Asian Traditional Archery Research Network (ATARN)

A1, Cloudridge,
30, Plunkett’s Road,
The Peak,
Hong Kong.

Tel: (852) 2895-4488
Fax: (852) 2808-2887
29 November, 1998

Dear Friend,

This is not exactly a regular newsletter I am getting into, but I like to keep in touch from time to time.

Since the last time I wrote (‘A Letter from Peking’) a number of people wrote back to me. The thought of being able to get a kit of parts to make a Chinese bow stirred a lot of interest. But I have to caution that a plan like that is a long way off. Others warned that a kit like that would only be suitable for very experienced bowyers; and even then, some experience with horn might be necessary. In the meantime, I have written to Peking with a request from some quotations for materials such as cut horn, prepared sinew and croaker fish bladders – the classic ingredients of the Chinese bow.

And one more thing is that a Chinese bow is a difficult weapon to handle in the hands of those who do not know Chinese technique, including the thumbring and Mongolian release.

Dr. Grayson and Molly Strode’s Lecture

23 November was an important date for ATARN. Dr. Charles Grayson and Molly Strode (of the University of Missouri - Columbia) addressed the first meeting of ATARN held in Hong Kong. We co-organised the meeting with the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. About 25 people came to hear Dr Grayson speak on the development of the composite bow, along with an interesting show of slides illustrating the range of items available in the Grayson Collection.

Working from slides, Dr Grayson described the ‘taxonomic’ relationship between families of composite bows. ‘Taxonomic’ classifications are based on the characteristics of the bows: and that is important because we have little evidence to help create a timeline or cultural family tree for the development of the composite bow (which, you remember, is any bow made of more than one material.)

Taxonomy aside, however, Molly Strode, who is both archaeologist and art historian, was able the point out interesting correlation between conventions for decorating bows and the bows’ cultural contexts. Korean and Japanese bows, for example, were generally undecorated; Chinese bows had a modicum of decoration based on the stylized Chinese characters for ‘wealth’, ‘good fortune’ and ‘longevity’, always on the back of the bow. Persian and Turkish bows, on the other hand, were often richly decorated all over.

Apart from bows, we also saw wonderful illustrations of arrows, quivers, thumb-rings and bow-cases. The slides are being transferred to JPEG images at present, and we hope to display some soon.

(Politically Correct) Ways of Killing a Cat

A few weeks back, I bought a beautiful FRP reproduction of a Magyar bow by Grozer. However, as soon as I started shooting it, I realized that, although beautifully crafted and true to the original Avar bow reconstruction of Dr. Julius Fabian, it had certain strange characteristics. The bow has long sayahs, but a very short loops at the string nocks. This form of stringing had the advantage of not requiring string bridges, but it was clear that the short loops were interfering with the bow as the arrow left the string.

Sure enough, pages 135 and 136 of the ‘Traditional Bowyer’s Bible, Volume Two’ explained that  Dr. Julius Fabian subsequently recognized that his original reconstruction had been incorrect in this respect.

To overcome this, I have built a pair of cylindrical, leather string bridges and made a new string with long loops which pass both sides of the sayahs.

avar.JPG (9710 bytes)

In the picture on the left, you can see the effect. This is a much smoother bow to shoot and the sayahs come into play more effectively. Although I don’t have the equipment to check speed, my arrows are penetrating the target face further.

The original string length is too short to allow the string to come to rest on the bridges, so I had to make the new string (linen with linen whipping) one inch longer, which in turn reduces the bracing height by about the same amount. If the set of the sayahs had been a little further forwards, this would not have been necessary.

I will not lay claim to an improvement here: there bows are good value and shoot nicely anyway. But as a piece of non-destructive experiment, you are welcome to give it a try.

I have recently made the ‘Japanese’ section of the web page, thanks to two generous offers for us to link with two of the worlds best English language Kyudo pages. I have changed the video clip of Mongolian archery into streaming video, so that you no longer have to download an enormous MPEG file. The bad news is that you need to connect with a fast modem (48Kbps or better) and the most up-dated version of Internet Explorer or Netscape to see it. (A slow modem of the MPEG would have taken hours, anyway…)

Yours faithfully,


(Stephen Selby)