Courage at the nocking point

The ancient craft of archery and the deadly art of the bull's- eye can calm the soul, reports Eric Kendall

HAD I tried archery before? they asked me. No not really, or at least not since I was about six, when I reckoned I was rather good - and in those days I even had to make my own bow.

It's all very different when you join a club. For a start, you never, ever arm a bow when people are in the field of fire, let alone aim at anyone. In my day that was the whole point, especially when General Custer and his mates were down to their last roll of caps.

Then there's the tackle, which ranges from traditional-looking wooden bows to things with pulleys at each end and all manner of technical gadgetry. And there are lots of quivers: one for your arrows, one stuck in the ground for your bow, and even a shoulder quiver - which could be what happens when you try too hard.

The first thing to do when learning to use a bow is to establish which is your dominant eye, using a procedure that looks like a stretching routine: extend your arms in front of you and put the tips of your thumbs and forefingers together to form a hole through which to frame the target. Sight it with both eyes open, then close one eye. The image will either remain the same (you're looking through your dominant eye), or it will shift (you're looking through your weak eye).

Once you know this (King Harold would have been one step ahead here; he also learnt a thing or two towards the end of his career about the importance of remaining behind the shooting line), you can adopt the stance. Space your feet hip-width apart, sideways on to the target, left foot forwards if you are right-handed. If your right eye is dominant then you're all set, but if it's your left eye, you need to close it to make sure it doesn't try to take over from your sighting eye, which looks along the arrow at the target. Some people even use a patch, lending a piratical air to proceedings. Trying to use the left eye with a right-handed stance would lead to all sorts of trouble. Naturally, everything is reversed for left-handers.

Load an arrow into the bow by snapping the "nock" (a groove in the end of the arrow) on to the string at the nocking point, letting the shaft of the arrow sit on the rest, just above the bow handle. Now the bow can be drawn. Hold it out vertically in front of you, arm extended but not locked, while drawing the string back with the first three fingers of your other hand. This is the point at which things can go horribly wrong: over-drawing or using too short an arrow could bring the business end inside the bow, risking damage to both, not to mention possibly skewering your hand at point-blank range. It's probably best to use extra-long arrows to start with.

To aim, turn your head towards the target and sight down the arrow. Then loose the arrow as smoothly as possible, continuing to hold the bow steady. This is where it all comes together: focus, balance, breath control. Your mind has to zero into the centre of that target before the arrow will.

Once you've settled into the first few shots, the simple actions start to feel natural. You can concentrate on minimising all extraneous movement, developing a rhythm, smoothly drawing the bow before loosing the arrow almost silently. It's calm and totally absorbing, with no room for any thought beyond the next shot. The build-up of tension seems to demand a violent release of energy; the archer's skill lies in channelling the power of the bow to drive the arrow cleanly to its target with almost impossible precision, time after time. Considering all the variables, it's a miracle two arrows ever fall within feet of each other, never mind fractions of an inch.

Thanks to Christian of the archery club at the Parc International de la Canche at Le Touquet (Pas-de-Calais tourist board, 0033 321 833259, http: //wwwpas-de-calais.com)

Archery Ancient and Modern

GOOD ARCHERS were considered such a vital military resource in the Middle Ages that all Englishmen were required to practise regularly. "Dishonest" games such as football, which might distract them, were actively discouraged; James II of Scotland made an order against playing golf, for similar reasons.

The sport reflects its ancient past both in terminology and in some of its variations. Target shooting is the standard form, but there are some spectacular branches of the sport, from an age when safety was less of an issue, which seem a bit happy go lucky today. Popinjay shooting involves firing straight up in the air at dummy birds perched high on a mast (tin hats optional). Apparently archery golf is also played in competition with golfers (possibly introduced by James II), which brings a whole new meaning to the term, "Fore!" and could seriously affect your handicap. It should at least discourage slow play. Clout shooting is a form of long-distance archery where arrows are fired into the air to drop on to the target zone - obviously to do with raining arrows down on to your hapless enemy from a safe distance. Field archery - bow hunting for vegetarians - uses different targets around a course where the distance to the target is usually unknown, calling for instinctive skills from the archer. Real bow hunting, if you're that way inclined, must give the most complex challenges, what with locating your target and then persuading it to stand still long enough for you to take a pot shot.

For obvious practical and safety reasons, you shouldn't just head off to the local woods to have a go; the modern-day version of an arrow pinning a knight's armoured thigh through his saddle to his horse's flank doesn't bear thinking about, either. Contact the Grand National Archery Society (01203 696631, fax: 01203 419662) for information on local clubs. First- timers need no special kit or even green tights; just don't wear excessively baggy clothes.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence