This is me having a go at archery - in December 2009 Cornwall Today...
An ancient sport enjoyed by many a contemporary Robin Hood
My friend Diane Johnstone fell in love with archery five years ago, and when she suggested I try it, I thought – why not? So one sunny afternoon I met her at the Lizard Peninsula Bowmen Club outside Helston and prepared to do battle.
First of all, footwear. “Sensible shoes,” she said, looking pointedly at my scuffed sandals. “If you wear sandals you might jab yourself in the foot with an arrow.” Unfortunately I hadn't any other shoes with me so had to leave my toes at risk.
Then, working up the body, more protection. “As you're right handed, you'll need an arm guard on your left arm,” said Diane, handing me a perforated plastic contraption which eased over my upper arm. “Normally you'd need a tab which protects the fingers, but this bow is fitted with a string guard, so you won't need one.”
The bow was made of fibre glass with a plastic handle. “This is a recurve, or Olympic bow, as used in the Olympic Games,” she explained. “Recurves have more aids to shooting – sights and stabilisers for example - than the traditional longbow.” Olympic bows are also made left or right handed, which would suit my left handed husband. “This is an 18lb bow because when you pull it, you're pulling 18 pounds.”
The arrows are made of aluminium (for short distances) though carbon is mainly used outdoors for longer distances as they fly much straighter and further.
Beginners must do a 6 week course and the club shoots all year round, retiring to Gweek Village Hall in winter. “There's no upper age limit but the lower limit is around 11, depending on the child's physique,” explained Diane. “If they're too small they have difficulty pulling the bow. It's always advisable not to buy your own equipment until you've done the Beginners' Course because you need to practise so you get more idea of what kind of bow you'd like. It's not a sport to rush into.”
My husband, having done some archery years ago, wanted to know about competitions. “They run throughout the year,” said Diane. “Internal ones are for club members only, with trophies and medals, also fun shoots at unusual targets; and all the clubs round here hold tournaments with more trophies and medals.”
There's also clout shooting which is with bare bows (which means you take the sight off) at a foot-high flag in the grass. “Shots are measured with a thing like a long tape-measure which has gold, red, blue, black, white - painted on it. Arrows falling within its range count.” Diane smiled. “It's really good fun!”
The longest distance in this field is 100 yards but my target was 10 yards away - a beginner's distance. Even with my bad eyesight I couldn't miss that.
Now we came to the actual shooting. “It's important to observe line etiquette – normally there'd be a whistle telling you when to go to the shooting line,” instructed Diane. I took my quiver, a metal contraption containing my arrows, up to the shooting line and stuck it in the ground. Quivers are usually worn around the waist, or over the shoulder for longbowmen.
Diane showed me how to stand correctly, at right angles to the target, weight evenly balanced. Then came positioning the arrow so it didn't pinch. Next I had to bring up the bow, look through the sight – “And then when you're ready, let go.” A stunned silence – my arrow had hit the target!
I shot five more arrows under fire from Diane's instructions: “Stand straight – don't lean back! Keep your head looking over your shoulder. Try and push those shoulder blades together – that's where the power should come from.” My brain was buzzing trying to think about my stance, feet, elbows, arms, fingers, shoulders – there was so much to remember - “Yes there is,” said Diane brusquely. “And we haven't even started yet!”
In summary, she explained, there are four distinct movements to archery. “One is on the line and settling yourself. Two – bring the bow up. Three is the draw and four is the release. When you let go it's also a good thing to hold still for about three seconds. You'd be surprised - it somehow makes a difference.” And it did.
After six arrows I stopped. “We usually shoot six arrows outdoors, and when everyone has finished, two whistles blow and you can then get your arrows,” Diane said, and showed me how to collect them. “The hand that's nearest the target goes on it to provide a base, then you pull the arrow as close to the target as you can , so as not to bend it. Also make sure there's no one standing behind you. Transfer it to the other hand and repeat.”
To my relief I hadn't done too badly as all the arrows had hit the target. “At this stage it doesn't matter where the arrows land,” said Diane reassuringly. “They're all together in a group which is good. The rest of it is just adjusting the bow.”
I continued until my arms ached and I discovered muscles in my shoulders I didn't know existed. Finally came Diane's verdict. “You'd be fine – your basic technique is all right. It wouldn't take you long to be shooting very well.”
“There you are, that's incentive enough,” said my husband enviously. I grinned at Diane's praise and we arranged another session – I could tell my husband was itching to have a go. And if he wanted to be Robin Hood, I had visions of myself as a short sighted Maid Marion with perfect aim. And sensible shoes of course.
Diane Johnstone, Secretary, Lizard Peninsula Bowmen, Tremorna, Treleaver, Coverack, Helston,
Cornwall TR12 6SF
tel: 01326 280308 / e – firstname.lastname@example.org
www.gns.org – Grand National Archery Society
www.archery.org – FITA (International Archery Federation)
www.dcas.org.uk – Devon and Cornwall Archery Society
www.gnas.org/disabled/index.cfm – Archery GB – Disabled Archery
Archery is the practice of shooting arrows with a bow. Historically archery was used for hunting and combat, but nowadays archery is mainly a sport.
Someone who practises archery is known as an “archer” or “bowman”. One who enjoys archery or is an expert is known as a "toxophilite."
A 6 week beginners' course costs £25 or £60 to join for adults and £25 for juniors. Open days are also available - contact Diane for details.
Archery has been an Olympic sport from 1900 and there is also a Paralympic Squad that has achieved great success.