2022 NEW HOBBY IDEA: CHINESE MARTIAL ARCHERY
"Only when everyone walks on the way of archery will we achieve world peace" — Gao Ying.
Chinese traditional archery might be the answer for those of you looking for a new hobby in 2022. There are many schools of Chinese traditional archery, all of which are collectively known as she dao (射道) or "the way of archery". Walking on the way of archery is an important aspect of Chinese culture. Archery was one of the Six Noble Arts, and even Confucius himself was an archery teacher.
If you look online for Chinese archery instructions, you will probably encounter several archery manuals; from Wang Ju's manual of archery that was written in the Tang dynasty to that of famous general Qi Jiquang's, to Wu Bei Yao Lue by Chen Zi-yi, to Gaoying's two volume-manual, and even to the modern works of the renowned professor Stephen Selby.
What we are going to talk about right now, however, is archery as instructed by Gao Ying, whose military archery manuals were completed in the late Ming dynasty in 1637. Gao Ying's work was first partially translated into English by professor Selby in 2000. A more complete and thorough translation of the works was completed later in 2014 by Jie Tian and Justin Ma under the title "The Way of Archery". The original Chinese text is also available for free on the internet.
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"Great, so I just need to find a club that teaches this technique, right?" is probably what you have in mind right now. With Gao Ying's Inchworm technique, as it is also referred to, however, you can start learning archery at home, granted that you have the right equipment, which is as follows:
First of all, you need a traditional Eastern-style bow that allows you to shoot from the right side of the bow, as opposed to the Olympic and western-style bows that require you to shoot from the left side of the bow (if you are right-handed). This style of bows is also commonly referred to as the Asiatic (or Eurasiatic) bows as well as horse bows despite not being always shot from the horseback.
Your first bow does not have to be a Chinese bow. It can be any traditional Eastern-style bow such as Korean, Turkish, Tatar, Mughal, Hun, Magyar, Manchu, and even selfbows. Just note that arrow shelves and arrow rests are generally frowned upon in Eastern archery traditions.
Don't forget to choose bows with the appropriate draw weight and draw length. For beginners, the draw weight lies in the 15-35 lb (7-16 kilogram) range. Many practitioners of this style, however, gradually build up their strength until they can pull bows with a draw weight of above 80 lbs (36 kilograms).
We are not talking about the color of your arrows having to match the bow, rather about the technical specification of your arrow. Your arrows must match your bow in terms of spine and weight. There are many other technical specifications for the arrows, but those are the starters. The spine is a measurement that indicates the stiffness of your bow. The higher the draw weight, the stiffer your arrows are, meaning the lower the spine is. An arrow that is too stiff will veer to the right, while an arrow that is too soft will veer to the left and will possibly break in half either upon shooting or upon impacts.
The arrows will also have to match the draw weight of the bow. A bow with modern materials such as resin or fiberglass may require eight to 15 grains per pound (GPP), while a traditional sinew-horn composite bow may require five GPP. An arrow that is too heavy will fly slow, while an arrow that is too light will not absorb all of the bow kinetic energy, resulting in the bow cracking or breaking.
Lastly, make sure the arrows match your draw length. Gao Ying's Inchworm dictates that you draw a little over your right ear. Your draw length depends on your arm span, but generally, someone whose height is 170 cm will have a draw length of around 27 to 29 inches. Make sure the bow's maximum draw length is at least one inch over your draw length for safety reasons.
A thumb ring
In almost all Eastern-style archery traditions, you pull the bow with the thumb draw, also referred to as the Mongolian draw, as opposed to the Western-style three-finger draw. In these traditions, a thumb ring specifically designed for drawing the bow is used to protect the thumb. A thumb ring also provides a cleaner release compared to shooting without one. The thumb may be the single strongest digit of your hands, but as you scale up the draw weight, the pressure placed on your thumb can become greater. Gao Ying designed his own thumb ring, but you do not have to use this. Any archery thumb ring that you are comfortable with will do.
The gaozhen is an indoor target that you can set up to learn archery at home. This is the preferable way of starting an Inchworm technique training as Gao Ying expressly forbids anyone from shooting at a range before they can shoot the gaozhen with the proper technique. It is traditionally made from tightly pressed hay, but modern foam target boxes will do. The gaozhen is set up at eye level and is meant to be shot at from point-blank range until three to five meters. Gao Ying advised that you do not leave the gaozhen for the range until you can land your arrows straight at the gaozhen in addition to having the technique all correct.
Now that you have all the right equipment, it is time to start practicing at home. To begin, you can read the manual in the original language — which is 17th century Chinese — or study Justin and Jie's book and watch their YouTube channel for the explanation and visual demonstration or you can also find online communities that practice the style, including Gao Ying Indonesia which offers online classes for free.
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