From the 'Wu Bei Yao Lue' (Principle Outlines of Military Preparedness) by Cheng Ziyi (Ming, 1638)


Instructions for Horseback Archery


For horseback archery, you need to select a good horse first, then train with it in preparation for use. Get it fully accustomed to galloping, not cutting corners at speed, turning to the right in response the pressure from the left knee and vice-versa. You can't start shooting until the horse and the rider are attuned to one-another[bd1] .


          The bow and arrows should be in a bow-case and quiver. You loose off one arrow after the other. Nowadays, many people grip two arrows at the grip of the bow because they regard taking arrows from the quiver as demonstrating a lack of skill[bd2] .


          The method of shooting is to push out the bow like 'the moon rising from your breast'. You nock an arrow like 'the cross-bar on a weighing scale'[bd3] . The left hand holds the bow canted while the right hand touches your nipple. Draw the bow slowly and then release. As long as your upper arms and shoulders are level, you will score a kill with every shot[bd4] .


If you can master the three styles, ‘shooting across the mane’ (meaning forward), ‘shooting over  the stirrup’ (meaning sideways or down at the ground) and the ‘Parthian Shot’ (meaning to the rear), then you will have mastered the skill of horseback archery[bd5] .


In today's parade-grounds, just ‘shooting over the stirrup’ is regarded as sufficient. But on the battlefield, you may get a sudden enemy charge from the right side. In that case it goes without saying that you need to shoot ambidextrously[bd6] . If you can't do it, you just have to press with the left knee to get the horse to turn quickly to the right so as to be able to kill the enemy[C7] .


Practicing with horses is the urgent duty of military officers: in the battle ranks, it is a matter of life or death.


Instructions for Cavalry Warfare


          Whenever you go into battle, make sure your saddle, girth and reins are all properly tightened. For the saddle, use a girth with two buckles, and use a pair of belly-straps made of "thousand-catties leather" if you want to be really secure[C8] . The way the reins are secured depends on the individual rider's convenience: some people secure them to the left and right above the stirrups[C9] ; some people knot them around the horse's neck, and some  hang them over the pommel[C10] . You should use a strap to secure the stirrups together under the horse's belly [C11] and to the stirrup leathers on the opposite side. This will give you a firm footing and stop you from falling off if the horse shies suddenly[C12] .

In battle, "As powerfully as if chasing the wind, the eye moves like a bolt of lightning, draw the bow fully, immediately loose off the arrow," then every shot will score a kill[C13] . The long and short weapons you carry on horseback should duplicate each-other: a short spear, pike or sabre in front, followed by a spiked mace or short sword, followed by a leather or chain whip. Long weapons can back up the short ones and short ones protect the long ones. That constitutes well-organized cavalry warfare.


How to pick up arrows

In horseback archery, when you are undergoing normal training, you can hold the reins in your right hand and, holding the bow in your left you can use the [string nock on the] siyah of the bow to pick up arrows that have fallen on the left (and vice-versa for arrows falling on the right[C14] ). If the arrows are stuck in the ground, catch them between the string and the bow-limb to get them out[C15] .


If you have the stirrups secured together with a leather, you use a different method. Suppose the arrow is on the left, secure your right foot in the stirrup and free your left foot, then it's very easy to lean over and stretch down to the ground to pick the arrow up. (And the opposite for arrows on the right[C16] .)


This is not only useful for picking up arrows: it's also handy for cutting off enemy heads as proof of your kills. In battle, the last thing you want is to dismount from your horse[C17] !



 [bd1]This closely follows Taybugha’s advice. The rider must be in control of his horse. For recreational horseback archery, without the stress of battle, a good archer will generally outperform a good horseman. Knee aids are not strongly stressed. If you must turn in the saddle, a horse trained to leg aids might misinterpret the pressure as a command.

 [bd2]Using a quiver and bow case makes horseback archery much simpler. Holding arrows against the bow is often part of a rapid shooting technique which is better accomplished on horseback by training at withdrawing the arrows from the quiver quickly and surely. If you have to throw you bow down onto your forearm or return it to its case, having a handful arrows to discard is a disadvantage.

 [bd3]Nock at rightangles?

 [bd4]Pointing the arrow at the target may help. I assume the idea is that the arm/shoulder position will assure a strong shot, which will result in an effective blow from the arrow.

 [bd5]Taybugha and the other Middle Eastern authors go into greater detail, but their major shots are shooting at the slant (qighaj), shooting at an elevated target (qabaq) and shooting horizontally. Backwards, forwards, right or left are considered variations.

 [bd6]The author of “Saracen Archery”, Taybugha, considered a properly trained mounted archer could shoot around an arc of 270 degrees (this was partially accomplished by using the technique called jarmaki, which allowed the drawing hand to be lodged on the other side of the head). However, Islamic miniature paintings clearly show ambidextrous archers ( the quiver is on the opposite side to the drawing hand). As well, ambidexterity is considered a useful trait in the literature.

 [C7]This presupposes a number of conditions: enough room to maneuver; none of your own side who will get in the way.  Unless the archers were advancing in a column, their right sides would be protected by their neighbours.  These archers then would have the responsibility of defending their colleagues. It would be easier to turn head on to the enemy than to perform a 180 degree turn. With a single line of archers, turning away from the enemy and shooting back at them would be easier and effective. 

 [C8]Here I am unsure of what is meant. Are belly straps equivalent to the girth with two buckles? The  standard European girth has buckles at each end and two or more straps are attached to the saddle to fasten it. In Mongolia, Tibet and places west, it is not unusual to have girth that passes over the side bars of the saddle, but under the seat. This has one buckle and a tongue at the other end or rings at each end. In European practice, the precise positioning of the girth is achieved by careful adjustment of the straps and the girth buckles. The Manchus and the modern Mongolians often used a second girth towards the rear of the saddle called a flank girth in the US. The Circassian-style saddles used by some Cossack regiments often had up to four girths, which provided more grip in mountainous areas and considerable redundancy in case one failed.

 [C9]Some circus performers do this. In the rough and tumble of battle, I think it would be extremely unsafe. How does the rider regain full control of the horse after shooting? Another pair of reins?

 [C10]This is standard practice in the Middle East and is shown in Chinese and Persian paintings.

 [C11]This would so restrict the rider’s freedom of movement that it hardly seems suitable for a mounted archer. The Khitan cavalry chained together in small units might have used it.

 [C12]Big heavy stirrups with wide treads do this better and were very common in China from the Tang dynasty at least. In Western Asia, heavy stirrups were the norm with few exceptions.

 [C13]Draw and shoot without hesitation. Don’t pause as on the target field. This is excellent and pertinent advice for the mounted archer, the hunter and the infantry archer. Shoot quickly and accurately or you might end up dead.

 [C14]I find this hard to credit. Even after our discussion in Sydney, where you pointed out that some bows had special nocks on the tips of the ears for this purpose, I still think the target is too small to aim for when on a restive horse in a lull in battle. We are talking of trying to pick up a 9-12 mm wide object at the end of your bow while sitting on a horse.  The position of the string nock on a Chinese bow would not allow you to pick up an arrow from the ground without the modification you  mentioned. Many steppe horseman had games which involved picking up items from the ground, while galloping past on a horse. This, though difficult, is more likely. However, you might spill the rest of your arrows in the process.

Perhaps this would have been a good examination subject because it would test so many aspects of the archer’s coordination of horseback.

The Indians had a special device, the length of an arrow with a split end, with which they picked arrows up. The surviving examples have a sliding ring which locks the end of the device once the arrow is captured. It was carried in the quiver. When I get too lazy to pick up arrows, I’ll make one.

 [C15]This might work, though I have never tried it on horseback. I think it would depend on the angle of the “neck” to the string. In  Ming times, some bows had long necks with shallow angles to the strings, which would have allowed this practice.

 [C16]In Afghanistan and other places, where their stirrups aren’t secured, they lean out of the saddle to pick up objects such as coins, kerchiefs and stuffed goats. I think any riders can be taught this and it can even be done at the gallop by the better ones. With an open quiver, it might not be worth the risk, unless the quiver was empty and you really needed an arrow!

 [C17]A valid point. Even in everyday life, nomads try to avoid dismounting. Being on the ground puts you a disadvantage and remounting can be difficult with an excited horse.