of his hand ; and this certainly suggests the Japanese form of the Mongolian release.
Among the Emperor's treasures at Nara is a silver vessel supposed to be of the time of Tempei Jingo (765 A. D.), upon which is depicted a hunting-scene. Here the release, if correctly depicted, suggests the Mediterranean form. The bow is Mongoloid. The vessel is probably Persian : it is certainly not Japanese. The earliest allusions to Japanese archery are contained in "Kojiki, or Records of Ancient Matters," of which its translator, Mr. Basil Hall Chamberlain, says: "It is the earliest authentic literary product of that large division of the human race which has been variously denominated Turanian, Scythian, and Altäic, and even precedes by at least a century the most ancient extant literary compositions of non-Aryan India." These records take us back without question to the 7th century of our era. In this work allusion is made to the heavenly feathered arrow, to the vegetable wax-tree bow and deer bow, and also to the elbow pad. It is difficult to understand the purpose of the elbow pad in archery, assuming the same practice of the bow in ancient times as in present Japanese methods. It is difficult to believe that a pad on the elbow was needed to protect that part from the feeble impact of the string. If the pad was a sort of arm-guard surrounding the elbow, then one might surmise the use of a highly strung bow of Mongolian form held firmly and not permitted to rotate as in the Japanese style.
The peculiar twist given the bow by the Japanese archer is, so far as I know, unique in archery practice. In Siam, a bow of curious construction is used for throwing clay balls. The ball is held in a netting, the string of the bow is double, the bow-hand has the thumb braced vertically against the inside of the bow, so that it may not interfere with the flight of the ball. A peculiar twist is given the bow, so that the ball passes free from it.
I know of no record to show that the Japanese ever used a bow of this nature; in the Emperor's treasure-house at Nara, however, is preserved a curious bow nearly a thousand years old, and this is undoubtedly a bow used for throwing clay or stone balls. Instead of a netting to hold the ball there is a perforated leathern piece. This piece is adjusted to the cord a third way down the bow, at about the point from which the Japanese archer discharges the arrow. Whether the Japanese archer acquired this curious twirl of the bow to protect the feathers from rubbing against its side, or to escape the painful impact of the string, or, which is not improbable, acquired this novel twist from using the ball-throwing bow it is difficult to determine.