Sweden Day 3

The Swedish field course was bags of fun, albeit very hard work!  My horse decided that Adam and I would probably enjoy a bit more of a challenging ride and so as I set off he went about 10m then suddenly stopped, half-reared, spun around and started to go the other way.  He nearly had me off and it took me over a minute to get him to go.  This meant that I lost 40 points in time penalties.  Since I only scored about 10, this did not add up to a good score!  The second time around I got him to go and scored a tolerable 17 points: far off the lead but not the worst score.  On Adam’s turn the horse did the same thing again, this time pitching Adam off.  Adam gamely remounted and with a little help got going and equalled my 17.  Each of us was awarded a rerun (as was Anders, who had jumped out of the track, and Sissela, whose quiver broke as she set off).  This precedent was set in Grunwald, where those whose horses were excessively badly behaved were granted a rerun for Grand Prix purposes but not for the  individual event.  Since one cause of our horse’s bother was that he hated leaving the crowd, Anders rode the track in front in front of Adam and then Anders and I did our reruns together, me following him and each of us being careful not to shoot the other as we roof around the broadly circular track.  Quite apart from being much easier than forcing the horse the whole way, this was great fun and siding to look at in future.  Claire and Chris needed no such help and both returned good scores, especially Claire, who finished 6th overall and 5th among the Grand Prix competitors (behind all 4 Poles, naturally).

The team rankings were the same as for every other event this weekend: Poland, GB Sweden, Finland.  I’ve not done the complete calculation but from what I can see this result would probably have been the same without the reruns (although as I say, that was a rule that we agreed in Poland, not something done just here).

Time now for a quick mention of something that happened a couple of days ago.  At the first dinner the topic of fencing came up.  It turned out that somebody had brought along a few heavy fibreglass practice broadswords.  Cue a selection of impromptu sword fights, culminating in a beautiful final bout between me (who fenced foil and and a bit of sport of sport sabre at school) and Szczepan, who fences traditional sabre (bigger and hachure than the light, flexible sport ones).  Then cue much furious retreating and the occasional lunge from me, trying to fend foil with a heavy broadsword!  This was glorious fun that left us both yearning for our own swords.  Next time, Szczepan 🙂

I would like to express my utmost thanks (and, I am sure, the thanks of everybody else) to Anders and Maria for hosting a superb event as well as offering wonderful hospitality (it was quite sad packing up the converted hay loft where we had been staying – it had become quite homely) and cooking wonderful meals for everybody on to of competing and judging.  The whole family deserves a good pat on the back followed by a week’s rest!  Thanks also to TetraPak, who very kindly provided over 150 cartons of drinking water, which were particularly welcome in the burning sun over the last couple of days.

The current GP rankings after two stages are therefore as follows:
POL: 175
GBR: 135
SWE:  110
FIN:  40

To my fellow competitors, thank you all for your company and I hope to see you all very soon in some part of the world or other.

Roll on Stage 3 in Britain on September 20-21!

Sweden Day 2

I am sitting here having eaten slightly too much of the excellent salad for dinner (saying nothing of the 3 or 4 kebab skewers, few dozen potatoes and 5 marshmallows – mmmm, barbecue…) and

I got that far before Maria came out carrying a traditional Swedish meringue-like dessert and strawberries.  Life just isn’t fair.

Anyway, now I’m really weird she, so let me tell you about today.  This morning we did the Hungarian style and GB once again pulled ahead of Sweden, by a comfortable margin.  Not as comfortable as Poland’s winning margin, of course, but that is to be expected.  On a personal note, I was very happy to finish third in the Hungarian, beaten only by Wojtek and Michal (Piasek) from Poland. 

In the afternoon we finished the Turkish style and Claire carried on the GB run of making every pick up.  Unfortunately Adam missed a couple, but made up for it with some fast riding (somehow any horse he did on well run 2s faster than for anybody else!) and a nice hit on the rotating target.  In the end GB again breast Sweden and only missed out on first place by 10 points, the closest anybody has come to the Poles all competition.

All of this was done in blazing sunshine, leading to sun interesting tan lines to come, I suspect.  Afterwards I had my first wash off the weekend, using a bucket of water fresh from the well.  Chilly at the time but wonderfully refreshing…  We have now set out the 500m Swedish field course, which is basically the same as a Polish course: long course with a variety of different shots.  We will do that tomorrow, trying to finish in time to make it to the airport in time for our flight!  I have my doubts about persuading my horse to canter the whole way.  Claire is swapping horses for this event, to accommodate another competitor who is having some trouble with her horse (and Claire is generally recognised to be one of the better riders around, able to cope with just about anything).

There may not be a post tomorrow, as I suspect we may be rushing to get to the airport.  If not then final results will follow in a day or two.  It’s feeling quite weird that I’m in court in 36 hours’ time, with a day’s competition in the meantime!

European Grand Prix Stage 2: Sweden. Day 1.

The second stage of three European Grand Prix is underway!  Claire and I left or house at 0430 yesterday (thank you to Claire’s parents for coming over that early to babysit so we could catch the early flight!).  We meet Chris and Adam at Copenhagen and then took the bus and train to get to Anders’ farm, where we have been made extremely welcome and are being beautifully looked after.
I won’t go into the details of the Grand Prix, as I have done so before.  Nor will I be posting much today, on account of being knackered!  Yesterday we tried our horses in the pouring rain but today the weather has been fine while we did the Korean event and then the first two groups did the Turkish style.  This consists of picking up a blunt arrow that is held upright on the track, then shot that arrow at the qabaq before drawing another blunt to shoot a small revolving target.  This is a terrifically fun event.  Bloody difficult (unless you’re Michal Piasek: he makes it look ridiculously easy).
The team scores haven’t been announced but as we stand it’s definitely Poland winning (again) and Finland 4th (Tero is doing very well but on his own even he can’t beat a team of 4!).  GB v Sweden is too close to call for 2nd/3rd.  Details to follow.  After dinner…

Korean results:
1: Poland
2: Sweden
3: GB
4: Finland

Including the site from Poland, GB and Sweden are tied for second on 70 points each, with Poland on 100 and Finland 10.

Horseback Archery as a Martial Art

This post is basically my take on a debate that pops up now and again on Facebook.  In a nutshell, the proposition put forward (which I oppose) is that in order to consider horseback archery to be a martial art or a martial sport, one must be using a bow of lethal power, defined as one having a draw weight of 40lbs or over.  This proposition is put forward by my good friend Trey Schlichting of A Company in Texas.  Before I set about his argument like hounds on a stag, I shall say for the avoidance of doubt that Trey and I are friends who agree pretty much entirely on the importance of good archery knowledge and technique and I have the greatest respect for him as a competitor, coach and friend.  We simply disagree pretty profoundly on some points, including this one.

In this particular debate I can be impartial.  I do not consider myself to be a martial artist.  Horseback archery, as I practise it, is a sport rather than a martial art.  In addition, I do shoot 40lb.  My current bow is 36lb because it is a prototype that I have on loan until mine in ready.  My new one will draw 40lb, just like my old Grozer.  My status as martial artist is therefore unaffected by this debate.  I argue from a point of view of love of language, as well as my philosophy of how the sport should be.

Without further ado, therefore, let me dissect the argument first.  It can be divided into two parts: a. in order to be called “martial”, the bow must be of lethal power; and b. that means at least 40lbs.  I’m going to deal with b first.


Lethal Power = 40lb Draw Weight

To be fair to Trey, he accepts that this is really a measure of convenience.  Trey knows without having to read earlier posts in this blog that draw weight is just one of many features that determine the power of a bow.  In case the current readership is too lazy to read my previous articles or too forgetful to remember them, here is a quick recap.

The killing power of an arrow is determined by its kinetic energy (and the sharpness of the head, the point of impact etc).  The kinetic energy (KE) is 1/2mv2 and is therefore determined by the arrow’s mass and its velocity.  Both of these things (which for a given bow are interrelated) therefore affect whether a bow has killing power.  For starters, any given bow may or may not have lethal power depending on which arrows you use.  

Arrow velocity is determined by the stored energy in a bow and the ability of the bow to transfer that energy to the arrow.  Draw weight is a factor in the first and has nothing to do with the second.  All else being equal, a 40lb bow will be faster than a 35lb bow.  But things are rarely equal.  The design of the bow: its length, reflex, Perry reflex and recurve all affect the amount of energy stored in the bow.  So does draw length, about which more in a moment.

Then you have the transfer of the energy to the arrow.  Arrow mass, the fit of the nock, the release, the string material, mass and construction, the bow mass and placement of that mass, the brace height and the draw length all affect the transfer of energy to the arrow.  

What all of this means is that it is very easy to imagine a 40lb bow that has nothing like enough power to kill a person and a 30lb bow that does.  My 36lb Border Ghillie Dhu prototype sends an arrow with inconceivably more kinetic energy than my 50lb generic static recurve from eBay.  The examples are endless: I personally would back a bow of 35lbs@33″ drawn to that length against a bow of 40lbs@28″ drawn only that far, even if they were otherwise identical.  Draw length doesn’t just increase draw weight, it has an effect all of its own.  I shall return to draw length a little later.

What we see, therefore, is that 40lb is a huge oversimplification when considering whether a bow has lethal force.  I have to some extent been attacking a straw man here because Trey accepts that it is not a perfect way of measuring it.  He uses it nonetheless, and when a straw man is actively deployed against you there is no shame in peppering it with arrows (using any bow you choose).

Trey’s reasons for using this measure are (taken from Facebook): “The force needed to kill a man is similar to that needed to kill a pig, deer or bear. Traditionally martial (inclined or disposed to war; warlike) bows were much heavier than those used to hunt with. My statement and belief is that if you want to call your archery “Martial” it needs to start with a bow that is at “least” deemed adequate and lethal. At a very minimum it should be deemed good enough, or heavy enough to hunt medium to large game. I understand that modern high performance bows cast an arrow at incredible speeds and a 20 pound Saluki or Border bow may indeed match the performance of a 40 pound Grozer. However fast your bow is, when looking for a bench mark I merely chose a bow weight that has been a universal standard for both North and South America for my lifetime.”

I shan’t quibble about the legalities of it, although a quick internet check suggests that more than half of the US states have a requirement less than 40lbs (about 20 of them) or else phrase the requirement in terms of KE or how far it can shoot (either of which is a more sensible measure of lethal force).  Let us accept for the sake of argument that 40lb is the legal limit for hunting.  The proposal, therefore, is to define “martial” according to the prevailing laws in on part of the world over the last few decades (not that Trey is a day over 21, you understand!).  40lb draw weight is, I suggest, an entirely arbitrary measure by which to define such a term.  If you are going to define “martial” in terms of lethal force then a better way would be to measure the KE.  Failing that, the ability to shoot a given mass arrow at a given velocity or over a given distance would do.  Simply using draw weight is insufficient and, given the huge variation in quality of horsebow out there, probably gives a wrong reading as often as it gives a correct one.


Is Lethal Force Necessary for a Martial Art?

This is the deeper question behind this debate.  Is the term “martial” really to be determined according to the power of the bow (however measured)?  I do not believe that it should be.  “Martial art” is a perfectly satisfactory phrase with its own agreed meaning.  At one point in the Facebook debate Trey urged me not to paint stripes on a donkey and call it a zebra (suggesting that by referring to the use of a non-lethal bow as a martial art I was calling it something it is not).  My reply is to suggest that it is just as wrong to say that a zebra is only a zebra if the stripes conform precisely to the pattern and width that you want.  If it meets the standard definition of zebra then a zebra it is, whether you like it or not.  You can’t just add to the definition.

Let us start with the basics.  “Martial art” is a phrase that appears in most dictionaries.  Most definitions are phrased more or less like the Concise OED: “various sports or skills, mainly of Japanese origin, which originated as forms of self defence or attack, such as judo, karate and kendo”.  Newer versions tend not to stress Japan, having woken up to the contributions of places like China and Korea.  Note the lack of any reference to lethal force.  No dictionary that I have found includes that as a requirement (or even mentions it).  The important word, I suggest, is “originated”.

Many martial arts do not involve lethal force.  Indeed many have had it quite deliberately removed.  Kendo involves using swords that weigh less than half what a proper samurai sword would weigh.  Aikido and judo both involve grappling and locks rather than blows and are not intended to be lethal.  Aikido is explicit about the fact that one should protect the assailant as well as oneself.

The proposed definition of “martial” as requiring the use of lethal force therefore flies in the face of the common definition of martial art.  A martial art is a system of skills, often reduced to a sporting format, that originated as a form of combat.  Horseback archery fulfils this definition whether you use a lethal bow or not.

Technique and Spirituality

Let’s say that we are not happy with the dictionary definition.  Let’s try to refine it.  We should agree that in refining the definition we should not exclude things that are undeniably martial arts.  As we have seen, requiring lethal force instantly excludes such established martial arts as aikido and kendo (as well as a lot of horseback archers!).  If we are to add to the definition then we should ensure that our addition is informative without being exclusive of things that ought not to be excluded.

It is of note that many, probably most, martial arts are practised for their spiritual side (essentially as a kind of meditation) and/or for fitness benefits.  Undeniably many people take it up for self-defence but in my experience few people really dedicate themselves to a martial art for long periods of time purely to be able to defend themselves.  This spiritual side is something that we could add to the definition (it is in some dictionaries already).

Most martial arts emphasise correct and precise technique above all.  This aspect is notably missing from horseback archery, especially as practised outside of the Far East and schools such as Kassai and Nemethy, where lines of students shooting together in time to set techniques is a common sight.  Compare the slow, precise movements involved in kyudo with the much freer, more personalised techniques you see at MA3, BHAA or in other Western associations.  If one were to try to refine the definition of martial art beyond what appears in the dictionary then this sense of ritual, of doing the thing with the proper form, uniform among many competitors, seems to me much more in keeping with most martial arts.  This (together with the spirituality side) is why I personally do not consider my sport to be a martial art.

Let us consider correct technique for a moment, and return to draw length.  We have said that a long draw length increases the KE of the arrow.  This is not new knowledge.  The English archers of the Hundred Years’ War knew it and this is why they shot “in the bow”, drawing past the ear to ensure maximum power.  The Japanese knew it and that is why kyduo and yabusame require a draw back past the ear.  The Mongols knew it:  they draw to the ear.  The Sassanid Persians drew to the ear or further.  So did the Parthians and the Assyrians.  Whether using thumb or fingers; whether their bows were 50″ or 80″ long; straight of recurved; self bow or composite; all these peoples drew the bow back to the ear or further.  

Let me therefore, with tongue only partly in cheek, suggest a new definition of “martial art” for the purposes of horseback archery: it is not a martial art unless you are drawing back to the ear or further.  I might make an exception for those using bows of a design that was never intended to be drawn that far (basically short, straight, non-composite bows) but anybody shooting a bow that is modelled on an Eastern composite bow is not doing a martial art unless they pull it to the ear.  This satisfies the requirement of correct technique, the requirement of military origins and the requirement of lethality, since no self-respecting warrior would draw to the mouth or cheek to kill a man when he can get so much more power by coming all the way back.  This criterion seems to me to be more valid in all respects than the oversimplified and anomolous requirement of a 40lb draw weight.



Trey has said, when I criticised his initial post, that ” I do not give a hoot what other people shoot”.  That is admirable.  He does, however, care if people refer to what they do as a martial art if they don’t draw at least 40lb.  That is not admirable.  The 40lb criterion is arbitrary and nonsensical.  In addition, the requirement of lethal force as part of the definition of martial art flies in the face of the existing use of the phrase in everyday language and would instantly exclude from that category several arts that are universally accepted as being martial arts.  

There may well be a distinction to be made between those shooting heavy bows and those shooting lighter ones.  Maybe we should all be using lethal bows and/or a minimum draw weight.  That distinction is not between martial art and sport.  The status of martial art does not depend on the use of lethal force by any acknowledged definition of that phrase.