Grunwald Review

Apologies for the sudden cessation of articles half way through Grunwald.  We changed to different accommodation that didn’t have WiFi…

Day 3 consisted of the Polish track, which this year contained something new.  For those who don’t know, the Polish track is a cross-country track, still roped like a regular track but winding and in this case uphill.  It tends to be several hundred metres long (I think about 350-400m this time) and has targets that will generally include at least one jarmaki (downwards at a target lying flat on the ground) and at least one (this time two) shots on the wrong side of the course.  There is also something known as the Grunwald of Battle course.  This is simply an open field with a 3x1m target set back from one edge (maybe 15-20 form the field’s edge, making this the shortest available shot).  The competitor is free to attack the targets as they choose, approaching and retreating (though not riding in circles).  10pts are awarded for hitting the target and 5pts for an arrow that lands in the immediate area around the targets.  This year the courses were merged: you started out in the track and rode along it the wrong way for a few metres, emerging into the Battle course field.  Having attacked the battle targets you go around a post and back into the track for the regular Polish track.

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My little Irys struggled on this course, being (like me) built for comfort and the occasional short dash rather than for long fast slogs uphill.  He didn’t give in, though, and with some gentle encouragement (lots of shouts of “dobre” – Polish for “good” and the occasional “yallah” for old times’ sake – Arabic for “hurry up” and what I spent most of Al Faris 2012 shouting at my horse) he kept going to the end both times.

Other people were rather more exciting to watch, and although the event was won by Wojtek Osiecki riding at a brisk but relatively sedate pace, the real spectacle was people like Ali Goorchian riding fast and nocking with unbelievable speed.  There was only one mishap as one of the fast horses disagreed with his rider about the correct direction to take at the end of the track and they ended up agreeing to disagree, with each going his own way.  The rider was taken to hospital as a precaution but is now on the mend and assures me that he can shoot with a cracked rib.  Tough bunch, horseback archers.

The afternoon was taken up with a trip to Malbork, a vast red brick castle that was the stronghold of the Teutonic Knights.  We were lucky to be offered a guided tour that for a student of history like me was fascinating.

That night we had some fun.  One of the Poles apparently used to be “a chemist in the army” and it was announced to us that we would go and do some night shooting “and make big kaboom”.  About a dozen people each taped a mini glowstick to a couple of arrows and we were given a small target on a stick to shoot at from maybe 20m away.  I asked how we would know if we hit and was told “you’ll know”.  One volley of arrows later and night vision became a thing of the past.  The target was knocked down and turned out to have been wired to some kind of flashbang that blinded and deafened the watching archers.  Repeated several times this was definitely worth the two arrows I lost in the process.

The final day was a ground archery competition, involving shooting from various ranges and positions as well as speed shooting.  The crowning event involved running around a pole with your head down for 10s before trying with varying degrees of hilarity to reach your bow and start shooting.  The event was resoundingly won by Serena Lynn, whose shooting has to be seen to be believed.

We followed this up with one more session of archery battle, in which Team GB was narrowly beaten by a Rest of the World team consisting of Serena and Tyler from the US, Timea from Hungary and Emil from Sweden, whose lethally accurate shooting on the run was decisive in the end.

Just like that, it was all over.  This is the downside of these events: suddenly people are leaving and you know that in some cases it will be a year or more before you see them again.  The antidote to this, I have found, is twofold: in the first place this is a sport that is largely run on Facebook and just as you feel that you know people before you ever meet them, equally you do feel that you are not really that far apart, even when you are on the other side of the world.  The second part is that when you do see people again, it feels like only yesterday that you last saw them.  I have many friends with whom I have spent a week or so and then not seen them for over a year, but then you almost start the conversation up where you left off.

For Team GB it was a long drive though some appalling traffic to Warsaw.  Our idea of stopping for food, while ultimately a good one, did lead to the slightly ludicrous situation of trying to explain to the lady at the counter that we wanted sauages (basically miming a sausage. Not like that) and failing to such an epic extent that we were served foot-long pizzas.  Good pizzas, you understand, but in a very not-sausage way.

It was a successful trip for Team GB, who finish this first stage of the Grand Prx on 55 points, 20 behind Poland (unsurprisingly) but 5 ahead of Sweden (very surprisingly).  It was also pretty successful for me personally, especially finishing 5th in the Korean event.  Scoring only 2 points fewer than Ana Sokolska is a huge achievement in anybody’s book, and while I am proud of what I achieved, knowing that had I put the first arrow of my penultimate run in the 5 rather than missing then I would have equalled Michal Piasek’s score (and therefore beaten him and come 3rd because I scored higher with my arrows) is enough to keep me wanting more.  Equally, I have discovered (more accurately I have been shown by Oisin) a way of holding arrows in my bow hand that finally works for me, I expect my Hungarian scores to improve drastically in the coming months, hopefully to the extent that I do not disgrace myself at the Kassai World Cup in July.

A final thought: I would heartily recommend this competition to anybody.  Set on the battlefield of Grunwald (look it up – it’s a very important battle) and supported by the Grunwald Museum (to whom I offer my thanks and my regrets that I was unable to deliver my lecture – maybe next year?), it is steeped in history but is also a week of learning, sharing and having fun, as well as providing the opportunity to see some of the world’s best mounted archers plying their trade.

I would like to extend my thanks to the organisers and helpers of what I think would probably have to rate among the best organised competitions I have ever attended, as well as being tremendous fun.  The Polish Horseback Archery Association is clearly doing things right and I wish them all the best until we next meet.

Oh, one more thing: if you do go to Poland, don’t drink the “herbal moonshine”.  Just say no.

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Grunwald Competition Day 2

Just a quick update today, on account of being knackered!  We did the Hungarian course, doing it Kassai style (99m, 9 runs, no zones, shoot any target from anywhere) but without the rotating target.  I was fairly happy with my 65 points, although my forward shot needs a lot of work.  I was getting the quick nocking working very well though.  Then Claire shot the best Hungarian of her life, ending with 74 (8th place overall).  An emphatic personal best 35 from Oisin left Adam with the task of keeping within 40 points of Emil to secure second page for GB.  Adam shot 72, an excellent score that is by far his best shooting that I have seen.  This was well within 40 of Emil, meaning that GB again came second to Poland.
After the competition we had a fascinating lecture from Ali Goorchian about horseback archery in Iran, followed by archery battles using soft-tipped arrows and paintball masks.  In hindsight, shooting Claire twice in one game was probably not my best move…
Tomorrow we have the Polish hunt track, a twisting 300m track with 8 targets in various places, requiring two riding skill as well as good shooting. 
Everything else remains as good as ever, with fine company and the ever-present exchange of ideas.  All 4 British archers are now spring custom made thumbrings, which none of us was brave enough to use in the Hungarian!  I’ll be using mine tomorrow though. 
And so to bed 🙂
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Grunwald Competition Day 1

The first event of the European Grand Prix is finished!  In the Korean event the results (with Finland absent) were:
1.  Poland
2. GB
3. Sweden

EDIT: I think I may have confused things in an earlier post. Points are awarded not for first page in Grunwald, first in Sweden etc but at each stage there are points for placing in the Korean, Hungarian etc. So Poland get 100pts (I think) for winning the Korean and then another 100 for winning the Hungarian (which they will!)

The Polish rule for the Korean event go a long way (some would probably say too far) towards removing the a advantage of fast horses.  Whole there are unlimited bonus points for speed (without the IHAA limit at 10m/s), there are bonus points for hitting all the targets on any of the disciplines (double, triple and five shot).  In addition, fake to hit 2 targets on the triple shot or 3 targets on the 5 shot means that you score nothing.  There were lots of very good people scoring no points because they were going too fast to be able to hit enough targets.  On my little Polish horse I didn’t have that problem…

Team GB were consistently good, with no weak link, which had been a fear of mine, not because I thought anybody was likely to do badly but because anybody who did may well feel that they had let the team down.  Nobody did.

After the competition we had a lecture about Polish horseback archery and a tour of the Battle of Grunwald museum.  We then drive to a nearby palace that has been converted to a hotel, where we had a tour of the stables (extreme horsey luxury, right down to the chandeliers) and the palace.  On a slightly surreal note, we we ushered into a small ballroom, asked to sit down and then treated to a piano and tenor recital.  This was extremely civilised and quite high on my list of things I had not expected at a horseback archery competition.

We are now back at the centre about to eat Polish sausage cooked on the open fire, followed by a briefing about tomorrow.  I am being slightly weak and sitting inside, on account of it’s being absolutely freezing outside.

Finally, I am typing with only one finger because my thumb is taken up with my lovely new thumbring, handmade to fit from deer antler.  I’m not brave enough to shoot with it tomorrow but given a bit of practice I think I shall be saying goodbye to tape forever!  Photos will follow later on.  For now I only one thing to say:  sausage time!
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Grunwald Training Day

What a terrific day!  I always love the first day of an international.  There are always old friends to see again and new ones to meet for the first time.  It has been lovely today, having time to sit and chat to so many wonderful people in what is a fabulous place.

A little background: Grunwald is the site of a famous battle hundreds of years ago.  This I knew.  What I didn’t realise is that the track is actually on the battlefield, about 100m from the visitor centre/museum.  It’s a lovely facility nestled away in the countryside and made all the better today by glorious sunshine.

This morning we spent an hour or so meeting people, followed by some ground archery and then horse selection.  Mine is a little Polish pony, a little slower than I’m used to buy very smooth and well behaved.  The rules here in Poland are, I think, well balanced enough that the slow horse should not be a disadvantage.  While they do not use the IHAA limit on the number of points available for speed, there are more bonus points available for hitting all targets than in the IHAA rules and if you don’t hit 3 out of 5 on the 5 shot then you score zero.  The same whole of you don’t hit 2 out of 3 on the triple (we are doing two runs each of double, triple and 5 shot).

After the practice there was time to relax for a bit, followed by an impromptu archery battle using 20lb boys and sponge-topped arrows, wearing paintball masks.  This was extremely excellent and everybody should try it!

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As ever, there is a constant exchange of information and ideas.  I have learned a couple of new ways of nocking and also learned a bit about thumbring technique from a guy who makes them.  Mine is on order and should be made tomorrow :).  That’s one of the wonderful things about these events: everybody wants to advance the sport and help each other.  Who wins I’d barely a consideration until you are actually on the horse and nobody wants to win by having others do badly.  The amount of impromptu teaching that goes on is a joy to see.
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And now it’s bedtime, ready for an early start tomorrow.  Straight shooting, everybody, and I shall write again tomorrow.

Grunwald Day 1

Team GB have landed in Poland!
Claire, Adam, Oisin and I are competing this week in the first stage of the European Grand Prix, which I suspect most readers are bored of my constantly mentioning on horseback.  Suffice it to say that it’s 4 teams of 4, competing over 3 stages between now and September.  This stage is running as part of the Grunwald open competition so we will be seeing old friends as all as meeting new people (although the odd thing about this sport is that you generally know people on Facebook before you meet them in real life).
I’m too tired to post more at the moment but will be updating the blog throughout the week.  Bed now…