Thursday 26 September 2019

Choosing Your First Bow III: The Traditional Bow

This is the final article in a series dealing with the types of bow available to the novice archer. It is hoped that these articles will dispel the fog that surrounds the decision-making process as the newbie tries to negotiate the morass of information out there in the big wide world. In this article, I would like to consider a niche bow within a niche sport: The Traditional (Trad) Bow.

Trad Bows
Lately, there has been a resurgent interest in traditional archery. Archers are returning to historical archery and are interested in bows typically used in ancient and medieval times. These bows don’t contain the accessories associated with modern bows. Therefore, they don’t have sights or arrow rests or any of the accoutrements adorning the modern bow, however, it would be wrong to consider these bows primitive or unsophisticated.    

Traditional bows, of all styles, made in the traditional manner, are not as efficient as modern bows. Modern bows are marvels of modern engineering and use materials not available to our ancestors. So what is the appeal of the traditional bow? This is often an emotional question and the traditional archer seems keen to explore the cultural and historical roots of ancient and medieval archery. For some, it is a stand against modernism and a retreat into more simple times……

English Longbow
Let us consider the iconic English Longbow (ELB). This bow is very familiar due to its representation in popular culture. It is the bow used by the mythical (perhaps historical?) English archer, Robin Hood. However, in the recent reincarnation of Robin of Loxley, in Hollywood, he is portrayed shooting an Asian style recurve- may the gods forgive them for they will receive no absolution from me. Typically the bow is made from a single piece of wood. Historically bows were made from Yew although these days most are made from other hardwoods such as Ash or Osage Orange. As the name suggests, they are long, very long and generally exceed two metres in length. They don’t exhibit any recurve and can be best described as a ‘straight stick’. They usually have a horn overlay on the limb tips and in the purest form, there is no dedicated wrapping material on the grip. As with all traditional bows, there is no cut out for the arrow to rest and the arrow is shot off the archer’s hand. Less traditional designs are also available. Thus bows may be laminated with a series of hardwoods and glass fibre and the handle area may be wrapped with leather. I personally own an English longbow in Osage Orange at 66lbs draw weight. It would be great to own a traditional Yew bow, but sadly, good quality Yew is very expensive.

Behold the English Longbow in Action

Horse Bow/Asiatic Bow
Asiatic style bows are also popular with the traditional community and not just in Asia where this style of bow originated. Indeed, in addition to the classic English longbow, I own several Asiatic bows. In truth, this category covers a multitude of bow styles but they do have some features in common and it is these common features that I’ll be discussing here. These bows are a lot shorter than the English longbow and were originally designed to be shot on horseback. Obviously, English longbows are unsuited for mounted archery due to their length.

Unlike the English longbow, the Asiatic bow was often constructed of several materials glued together. Simple self bows (made from a single piece of wood) seem to be less common in Asiatic cultures although there are historical examples. Traditionally, these bows were composed of a wood core with animal sinew and horn attached to the wood base with fish glue. This gave the bow immense strength for its size. These traditional bows can still be purchased today but they are very expensive. More likely the modern Asian bow will have either glass fibre limbs or consist of a composite of wood and glass fibre. What makes these bows distinctive is the aggressive recurve at the ends of the limb. This can be achieved in one of two ways. The simplest way is to add a piece of wood to the end of the limb at an angle. These are called siyahs and they act as non-bending levers. The second method does without the wooden siyah and instead the bow limb is curved toward the end. Regardless the same result is obtained: a sturdy, fast bow capable of high draw weights.

Asian Horse Bow with Syahs

The Rest….
The English longbow and the Asiatic bow remain the most popular bow types on the traditional bow market. But there other bow types that have a minority interest among traditionalists and I’ll just briefly touch on some of these bows. The Yumi bow is of Japanese origin and like the English longbow is very long, but unlike the English longbow, the limbs are asymmetrical. Traditionally they were made from bamboo glued to other natural materials. Viking style bows are also commercially available. However, the Viking longbow is very similar to the English bow and differs only in the design of the nock. The last traditional bow that I’ll mention here is the Native American bow. I’ll mention it only because I own a bow of this kind (Sioux bow). From what I can see bow design varied greatly depending on the Native American tribe, but some generalisations can be made. Native bows tended to be short to facilitate their use on horseback. They are mostly made from a single straight piece of wood. Due to the limitations in the bending properties of short self bows the draw weights and draw lengths of Native American bows tend to be lower than other bow types. 

Yumi Bow: Note the Asymmetry

This is not an exhaustive treatment of traditional bows but merely an attempt to give a general impression of the types of trad bows available for purchase.       


Wednesday 25 September 2019

Choosing Your First Bow II: The Recurve Bow

In this post, I would like to consider the recurve bow. This topic is a little more convoluted than my discussion of the compound bow (see the previous post). Recurve bows come in many forms and I’ll try to limit the discussion to what I think are the most important and salient points.

First off it is necessary to describe the basic form of the recurve bow. Recurve bows have a very distinct profile. The tips, to some varying degree, will curve away from the archer when the bow is unstrung. This is a very old bow design and was favoured by Middle Eastern and Asiatic cultures in ancient and medieval periods. The recurve design enables more efficient storage of energy in the bow limbs when compared to a similar-sized straight, longbow. So, let’s jump in and consider the main types of this highly popular bow.

Entry Level Recurves
These bows are designed for the first time archer. They tend to be ‘barebow’ and of lowish draw weights (18lbs - 35lbs). These bows are free from the fripperies of more advanced bows and have a simple cut out area on the riser which acts as an arrow rest. As said, these bows are marketed to novice archers and therefore are priced toward the cheaper end of the market. Typically the riser is made of wood and carved in an intricate and attractive manner. The limbs consist of a wood core sandwiched between two thin layers of fibreglass. The tips of the bow (nocks) are often reinforced with an overlay of wood or additional fibreglass. The length of the bows varies markedly. As a rule of thumb the longer your draw length the longer the bow you should choose- but this is subject, as always, to personal preference. Recurve bows come in two flavours: the one-piece bow and the takedown. The one-piece bow is self-explanatory while takedown bows are designed so that both limbs can be removed from the riser. Obviously, this design aids portability and is particularly favoured by hunters. 

These bows are often seen as a transition to more advanced bows. After basic archery skills are obtained the archer may hanker for a more sophisticated and versatile design. But this is not invariably so and many archers will be satisfied with this type of bow. If you are only interested in back yard shooting, this bow is all you really need.

Samick Sage Recurve

Target (Olympic) Recurves
These are considered as intermediate and advanced bows depending upon the materials and accessories involved. Typically these bows will be relatively long with sports sights, sophisticated arrows rest, clickers and stabilisation rods. Effectively, these bows are designed for the serious target archer and they can achieve consistent and accurate shots up to 70 and 90 metres depending on the skill of the individual archer. Universally these bows are takedowns and the limbs can be removed and swapped. These bows utilise the ILF system (international limb fitting). This allows the archer to grow with his equipment without discarding the riser (risers can be very expensive). In this way, it is possible to upgrade to more sophisticated limbs and/or limbs with a greater draw weight whilst retaining the original riser.

The difference between ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’ bows lies with the materials used in the construction of the limbs and the riser. At the cheaper end of the market, the limbs are made of wood and carbon fibre. The more expensive limbs contain an internal foam core encased in carbon fibres. Supposedly, these advanced limbs facilitate a smooth draw with reduced vibration and torque. Lower end risers are made from aluminium and magnesium alloys. Expensive risers are made of carbon and are lighter, more stable, and better balanced than the cheaper metal risers. That said, it is likely that only the highly skilled archer can obtain the full benefit from high end, expensive limbs and risers.

Hunting Recurves
I’d just like to say a few words concerning hunting recurves. Clearly, large target bows with their paraphernalia and garish colours are totally unsuited for hunting. Hunting recurves are much smaller than target recurves and are typically within 50 to 64 inches while target recurves may be as long as 72 inches. Another difference concerns the power of the respective bow types. Hunting bows are more powerful than target bows and may go as high as 60lb in draw weight. This power is required in order to kill large prey at distances typically no longer than 20 yards. Hunting bows are not designed for accurate long-distance shooting. In addition, hunting bows don’t have many of the features of target bow such as stabiliser rods, although they may have sights. 

Modern Longbow
To be honest there is little to say about the modern variant of this bow. All that applies to the recurve applies to this longbow except the limbs are straight or may exhibit a little deflex.  Due to their design, they are less efficient than comparable sized recurves. This is still an amazing bow though and I own several variants.

Modern Longbow

Okay, this concludes my summary of recurve bows. In the next post, I’ll consider a rather mixed bag of bows: The Traditional, or Trad Bow.          



Tuesday 24 September 2019

Choosing Your First Bow I: The Compound Bow

I've started to write articles to populate the new website concerning my business enterprise selling archery equipment and I've decided to place them on this blog as well. I'm a lazy man and writing is hard work so I would like the fruits of my labour to receive maximum coverage. Also, some of my esteemed readers may find this information interesting.

This post is the first in a series of posts addressing the needs of the novice archer. The first flurry of posts is dedicated to choosing your first bow. This is not an easy quest as there are numerous styles and types of bows commercially available and newbies can easily be lost in an overload of information and sadly disinformation. I only wish I had had access to this information when I first became interested in the sport. Perhaps, some of my early purchasing decisions would have been less spontaneous and chaotic.

So let’s get to it…..
Okay, so there are two very important questions that need to be asked.
What type of archery are you primarily interested in?
         And importantly
What is your budget?

Let us consider the first question. Archery is a very diverse sport and there are a number of different bow types to choose from. Let’s have a look at a very popular bow type, the compound bow. 

Compound Bows
The Compound Bow in all its Complex Glory
Compound bows represent the high tech end of the sport and were first developed in the late 1960s. The bow consists of a series of pulleys and cams integrated with the bow limbs. Compound bows are engineered to maximise the transfer of muscle power to the bow and hence to the arrow. The archer is able to adjust the draw weight and draw length of the bow within defined limits. In addition, compound bows exhibit ‘let off’. This means that when the bowstring is pulled to maximum length the poundage of the bow experienced by the archer is reduced- often by as much as 90%. This enables the archer to comfortably hold the bow at the fully drawn position and allows the aiming process to proceed at leisure. In comparison, with other types of bows, the archer experiences the full power (draw weight) of the bow when at fully drawn. It is difficult to maintain this posture for any length of time and therefore aiming may be affected. Due to their efficient mechanical design compound bows propel the arrow at relatively high speeds and with a flat trajectory.  All this, together with a sophisticated and often magnifying sight system, means that the bow is very accurate allowing even a novice archer to achieve impressive results after minimal practice. If you are looking for a bow that will give you consistent and accurate results with the minimum of training, the compound bow may be for you.

The compound bow is excellent for both target shooting and hunting and it is possible to buy bows designed specifically for each endeavour. Typically, ‘hunting bows’ are shorter and more compact than their target-orientated brethren and come in a variety of camouflage patterns and colours. Clearly, a relatively short bow is easier to handle in forested and bush terrain in comparison to a longer bow. Dedicated ‘target compound bows’ tend to be longer thus facilitating stability and accuracy at long distance; they can also be obtained in bright attractive colours. Of course, a target bow can be used for hunting and a hunting bow can also be used for target practice. It is just that each type of bow is tweaked for full efficiency for either hunting or target practice.  

I’ll have more to say on the compound bow, in a future post, when I discuss the relative costs involved when purchasing bows.

My Compound Bow- The PSE Stinger X

This concludes the first post in a series of posts looking at the variety bow types available and their suitability for the novice archer. In the next post, I’ll be considering perhaps the most popular bow used in archery, the recurve.                      

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The Chicken's Day Off

Henry's good side
In 1403 the Lancastrian king, Henry the IV, marched his army to fight against the rebel army led by Sir Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. In the van of the battle was Henry’s son, the future King Henry the V. During the battle Prince Henry was struck in the face by a bodkin arrow shot by a Cheshire bowman. The arrow was propelled by an English war bow at a draw weight likely exceeding 120 pounds. The plate armour of the time was cunningly fashioned so that an arrow would glance off unless it hit the plate squarely at 90 degrees. In order to defeat the armour of the time, bowmen would have been using a bodkin head. The bodkin was the armour piercing missile of its day although only a perpendicular hit could pass through armour (probably not- see update). The prince had lifted his visor in order to gain a better perspective of the proceedings and the arrow had entered the right side of his face, close to the nose. It is likely that the arrow had glanced off the prince’s breastplate before travelling upward to hit his face. It has been conjectured that the glancing blow saved the young prince’s life by dissipating much of the force of the projectile, otherwise it is likely that the arrow would have passed through the skull resulting in the prince's instant demise. The arrow came to rest at the base of the prince’s skull, six inches from the entry point. Astonishingly, Henry continued to fight for a further 90 minutes until the battle was won and Hotspur lay dead from an arrow wound to his face. This showed a degree of fortitude and bravery not given to most men. Twas more wondrous considering that the grievously injured prince was only 16 at the time. Regardless, the wounded prince was in a bad way. If infection set in then his fate would have been sealed and a painful and lingering death would have ensued from ‘wound fever’. And this would have been the undoubted fate of the common soldier…………But the heir to the throne was destined for better treatment. Although even royalty was not immune from infection. It is remembered that Henry’s ancestor, King Richard ‘The Lionheart’ died of an infection after receiving an arrow (actually, it was a crossbow bolt) to the chest in battle.    

Arrowhead of the time
When the shaft of the arrow was pulled from the prince’s face, the arrow point remained firmly fixed in the skull. Indeed, the head was designed to separate readily from the shaft as it was only fixed by wax which melted at blood temperature. The local doctors were at a loss of how to treat the injury apart from potions and incantations. Luckily, the famed surgeon, John Bradmore arrived from London to take care of the prince. Bradmore was no quack. He probed the wound with an Alder stick wrapped in linen soaked in Rose honey. He continued this process with larger probes until the wound was sufficiently large to prevent closure and superficial healing. During the procedure the young prince was heard to softly exclaim: “Gadzooks good physic, forsooth that smarts a tad”. Bradmore commissioned the local blacksmith to make a mechanical instrument for the extraction of the arrowhead. It took three days for the device to be manufactured and I can only guess the agonies the poor prince suffered during the interval. The good surgeon gave a detailed account of the instrument's design in his influential surgical treatise, Philomena, from which it has been possible to reconstruct the original extraction device. 

Bradmore's Arrow Extractor
Once in possession of the contraption, Bradmore removed the honey from the wound and inserted the instrument deep into the prince’s face until the end of the probe entered into the arrow socket. By turning a screw handle the jaws of the probe slowly expanded grasping the inner edge of the socket and by a gentle rocking motion, the arrow was freed from the bone and the arrow extracted. The cavity was flushed with alcohol and again treated with honey. Amazingly the prince made a full recovery and would go on to lead the English to victory as King Henry V, at Agincourt, in 1415.

What is astonishing is Bradmore’s skill and knowledge for the time. This is just 50 years hence from the Black Death which claimed the lives of a third of the population of Europe. A time when other physicians would likely strap a live chicken to a wound in order to draw out the miasma. Clearly, Bradmore was a man ahead of his contemporaries. Not only was his medical insight and surgical technique superlative, but he also had a knowledge of asepsis that would be relevant today. The use of honey is telling. This amazing mixture of bee spit, pollen and nectar is a wonderfully effective antimicrobial. Honey’s high sugar content together with natural immune compounds present in bee saliva makes this delicious comestible extremely effective at destroying bacteria. Indeed, it is this very property that makes honey a useful treatment for infection in these days of antibiotic resistant organisms. Also, we should not deride the skill of the unknown blacksmith who made the instrument. Without modern power tools, he would have had to cut the spiral screw grooves in the metal handle by hand. This was no easy task. A high degree of precision was demanded in order for the device to work at all.    

The prince had indeed been favoured by the god’s of war to be served/saved by men of such consummate ability. The local chickens, also, did rather well not to have their feather’s ruffled or sullied, that day.     

                 Update: This is hot off the press-the video is 6 hours old at the time of writing. I've added a video from Matt Easton concerning the effectiveness of arrows against 15th-century  plate armour. Well worth viewing.              

Friday 13 September 2019

Exciting times......

My son, 'Athelstan the Bright' posing with our new banner
Impending news of stuff pending!

Things are moving fast in my usually less than hectic life. This is just a preliminary announcement concerning a joint project I'm involved in with my son. Together we are setting up a company selling camping/survival knives, bows and archery equipment. As my regular readers know, I'm a keen archer and I'm out shooting proles, er I mean bows, on a daily basis, weather permitting.

The web site has been set up and I'm furiously writing blog posts on sundry archery topics. My wonderful son is the business brains behind the operation due to his background in business and IT. He will deal with the techy stuff and the boring stuff like company registration, marketing, imports, and taxes while I'll provide the numerous articles required for the web site.

We will be targeting (pun intended) the novice archer, but not exclusively so. The web site will contain articles concerning various aspects of archery with helpful advice on topics, sundry.

We certainly live in exciting times and I'm all fired up (unusual for this jaded soul) with the prospect of running a joint project with my second legitimate spawn. I'm travelling by train in a few scant hours to spend a couple of days with Athelstan, in the big city, for high-level business talks. Arse.

Once things coalesce into a coherent whole I'll leave a link to the archery site. Watch this space!   

My old mate Gare shooting his English longbow

As an added bonus, I've linked to a video featuring the entertaining
 Kevin Hicks    

Thursday 5 September 2019

The First Servile War

The face of a free man
I suspect that most folk have heard of the name Spartacus, although many will not be able to appreciate his place in history beyond a hazy and vague extent. Of course, those who have had the pleasure of watching that most excellent 1960 film epic, ‘Spartacus’ will have a better idea of what Spartacus the man and rebellion was about. This is not to say that the film was entirely historically accurate, but for a Hollywood film of its time, it did a decent job. As for Tony Curtis' haircut- there is no excuse. This post is not about the Spartacus Rebellion of 73 BC, or the Third Servile War, from the ancient Roman perspective. Today, I hanker to introduce my readers to an earlier slave revolt: The First Servile War of 135 BC.        

The ancients had a problem and this was particularly so with Rome of the Republic. Slavery was endemic in the ancient world and indeed in many societies, the slave population outnumbered the free-born citizens. There was always the real horror that the slaves would band together, rise up and massacre their masters. There was no police system in Rome and Italy and even a small rebellion in a provisional town involving a few scores of slaves could do immense damage before militia troops could intervene. And due to the communications of the day, this might take a while.

During the Punic wars with Carthage (three wars between 264 BC and 146 BC) the Romans acquired their first Provence, Sicily. Sicily was a fertile and rich island and Roman speculators descended on the island to purchase cheap arable land previously owned by the Carthaginians and their displaced Sicilian allies. The land was worked by the influx of cheap slave labour fueled by successive and successful Roman wars. As land and lives were cheap the new owners tended to treat their slaves poorly. The slaves were worked from dawn to dusk on meagre rations and the death rate through exhaustion and malnutrition was high. But this did not matter to the landowners as the labour force could easily be replaced.

Eunus was a particularly lucky slave as he had the skill to entertain. He would delight his masters at dinner parties where he would enthrall the rich revelers with his accomplishments. It is said that he was a skilled conjuror and fortune teller and would delight the dinner guests with fire breathing; not a single toga was singed. Whilst thus engaged, Eunus would keep up a constant humorous patter about how one day he would become king and that the assembled listeners would be massacred. For some reason, the Romans found Eunus’ repartee mildly amusing- more fool them say I.    

What follows is a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A group of slaves belonging to a particularly harsh landowner approached Eunus and asked him to lead a rebellion. How could Eunus refuse after the espousal of his rise to greatness? With a band of 400 slaves, Eunus stormed the city of Enna. The citizens of the city were put to death except those will the skill of the smith. These men were quickly put to work making arms for the swelling numbers of the slave rebellion. The revolt quickly spread and a Greek slave by the name of Cleon joined Eunus with a band of 5,000. Other major cities were captured and the slave army rose to over 70,000. One source suggests (Diodorus Siculus) that the rebel rabble may have been high as 200,000. The Romans responded by sending out a Sicilian militia under the leadership of a minor Roman official. The slave army easily and quickly defeated the militia and the Romans sent out a further three detachments; each being defeated in turn (the definition of madness). In this way, Eunus and his slave army came to occupy most of the island and as prophesied, Eunus proclaimed himself king.

In 134 BC, the Romans decided to send a Roman army under the consul, Flaccus. But the resulting campaign was desultory and achieved very little. Thereafter, in the following year the consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso was sent with a consular army. Piso and his army quickly secured several rebel cities and the resultant captured slaves were cruelly put to death.

After his successive victories, Piso descended on the centre of the rebellion, the city of Enna. Eunus’ second in command, Cleon, decided to sally out of the city rather than await the inevitable siege. During the battle, Cleon died of wounds and the Romans quickly secured the city and massacred the slaves. The rebellion in the rest of the island was quickly crushed with a further 20,000 slaves suffering the acute agony/ignominy of crucifixion. Eunus was eventually captured but died in captivity before he could be tortured and put to death.

And so in 132 BC, the First Servile War came to an end. In truth, the rebels could never have triumphed against the might of Rome. But for a brief time, the slaves became free men. Sadly, Eunus never foretold their ignoble end.

Eunus remains a mysterious figure. He must have been a man of charismatic ability and intelligence in order to weld/wield the disparate slave army into an effective military force. Did he actually believe his own propaganda and prophecy? Or did he use his testimony as a means to coalesce his slave followers and imbue them with a sense of purpose? This question can never be answered. I’m of the opinion that he may have truly believed his outrageous rhetoric, especially after his spectacular initial success. It is to be remembered that the ancients truly believed in prophecy and the Romans of the period were particularly fond of augury. Even the educated classes, with a few notable exceptions, indulged in divination.

The Romans greatest fear had become manifest and a further two slave rebellions would follow culminating in the famous and immensely destructive rebellion led by the Thracian slave, Spartacus. Another post, for another day, perhaps?

Eunus statue outside the walls of Enna

Sunday 1 September 2019

I forgot to take my meds.....

A psychiatrist writes: Dr Saxon has many deep and unresolved issues
stemming from a highly dysfunctional childhood and early family life.
His psychological tumult finds expression in his brooding and
nihilistic prose and poetry. This offers but a temporary respite and
can no way lead to a permanent resolution of Dr Saxon’s deep seated
and profound psychological problems.

A Flaxen Saxon replies: Fuck off Dr Fell. You only see the portion of
my psyche which I deign to reveal.

Now for more pretentious, self-indulgent and cathartic poetry. If you ain't slashing your wrists after this one, then you are already dead.
Night and day become as one,
Unrestrained grey, endlessly trudges on.
Scant sense, no pleasure, no pain,
Humdrum certainty in a coarse domain.
 Murky shallows, indifferent response,
Ill-defined colours of no consequence.
Toneless flows of clammy pallor,
Clumsy devices of scant veneer.
Boundless detachment and callous regard,
Pitiful retort and emotional retard.
Wilted riposte to arguments feeble,
All are damned, all is ignoble.
This day was like the last,
Stretching tedium into infinite past.
The future is but the same,
Quietly driven calmly insane.
Lengthening shadows on a windswept shore,
No sense of time in a place which is amoral.
Pity the life that remains restrained,
Pity the life that is all but drained.
Dragged slowly into eternal sloth,
On a lamed charger decked in a ragged cloth.
Limpid stance in an entropic domain,
A fool to the end and fools remain.