Thursday, 15 December 2011

What is Turkish archery?

What is Turkish/Ottoman archery?
Let's think a bit...
Is it using a thumbring? Is it shooting with modern material bows which resemble the Ottoman bow form? Is it shooting off a horse? Is it shooting with shouting 'Ya Hakk'? And the arrows? Is it shooting carbon arrows or European modern style wooden arrows with a thumbring? Or does it count to be Turkish archery if just a Turk does archery?

Turkish/Ottoman archery drew the attention of many European researchers and travellers e.g. Busbeq or Payne Gallwey. It was perceived as superior to the archery of other cultures. The Mughals, Mamluks, Chinese/Manchu etc all can be classified in the Asian archery school, but the Ottomans developed this the furthest. So what is so superior to archery of other cultures? What did the Ottomans succeed with?

Below on the left I listed characteristics of Turkish/Ottoman archery. It is possible to summarize them to 4 factors: thumbdraw, arrow, bow and the archer.


1. Thumbdraw
Thumbdraw, Thumbring use

2. Arrow
Tapered shafts, Light arrows, Flat feathers, High spine arrows

3. Bow
Short bow, Composite bow, Light bow arms, 100 lbs+ drawweights

4. Archer
Shooting technique

All these factors have a common characteristic, they increase the arrow speed. The standard measurement for archery is feet per second (FPS). The biggest distinguishment of Turkish archery is that the arrow is propelled with far greater speed.

a) Low trajectory
(=lower=straighter flight path of the arrow). With a lower arrow trajectory you dont need to aim so high for targets that are further away. This also has many advantages. It will be easier to aim at targets at different distances, the elevation of the bow arm to hit a target at 20m and at 50 m will be minimised. This is a big advantage on the battlefield which will increase the hit rate dramatically. The theoretical exaggerated example would be an arrow flying as straight as a laser, then you could hit a target at 20m and at 200 with the same elevation in the bow arm. Also hitting targets from the horse will be easier. Imagine that your opponents might be (most likely) cavalry as well. On the horse when you shoot to the left, usually you would (instinctively) aim a bit to the left of the target considering the speed of the horse. With a high arrow speed and low arrow trajectory, this parallel aiming would be also reduced to a minimum.

b) Greater maximum range
This is especially important for flight shooting. According to Adam Karpowicz's research, the record shot of Tozkoparan Iskender (845 meters) was done with a 140-150 lbs bow and an arrow speed way over 350 fps. On the other hand, the max range in battle should not be disregarded completely. Armour was expensive, not every soldier could afford it and even less people could afford armour for their horse. Increasing the maximum range of war arrows on the battlefield against unarmoured opponents is an important advantage.

c) Greater armour piercing range
This is also an important point, of course it depends on the quality of the armour, but let's assume the max range for piercing a certain quality of armour was 30m, maybe with Ottoman style archery this effective armour piercing range was increased to 50m..

d) Higher armour piercing capability
Higher armour piercing ability means you can pierce thicker and better quality armour. A good example of a miniature showing pierced armour of a European knight:

Lets have a look at Newton's second law:
F=m*a          (F=Force, m=mass, a=acceleration)
That means: force = arrow weight * arrow speed

This model is a very very basic approach disregarding many other factors but still it helps to understand.
To increase the arrows (armour piercing) force you can either increase the mass of the arrow, or the speed of the arrow. The Manchu and English went a different path with their long bows, long drawlength and heavy arrows. Increasing the weight of the arrow is easier. In this way the arrows will have greater armour piercing abilities too. The Ottomans however went a step further, the highest point in the evolution of archery - speed. (For example arrow speeds of Ottoman war, target and flight bows see Adam Karpowicz's tests.)

The Ottomans have increased the arrow speed by optimising and improving the bow and the equipment. Even if we assume as a theoretical example that the armour piercing ability of Manchu/English and Ottoman war archery styles was the same, the Ottomans would have gained important advantages on the battlefield (lower trajectory and greater max range as explained above).

Gokmen Altinkulp

Friday, 19 August 2011

Archery for all - Keeping you on target

In Feb 2011 Jehad Shamis invited me kindly to take part in his archery classes, meet his students and share some knowledge. Here is a short video:

Arrow and Bow: The Revival of Turkish Archery from Mansoor Suleman on Vimeo.

With powerpoint presentations I first gave a bit of theoretical and historical insight. The topics were mainly the different disciplines and equipment of the Turkish/Ottoman archery style. And of course afterwards we practiced all together.

Jehad is teaching and promoting archery and thumbring archery in the London area and beyond. He is not tied to one training location but rather flexible and teaching also in schools for example. But I am absolutely thrilled by the number of students he is teaching and their skills. I visited 4 groups on 2 days and was astonished how many students he has. He has more students than any of the thumbring archery groups in Turkey! Besides he dedicates all his time to this, he is a full time archery instructor. And he does all this silently, patiently and stays down to earth.

If anybody in England wants to join his groups or just wants to have a chat about archery and thumbring archery in particular, here are the contact details:
Jehad Shamis
''Archery for all - Keeping you on target''
Phone number: 07915934732

Thursday, 18 August 2011

How to string a Turkish bow

How to string a Turkish bow?

The old Turks write that there is 120 ways to string a bow. Ottoman bows are strung the safest with a device called ''kemend''. This is especially important for high poundage, extremely reflex and delicate bows.
Otherwise if these bows are strung normally e.g. with the step through method, the bow arms might turn and twist and might destroy the bow or hurt you. Because with this system the leg muscles are used, every bow can be strung. In this video I string and unstring my 110 lbs Kassai Hungarian bow:

Making a kemend
The material for a kemend must be very strong, otherwise it can tear and your bow might be damaged or might get hurt. The kemend in the Topkapi collection is made of 'ibrishim' meaning raw silk thread. According to Taybogha a kemend should be 3 fingers wide. Mustafa Kani writes in his book, less than 3 fingers wide and the length according to the person using it. According to Unsal Yucel there is a kemend in the Topkapi palace museum. It is 4cm wide and 255cm long (see pic. below). The loop on one side is small, the other loop is wider, you can even adjust it with a knot. The second loop is bigger as the string has to go through it while stringing.

I used a band which the bed/couch makers use. For my second kemend (the orange one) I used an industry band to pull heavy loads. The latter is 5cm wide and 240cm long. The reason for the width is firstly durability but secondly so it will not hurt your back.

Another way, if you dont have a sewing machine (nor the patience) you can make a kemend in a very easy way. Just make a know at each end of the band. This method has another advantage, you may not find your optimal length immediately, if there is a knot you can open it and adjust it easily.

Stringing the bow with your kemend
You put the kemend around your back as if a belt and cross the two ends in front of you. You prepare the bow in front of you. You place the string loop in one of the bow nocks. Then you place the small loop of the kemend into the same nock and place the big kemend loop in the other nock. In a sitting position you place both feet on each side next to the bow grip. Now you hold the 'bash' section of the bow with your hands and start pushing gently with your legs. During this movement it is very important to control the bow with your hands/feet so it doesnt turn and twist. After a certain point when you think you pulled enough to string the bow you let your hands go. You guide the string through the big kemend loop and place the string on the nock. The length of the kemend has to fit you exactly. When you stretch your legs you just have to have enough room to string the bow. When you want to unstring the bow you do all the steps again but backwards, so first push the bow with your legs and hold with the kemend so that you can unstring it. Then hold again with your hands and gently go back with your legs.

The loops of my orange kemend are big, of course they dont fit the nocks but it is very handy also with this type. Instead of the nocks, you place the kemend loops between the kasan and the bash sections and string the bow the same way.

A small but important tip: while you are sitting, wrap the kemend low rather than placing it at belt height. This way you can use the forces better and the kemend will not hurt your back.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Favourite Turkish archery quotes

As archery had a big place in Turkish society, many proverbs and expressions are archery related. These are my top favourites:

1. Archery is a trouble, only the one who endures it knows.
(Okçuluk bir beladır, onu çeken bilir)

2. It is not the wind, the bow nor the archer, it is only God, who brings your arrow to its target/distance.
(Ne hava ne keman, ve ne kemankeş, ancak erdiren menziline tiri nida-yı Ya Hak)

3. If you leave archery one day, it will leave you 10 days
(Sen okçuluğu bir gün bırakırsan o seni 10 gün bırakır)

4. A hungry wrestler is more desirable/successful, but an archer with a full stomach is more desirable/successful
(Pehlivanın açı, kemankeşin toku makbuldur)

5. Who shoot arrows shoots gold
(Ok atan altın atar)

6. A flight record is not shot by force, it is shot by art/skill/ability
(Menzil zor ile atılmaz, sanat ile atılır)

7. The worst thing is to try to shoot as well as your previous shot

Some Islamic ones:
1. Due to an arrow 3 people will go to heaven. The one who makes the arrow, the one who shoots it, and the one who gives the arrow to the shooter
(Bir ok sebebiyle üç kişi cennete girer: Biri ok yapan, biri ok atan, biri de oku atanın eline veren)

2. All games are unreasoned, only shooting arrows with a bow, training the horse and spend good time with your wife are not.
(Tüm oyunlar batıldır, ancak yay ile ok atmak, atı terbiye etmek ve hanımıyla oynaşmak günah değildir)

Some more proverbs which are used today, either about archery or about horses:
1.  A good horse is called bay/chestnut, a good man is called courageous
(Atın iyisine doru, yiğidin iyisine deli derler)

2. A bird without wings, a Turk without a horse
(Kuş kanatsız, Türk atsız)

3. The horse for the one who can ride, the sword for the one, who can use it
(At binenin, kılıç kuşananın)

4. When the horse dies the arena stays, when the courageous person dies the fame/glory stays
(At ölür meydan kalır, yiğit ölür şan kalır)

5. The horse needs a saddle, the saddle needs a hero/brave man
(Ata eyer gerek, eyere yiğit gerek)