Tag Archives: Form and Execution

Another Barebow Question! (This Time: Draw Length Control)

Here’s the question:

I have switched back to Barebow shooting from Olympic style. I also switched to a three fingers under (3FU) string grip. I am having some difficulty in determining how far to draw back and how high. I am trying to eliminate string slap to my face. I haven’t come across anyone yet who can help me but of course I have just started on this endeavour.”

* * *

Wonderful question. Barebow, in this case it is Recurve Barebow, is so much simpler than other styles, which is why it is so hard! Compared to Olympic Recurve, you don’t have help from a clicker or long rod stabilizers, or side rods, or bow sights. The clicker is what the Olympians use to give them excellent draw length control. In Barebow, we don’t get one … but that doesn’t mean you can’t use one in practice!

Draw length control is critical in Barebow. This is because we are “shooting off of the point,” that is using the arrow point to aim with. Starting from the fact that the arrow is anchored under our aiming eye (critical for windage control) and slants upward to the point which we sight across to our point of aim (POA), if we underdraw the bow, the arrow will protrude outward from the rest more (outward and upward), resulting in us lowering our bow to get it onto our sight line to the POA. But short drawing weakens the bow making our arrows hit lower, and so does lowering the bow! In the reverse situation, overdrawing the bow, causes the arrow to protrude outward from the rest less (less forward means downward also), resulting in us raising our bow to get it onto our sight line to the POA. Double whammy again. Both of these things cause the arrows to fly high.

Conclusion: Barebow is particularly sensitive to draw length.

Now, is this a problem. But your targets can answer that question. If your groups are round, your draw length is well controlled. If it were a problem you would have extra high and low impact points, making your groups elongated up-down.

What if that is what I have?

So, you need to get your draw length under control. There are two factors: full draw position and practice. The standard descriptions of full draw position describe an archer very, very close to the end of the range of motion of what we call “the draw.” Any time you get near the end of the range of motion of any of your body parts you will feel muscles tensing. (Open you arm as far as it will go, push it a little. Feel any thing? Turn your head as far to the right as it will go. Feel any muscle tension? That.) The tension you feel when you are at the end of “the draw” motion, we call “back tension.” The existence of the muscle tension you feel in your upper mid back tells you two things: a) you are using the right muscles, and b) you are near the end of the range of motion. If you don’t feel that tension, then at least one of the two is missing.

So, believe it or not, a clicker installed on your bow … for practice … can help you with both of these things.

With OR archers we do something called a Clicker Check. We ask you to draw through your clicker, but instead of loosing the shot we ask you to keep expanding with your best possible form and then let down. What coach is looking for is how far you can get past the rear edge of your clicker. What we want to see is about a quarter inch (5-7 mm) past. (The last archer I tested was at two inches past, nowhere near full draw.) We do not want to be all the way to the farthest extent of the range of motion in the draw but really close. (We need to allow for day-to-day differences in your energy level.)

So, installing a clicker temporarily allows you to check whether your full draw position is a good one. Then, practice shooting with the clicker focusing on the feel in your back. That feel is something you are going to focus on while shooting. (I recommend you pause 2-3 seconds after the clicker clicks (all the time feeling the feel) so as to not create a dependence of the clicker when shooting Barebow.)

Last, there is something the old guys have to contribute and by ‘old” I mean at least five centuries. In olden days, arrows were draw to the back of the longbow/composite bow, whatever, as a matter of course. It was noticed that the arrow point/pile had a distinctive shape (or feel) when in the full draw position. In medieval times and later with the use of target points, the shape of the “head” was likened to a full moon sitting on the horizon. In any case, when you are at full draw, you are looking at your arrow head in any case as it is your bow sight. When you are shooting well, shoot arrows while focused on the appearance the arrow head makes sitting on your arrow rest. Looking for this shape, once part of your shooting routine will add some credence to the “back tension feeling” telling you that you are at full draw. (This is not as sensitive as in the old days when we “shot off of the knuckle.” The arrow made a dent in the flesh of your hand and the “full moon shape” had a natural horizon. Elevated arrow rests make this less definitive (IMHO, of course).

Getting symmetrical arrow groups tells you when you have it down.

Getting small, symmetrical groups is another task.

Hope this helps!

Oh, and if you are getting string rubs on your face, either you are drawing too deep along your face or you are not turning your head far enough. The draw can go back no farther than the “corner” of the chin in this style although I have seen a recent appeal to a much, much longer draw which I cannot recommend as I have no experience with it nor do I know anyone who does. My experience is that deep draws that cause “chin rubs” are generally caused by the bow shoulder, not by not getting your draw shoulder around far enough. If your bow arm isn’t at 180° to your chest at the shoulder (that is in the same plane), there is no way your rear shoulder can compensate.

As to how high to anchor, having more than one anchor is common in Barebow but many try mightily to use only one. If you are shooting long distances, then the low anchor is recommended. If shorter as in Field Archery under WA, then a higher anchor is probably wise.

As I said, I hope this helps!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Working on “The Real Problem”

I had a fairly full day of lessons yesterday and a couple of things came up that were instructive that I will share with you.

In one case I had a very frustrated Recurve student who has been shooting well of late, but recently has had a problem with fliers, even clusters of fliers. By this I mean while putting most of his arrows in the gold, suddenly putting an arrow in the blue or black. Sometimes as many as three arrows in a six arrow end were such “fliers.”

“What am I doing wrong?” he wanted to know.

We talked a bit to find out how his shots felt and he said they all felt the same. He also said his tune was “good” and that the environments he had been shooting in were not the cause (wind, etc.). So, I asked “What do you think you were doing differently on the ‘bad shots’?” and he said “Nothing.”

I agreed.

So, before I continue, put on your coaching hat and think on what you think was wrong. I’ll wait.

* * *

Got it figured out?

Here are my thoughts. Please note that I am never sure of any diagnosis. I consider each situation a trail I am trying to sniff out, just finding a direction to go in first, all the while looking for confirmation or at least some response to the changes I recommend be made. (As a former college teacher, I used to joke with colleagues that we were being paid to look and sound like we knew what we were talking about. I do not want to give you the impression that I am some sort of tuning guru.)

Part of my diagnosis was due to knowing my student well enough to know that he was a “blame himself first” person. He took responsibility for everything. Taking responsibility is good but with regard to missed shots, there are three potential clusters of reasons: the environment (wind, twigs in the flight path of your arrow (field archery), hummingbirds (it happens), etc.), your equipment, and you. The key point is that if you do not find the right cause of the problem, anything you do will not only not solve the problem, it will probably make it worse. For example, if you have a form problem and you keep buying new equipment to solve it, well you ain’t gonna solve it.

In this case, I felt the most likely cause of the problem was that he had a “critical tune.” This is a bit of jargon that isn’t easy to explain (but I will try). Consider the variable of bow draw weight. For a given arrow, if you start at a “too low” draw weight you will get poor results, indicated by group sizes or positions, say. If you then incrementally increase the draw weight in steps of a pound or two, and continue to test for group size, you will get better results, better results, better results, and eventually poorer results, then even poorer results. If you were to graph these results you would see a line in the profile of a hill. The line would go up, up, up, then flatten out somewhat and then go down, down, down. At the middle of the top of the mesa just described, you will have the optimum draw weight for this combination of bow-arrow-archer. We call that a spine match (changing the power of the bow to match the spine of the arrow). Tune charts suggest that the top of the plateau of the draw weight “hill” is about five pounds wide (approximately!).

A tuning space graph, this one for brace height. In any tuning space variable, you may have more than one “peak” you can tune onto. To get to the highest peak (best performance) it is important to always start tuning from a well set up bow (set everything back to manufacturer’s specifications).

Now there are a lot more variables in the tune of a recurve bow than just draw weight. If you combine all of the variables into one graph (what I call a “tuning space” graph) what we want is a hill with a flat spot on top and we want a tune that is right in the middle of that flat spot. This provides the most “forgiving” tune we can make. The term forgiving refers to your setup’s ability to tolerate variations in your shot and still produce good results. We are not talking about “mistakes” here, mistakes are things done wrong that you could have done right. The variations involved in normal shooting are the quite small differences from shot to shot, simply because we are not robots. Even if you shoot an excellent group, in that group some of the arrows are higher that others, some are more to the left, right, down, etc. If you shot them all the exact same way and the arrows were perfectly matched, each shot would have broken the arrow of the previous shot and archery would be very, very expensive. We all make shots that are almost the same but not quite the same. The range of the variations starts out large when we are beginners and gets smaller as we become more expert, but they never disappear into some form of perfection.

A “critical tune” is a tune where you are not in the middle of the flat spot of the hill in your tuning space graph, but when you are right on the edge of the flat spot. With this tune if you make a variation that pushes you back toward the middle of the flat spot, well, no harm, no foul. But if you make a mistake the other way, a flier is the result. Think of this as walking along the edge of a cliff. If you trip and fall away from the edge, there is no problem, If you trip and fall over the edge … ahhhhhhh!

So, if this student had a critical tune, what does one do?

Well, you could start by cutting arrows shorter or other drastic things, but I prefer to start with adjustments that can be put back and with small adjustments first, large adjustments later. The procedure is to make an adjustment to see if there is an affect.

My recommendation was for this student to shoot a ten arrow group and count the fliers/note the size of the group. Then I asked him to put a full turn onto his plunger/pressure button and test again, then another full turn, etc. What we were looking for was an effect, a change in group size, number of fliers. So, one turn on—no effect, two turns on—no effect, three turns on—no effect. So the button pressure was set back to where it was. (Because you often have to do something like this and then set it back, take notes!) Next he took a full turn off from his original setting and voila, better group, no fliers. He asked “What do we do now? Were we done?” I suggested that that whole turn (a large change, by the way—start with large changes and only go to smaller ones to refine a fairly good setting) that created better test results might be right next to another setting that would create even better results. One more turn and test, one more turn, etc. The idea was to find the flat spot in button pressure tuning space and try to get in the middle of it.

So, we found that spot and I told him he needed to shoot a bit at that setting before doing anything else. My student wanted to know what would be next if more “correction” was need. I suggested brace height tuning. The plunger button is probably the finest tuning adjustment you can make (I did check that the button was neither too weak or too strong, just but pushing on it several times with a finger). I have learned recently that brace height tuning is a great deal more useful than I thought. I was asked how to do that tuning and I told him that it was done the same way as with the button, shoot for a benchmark group and then add 8-10 twists to the bowstring and test again, then repeat. You are looking for a response. If things get worse, go back to where you started (take out all the twists put in) and then take out twists, test, repeat. Again, you are looking for that plateau or range of brace heights that give you the best results and then you want to be close to the middle of that “flat spot.” Once you find that happy middle ground, you can refine your brace height (or whatever) with smaller increments of change.

Happy student, happy coach!

At the core of this problem, though, was that this archer didn’t trust his assessment regarding his shooting. Everything felt well, but since the arrows hit in the wrong place, he must have done something wrong. He was not making mistakes! Just a subset of his normal variations were causing those shots to fall off the cliff of his tuning space hill. This, of course, gets compounded when you think it was because of something you did, so you begin trying slightly different approaches, which makes for greater variation, not less (you haven’t practiced your improvised new shot) and this results in more fliers and more frustration.

Oh, and please note that we are all tinkers and we will, with nary a thought, make adjustments on our bows: we change the plunger button setting, clicker position, we tweak the position of the peep site in our bowstring (compounders), we rotate the nocks on our arrows “by eye.” Often these usually unrecorded “tweaks” accumulate to being a quite different tune from the one you created so carefully during you tuning sessions. People even change arrows, thinking their tune “will hold.” It won’t.

If you need a resource for tuning procedures consider Modern Recurve Tuning, Second Ed.

* * *

Another student reminded me that archer form is a kind of closed system. Any change you make, has consequences elsewhere. In this Recurve student’s case, he had opened his stance a bit to get some of the tension out of his neck. He reported feeling more comfortable while shooting as a consequence.

The problem that comes from such changes is that anything you do with your stance should not have any effect on the arrangement of your shoulders, neck and head. If it does, you changed something else, too. In the case of the stance, when you open your stance, you are rotating your feet in the opposite direction you need to rotate your shoulders to get into good full draw position. The fact that the archer reported less neck strain simply meant that he wasn’t rotating his shoulders as far as he was previously, ergo his line was poorer (and his groups spread left-right accordingly).

If your feet are open and your shoulders need to be closed (10-12 degrees by my reckoning) then everything in between is pulling the shoulders the wrong way. To get a benefit from an open stance, a great deal of flexibility is needed.

Neck strain is a common complaint of Recurve archers. It is caused by having maximum draw force on your body at full draw, which means you benefit from the bracing that standard full draw position provides (which directs the forces involved down the lengths of basically incompressible bones). But this means we must get very close to our bows and therefore we need to turn our head farther than if we were shooting a compound bow, for instance.

The only solution of the neck strain problem is to create more range of motion (in both directions!) for the turning of your head. Since this involves neck vertebrae which are quite delicate, you should seek professional help regarding the stretching routines needed to accomplish this.

* * *

Both of these students are “of an age” and I am very impressed when older folks want to continue in the Olympic Recurve discipline. Of all of the archery disciplines it is the most physically demanding, requiring the greatest strength, stamina, and flexibility. Light weight, stiff carbon arrows really help. Dropping down from the draw weight shot as a youth, helps, but nobody beats Father Time. As we age we get weaker, have less stamina, and are less flexible. That so many older archers are still shooting this way is very impressive to me.

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Attempting to Perfect Their Shot (Don’t Bother)

Many archers are working to “perfect their shot.” I argue that this is a mistake. What they need to be working on is enhancing their skill. Let me explain.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you perfected your own shot in practice yesterday. Every arrow was going into the target center, making groups smaller than the maximum scoring area (the de facto definition of “great groups”). Everything felt easy, nothing troubled you. Your mental program meshed with your physical activities like never before. You were at peace and performing like a man/woman possessed.

That was yesterday.

Today, well today is a different day. You are one day older. Today you are feeling stronger/weaker. You are more/less focused. You … I guess you get the point. The old saying is you can’t cross the same river twice, meaning that the water you walked though the first time has flown away.

Surely, though, you will be very, very close to that wondrous state of yesterday? Will you? There is a saying in golf that “a very good round is seldom followed by another.” This saying tells us that you can’t take that performance with you when you go to bed at night.

Why is this so? Well, I can’t say definitively but it seems that the difference between an excellent shot and just a very good one is very, very little. Rick McKinney is fond of saying that to hit the 10-ring on a target at 90 meters, the arrow point needs to be in a specific circle one sixteenth of an inch wide (about one and a half millimeters wide). Arrow point in that circle, and the aim is good, outside of that circle and not so good … and then there has to be a perfect loose to back that aim up.

The difference in “feel” between the two states is almost nonexistent. The visual pictures of the aperture on the target of the two aims are indistinguishable.

Searching for perfect technique and then thinking that is enough to get you on the winner’s podium is a fool’s errand. The reason it is is not just that you are different from day to day (you are, you know this) but that the task is different, too. Even indoors the conditions are not identical from day to day. Outdoors, the conditions vary widely (think wind, angle of the sun, whether you are standing on flat firm ground or squishy mud, or…, or….

What is better to focus on once your technique is solid is your ability to adapt. If you are breezing along in a tournament and you suddenly shoot a wild arrow into the 3-ring, do you think “Hmm, I’ll have to take a look at the arrow and if there is nothing wrong it, add that to the list of things to work on in practice next week.” Of course not! If there is a problem you need to fix it right away. All of the champions in the aiming sports think the same way.

All elite performers know their personal tendencies, the errors and mistakes they are prone to, and also know how to fix those in real time. This is the core of acquired skill as an archer.

Now you could have your students just go compete and wait for things to show up and experiment with solutions as they perform (exactly how we learned!) but this is a costly approach. If they are just a bit more organized, take a few notes, ask a lot of questions, they can be better prepared for the eventualities.

  • Do you show your students how to inspect their bows and arrows for defects?
  • Do you simulate problems happening during practice rounds so they can practice adapting?
    • Do you ask them to keep lists of their common mistakes?
    • Do you ask them to write down solutions to “problems” whether they worked or didn’t work and examine those in practice?
    • Do you counsel your student-archers to keep their ears open for possible solutions to problems encountered when shooting when talking to other competitors?
    • Do ask your students to take notes after competition sessions?

If not, you are leaving it to “experience” to teach them what they need to learn. And, while experience is “the best teacher,” it is also brutal. For example, would you want your students to learn about target panic by getting it? Or would you like to caution them (sensibly) and then show them how to avoid it?

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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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