I was struck by a photo of an archer from the recent past who used a center anchor to some effect, namely John Williams of the USA, the 1972 men’s Olympic gold medalist (see photo at right). Currently, there has been an almost universal adoption of the “side anchor” specifically the variant in which the string touches the corner of the chin, but not farther back (see photo below). This post is about why these changes have been made.
Most beginners think that these things are about string positioning but really they are about head positioning. By having the string touch certain parts of the head, at multiple points if possible, this guarantees that the positions of the head and the all-important aiming eye relative to the bow are made more repeatable. The archer must still try to endeavor to hold his/her bow in the correct orientation and hold their head in the correct orientation besides, but consistency is much improved by monitoring these other “touches” tactilely.
Very few people use a center of the chin anchor position any more because it often requires a substantial tilt of the head to line everything up. This we consider to be suboptimal because when we tilt our heads, there are physiological repercussions. When our eyes aren’t level, we lose some of the benefits of binocular vision, for example our depth perception and ability to estimate distance are degraded. For another thing, we actually lose physical strength when we tilt our heads because this is a submissive posture. Recall your posture when your Mom caught you with your hand in the cookie jar (or whatever). Dogs will actually drop their heads to the side exposing their jugular veins to convey helplessness to another dog. This is why people of power want you to bow your head; it puts you into a weak, almost powerless posture and your body and mind accept those positions.
Now look at the two photos; which of the archers has eyes that are level/horizontal?
The idea of the string touching your nose is also a head positioning element. If the nose and string do not touch, what should you do (or ask your student to do)? Certainly you do not want to tilt your head to make this happen for the reasons mentioned above. You also don’t want to move your anchor position back along your jaw. Since your fingers are curled around the string toward you, when the string it loosed, the act of the string pushing your fingers out of its way causes the fingers to push the string back (Newton’s third law). This means that as the string moves forward it also moves toward the archer. High speed video has shown that when the string is held against the face behind the corner of the chin, the string drags along the archer’s face as it leaves, causing ripples in the skin! This drag lowers arrow speed and is a source of variation we do not need.
Positioning the string at anchor at the corner of the archer’s jaw allows the string to leave its position without drag on the archer’s skin and allows the archer’s eyes to remain level.
If there is no nose touch or too much touch and some is desirable, it is possible to create what you want by changing the length of a recurve bow, for example. The Korean women, who have short noses, tend to use longer bows, which provide less acute string angles at anchor. Compound archers who use a nose touch have learned this the hard way as bows being manufactured now are much shorter axle-to-axle than they were in the past, making vastly more acute string angles at anchor, making a nose touch harder to achieve. Be aware, though, that nose touches are less useful to compound archers because they have peep sights, acting as an additional alignment point to the face touches. So, going to great lengths to get a nose touch on a short ATA compound bow is probably not worth doing.
Throughout archery’s history we have learned through trial and error and by emulating the more successful, a process I describe often as: monkey see, monkey do. We are now teasing out why the things that work actually work, which means we are reaching a level of understanding at which we will have more control than ever over what we do to maximize our own and our student’s effectiveness.