It’s been a year now since I started blogging for Legend Archery and it is still gives me pleasure to have an opportunity to share my stories about archery with the world. My first post covered quivers and the reason I choose that as my first post is because I find quivers to be a remarkable invention that is also the bow and arrow’s best friend. For this post I decided to find out more about quivers. This is because I have recently been taking a look at the history of archery quivers for my own personal project. But that’s another story. Let’s have a run down on that quiver on our person, at the moment there are six distinct types of quiver.
Now when I first looked at quivers I covered the types that were used in modern target archery and how practical they are for modern target archers. However there are more different designs of quivers than I originally thought. Let’s start with the back the back quiver. Last year Danish archer Lars Andersen became an internet sensation on You Tube when he showed the world some interesting stories about master archers who could perform incredible feats of archery. Among these things included a story about the back quiver. As Lars found from his practice a back quiver was mostly useless when it came to moving fast. As these archers had to travel and hop foot from each target and then draw their arrows the quiver couldn’t carry the arrows adequately. They were not held in place inside the quiver and as he jumped from a height and landed the arrows just went straight out of the quiver. Also the fletchings would often get caught in branches as he navigated through the trees. This convinced Lars that Hollywood invented the myth that the back quiver was the most common type of quiver used by historical archers. As an archer myself I can see how some truth in that. I’ve used a back quiver in the past and drawing arrows from a back quiver isn’t that simple. When you draw an arrow from a back quiver you have to reach behind the feel the arrow, grab it by the nock and pull it out. But to do that you would have to stretch your arm so far for the arrowhead to clear the quiver and sling it around to the bow to nock. That is quite difficult to do whether you are shooting static or on the move.
There is a lot of scepticism to Lars Andersen’s archery and in particular the stories of the back quiver in his video. He rebuked their claims with a follow up two months later. He explained that although they did carry back quivers in the past they were not as common as people think. If anything they would have used the back quiver in some circumstances but they had to alter the way in which they used the back quiver. The back quiver was commonly used by the native people of North America and Africa. It would rarely have been used in medieval Europe in Robin Hood’s time. But still back quivers are quite practical given their awkwardness.
According to expert archers a lot of back quivers have problems where the arrows rattle in the quiver noisily, the arrows easily fall out and the fletching easily gets sheared off. The back quiver that Lars used in his video however was one of a type of back quiver that was produced as a hard shell tube. Some back quivers were made of flexible leather which allows you to pinch it and invert the quiver. This allows the arrows to become locked into the quiver and hence it also prevents the arrows from rattling inside the quiver and falling out. Quivers which are likely to hold the arrows loosely have more attention to aesthetics than functionality. They also tell of a quiver that was used by the Native Americans which could be used as back quiver as well as a side quiver. This has a strap that could allowed it to be worn as a belt to wear around the waist or slung over the shoulder to wear on the back. Both back quivers and side quivers could have been the most common types of quiver but the side quiver was used more often. It just depends on what situation they would have used them.
Belt quivers are also referred to as side quivers and they are the most common type of quiver in all forms of archery. I use one myself as a target archer because it functions as an arrow holder and a tool bag for my archery equipment. These quivers have an advantage over back quivers because they can also carry a bag on the belt as well as the arrow tubes. Belt quivers can be found in many cultures from North America to China and they were the most commonly used quiver in medieval Europe. In these ancient times the quivers were made of leather, wood, furs or other natural materials. Having the quiver on your belt has many advantages when carrying your arrows. With the arrows by your side they can be kept out of the way of your draw by pushing and sliding them around the belt. With the arrows right by your side you can easily spot the arrows to grab and fire them rapidly without making much effort to remove them.
But carrying arrows is just one of two main functions of the side quiver. Archers are also expected to carry equipment to repair and maintain their bows and other accessories for their shooting. Some of these quivers had a small pouch on the arrow tube or a separate bag that was fitted to the belt like a satchel. The items that they would have carried can be anything that would be useful for the archer and the bow itself. For the archer it would be a water bottle, a small supply of food, a hunting tool and a map. For the bow it would be a spare string, a stringer of some kind, a tool, a spare peep sight and something to make arrows with using the branches in the woods, arrow heads, etc.
Nowadays the modern target archers have quivers made out of metal or plastic and special artificial fabrics to make them useable for outdoor and indoor uses. Quivers of this kind use a standardised design that covers the hip and so it is also referred to as a hip quiver. These ones have pouches fitted to the side of the arrow tube and have a smaller pocket at the top where the quiver is attached to the belt. The stuff that I carry in my quiver is enormous enough to make it like a Mary Poppins quiver. With around 10 – 20 pieces of equipment the items therein are an armguard, a finger tab, an Allen wrench, a stringer, a scorecard, an arrow puller, a pair of binoculars (or a monocular), spare nocks, spare vanes, a nock tool, a bracing gauge, a spare sling, string wax, etc. Although some people think of the quiver as a carrier for ammunition it’s a tool box to carry the demands of a powerful sharpshooter and the side quiver does just that.
A ground quiver is used mostly by traditional archers who do not move. These are not useful if you are an archer in motion so you would be likely to use this quiver if you are shooting from a long distance. When I first took up archery I didn’t have a quiver to begin with instead I used a tube that was placed on the ground and I had to reach down to grab the arrows. I found this to be useful enough to hold the arrows for me and since I didn’t need to move it was okay for a beginner archer to use. Some traditional archers still use them in target archery competitions and practice. But their limited usefulness makes them a piece of equipment that appeals to the sort of people who indulge in recreationist events.
An arrow bag sounds like an unusual name for a quiver and it is rarely seen. The only archers that are likely to have used it are medieval English longbow men. Evidence of their existence was found in the wreckage of the Mary Rose in 1987 when the archaeologists found them and compared them to historical records. An arrow is a quiver made of a cloth that is stitched to a leather spacer. The arrows are stored in the spacer and when they are inserted in the quiver they make it look like a large sock. For transportation purposes another cloth is wrapped over the nocks to protect them from damage. An arrow bag uses a carry strap to wear it over the back. When the archer was using it to carry the arrows for shooting they would have removed the nock cover and worn it on their belts.
Bow quivers are a relatively modern invention and are used mostly in hunting archery. The arrows on a bow quiver are perhaps the most silent way to carry arrows. Unlike all the other quivers they hardly rattle and make a noise. This makes bow quivers practically useful for hunters because the rattling of the arrows in a back quiver or belt quiver alerts the archery’s prey. The ultimate method for a hunter to bag his prize is to run silently and so these arrows don’t make a sound. Most bow quivers are made for compound bows which is the bow of choice for hunters. The bow with a quiver fitted makes a one piece construction that doesn’t require two pieces of equipment that encumbers the archer’s body. You don’t have to worry about the arrows getting caught on anything unless you catch your bow on something.
The Japanese had a variety of quivers of their own kind that were unlike anything that has been seen in western traditional archery. One of these called Yebira was a variety of quiver designs and this held the arrows in an extraordinary way. Instead of a tube construction the arrows were held by the tips in a rest and the shafts were held together by a rib that comprises the upper part and keeps them in place. Capable of holding up to three dozen arrows, the Yebira could be found in many different forms and was used for a number of different purposes. Some of them were ornate in design with decorative features and some of them were in plain designs. Yebira are used traditionally in Samurai for combat, hunting and ceremonial purposes in modern day Japan. Another type of Japanese quiver is the yazutsu, which is used in Kyudo. A form of traditional Japanese archery. The yazutsu looks like a plant holder; cylindrical in shape and zippered at the top. Made of cloth or leather and modern ones out of synthetic material. It’s quite long compared to other quivers and that is because the Kyudo Ya (arrows) are quite long. This quiver was used predominately in ceremonial purposes and just used for carrying arrows to the place of practice like the dojo. It didn’t really serve as an ammunition loader for use in combat.
The story of Traditional Asian archery continues with the champions of the current modern target archery: Korea. Although the Koreans are masters of target archery they have a long standing tradition with the bow and arrow stretching back for thousands of years. The bow was primarily a weapon used to unify the Korean peninsula over 1300 years ago and then later to repel the Japanese invaders in the late 16th century when Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to conquer Korea and China. The Koreans used two types of bow, one is a modern laminated bow, the other is a traditional Korean composite bow similar to the Mongol bow called a Gakgung. Gakgung means ‘nation bow’ and it’s made from several different materials. It comprises of a bamboo core, which is sinew backed with an oak handle. The belly of the bow has a water buffalo horn and the outer ends of the limbs are made of mulberry or acacia which is spliced onto the bamboo. The average draw weight of these bows is about 50 pounds and have a range of up to 400 meters. They were quite short when strung with a length of about 125 cm. This made them useful for horseback as well marching across the battlefield. In Korea there is a name for Korean traditional archery called ‘gungsul’, ‘kuk kung’ or ‘goongdo’, which translates brilliantly into ‘the Art of the bow’.
To fire the bow the Koreans used their own thumb ring but it was different from that used by the Mongols, Manchus and Turks. Korean thumb rings are called the gakji and it’s available in two types, one for men and one for woman. The male thumb ring sticks out as an extra appendage, while the female thumb ring covers the front joint of the thumb only. Both of them used to be made of the horn of water buffalo but now it’s possible to buy them made out of plastic.
The history of Traditional Korean Archery is so vast and steeped in culture that it’s story reads like a novel about glory, power, passion and intrigue. With all the tales to tell here I think it deserves to make this post it’s own title. The tales here began with the Korean wars with the Chinese dynasties and nomadic peoples recorded from the 1st century BC. This was the time of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea that dominated the Korean peninsula: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. Legend has it that the founder of Goguryeo, Go Jumong was a master of archery with such an impressive ability that he was able to catch 5 flies with one arrow. The first king of Silla, Park Hyeokgeose was a highly skilled archer. The ancient Chinese heard of these archers and were aware of their potential as military opponents in combat. The Chinese had already been masters of archery over a thousand years earlier, as it was one of the Six Noble Arts of the Zhou dynasty from the 12th – 3rd century BC. When Genghis Khan began his campaign across Asia and Europe the Mongols began invading Korea from 1231 – 1259. The Mongols with their brilliant and powerful bow technology were no match for the Korean army who were armed largely with swords and spears. When the Mongols went onto rule the proto-Korean state of Goryeo in 1270 a military regime was enforced and the Koreans learnt how to master the composite bow in a rebellion against their Mongol Yuan rulers. The Goryeo dynasty became a governor of a vassal state and a compulsory ally of the Yuan dynasty for 80 years. When the reign of the Yuan dynasty collapsed in China in the 1350s, King Gongmin pushed the Mongolian garrisons back and they reclaimed the Korean peninsula. From then on Korea would become the master nation of archery.
In 1392 the state of Goryeo was no more when the modern came into being with the arrival of the Joseon dynasty. The Joseon’s first head of state was it’s founder Yi Seonggye who was known to have been a master archer. He was one of the Korean warlords that brought about the end of the Mongol rule during the late 1370s and early 1380s. During that time repelled organized Japanese pirates in a series of battles along the Korean coastline. Armed with a Korean gakgung bow there is an adventure in which he killed a samurai commander called Agibaldo with two arrows in a dramatic order. The first arrow knocked the warrior’s helmet off his head and the second arrow entered Agibaldo’s mouth.
Yi Seonggye was such a clever and powerful military leader he rose to the rank of general. During his time in the army he led a fight against the Red Turban Rebellion. The Red Turbans were a Chinese group of rebels who were opposed to the Yuan dynasty who contributed to it’s overthrowing. In 1359 they invaded Goryeo and took the city of Pyongyang when it was a staunch ally of the Yuan dynasty. Generals Yi and Choe Yeong of the Goryeo army pushed them back and out of the country. Yi supported the Ming dynasty and Choe was in favour of the Yuan dynasty and when the time came the two generals would become rivals in the royal court when the Ming dynasty came to power. After leading the Mongols out of Korea Yi withdrew from a planned assault on the Liaodong Peninsula and quickly returned to the Goryeo capital Gaesong and dethroned the Yuan supporting King U and took control of Korea. Afterwards he formally ended all Korean territorial ties to China.
Later Yi put forth the bow and arrow as the main stay of the Joseon military. Archery was so important to the Koreans that it became part of the national service exam held annually from 1392 to 1894. It was so important that Yi introduced a standard for the Royal Guard where they had to pass a set of tests which included hitting three bullseyes on a target 150 meters away. They also had to master riding on horseback while shooting in order to be able to defend the kingdom. Archery became such a powerful tool to Koreans that it led to the invention of several different types of arrow, one of the most famous of these was the pyeonjeon.
The pyeonjeon is one of the most powerful arrows that has secured the bow as a weapon that has saved a country. A pyeonjeon is a small ‘baby arrow’ that was fired from a gakgung from within a long bamboo shaft called a tong-a. This allowed a full size bow to shoot a short bolt and it was the Korean’s army secret weapon. It’s small size made it impossible for it to be reused by their enemies to and it allowed the Koreans to double or triple their ammunition in a siege. It also has advantage in doubling the range of the gakgung. With an ordinary arrow the gakgung could achieve a maximum range of over 400 meters, with a pyenjeon arrow up to 700 - 800 meters. This awesome potential of range and firepower made the Koreans almost impenetrable to foreign invaders. These so called baby arrows had longer range and flatter trajectory with a faster velocity and penetrating power. During the Joseon dynasty Korea was invaded 800 times and the gakgung and the pyenjeon repelled every attempt of an assault on Joseon. Korea was firmly established as the masters of archery. The pyenjeon came in useful in defeating the Japanese invasion of Korea during the Imjin wars in 1592 and the Manchu invasions of the early 1600s.
By the 1600s firearms started to replace bows and arrows across many Asian armies and so some armies such as the Japanese and the Koreans started to use rifles like the matchlock arquebus in the Imjin War. Despite this the Korean composite bow halted the Japanese at two major battles and firearms didn’t take over from the bow until much later until the reforms of King Gojong in 1894. Around this time Korean archery started to transition from a form of warfare to a recreational sport and the country underwent a series of sweeping reforms in government that saw Gojong as the first emperor of Korea. In 1899 Prince Heinrich of Prussia came to visit Korea and watched a number of shows of strength from the Korean martial arts. Among them was the archery which he said was familiar to that of Turkish and Hungarian archery. Heinrich convinced Emperor Gojong to reinvent the art of the bow from a millitary force to a recreational sport and so the nature of the bow and arrow was standardized. Korean traditional archery now uses one type of composite bow, bamboo arrows and a set target of about 145 meters. It was developed further under the Japanese occupation and it was formally written in a textbook called ‘Joseon eui Goongdo’ in 1920.
I have to say the history of Korean archery is a very fascinating tale. They took out their own conquers with their own inventive skills and took back their land. They have mystical heroes with a fine art in shooting arrows and crafting magnificent weapons of honor and glory. The bow and arrow gave them protection and strength for thousands of years and they survived all forms of invasions and abuse from major powers. I have a great admiration for the talents of Korean archers and I find their culture, history and skills with archery to be most exciting. They really are worthy of the title of masters of archery.
I have just been visiting the Scottish town of Glasgow where I stayed with some friends. While I was there I was also aware of the Commonwealth Archery Championships taking place in Edinburgh. I hadn’t been able to bring my archery equipment with me and I had to miss a spot of shooting and so I decided to take the time to learn about the archery that goes on in Scotland. Now when it comes to the archers of Great Britain the most famous archer that springs to mind is Robin Hood, an outlaw with a bow who lived in hiding in Sherwood Forest in Nottingham. But what about the Celtic nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Have they got any famous archers that have any significance in the history of archery in the British Isles?
Archery is a sport that is good for the mind and the body which benefits me greatly for my health and wellbeing. But it’s also got something for me in other ways. One of the reasons why I choose archery over many of the other Olympic sports is because it is also a combination of physics and craftsmanship. I am a science geek as a well a sportsman and I have a broad range of interests in science which includes physics and engineering. At the time I took up archery after the 2012 Olympics I was studying for a degree in physics at the Open University. One of the topics I covered was classical mechanics which includes the physics of the mechanism of the bow and arrow and I spent some time examining the science of archery. For this post I have decided to combine my love of science and my love of archery to show that archery is a prime example of brains and brawn working together in harmony. This should set the stigma aside that geeks like me are not cut out for sports.