The meeting with our Roots
One of the biggest advantages of our modern society, is the fact that we can easily access any kind of information as well as build new relationships between people with common interest from all around the world. Of course, the danger of misunderstanding and mixing irrelevant things under the pretext of sincretism (in the case of archery also) appear more frequently. This means that people usually like to seek and adapt only those parts of the practice of other schools what they think beneficial to use in their practice. At the first moment this appears to be a normal case but after years passing the result of their practice gets far from the authentic spirit of traditional archery in its ritual as well as warrior's aspects. In the case of the enthusiasts of the horse-archery (in the way the ancient warriors of the Central Asian steppes meant it) this partial adaption is especially very easy to divert the progress of the practice, because the tradition was interrupted long ago - with the development of fire weapons – when it lost its importance on battlefields.
Looking at the actual tendency of using such materials (weak bows, high saddles with very short seat) and techniques (short drawing length, grabbing more arrows together with the bow's grip) they reflect the needs of modern archery and horse-archery competitional system and reflect less the spirit and traditional forms of the ancient Way of the Warrior. In the case of the traditional archery and horse-archery schools like Kyudo, Yabusame or Goongdo (traditional korean archery), archers benefit from solid forms of practice as the result of many years of continuous work throught many generation that helped in guarding the purity of the spirit and the form of the practice of their ancestors's Way of the Warrior.
These teachings were transmitted always directly, from master to disciple but also with the help of numbers of archery and horse-archery manuals written by recognized great masters of martial arts. In order to make a real reconnection with the spirit and the true technical forms of the practice in case of the Central Asian steppe's warriors tradition, talent, efforts and experience (doesn't matter how big and good) of a single archer are not enough (in my opinion) even if he or she has reached extraordinary results during an entire life of concentrated practice. Beside the continuous and hard training - that is also an absolutely necessary condition -we should connect the energy of our individual efforts to something beyond us that is incomparably stronger than our personal power and that directs our lifes: Tradition. The authenthic tradition means to follow God in accordance with the concept la hawla wa la quwatta illah billah (meaning that “there is no strenght nor force but God”), in the same way as it is exposed in the ancient Middle East archery manuals for example. Naturally, smaller rivers are always meet other rivers, become much bigger and connect with the unlimited Ocean. I think that is true with all the archers and horse-archers of our modern time, the necessity of making the efforts in order to reconnect their practice with the true tradition is very important. Anyway, we should be very careful, because not all the rivers are flowing directly into the Ocean. Even a very big river like Volga (or a fashioned modern school of martial arts) can finally end in a nearly dead and polluted sea (what the Caspic Sea has become unfortunately in our days). But other ones (like the Rhine for example), even they are much smaller, flow directly into the Ocean. To follow the Tradition, in my opinion, does not depend on how big a school is. The real meaning of traditional practice consists of the effort going beyond our limited ego and individual capacities, by following the exact teachings (in spirit as well as in form) of the ancient masters. It means that in a true traditional school teacher and students follow (all of them) the exact spirit and forms of the recognized great masters's practice.
Rooted in this base an individual relation emerges and develops between master and disciples in order to assure the transmittance of teaching to the next generations (picture a). The followers of the modern forms of horse-archery are convinced that they also follow the true spirit of the tradition. Even if they have right, is better to keep the ancient forms of practice instead of creating new ones. One should just observe that almost always forms are the reflexion of spirit (the essence) and not in the opposite way. When somebody changes the original forms (as it happens very often in our days), there exists the real danger of changing the original spirit, too. This is realy harmful. We can observe that most of the modern martial arts have become more and more sports and do not belong any more to the authentic essence of The Way of the Warrior.
Researches in refinding the purity of teaching in both the essence and the form (which are not separate but realise together the body of the practice) were leading to the reconnection to the original, traditional roots. In our case, this consists of following the teachings of the Abu Hashim al-Bawardi traditional archery school that is rooted in the Western part of Central Asia (Khorasan), from between the VIIIth and IXth centuries. This thread of practice is considered the oldest among the four main archery and horse-archery schools (usül ar-ramy), according to the muslim tradition (the others three were: Bahram Gur, Tahir al-Balkhi and Ishaq ar-Raffa ), and is recognized as the best warrior's style of fighting with bow and arrows (on foot and on horseback as well) in the entire Islamic world.
The spirit of this school was described in several military treatises, which apeared between the XIIth and XVIth centuries. It can be best understood under the light of the teachings of the renewed great master Al-Ashrafi al-Baklamishi al-Yunani Taybugha (died in 1396). The technical forms of the Abu Hashim-Taybugha line of practice appeared as a final result through many centuries of cultural interference between the Iran and Turan worlds, with the help of the Islamic religion playing the role of common language. It is a very harmoniously united system of teachings about how to use bow and arrows effectively in battles, taking the best methods from iranian and steppes martial traditions as well: “the shower shooting”, powerful, long lenght drawing archery technique of the Sasanid-persian tradition, together with their characteristic stance and bow grasping; the horse-riding skills, fast nocking of the arrows directly from quiver of the turk horse-archers.
The main characteristics of this archery style has become the hard core of the daily practice of our school. Exactly in the way how it was described by the Taybugha master himself, these are:
“The triangle stance”, which assure rapid and sure movements in all possible directions, the base of a powerful archery technique. It can be observed on picture b that the weight of the body remains on the right leg, while the left leg is kept relaxed but stretched in the mark direction.
The traditional “three points sitting” (which is, according to Taybugha, “half sitting, half standing in stirrups”) of the steppe's nomad riders (picture c), which gives the mounted archers the highest stability and mobility in the saddle at the same time (in oposition to the relative new stance of the modern horse-archers, completly standing on stirrups with the body kept vertical).
“Twist with your right (the drawing hand ) and thrust with your left” (tahlil, farkah-khatrah). This basic teaching of the Taybugha master - together with the long bow drawing technique - increased the speed of the arrow considerably in the moment of release. We measured already that using this archery method, the power of shooting grows by 20-25%, at the same lenght of drawing, which is really impressive and made Taybugha's great fame as warrior. In the moment of shooting, the bow is cutting forward and downward steadily, at high speed (pictures d and e). This is the reason why in his school, the upper limb of the bow , (which was longer than the lower one ), was called “shooting limb” (bayt ar-ramy). This technique can be properly performed only with a correct grasp of the bow (qabd).
In our school we use a technical variation of Taybugha's chang al-baz (which means “falcon's talons”) method of grasping the bow (picture f). Nocking the arrows directly from a short and flat quiver, specially made for the purpose of shooting continuously, at high frequency (one shoot in every 2-3 seconds), using a relatively large number of arrows (30-40, the maximum number of arrows contained in this type of quiver). This technique of nocking (it has nomad origin, called maskah Turkiyyah), allows the free use of the bow without disturbing the proper leading of the horse, by the use of the bow hand, in accordance with Taybugha's teachings (picture g).
“The shower shooting” archery technique (of persian origin) gives the fastest rate of fire. In order to make shorter the time necessary for the nocking operation, three or even more arrows were kept arranged carefully between the fingers of the drawing hand (pictures h and i). In this way it is possible to shoot three arows in three seconds, with a maximum power and accuracy. Traditionally, the ancient steppe's warriors did not use to keep more arrows in their left hand together with the bow's grip, as this technique (a wide-spread technique of the modern horse-archers), diminishes the arrow's speed (because of the weak grasp on the bow, it is not possible to perform properly the abovementionated khatrah-tahlil, farkah technique). It does not allow either (for the mounted warrior) to lead the horse in a free way and to use the bow at the same time. The bundle of arrows in the bowhand does not permit the leading of the horse with this hand and also considerably slows the change of weapons (when, in battle conditions this situation often became necessary). If the mounted archer used the other hand in order to lead the horse, he was not able to shoot in these moments, that - from the Way of the Warrior's point of view - is a grave mistake (it diminished the efficiency in battle and even caused the rider's death).
All the characteristic technical aspects (unfortunately the space does not allow me to continue their description) I have tried to present, are the reflexion (at the level of daily practice) of the essential spirit of Taybugha's teaching and they are in perfect unity with this. This basic teaching - the heart of the archery tradition what he succeeded to transmit to our days through more than six centuries - is still fresh and alive because, starting and finishing with continous and hard practice, is pointing directly to the peoples hearts, to the essence of their lives:
“you should think of your training in archery as a training in religious knowledge”.(Taybugha)
The main points of this teaching that, and I have to highlight it again, cannot be separated from practice, are:
I.The insistent aspiriation to realization during the archery practice of the “right postyard”, exactly in the way how it is described in Taybugha's Thirty four points list. These point directly to the realizaton of the body-mind unity in practice and consist of the properly distribution of energy in the so called points of tension, relaxation and stillness. In other words, the “right postyard” means to harmonize all the contrary aspects at the level of our own body and in this form are highlighted by Taybugha itself: “Masters of ancient times are quoted as saying that a master (ustad) cannot be such, until he can't lenghten the short (tatwil al-qasir) and shorten the long (taqsir at-tawil)”.
II.The integration of all the technical aspects of shooting in “The four fundamentals of archery” (usül ar-ramy). According to the tradition of the Abu Hashim al-Bawardi School, they are in the same time the technical movements of shooting one arrow. That is the reason why in our school, the basic archery technique is named “Four faze's shooting”:
1.Qabd: grasping the bow and the arrow, together with taking “the triangle stance”.
2.Tafwiq: nocking an arrow and placing the fingers of the right hand properly on the string and around the arrow's nock ('aqd).
3.Madd: drawing the bow in two stages, until “the middle phalanx of the right index finger (shahadah ), is brought back right to the lobe of the ear. The right elbow should be in line with the shoulders, as also the hand grasping the bow. The optimum, then, is the length of a draw (jadhb), of wich an archer is capable and which will at the same time permit a graceful appearance”. (Taybugha) According to the Abu Hashim tradition, arrows are placed (at complete drawing) at the level between the mouth and chin (see picture j).
4.Itlaq: releasing the arrow (mukhtalas), together with the “following through” movement, khatrah-tahlil, farkah; come back again to the basic stance, ready to start a new process of shooting.
III. Developing continously of (how Taybugha calls it) “the five pillars (arkan) on which archery rests, and the true archer is he, whose mastery of them is complete:
2.The infliction of injury
3.The ability to strike from a distance
4.The ability to strike swiftly
5.The ability to protect one's own body.”
All of these fundamental principles are interdependent and the archery training in our school are sistematically directed in order to materialize them in practice, in close accordance with the Abu Hashim-Taybugha School's authentic tradition. The Way of the Archer School's daily practice consists of performing the following five forms, according with the needs and the individual level of each student:
"The short ulki test:” shooting at marks placed at 35m, 50m and 68m distances (for accuracy, the realization of the first arkan).
“The flight shooting test”: reflects the power of shooting, the realization of the second arkan. In our school the minimum is a 250m range for men and 200m for women, using for this purpose just their personal bows used in daily practice, and everybody's own physical capacities (picture k).
"The long ulki test”: shooting at a mark placed 120m far (the capacity of extention both power and concentrarion at distance, the realization of the third arkan).
“The fire speed test”: the realization of the fourth arkan, consists of shooting three arrows, one after other at a mark placed 120m far (called in The Middle East archery manuals “long ulk”), how Taybugha himself was commanding: “If you can shoot the third and only see the dust of the first after that third arrow has already left your hand, you are fast enough. It means to shoot with maximum speed, power and precision three arrows in around 3 seconds, using the shower shooting archery technique.”
“The thirty arrows shooting test” (the capacity of self protection, the realization of the fifth arkan).This is a basic form of practice in our school (see also the video and pictures at our site) and can be performed in team or individually, and consists of shooting the arrows from the quiver at marks placed in three different directions, following precisely the established koreography, and should take five minutes. The archer should prove his level of mastering the right postyard during the rapid movements and turnings in direction and using different technical forms of shooting (picture l).
IV. Mastering properly the basic archery techniques of the school. They are:
1. “The four faze's shooting” (a basic technique, together with a rapid variant of shooting the arrows directly from the quiver, named “The three faze's shooting”).
2. “The shower shooting” (maximum speed, without losing power and accuracy ).
3. “The eagle's flight” (the most powerful and accurate technique, picture m).
4. Beside the three abovementioned forms, which (all of them) belong to the warrior's style, we study and put special focus on the practice of the ritual archery as well (picture n) in a technical form, called “The practice of the Complete Circle”, which is entirely concentrated on the following of the Taybugha's concept of: “archery as training in religious knowledge.”
About this last aspect and about the practice of horse-archery and horse-riding as the training in the Way of the Warrior, I hope I can present more information in the close future. All the necessary archery and horse-archery equipments (the bow, the saddle, the quiver...), were planned and produced specially for the needs of our practice, according to the traditional models and the advices of the school's ancient masters. The realizing of the five arkan, through the “right postyard” and using the properly archery technique, according to “The four fundamentals of archery”, is the main goal in The Way of the Archer School's daily practice. For a few years we have been studying and refining all these forms of practice just in the discrete and close circle of our school.
I wrote in this site because of this ancient archery tradition, which is not inferior to the more popular ones (like Kyudo, Yabusame, Goongdo, etc.), that it shall not vanish but shall finally occupy its merited place among the true traditions of the World. I think that slowly-slowly time has come to give them back for study this inestimable treasure. But, the most important is that:
“there is no strenght nor force but God.” At least, the essence of all the true forms of practice means just to exprime our gratitude for Him, The Merciful, The Compasionate.