From the 'Illustrated Guide to Archery Method' by Liu Qi (Qing, 1722)


Instructions for Horseback Archery


          Since ancient times, horseback archery has lacked any supporting literature. All that is said is that "the rider and his horse must practice together". Even if you survey the literature on general horsemanship, all you find is "six reins in the hand", "like a troupe dancing together" etc[bd1] .


"The rider and his horse must practice together" means just this: the rider must know the habits of the horse, and the horse must understand the intentions of the rider. The two should not be [in a relationship of] one driving and the other resisting[bd2] .


          "Like a troupe dancing together" just means that the rider must make all his actions fluid and harmonious; fast and slow pace should proceed appropriately, not in fits and starts.


          These two phrases sum the whole thing up, and you can use them as a basis to follow up from.


          Is it not true that the heart of the matter is in skill in galloping? Those who have such skills are 'in the know' while those who haven't are 'outsiders'.  Isn't it true that those who can't shoot on horseback are just those who lack skill in galloping? Those who are afraid panic and get flustered into making errors. People who are frightened do not dare to gallop. Then how can they practice together with their horse? People who are panicked are not in control; then how can they make their actions fluid and harmonious[bd3] ?


          Who has ever heard of a capable horseback archer who suffered from these  two disabilities?


          There is a saying: "The people of the South go about on boats; the people of the North go on horseback." Now Manchu and Han people are called upon to become close to one-another; yet the Han people cannot reach the standard of the Manchus. Why is that? Because the latter practice their own method right from childhood. Starting from childhood, horse and man naturally become as one. How can they but be alone in extending their natural abilities?


          Moreover, they are in the habit of making regular visits to the camps of their princes. They travel over very wide areas.  As they interact with their peers, they absorb their traditional knowledge more and more deeply. This is in fact not more than what is expressed in the two terms "practicing together" and "like a troupe dancing together", and is a completely different kettle of fish from "fear and fluster." It has almost become an immutable rule[bd4] .


          So I shall describe horseback archery so that our generation can rid themselves of this weakness. If we can rid ourselves of this weakness, everyone will receive enormous encouragement and apply themselves assiduously to the task. Furthermore, who will fear that their horseback archery skills are imperfect? I am therefore setting out the following twelve explanations so that my exposition of horseback and infantry archery will be complete.


          There is nothing difficult about riding a horse: it's just a matter of becoming accustomed to it. Naturally, there are some special skills involved. In this volume, I reckon nervousness to me the main source of faults. There are centuries' worth of ironclad evidence to support this.


The organization of this work


There are twelve sections to this work. The main premise is that the horse must be well-trained. If the horse is well-trained, the movements of the body with be fluid. Practicing horseback archery is not difficult[bd5] ! So I have set out riding method first, followed by shooting method. This approximates to the idea of 'proceeding from the more difficult subject to the easier one'.


Selecting your horse


A horse must possess inherent quality before it can be ridden. A stubborn or inadequate horse has no place in a battle: even less should you want such a horse to display your prowess [in the Examination]? Any horse that possesses inherent quality doesn't necessarily have to be a champion. It just has to respond correctly to the rider's intention to start and stop, go fast or slow. Of course, there's no harm in champion qualities if you can get them. (Some horse-owners may learn something new here[bd6] !)


Training your horse


          There are more good horses in the world than bad ones.  But how can people just care for them when it suits them? The key to everything is avoiding irregular feeding and watering[bd7] . Even more important is systematic training and practice. Whatever sights the horse has not seen before, it must be exposed to regularly; whatever sounds the horse has not heard before, it must be exposed to regularly. It must be brought into close contact with the things that will normally be around it and kept away from the things that will normally not be present[bd8] . The best training starts with training in its nature, and then training its strength. Like this, every horse will be good. (Everyone who owns a horse must realize this!)


Riding a Horse


          Once you get up on a horse, your attention must never wander away from the horse. (Not letting your mind wander away from the horse is a trade secret of horsemanship.) You must co-ordinate the use of reins and the crop. Whether going fast or slow, you must keep easy, without using force. When you make the horse gallop, apply equal pressure with both knees. If you relax pressure on one side, the horse will veer towards that side. If you have the reins in your hands, you use them to steer the horse; and if you have to let go the reins, you use your knees for the job. That is the general approach. With a strange horse, you need to estimate how hard his mouth is before you start to ride it[bd9] .




Mount your horse quickly and lightly[bd10] . Try always to mount from a block[bd11] . If none is available, then hold the reins and the mane with your left hand and gripping the pommel with your right, get your left foot into the stirrup close up to the saddle[bd12] . The special skill is in finding the right stirrup when you are on the saddle[bd13] . (The original comments that the textual note at this point makes no sense.) With plenty of practice you will be light on your feet and quick, and look good. Moreover, this looks orderly and dignified[bd14] .


Body position


The rider's main aim in his body position should be to maximize the strength in his hips. Secondly, you want to get your crotch firmly settled around the saddle. If your crotch is firmly settled around the saddle, your waist will naturally be straight and firm.  The most important remaining skill is to avoid flopping about[bd15] . For example, you need to get both knees firmly gripping the front of the saddle, both calves gripping the horse's flanks and pressing into the stirrups with the feet. But you should not insert you feet too far into the stirrups[bd16] . Your grip on the reins should be lively - not insensitive[bd17] . Your bottom should not be pressing down on the horse's spine and your heels shouldn't be clamped around the horse's belly[bd18] . In this way, you body position will be correct. It's not difficult once you have practiced it.


Getting the horse into a gallop


Don't try getting the horse into a gallop while you are still in the starting circle. You should hold back on the reins and the bridle and get the horse into the runway first. Move your horse on a few paces to get the movement of the hooves even, then gently give the horse the bit[bd19] . How many people know 'The rider at ease, the horse going smoothly, and from within this the bow and arrow are controlled.' (Actually, only the old hands know this.)


Reining in the horse


How you rein in the horse depends on the horse’s mouth; but it mustn't be done in too much of a rush. Don't bring the horse's head up[bd20] . You need to make sure the reins and bridle are controlled evenly: hold the reins firmly on each side of the mane[bd21] . Pull both arms in to your side and apply even pressure through your arms, waist, knees, hands and feet. Don't keep your limbs loose or move them around. Don't lean forward or backward. Be natural, firm and without unnecessary movement. (This is really the expert's method.)




You should dismount effectively and conveniently. 'Effectively' means you should get your feet out of the stirrups quickly. 'Conveniently' means being able to twist you body around quickly. The former should be achieved without getting stuck and the latter without getting encumbered[bd22] . Every element of horsemanship, from mounting to dismounting, has its own things you should get accustomed to, then shooting will present no problem.


Normal riding and riding off-centre


Normal riding and riding off-centre are two different things. In normal riding, the main force is taken on the crotch. This method is used for shooting level. When riding off-centre, you have your bottom slightly off-centre. This method is used for shooting at the ground. You use level shooting for shooting at a target set up on the wall of runway. You use shooting at the ground for shooting at the ball on the ground[bd23] .


Shooting at a target set up on the wall of runway


When shooting at a target set up on the wall of runway, the left side of your ribcage should be sideways on [to the target]. Extend your left upper arm outward slightly. That means you can draw the bow easily from the chest. This should be achieved with a heroic action[bd24] .


As regards aiming, every archer has his own instincts. On the one hand, you don't want to be inflexible; on the other, you don't want to put an arrow through your horse's leg!


(Attain stability.)


Shooting at the ball on the ground.


Shooting at the ball on the ground, you should lean forward onto you left knee, and let your left upper arm extend down slightly. Then your back will be stretched and you will be firm in the saddle. The arrow should go out with sufficient force[bd25] .


As regards aiming, you should take account of the horse's speed. You should mainly rely on your instinct, but you want to avoid shooting straight down onto the top of the ball [which would fail to dislodge it from its holder[bd26] .]


(Attain stability.)


Some things to avoid


·        With the horse at the gallop, when you let go of the reins, don't use the crop too much[bd27] .

·        Don't use your feet in the stirrups to slap the horse's flanks[bd28] .

·        Don't stand up in the stirrups as you attempt to keep facing the target[bd29] .

·        Don't feel around or look at the string or the nock when nocking your arrow[bd30] .

·        When drawing the bow and looking back at the target, don't let your chest or knee get in the way of the string[bd31] .

·        When shooting level at the target, don't release too soon or too late.

·        When reining in your horse after shooting, don't hang you bow over your shoulder[bd32] .

·        Don't cant your bow as you draw[bd33] .

·        Don't yank on the string as you release[bd34] .


(All of this is good advice.)


The previous twelve sections are all things you need to pay attention to during practice sessions. Internally, you can gain power, while externally you will look better. You can't avoid making yourself completely familiar with all of them.


Once you on your horse and at the examination ground, drawing the bow and releasing the arrow should be like a flash of lightning; quick as a sudden storm[bd35] . Moreover, you should take these words from the 'flying general' as the spirit of horseback archery:


"A nerve of iron, a cautious heart, easy in your breathing, flexible in your strength, quick of eye and skilled of hand."


Although the eighteen characters above are something the horseback archer cannot afford not to know, I have left them until last so that if I have left anything out, they can make up for it.



Bringing the Horse onto the Course


In this illustration, note how he is bringing the horse onto the course without nervousness or fluster. The position of his hands, arms, hips, knees, and feet are also correct: none of these points should be overlooked.





Practicing the position for level shooting


In this illustration, note these important points: how he has his hips sideways to the target and his buttocks are immobile; he is extending his arms forward and his shoulders are at ease. When the bow is fully drawn, it is vertical. And once again, his weight is spread between his knees. You should observe this model carefully.




Shooting Down at the Ball on the Ground


In this illustration, note how he has his knees flexed and is bent forward at the hips, and he has raised the string to his chest to get a view of his target.  This is the style that the Manchus are accustomed to: the stance that gives the facility usually to be able to hit. Learning it is easy; but do not let your right foot leave the stirrup and do not relax your grip on the top of the saddle with both knees. This is an important method.


Bringing the Horse Back in After Shooting.


In this illustration, note how he is calmly reining in the horse, both upper arms pressed into the ribcage, his strength distributed over his whole body, leaning neither backward nor forward, driving forward with each step. Besides having the appearance of being at ease, it keeps the four hooves regular, thus permanently avoiding errors of shying or stumbling on the part of the horse.


The foregoing four mounted archery positions are all closely based on the style of the Royal Bodyguard. That they are extremely reliable and conversant [with the art] is beyond any doubt. Starting from our own generation, they have been selected for their excellence from among all candidates in the Imperial examinations. The only thing you need is complete familiarity and ease with your horse and your bow. This is something that you can acquire on your own: it does not need to be covered in this volume.


Ren-yan Year of Kang Xi (1722).



 [bd1]I assume this refers to chariot teams.

 [bd2]Familiarity of the rider and horse with each other and the actions and equipment of archery are necessary. It is interesting that riding in formation and acting in groups is not stressed too.

 [bd3]The basic ability to ride is what is being stressed here.  If you can’t gallop, you can’t ride well enough to shoot. A galloping horse is a more stable shooting platform than any other gait. Attacks were made at the gallop and retirements were conducted that way also.

 [bd4]There was a prejudice among the British in India that there were “martial races” and that sepoys should only be recruited from them. This was a nineteenth century conceit. Previously, the British were quite successful at training almost anyone. However, if your recruits are already proficient at two of your major requirements, there must be a saving of time and effort.

 [bd5]We would all like a well trained horse! It does wonders for one’s self confidence, but I think the good horseman can make do with almost anything. The difference is he (or she) knows the difference between good and bad.

 [bd6]Another good general comment. In military writings about cavalry in the West, tractability is highly regarded in remounts.

 [bd7]This is where steppe armies had some advantage. The horses grew up in a tough environment. If that wasn’t enough, Turkmen tribes used to “condition” their horses by sweating and reducing their water rations until they were lean and fit.

 [bd8]Many horses are very reactive when presented with unfamiliar objects. The intent of this advice is a bit obscure, at first we are asked to expose and then to restrict. What is normal for a horse in battle?

 [bd9]This is all good advice. It indicates the horses were trained to leg aids. There is always the difficulty that the acrobatic movements needed for mounted archery will be misunderstood by the horse as a command.

 [bd10]Good advice.

 [bd11]This seems to be contrary to good sense. In battle, are you going to wander around looking for something to mount from? It is much better to practise mounting unaided unless you are elderly or infirm. I notice that mounting blocks were provided among the stone fittings (statues, columns etc.) for imperial tombs.

 [bd12]John Wayne would have agreed. It is a bit safer to have your right hand flat on the off-side of the seat next to the pommel. You never know how tight the girth is.

 [bd13]This sounds like someone who’s had problems. Light stirrups often make it hard to get the right foot in place. The Turks developed a separate loop on the stirrup that the stirrup leather went through to turn the stirrup 90 degrees. The Japanese turned the stirrup leather mounting around 90 degrees instead.

 [bd14]Maybe the purpose of the mounting block was to look dignified.

 [bd15]Stability is obviously the point here. I have seen Olympic dressage riders whose bodies bounced around like floppy toys while others looked still and calm. The appearance of competence also counts.

 [bd16]Qing paintings often show the ball of the foot in the centre of the stirrup’s circular base. It seems a good position for a heelless boot with a flat based stirrup. Early boots used in the Jin dynasty had very short vamps, which prevented the foot from going too far into the stirrup. The Turks and Persians often used heeled boots or over-shoes which prevented the foot from slipping too far into the stirrup as well. However, they also used large stirrups with heelless boots, where their foot position was similar to the Manchus.

 [bd17]With a snaffle bit, this is normal. The thin mouth pieces of some of these bits could have been severe if mishandled.

 [bd18]Does this mean a slightly standing position as recommended by Taybugha?

 [bd19]Even without the runway to contend with this is good advice.

 [bd20]Because a snaffle bit does not work on the horse’s mount correctly in that position.

 [bd21]This implies riding holding the reins in both hands. This would be most unusual and paintings rarely show it. Riding with one hand is the norm (usually the left with the whip in the right). However, when getting your horse up to full speed quickly, it would help.

 [bd22]Aside from the indignity at an examination, when a mounted archer was fully kitted up, there were many things to get tangled up and damage if you were stuck in a stirrup while dismounting. Of course there are head injuries to worry about too.

 [bd23]When Afghans play buz-kashi (lit. “goat drag”, a game played with a headless goat or calf as the ball), they invariably ride in this off centre position. I have tried it and it is just as stable and almost as comfortable as normal.

 [bd24]This section, is it referring to shooting at a target at shoulder height or one right on the ground at the lip of the runway?

 [bd25]Where is this target in relation to the runaway? Is it on the floor against the side?

 [bd26]Shooting at an angle downwards as in “qighaj” (as described in Saracen Archery) has general utility in hunting and warfare.

 [bd27]Saracen Archery recommend getting the horse to a stable gallop and using the “aid” only to maintain the pace. Essentially this is the same advice. Make sure the horse is committed to the gallop, not about to drop out of it.

 [bd28]If you don’t use spurs and you have a whip, there is no point in using you feet and it will disturb your stability.

 [bd29]Rather than an admonition against standing in the stirrups, I think this means don’t use it at this point for this purpose. Again, this is a stance related comment similar to the previous one.

 [bd30]Taybugha in Saracen Archery and other Middle Eastern writers recommend nocking without looking at the arrow or the string in all cases. Except when using an arrow guide I follow this procedure myself.

 [bd31]If you get you arm out of alignment with your shoulders, your chest could be struck by the string. The technique is to turn from the waist. How do you hit your knee?

 [bd32]The Mamluks threw the bow down onto the forearm. Putting some types of composite bows over the shoulder would be dangerous to the bows themselves. No one mentions trying to put it back into the bowcase, which wasn’t worn in examinations.

 [bd33]This is a choice of the style. Other styles (in the Middle East) allowed canting the bow as part of the aiming process.

 [bd34]Basic advice.

 [bd35]i.e. Don’t hesitate. You only have a narrow window of opportunity to shoot.