Tag Archives: Form and Execution

The Problem of The Creeping Archers

This blog post’s title is an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. (Why? Because I can!)

I got an email from a student (Recurve Barebow, Right-handed) who brought up the phenomenon of creeping. Creeping is a flaw in one’s execution most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent slowly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. It has a more dramatic cousin: collapsing, which is most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent rapidly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. Creeping is subtle, collapsing is not. Creeping is small scale, collapsing is not.

Here is the message:

Dear Coach,
Someone noticed some problems with my form that may or may not be related to my target panic issue: when I reach full draw my right arm is in perfect alignment with my left arm, but less than two seconds later my right arm shifts inward
(actually outward, around and back toward the bow, SR) out of line. Is this a strength problem?
     Immediately after my right arm moves out of line I begin to creep, the arrow moving about a whole inch. I can see it happening but I don’t feel it happening, is this also a strength problem?     I notice after release, my bow swings to the right and I see that the arrow has landed to the left of where it should, I’m moving my draw arm back when I release and I’m almost positive that it’s moving straight back so I don’t quite know why the bow is not swinging straight back.
     Thanks as always coach.

And here is my response:

* * *

Creeping can be a strength problem, but is more likely a technique problem. The ideas in play are that a recurve bow creates its maximum force at full draw, which means the bow is pulling its hardest away from the position you have bent it into at full draw. So, when we reach full draw our technique has to change from drawing to holding. This involves a transfer of the holding force needed, the full draw weight of the bow “in hand,” to the back muscles which hold the rear shoulder back. (The back muscles are not really holding the force of the bow; they are holding the rear shoulder in place and the archer’s arm and shoulder bones are holding the force of the bow.)

Currently you are allowing the bow to pull you back toward where you started. This happens when your focus is in the wrong place. Often we get to full draw and our focus shifts completely to “aiming,” something you are putting extra focus upon now, but what is needed is actually a split in your attention (the only time your attention is split): we must focus upon both aiming and whatever marker of continuing to move the string away from the bow has been adopted. When you reach full draw, there needs to be a focus on aiming and one of two things: either your draw elbow continuing to swing around toward your back or upon the increasing muscle tension between your shoulder blades. Both of these are signs that you are holding well.

Note if you focus on the tensing of the muscles in your back, there is an illusion you need to be aware of. As an example, consider the picking up of a five-pound (2+ kg) hand weight and holding it out at shoulder height. As you stand holding it seems to get heavier over time, in the form of being harder and harder to hold up. Obviously it is a constant five pounds, that doesn’t change, but why does it seem to be getting heavier? This feeling comes from the muscles being used running out of the chemical energy they use to contract and exert forces. Similarly, at full draw, your back muscles seem, in the short time between anchoring and loosing, to be pulling harder and harder to the point the feeling is uncomfortable. Obviously you are not pulling harder and harder at full draw, it just feels that way. We use this illusion as a signal that all is well and good in this part of the shot, so our strategy is to recognize that feeling and not shoot arrows without it.

When you creep, the bow is pulling you back toward where you started. This causes subconscious adjustments in your form, usually some form of muscle involvement that causes the string to be pushed toward your face (the bowstring pulls the string away from your face and back toward the bow on the same arc it came in on … or very close to it). This lateral push is responsible for the followthrough movements and left arrows. Ideally, we are pulling straight back (away from the bow) and pushing straight out (toward the target) and all drawing forces are within the plane of the bow. When the string is loosed, the arrow flies forward and the bow recoils forward, neither to one side or the other. (Note: we use the “left arrows, right bow reaction” as signs that we are losing our back tension. Noting the symptoms, we apply the fix which is increased attention to the marker that we are holding well.)

A way to “fix” this technical deficit is to shoot “blind bale.” This means so close to a target butt that you cannot miss and shooting with your eyes closed. Unfortunately our target butts sit on the floor, so you may want to stack up some floor mats to create a base so the target butt is near shoulder level. Then, making sure your arrow will hit the butt, you close your eyes and draw and shoot. The main focus being on either your draw elbow or your back tension. Find the feeling that gives you an “explosive shot.” The term explosive shot is hyperbolic, but it describes the feeling of a well-performed shot. It feels really powerful because the bow is at maximum draw force and the release is crisp. Of course, you must use the best complete form you can muster while doing this drill, but the primary focus is on the feeling of the draw elbow or the uncomfortable muscle bunching between the shoulder blades. Once you recognize these feelings then you need to develop an awareness of them while shooting arrows for score, that is with a target in practice (Eyes open!) and eventually in competition

Addendum
This might be a strength problem in other archers, but whether or not it is can be determined easily enough. If strength is an issue there should be other signs: shaking at full draw or during the draw (when this is not normal), struggling to draw the bow, adopting improvised techniques to draw the bow, etc. Typically it is not strength, as strength is what gets the string back but not what holds it there. If you get to a good full-draw-position, one in which your draw elbow is directly behind the bow or, better, slightly past being “in line” with the bow, the draw force will be pulling your rear shoulder straight back into your body, providing a natural support for it staying where it is. Some archers report that when they get into this position it feels as if the draw force “in hand” actually diminishes, like the letoff of a compound bow, because the force is thrown off of the archer’s muscles in this configuration and onto the archer’s bones. Bones do their job of resisting forces with no effort needed.

Note If you or your student are left-handed, please reverse all of the left-right references.

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The Problem with Monkey See-Monkey Do Archery

Currently archers and archery instructors are engaging in what I call “monkey see-monkey do” personal improvement planning. If we see a recent champion doing something different, we attribute their success to that new “move,” because, well, no one else is doing that and everything else the winner did was just like what everyone else was doing, so their success surely must be due to what they did that was different and new.

Brilliant logic … just wrong and I mean “Flat Earth wrong,” not just incorrect.

The classic example of this thinking being wrong was a winner of the Vegas Shoot one year did so wearing a glove on his bow hand. The reason was he had a hand aliment that contact with the bow aggravated. This didn’t stop quite a number of people who showed up at the next Vegas Shoot wearing gloves on their bow hands.

There are a number of things operating here that need to be taken into account.

Survivorship Bias
So, you notice that a winner had a different, maybe a new, move. So is the success rate 100%? Did all of the archers who tried the new move experience success? What if I told you that of the ten archers who had incorporated this new form element into their shots, nine of the ten had achieved success, meaning podium-level making success? Okay, now we are talking! Nine out of ten, surely that proves this is the magic move!

Uh, no.

Just as the winners write the history, only the survivors are even present to tell their story. What if 100 archers had incorporated this new form element into their shots, and of the 100, nine experienced great success, one experienced a bit of success and 90 got so frustrated with their inability to shoot well that they gave up the sport and are doing different things now? Different, no?

The problem with this MSMD approach is we only have the winners (aka survivors) to examine in any detail. The losers aren’t around to be evaluated.

Random Winners
Another problem we have is random winners. I remember seeing the scores shot in a North American IFAA Championship shoot, held in Florida one year. About 50% of the entrants and winners came from Florida. Like most archery championship shoots, this one was open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee, but the farther away you live the less likely it is you will attend. That is just a matter of fact. And don’t you USAA/WA fans look smug at this, one of the first world championship shoots put on by the newly created FITA organization (now World Archery) was held in Sweden. The vast majority of the entrants were from Scandinavia.

So, there are some basic qualities winners need to have: they need to show up, they need to have archers better than them not show up, … do you see where this is going?

An oft quoted statistic is that 95% of competitions are won by 5% of the archers. I have no idea whether this is true, but I suspect the core of it is: people who win often or consistently are quite few. And they win a lot. The only times these things happen is when there is a truly transcendent player in the mix, like Tiger Woods was to golf, or when the competition is just not that great. I suspect, in archery’s case, it is the latter. In Olympic circles, the U.S. was dominant from archery’s reintroduction into the Olympic Games, but when they faltered, Korea became dominant (at least on the women’s side). Now Korea’s dominance is slipping and I suspect that winner’s circles will become more egalitarian as the quality of “the competition” goes up.

And The Solution Is …?
Gosh, danged if I know, but there must be more reality and science in archery if we are do get away from just mimicry as the mainstream of archery instruction. We need to acknowledge that there are as many “techniques” as there are archers and there is no “magic” in technique. We need to know why things work the way they do. We need to know more about the application of corrections. We need to know more about the mental game, particularly as to its application.

I am looking forward with much anticipation to finding these things out. It sounds like fun!

 

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Can You Control Your Thoughts?

Quite some time ago I was participating in an archery camp at the Olympic Training Center in California. One of the activities was a simulated USAA/WA tournament which I was very happy to participate in as I came up through field archery and, at that point in time, had not participated in a formal USAA event.

The coaches handicapped the whole affair as we had quite a wide variety of archers. The targets were sized and placed at distances appropriate to our style and demonstrated skill. I was the only Compound Unlimited archer so my target was farthest away.

After the mock tournament, we had shoot-offs. I was tied with another participant who was some ways down the line from me, but we were told we were going to have a one arrow shoot-off, closest to the center wins. I was to shoot second, so I prepared to take my shot thinking “I don’t want to know what he shot, I just want to shoot a good shot,” just execute my process, as it were.

The coach running the exercise spotted the shot my competitor made, walked up to me and, I swear, with something of a smile on his face he said “He shot a 6!” quite loudly. Instantly the thought entered my head “I only need a 7 or better to win,” along with an image of a target face with the gold and red rings painted “acceptable” (don’t ask me how that is done). Argh!

Shouldn’t a somewhat expert archer be able to control his thoughts better than that?

Uh, no … but I am glad you asked.

We do not “create” our thoughts through a conscious effort. There is some subconscious process involved but I do not think even that is voluntary. Our thoughts are generated outside of our control. In computer lingo, they are “pre-fetched data.” I can’t prove what I can say, but this is what I have learned so far:

One of our greatest mental powers is of imagination. By using it we can consider the past or the future. Animals which have no imagination live in the present moment, reacting to stimuli but not anticipating them. Our imaginations allow us to consider scenarios; for example “Was that movement in the tall grass due to a zephyr of wind or is there a predator creeping up on me?” We can imagine both. Since wind zephyrs are not particularly harmful, the safest choice is to assume it is a predator and move away from it. This is a survival function that other animals, or at least most other animals, don’t have.

In order for this to work, though, all of those scenarios need to be “in mind.” This is where our thoughts come from and why. They are necessary and you must, and your student-archers must, learn to deal with them.

Dealing with Unbidden Thoughts
So, there I was on the shooting line, thinking thoughts I did not want. They were thoughts of the future and an archer needs to operate in the now, like the good animals we can be … from time to time. Then, I took a deep breath and tried to “shoo” those thoughts away, but now I know there is a better way.

An archery shot can be broken down into parts. One such set of parts is “pre-shot, shot, and post-shot.” Each of these has a routine. We are in a skill-based, repetition sport, so routine/habit is our friend. To execute a good shot we need to launch our routines, the latter two follow on the heels of the first, but how does the first get going? These routines exist in long-term memory, so we have almost no control over them other than to run them. It helps to have a “trigger” for such routines. Golfers are notorious for these: before they take a shot or a putt, they will twirl their club, or pull on their ear, or tuck their shirt into their armpit. All of these inconsequential actions are routine initiators. They are like a switch that says “go.” For my shots, now, I drop my hand onto my quiver and gently rattle the arrows on the top tube … and he’s off! Since all of my practice shots are made in the “now,” that’s where I am when my routine is running. This is why if I note I am not in the now, I will break off that shot and start over. I never give myself the license to shoot any other way. It is not an option.

This is why you must be consciously present while you are shooting, even though there is little to do consciously. You are “there” consciously to watch for mistakes being made, without thinking about making mistakes; you are just watching. As mentioned, if you observe a mistake being made, by you, a thought will come into your had, unbidden, to feed your survival tool, your imagination, and when this happens, you really need to let down. This you an learn to do. So can your students.

 

 

 

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More Barebow Questions

There seems to be a resurgence of Barebow archers lately and that makes me happy. That doesn’t mean Barebow is simple or easy. Here are some questions!

* * *

Coach Ruis:
I have a couple of questions. My first question involves blank bale practice. Winter is here, so I am shooting blank bale in the garage several nights a week, and going to the indoor range once a week. I am a string-

Barebow Recurve archers (right) get a bow and an arrow, none of the sights, stabilizers, clickers and other gewgaws that Olympic Recurve archers (left) get.

walking Barebow archer shooting an intermediate ILF bow with a plunger and wire arm arrow rest.
     While blank baling, I work on activating lower and middle traps when expanding as I focus on the draw arm LAN2. After a few days of blank bale, and I go to the range, I notice I have picked up a couple of ticks. First, I find I drop my draw elbow while expanding, and shoot high by a few inches. I have to concentrate on keeping my elbow at it’s draw height when I expand to correct this error. (I am actually not sure if this isn’t something going on with something else, like my bow arm/shoulder.) Second, my head position and/or draw hand at anchor seems unstable. It takes me a few ends to stabilize my anchor, and get my horizontal precision back. What is going on here, and how should I change my blank bale practice to be a force for good?

My second question involves shooting my secondary bow. I have an inexpensive three piece recurve I use for occasional stump shooting. I recently went on a trip for a couple of weeks, and brought the three piece along. I ended up shooting it a bunch of times over two weeks. Even when string walking I have to aim low and right to get the arrow to hit the mark. Once back at home and shooting my ILF bow, it took me a couple of weeks to regain both precision and accuracy. Obviously, I picked up some bad habits using this bow. I am guessing switching bows is a bad idea? I started out thinking that using different bows would increase my adaptability to different archery conditions, but now I am not so sure.

And here are my answers.

* * *

The difference with regard to your secondary bow is arrow spine. Unless you have a separate set of arrows matched to that bow, the odds of being able to use the same arrows with two bows is vanishingly small. You can mitigate the difference between the two aiming points by mentally telling yourself you are practicing “aiming off.” In the absence of wind, all points of aim (POA) of a well-tuned bow should be on a vertical line going through the center of your target face. (I call this the 12 o’cock-6 o’clock line.) If the wind is blowing, you may have to “aim off” of this line to allow the wind to blow your arrows into the center. I have people shooting sights deliberately mis-set their sights and find out how to still hit center as practice for this event. Mentally, then, you will not automatically blend in this shooting with your other bow’s shooting.

If your POAs aren’t on the 12 o’clock-6 o’clock line, your bow is not well-tuned.

Equipment-wise, if while string walking, your arrows hit to the left or right of your POA, and you can’t tune those out with your plunger, your arrows are either too stiff or too weak. Since you are aiming to the right (I assume you are right-handed) that means your arrows are flying left, which means they are too stiff for that bow. This may simply be a manifestation of your secondary bow having a lighter draw weight than your primary bow. (Can’t tell from here, of course.)

Regarding your first point. I have a problem with the National Training System of USA Archery (NTS) and you are demonstrating it clearly. (I assume you are learned in NTS as you are using their phraseology.) In this case, it is based upon the fact that we do not chose to use muscles consciously, but the NTS documents, which seem to be written for coaches but are foisted onto archers, offer way too much detail, including which muscles to use. Archers need to be put into proper positions and encouraged to use proper movements (what we call form and execution), which then limit the muscles that can be used … automatically. For example. If you draw the bow with your elbow at roughly nose height, it blocks out the biceps of your draw arm from being used. (Hold your hands and arms up in “pre-draw” position and then flex your draw arm biceps—careful, you may whack yourself in the face!) Subconsciously you know the biceps cannot help to draw the bow when in this position, so the biceps are not called upon. If you draw with your elbow quite a bit lower, it requires you to use your biceps. So, does an archer need to know about the biceps (the muscle that bends your arms inward)? I say no. They need to know that a better way to draw the bow is with their draw elbow “high” (meaning roughly at the level of your nose).

I believe your attention to things like the “middle traps” is really inhibiting what you want to do. If you put your body into the proper positions (form or posture) and then proceed freely (execution), you will automatically use the right muscles.

It is important to know these postures for this reason. At full draw we want a relatively straight line to run up the bow arm and across the shoulders (see the shoulder line in illustration below). Why? Bracing. A recurve bow exposes the archer to its full force at full draw (unlike a compound bow). To provide enough time under these conditions, we prefer to have our bone structure aligned to take that compressive force (you expand the bow, the bow compresses you). The bones can accept this force easily by opposing the force with compression resisting forces, but in the absence of the proper alignment of the bones to do that, we need to use muscle to supplement that. And muscles get tired and so over time their performance varies. Why do we need time at full draw? We need 0.5-1.5 sec (my estimate) of time to determine that we are being still. If you watch your arrow point carefully, it starts out being somewhat jittery when first at anchor, but then becomes more still (never perfectly so) after that time period. If you just wait, it will become more and more jittery again, as the muscles you are using to maintain your bone alignment fatigue. Why do we need to be still? If we are not still and are “shooting on the fly,” we will have variation not only in space (aiming is not perfect spatially) but also variation in time (we need to time the shot so it is properly aligned when we release). Stillness is better than not being still and we do not want to take this for granted.

If you observe this “settling” into your full draw position through the lessening of the motion of your arrow point, you can use this as a signal to release the string. Once you have become still and are on your POA, there is no benefit in waiting any longer. In effect, you have the equivalent of a built in “clicker” telling you it is time to loose.

We also want to have a relatively straight line from the centers of pressure on your bow hand and string fingers and on through to the point of your draw elbow (see the primary force line in the illustration above). Why? Biomechanically the COP of your bow hand is where you are pushing the bow handle and the COP on your string fingers is where you are pulling on the string. By aligning the draw forearm on that axis, you automatically throw the force of maintaining that posture on your upper back muscles (when archers say “back muscles” they mean the upper back, not the lower back, so the “mid-back” to an archer is the mid-upper back to others). The key is keeping kinks out of those two straight lines. This is what having “good alignment” or “good line” is all about. Any deviation from straightness of those two lines, requires muscles to be added to the equation, muscles to resist the draw force instead of just to maintain posture.

Whenever muscle is recruited to replace the role of bone under compression, we automatically make our shot more athletic. On good days, you can pull this off. On not so good days, your performance suffers. If you have large swings in your performances, it may be your shot is too athletic. A shot based upon bone is more consistent than one based upon bone and muscle (to resist the force of the bow). Muscle is always needed to maintain posture/body position, so we are not talking about that in this case.

I know I am going on and on, but the trap I hope you can avoid is in getting too focused on this muscle or that whatever. (I still have not seen a reference to LAN2 in any other source and do not understand how a reference to that point is superior to just using the point of the draw elbow. They are just a few inches apart and move together.)

Oh, with regard to you dropping your draw elbow. Your focus on your mid-back is allowing that (not causing it per se, but at least allowing it). Many successful archers use a focus on their draw elbow to get them through the shot. (Which you just discovered … it is not a bug; it is a feature!) The draw elbow is to move around (toward your back) and slightly down through the latter stages of the shot. This you can feel. Keeping both elbows “up” is a good focal point for successful recurve archery. If you are too focused on your back you may feel your elbow moving but it may be moving down rather than around. When the elbow moves down, it relieves the stress of the draw, something our bodies automatically do (relieve physical stress, avoid pain, etc.). You can draw farther, with less tension, dropping your draw elbow than not. But the build up of muscle tension in our back muscles (we call it back tension) is something we use as a sign that we are in the proper position. Allowing this tension to be bled off by lowering the draw elbow, removes this ability to determine if things “feel right” for loosing.

I hope this helps. Since diagnosing such things based upon written descriptions is kind of “iffy” do let me know if this works for you or not.

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Are You Steady?

This is a BowJunky video that shows the apertures of top compound archers while shooting during competition. Whether you coach compound or recurve primarily, this is well worth watching.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=166&v=8Ls7xv3_0Uc

Even top flight compound people show aperture movement while aiming. Do realize that compound bows are easier to hold steady than recurve bows due to their greater mass. [ More mass means more inertia, which equates to harder to move.” The simplest example is how much harder it is to move a boulder than a pebble. They are both made of rock and their size is not an issue … their mass is the issue.] Conclusion: recurve apertures move, too … probably more so than compound apertures.

You are steady when the movement is minimal, not when it stops. What “minimal” is must be learned … and improved upon if possible.

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Follow-up On What Constitutes A Relaxed String Hand

I have mentioned a number of times that I think the “Three Pillars” of consistent accuracy in archery are two relaxed hands combined with good full-draw body positioning. I go a question regarding how relaxed the string hand should be (for finger releases).

Here’s the question:

Hi Steve,
I was recently reading your post (video review) about the importance of a relaxed draw hand. I’ve read elsewhere a suggestion that one can check this by *gently* touching the thumb and pinky together as a means of assuring the hand stays flat and relaxed (think Boy Scout sign). Can you think of any reason why touching thumb and pinky during the draw and anchor might be a bad idea? 

Thanks in advance!

And here’s my answer:

* * *

A Boy Scout Salute

As to the draw/string hand, we teach the “three-fingers under” string grip to beginners using … the Boy/Girl Scout salute! Touching the little finger nail with the pad of the thumb, puts both little finger and thumb into exact correct positions. We ask them to: make the salute, curl their fingers, then slide the curl up under the arrow (always touching the arrow … for safety, we also suggest a “deep hook” without getting too detailed, aka “stay off of your fingertips”). When they reach anchor, they are told to “drop” those fingers, that is relax them. This solves the problem of where to put the thumb on the string hand. It actually has to be slightly tucked under the jaw, so there is a minimal amount of muscle tension associated with putting it there. The three finger salute puts them in the proper position from which their subsequent relaxation gets them where we want them to be with regard to being relaxed. Getting the thumb out of the way is necessary to make a tight anchor, which is one that allows the archer to see the arrow point/sight aperture looking along the inside edge of the bowstring.

So, sounds as if you are good to go!
Steve

PS Do write in if you have follow-up questions. Don’t count on me being perfectly clear all of the time (or even some of the time!).

 

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Apertures Float Like a Butterfly

We get letters ♫ … I got an email recently regarding apertures from a compound archer. Some interesting points were raised. Here it is:

Steve,
I’m working on a steadier hold. I switched to a dot from my aperture because the new (kinda) 80 cm target for compound @ 50m didn’t work with the aperture I’d been using for the 122cm target. That aperture also worked perfect in my garage at 28 feet as well as 18 m indoors. The dot seemed to be the same size at all distances. I was doing holding drills this week and tried both the dot and empty aperture, then noticed something interesting. When using the dot, it wanders out of the gold and you don’t want to take a shot when it does that but when using the aperture you always have some yellow in the circle made by the aperture even when the dot would be out. It’s an illusion, somewhat, you’re always in the yellow while you’re “out” with the dot even though it’s really the same position you’re holding on.

Here’s my response.

* * *

For compound people, there are a multitude of rings in different diameters and thickness … and colors to try. You can even combine rings and dots and use one or the other under different situations.

You were perceiving what is called relative steadiness. A bigger dot seems to move less than a smaller one (possibly because the extent of the motion is a fraction of the diameter of the larger dot, rather than a multiple of the diameter of the smaller one). Same is true for larger rings/apertures v. smaller rings/apertures. If you are using a central dot in your aperture, you want to have the dot be small enough it does completely cover the gold, nor does it leave the gold often. This is why I prefer a larger ring decal on my scope lens apertures. The gold floats inside of the ring and provides the information my brain needs to see that it is “centered” in that ring.

Imagine a dot so big it covers the gold. (Some have used old sight pins with beads glued on the tip to create such a thing for indoors compound archery.) In this situation one feels the urge to move it off to see if the gold is actually behind the dot. If you are in a situation like that, due to the distance to the target, it is better to “see” the dot as being inside, say, the blue ring, and looking to have it centered in that ring because the gold is not helping. On a target like the NFAA Hunter targets, you are SOL as there is only the small central dot on the face and no outer rings to help as with the parti-colored target faces.

Small dots make you feel more jittery, larger ones less so, but larger rings/apertures include the ability to see what is behind the aperture while keeping the sense of stillness.

We are never perfectly still. The fact that out hearts beat continuously, and each beat changes the location of our center of mass slightly, which means we can never be perfectly still. So apertures, scope lenses, dots will always be seen to be moving. Small objects moving a distance equal to their own size appear to be moving a lot. A large object moving the same distance appears to be moving very little. The empty ring aperture (recurve) and the ring decal applied to scope lenses (compound) provide the best of both.

Again, these are my opinions, my analyses. There ain’t no gospel here. If you are someone which an elevated innate sense of calmness, you made need no extra help like this. I am not one of those people and was born jittery, so I needed all of the help I could find. Steve

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Are You in Control of Your Shot?

I just wrote a piece with the possibly too cute title of “To Get Control Over Your Shot, You Have to Give Up Control, While Remaining in Control.” The point of the piece was all archers go through a phase in which they attempt to force the bow to shoot well. They grip their bows fiercely, they concentrate fiercely, and they distort their bodies trying to look down the arrow shaft to aim better, for example.

All archers need to learn that the idea of physically controlling their bow to get the outcome they desire is a road to poor performances. What is needed is physical control of ourselves, not the bow per se. We are trying to create a situation by which our actions can create a successful shot. The bow cannot draw itself and the arrow cannot select a true path to the target. These are things we must do and must control. What we must forgo is trying to control the outcome of the shot. You have to give up some control of your shot. Striving for complete physical control always interferes with the bow doing what we ask of it.

The attempt to hold the bow in the exact position needed always fails because, as I said in the piece I am working on “The bow and arrow are physical objects, made of quality materials and proper dimensions and organization. They will act the same way under the same conditions . . . if . . . if they are not interfered with. Holding onto the bow through the power stroke and arrow launch is a source of interference, simply because we are incapable to doing something twice in the exact same way, let alone many dozens of times in fairly quick succession.

We need to learn to cradle the bow, not squeeze it, so that when the string is loosed, the bow acts as if it were merely hanging in space by itself. You have to give up some control over the bow (limiting yourself to drawing it, positioning it, and loosing the string) but you have to “remain in control” of your mind.

The main point of the article is that to be consistently accurate you need to shift those attempts at excessive control of the bow over into controlling your mind.

If you allow your subconscious actions with the bow to vary away from your normal shot sequence, aka your “plan to shoot shots,” you will be defeating yourself. Mentally, you have to require your subconscious self to stick to “the plan.” This is why we must be “present” and “aware” consciously while shooting, but not really thinking anything. We are watching, ready to blow the letdown whistle if any deviations to “the plan” are spotted. If you fail to monitor your shots and exert complete mental control over, well, yourself, as soon as you experience any disappointment, your subconscious mind will change the plan to make things “better.” Rather than make up something on the spot, it is more likely to pull something off of the shelf that had been practiced up “before.” If you have ever had an old “bad habit” pop up on you during a competition, now you know where it came from. (They never go away, they are merely sent to the bench.) Any deviation to your current “plan” is highly likely to be counterproductive as it hasn’t been practice or practice recently, not has it been vetted as something that works well for you.

Does this make any sense to you? If it does, does it affect how you teach your students?

 

 

 

 

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More Video Critiques

I am once again plodding where angels fear to tread. The last time I reviewed some videos, I got flamed … oh, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My main point in all of these “reviews” is to encourage you to view all archery videos (and magazine articles, and books, including my own) critically and not just accept them at face value. The videos I address here are from the Archery Winchester site (ArcheryWinchester.com) which I recommend to you highly because they take a science-based approach and use a lot of high speed and stop motion video in their explanations. I do not, however, find their videos to be perfect.

The Archer’s Hook
In this video, they cover a lot about a recurve archer’s finger hook. I will comment about one misstatement and one omission in this otherwise good presentation.

A “classic” string grip.

The misstatement, or at least what I hope was a misstatement, concerns the position of the bowstring on the fingers. The statement made was that the string needed to be “as far out on the fingers as possible.” The picture accompanying this statement is for some strange reason using a slack bowstring, with the string lying on the pads of the top and bottom fingers so how far out is “far out” is debatable. Maybe it is the phrase “as possible” as needing definition.

My recommendation is the more load there is on a finger, the less on a finger tip it should be. To show you what I mean, pick up a strung recurve and place the bowstring on the pads of all three drawing fingers. Pull slightly on the bow string and you will find that the back of your string hand will become arched and tense. This is because of a lack of leverage. The fingers have to be held in this awkward position because if they relaxed, the string would slide off of the pads. And if the entire hand is going to be tense, well tense is synonymous with “slow” and the fingers will not be easily pushed away by the bowstring when you want to loose … and action-reaction, the bowstring will be forced farther out of the plane we want it to be in and we get a highly variable loose. This is called a “tip hook” and it has been tried and rejected. (It is likely the cause of the early retirement from competition by one of the most famous archers in the western tradition, Horace A. Ford, through severe tendonitis.)

The best hook involves being able to relax the string hand completely (relaxed fingers are quick fingers). The muscles making the finger hook are in the upper forearm, so they do not make the hand tense per se.

The primary force line (PFL) is referred to as the second one down on the left.

With regard to the angle of the string on the fingers, that is determined by two things and neither involves fingers. One is the height of the draw elbow. The “ideal” height (according to biomechanics) is the one that has the string forearm in line with the center of pressure of the bow hand on the bow. This line is called the “primary force line” (PFL) and to pull exactly on the line requires either the forearm to be on that line or several other forces to be involved, created by muscles we really do not want tensed. But, for some reason, quite a number of archers have elbow up above that line. Moving the elbow up away from the PFL turns the fingers so the third finger is harder and harder to engage and the first finger is pressing down on the arrow. If the elbow is lower that that line (a worse sin according to many), the top finger is pulled off of the string and the middle finger is pressed up against arrow.

The other factor is the rotation of the hand along the PFL. Classic archery technique recommended the back of the hand be flat (indicating the hand is relaxed … it gets pulled flat) and that it be perpendicular with the ground. This means that the fingers are square (sideways) to the string. This position, however, is very close to the edge of our range of motion, so is stressful to maintain. USA Archery’s national Coach Kisik Lee recommends that the hand be rotated … slightly! … to relieve this stress. The net effect, though, is that the string is no longer square to the fingers and must be on a slant to the fingers with the string out on the finger pad of the bottom (third) finger and the top finger wrapped more around the string.

Since everything … and I do mean everything … in archery is a compromise, this one may make sense. You buy a little comfort in the rotation of the hand about the string forearm (which equates to relaxation) and you give a little with regard to optimal placement of the fingers on the string. have your archers try both positions to see which they prefer.

Archery Form -06- Release and Follow Through
In this video which seems a bit inconsistent to my eye (the same releases seem to be being used as examples of a good release and a bad release) is good but fails to mention an important aspect of this discussion.

In target archery, our goal is consistent accuracy. The equipment can be set to be accurate (sights, set up, tuning, etc.) so the archer is responsible for the consistency as the equipment doesn’t vary (unless something breaks or loosens). This means we are fighting “Bell curves” in space and time. A Bell curve is a Gaussian distribution with is a natural distribution of many things in nature. For the repeated shots of an archer, this manifests itself in target hole patterns. Most of the arrow holes are closer to the center and fewer are encountered as one moves away. This distribution shows up in all of our body positions. If we were to photograph our draw elbow from away for a long series of shots and then superimpose them, would you expect all of the photos to overlap perfectly? No, you would not. (The phrase is “we are not robots.”) Most of the elbow photos would be clustered around an “average” position, and the few that differ from that position differ very little, the more difference from the average, the less likely is that to occur.

A Bell curve (normal curve, Gaussian distribution)

In order for us to be consistent, those photos need to be tightly group together.

The Bell curves are in space, like the photos show, and also in time. If we take a stopwatch to the shots, you will see that some shots go off more quickly than others and some more slowly. We are trying to make these Bell curves in time less spread out like we want the Bell curves in space less spread out. we want to repeat our process as exactly as possible because that is what produces the best results.

This has consequences for our form.

For example, when a shot is made we are taught to keep our bow arms in position until the shot ends. (I say “The shot’s not over until the bow takes a bow.”) The arrow leaves the bow in under 20 milliseconds (that’s 2/100 of a second) so it seems unlikely it will have any effect on our shots if we do no not keep our bow arms up. Letting your bow arm drop upon release is a form flaw called “dropping your bow arm” and it will result in low arrows. The reason? Well, when your bow arm drops “immediately” upon release, “immediately” is actually a Bell curve distribution of when the bow begins to drop. Since there is no exact signal for when this is supposed to happen, it can happen quite early, so early that the arrow is still on the bowstring and letting the bow fall is taking the arrow with it, resulting in low shots.

So, we keep our bow arms “up” through the followthrough (see the poster below).

What this video doesn’t suggest and could have that archers need to keep their string arms “up” through the followthrough also. If we do that the range of motion, the funky motion that is an archery shot, is constrained so that the string hand can get back no farther than the ear. if the draw elbow is dropped, the range of motion becomes quite large and the number of possible movements also becomes quite large and subject to the archer’s desires (this is where fake followthroughs, like touching your shoulder at the end of the shot, come from).

Confusing something that just happens with something you are to do always creates problems for archers. If both arms are kept “up” until the bow takes a bow, everything else happens as a consequence of the forces in play at the loose of the string. This leads to a major benefit to the archer! If the forces on the bow are consistent from shot to shot, the movement of the bow during the followthrough will also be consistent (as it is behaving as a simple, mechanical object). Your followthrough thus becomes a consistency meter. If your followthrough is consistent, you are being consistent. if you had a weird followthrough, you did something different on that shot and you need to look into it.

Elite archers deliberately do things weird in their shots, trying to “help” an arrow into the ten that was on the edge of a nine when the clicker clicked, for example. So, you will see bows pushed out to the left or right, creating weird followthroughs. I haven’t seen any evidence that these attempts to “help” an arrow score better actually work, but I have talked with compound archers who say they do it often and it works for them. (Compound bows, being substantially more massive than recurve bows are a different beast. Since they are more massive, compound bows can be pushed harder and will move less, so more control is available.)

I think the conclusion as to whether this is helpful is still out, so I do not recommend this to any of my students.

A Strong Bow Arm is a Must

Note the position of the cuff of Ms. Han’s bow arm sleeve
 as she progresses through her shot.

 

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