Tag Archives: stances

How Not to Toe the “Toe Line”

Beginners are often taught how to align their feet by the simple expedient of laying an arrow down so that it touches the toes of their feet. Thus the “toe line” is born. Initially we want their toe line to point to a spot directly under the target center they are trying to hit and we call this the “square or even stance.”

The arrow is placed on the floor/ground pointed to the target. Then the toes are placed up against that line, one foot at a time.

After this point little is said about the archer’s foot position until much later when we introduce open or closed stances. (Open stances are preferred for mysterious reasons.)

However, if your archer flares, say, their front foot out a bit more than their back foot, then align their toes to the target line, their body will be a closed position. Conversely, if their rear foot is flared a bit more than the front, then their body will be in an open position. And young archers are oh, so flexible and can get into some fairly extreme body positions, all based upon inconsistent foot flaring.

Sometimes we forget that the stance exists to get our upper body into a repeatable, stable position.

Coaches would be better off to pay attention to their student’s heel lines than their toe lines. The heel line doesn’t depend so much on how flared the archer’s toes are. Or we need to have our students control their foot flares as well as their foot positions. Since young people often have, shall we say, “variable posture,” we need them to attend to this. If this seems to be an issue, maybe place “foot flare” on their shot sequence list.

Is this getting a bit too picky? Here I am addressing serious archery students. You can answer this question for yourself with a little research. The next time you are able to attend a youth archery tournament, watch a couple of those archers feet. See if their stance is repeatable or variable. Pay attention to how the feet are flared. If you want to get serious, set up a camera with a telephoto lens and zoom in on the kid’s feet. Take photos of their feet over several shots, preferable several ends. Compare the photos for foot position. If you end up seeing what I saw, you can use the photos to show your students that this applies to them.

If your students are still skeptical, do the Natural Stance drill with them. They will soon see that their body has a mind of its own as to how it will be oriented in space.

And, if it turns out that “all is well” with many of your students, you will have taught them something about the level of attention to detail that one needs to excel.

Addendum Some have noted that since the arrow is placed pointing tot he center of the target, the archers end up standing to the left or right of the target (depending on handedness) and may be shooting at an angle. This might be the case but it is not. Don’t forget where the bow is. It is hanging in space in front of us. Which means we need to stand to one side so that the arrow line can be in a vertical plane with the center of the target. Standing slightly to the side of the target lane allows the archer’s arrows to be above the target line, which they must be if they want to hit target center.

Second Addendum The phrase “to toe the line” did not come from target archery, but most likely from the military where sailors and soldiers that to “lie up” with the toes upon a line. Many people think this began in the days of wooden ships as the sailors were usually barefoot and the deck boards made handy lines.


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Back Tension from Different Anchor Positions

QandA logoI got an absolutely fascinating question about anchor points just yesterday. Here it is:

Hi, Coach Ruis:
I am working on my anchor point and back tension. I typically use a split finger/chin/nose anchor point for my Olympic bow and sight. I also recently acquired a Samick Sage recurve I use for roving/stump shooting. I have been trying to figure out string walking/point of arrow aim for my Samick for stumping.

I started to use a three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor to reduce the string walking crawl sizes relative to a split finger, under chin anchor. Using the corner of the mouth anchor and string walking, my crawls decreased ~75% in size. My precision using the corner of the mouth anchor has also improved noticeably over my under chin anchor (and the bow sounded much happier when loosing).

My question really is about back tension. When using the three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor, all of a sudden I can easily feel the barrel of the gun through my upper back relative to the chin/nose anchor. My draw length increased a full inch using the corner of the mouth anchor, so I am guessing this is the cause of the new positive upper back sensation.

I am thinking that if I could get this sensation with my Olympic bow/chin/nose anchor, this would be a very good thing. How can I make this happen?

* * *

There are quite a few changes going on in both of these anchoring positions. One you do not mention is draw arm position. When using a “high” anchor, corner of the mouth or higher, your draw arm position is different. (Stand up, assume the position of your low, under chin, anchor and then switch to the high anchor position and note the different positions of your draw arm at full draw.) The whole purpose of the low anchor is to be able to shoot longer distances. Back when everyone “shot off of the point” the line of sight across the arrow point and the point of aim (POA) fixed the arrow point in space somewhat. To get more distance it was necessary to lower the back end of the arrow, hence the lower anchor position for longer shots. This draw arm position affects the use of muscles in your back.

Shooting long distances also results in upper body tilt, which changes eye angle and lots of other things that affect “feel.”

Another point you do not mention is head tilt. In order to get a workable low anchor, I must tilt my head up slightly. If I use the same head position as I have with my high anchor for my low anchor shooting, my string fingers, positioned under my jaw line are on a surface sloping down, so when the shot is loosed, the top finger slides along the jaw line … downward which creates resistance and drag. By tilting your chin up slightly the path the string follows as the string flicks them out of the way is cleared.

Such are the sources of different feelings (along with the ones you mention).

My impression is that the high anchor encourages involvement of the muscles somewhat higher in your back, which when bunched up due to contraction are easier to feel. The low anchor involves muscles lower in your back which I suspect are somewhat harder to feel. (When archery coaches talk about using muscles lower in your back, they are referring to muscles lower … in your upper back.) So, I suspect that the difference in “feel” is real and you basically do not want to have the same feeling of back tension in both because that would mean you were using the same muscles when your arm angle was different.

If shooting Barebow as you describe (which I love) is relatively new to you, then the sensations in your back are relatively new and hence more noticeable. With time they might fade to the same level of feeling as in your high anchor shooting. Also, in many shooting techniques, surrogates for back tension are employed. For example, many of the Koreans focus on the feeling of the position of their draw elbow instead of the feeling in their backs. To some extent this is because the feeling of tension in the back diminishes due to humdrum regularity.

Another possibility is that you might need to open your stance when shooting Olympic Recurve. If you are particularly flexible, you may not be engaging your back muscles enough to get a strong feeling. In Rick McKinney’s book, “The Simple Art of Winning,” he claims that having an open stance allowed him to “get into his back” better. I found this puzzling at first, until I found some pictures of Mr. McKinney (in his prime) with his open stance and his draw elbow 2-3 inches past line. If he had been using a square stance, his elbow would have been even farther past line which have had negative influences on his shots. Unfortunately, their success lead to the adoption of the open stance by almost everyone, but this is a source of problems. In McKinney’s and Pace’s cases the open stance reduced their ability to get in line, which lead to a stronger feeling of back tension, strong enough that they could use that feeling to tell whether they were in the correct full draw position. If you are not as flexible as they were, this would be a mistake as it would probably reduce the quality of your alignment (as it does for hundreds/thousands of archers, young and old, I observe).

The only way to tell whether this is in play for you is to experiment a bit. I like to use a 10# bow for this, but any light drawing bow will do. Start with a square stance and draw to anchor and see what your back feels like. With a 10# bow you can play a little, moving your draw arm and shoulder around and feeling the effects of those position changes. Then open your stance by 10 degrees and repeat. Then another 10 degrees, etc. McKinney shot with about an 80 degree open stance when he was shooting in stiff wind (the torsion in your trunk helps stabilize your stance), so you can go as far as you want with this experiment … or as far as you can. ;o) The key thing is if you get a better feeling in your back with one of those stances and you can maintain good line, then this is something you might want to incorporate into your shot. The key element, though, is maintaining or achieving good line. In the Chicago area, you can recognize almost any recurve archer who has worked with me as they probably shooting from a closed stance. (Orthodox sources on form and execution do not even mention closed stances any more.) A closed stance makes it easier for you to get in line and after my students learn to shoot with good line I encourage to explore any other stance they want, as long as they maintain good line.

Is this enough food for thought? If not, do note that high and low anchors do change draw lengths (and affect tunes thereby). For compound archers changing from “fingers” to “release” or the reverse also affects draw length.


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Lining Up

QandA logoHere’s another question that came into this blog recently: “Coach, any tip on aligning your stance with the target face. My kid always thinks he is standing right on line with the target but actually the target is behind his back.”

One thing you might try is to have him lay an arrow down at his position on the shooting line that points to a spot directly under the target center (any old arrow will do and do not do it for him, have him do it). Then his stance is aligned to the arrow. Doing this for a while leads to the ability to imagine such an arrow laying on the line and aligning his feet to it.

Basically, if he shoots from the same foot position for long enough his body will only feel “normal” if his feet are in the right place. If his feet are misplaced, he will have to swivel around to get aimed at the target and that will feel “odd.” This body awareness leads to adopting the same stance over and over, but only once the archer’s body is informed of the desire to have it so. I take particular pains to establish my shooting position the first couple of trips to the shooting line every time I shoot.

And do not assume that this should be “easy.” When shooting indoors I love to see a shooting floor that has been tiled (tiles here are typically 12˝ x 12˝ and made of something like vinyl). This creates a grid of lines many of which lead straight to the targets at the other end of the range. I use these straight lines as a starting point to build my stances (stances because they are different for recurve and compound).

Now, which stance of the myriad possibilities he will end up with is another question, but the primary need for stances is that they can be found consistently and to do that some such ability to orient to the target is needed. You can see the same effort in professional golfers standing behind their golf balls and eying a line to their target, some even swing their arms along that line or hold up the shaft of the club in hand it help them “see” it.

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