Qingxi Zhuyong: "An Collection and Explanation of the Seven Military Classics"


Horseback Archery Method.


Horseback archery differs from archery on foot. The crux of the matter lies in training of the horse in advance of the examinations.


In advance of the examinations, start at a slow walk, then proceed to a trot. After a while, you should become completely familiar and manage riding without thinking of the technicalities.


Shooting on horseback, archers should be still rather than moving about,  and should value taking things easy rather then rushing them[bd1] .


At full gallop, the flexibility of the archer's body means that he is bound to move; but if his movements are not stable then the method is incorrect. This is what is meant by 'still'[bd2] . The speed of the horse and the repeated release of the arrows must be rapid. Nevertheless, if the archer is quick but not at ease, than that is still an error. That is why one talks of 'taking things easy'.


The essence is: stability within movement and ease within speed. This is where students needs to focus their attention.


Urging the horse on


When urging the horse on, the archer needs to settle down into the saddle and not stand up in the stirrups. Sitting down in the saddle is stable, while standing up in the stirrups is weak[bd3] . You must grip the front part of the saddle [technical term?] firmly with the knees, or else grip the lower part of the horse's belly [technical term?], and then you will be stable and won't commit errors. If you commit the error of pushing firmly down on the stirrups, you will fail.


At a canter, you need to lean slightly forward: don't sit completely upright. If you lean forward slightly, you will be able to resist the onrush of the wind. If you sit completely upright the wind will bother you and you can't devote your strength [to other things].


Furthermore, you should have your left (bow-hand) side of your body and your left foot forward: don't keep your body and feet completely level[C4] . With your the left side of your body and your left foot forward, you have more freedom of movement. If you keep them level you lose mobility[C5] .


When your horse breaks into a canter, you need to make your movement follow those of your horse. If you lean forward first and then wait for the horse to break into a canter, there's a risk that your body will topple forward and your position will become unstable. You can use your crop to get the horse into a canter; but whatever you do, don't raise your hand high otherwise you will find yourself in difficulty. Once the horse is cantering within the circular part of the course you can take up and nock an arrow gently. You should never snap your hand down and rush it in toward your bow, or else slap your crop downward sharply on the left, otherwise you will make the mistake of tangling the arrow in the horse's mane or striking your own thigh with the crop[C6] .


Don't let go your grip on the reins too early otherwise you risk the horse not moving straight ahead, or not being under control. You release the reins only when you draw your bow; but only do that if your horse can be relied upon. The rein should be tied short, not long. If the reins are too long, they will dangle down on one side and get in the way of the horse's legs[C7] .


In the examination ground there is a walled course, so you can slip the reins into your belt. You needn't worry so much about the reins being long [enough to slip into your belt] because the walled course will keep the horse running straight ahead. But on open ground you can't do the same otherwise you risk getting your bow snared in the reins or your belt when you draw.


When you rein the horse in, you must still keep your weight forward slightly; whatever you do, don't lean back or stretch your legs out. If you stretch your legs forward, you risk using too much force. Then the horse may shy and your body position will be too insecure.


To rein in your horse, the best thing is to pull the horse's head straight back, not to pull it to one side. If the horse turns its head to the side, it may not be able to see in front of it and there could be an accident[C8] . Likewise, if you pull the horse's head up, it will have difficulty in seeing what is on the ground.  You need to pull back evenly on the reins with your hands near the mane[C9] .


There are differences between horses and between the strength of different riders' arms. There's a saying: 'it's wrong to let you body flop left and right when you're astride a horse'. Another saying is that 'if you flop around [in the saddle], you don't know how to ride properly.'


The rider's movements [in the saddle] are determined by the movements of the horse; although the rider bobs about he's not 'flopping around'. If you don't get the correct way [of moving] you will always be very unstable: how can you manage like that? As to spreading the thighs, allowing the shins to flap or slouching in the saddle, these are to be avoided at all costs[C10] .


When nocking your arrow, don't do it high in the air. Keep your hands low and the bow canted. Nocking with the bow held high is the incorrect method while low is the correct posture. You need to cant the bow because you can't hold it vertical without risking it hitting something[C11] .


Draw your bow by stages, drawing it up and open toward the centre of your chest. Draw gradually as you draw level with the [target] ball. Don't rush it as you approach the target ball. If you rush things, it is faulty style and you will find it difficult to hit[C12] .


You mustn't look at the arrow while you nock[C13] . Your vision is not steady enough when your are galloping on horseback and you risk pulling the nock off the string[bd14] . Furthermore, the archer must keep his attention to the front when he is at a gallop. How can he be allowed to look around?


 The knack of hitting the target ball [bd15] lies in your posture as you canter forward. You can't release too far away or too close. You must canter not too far off the target ball. Your body should be bent forward slightly and always remain aligned with the target. That way you will never miss. This is what is known as 'splitting the mane.'


Shooting an arrow towards the ground is not done this way.


Shooting an arrow towards the ground, you can't loose an arrow unless the horse has broken into a canter. Even less can you draw your bow, because your strength is needed in bringing the horse to a canter[bd16] .


While the target ball is far away, the archer's body can't turn towards it and he can't hit. Once his body can turn towards it, he can make the arrow hit it and his posture will be natural[bd17] .


Regardless of whether you are too far away or whether your bow has got snagged in something, you must not loose off a wild shot. This is called 'holding on for a second chance.' 'Holding on for a second chance' is horseback archers' slang and students should pay attention to it[bd18] .


Shooting at a level target ball is not the same as shooting on foot. On foot, you aim carefully at the target; on horseback, it's all done in the blink of an eye[bd19] . As you pass the mark, once your bow-hand is past the target ball and the arrow is pointing at the base of the target, you can't be either too soon or even less too late. If you're too early, you'll strike short [?]. The hand must follow the mind automatically. It is not something you can describe in words.


Having said that, the ways of shooting on horseback and shooting on foot are not completely dissimilar at heart. There's no archer who is good on foot who is not also good on horseback. If he were worse, it would only be through lack of familiarity[bd20] .


The way of achieving excellence can be summed up in one word: familiarity. Once you are familiar, you can develop all sorts of skills from it[bd21] .


For all our efforts,   I fear that there are educated people today who see skill with the bow and arrow as something simple and unrefined. Those of my generation, however have steeped themselves in it to win honours.


Like the great Classics, how can you recite them after a few glances? Can you allow yourself to confuse a first impression with deep insight, or take something easy to achieve for something hard to attain? If you take it for granted that something will be easy, the day will never come when you can grasp it. Only when you approach it as something difficult will the time come when you it comes to you naturally. That's why Confucius said, "If you contend with the difficulty first, ultimately you can achieve it." I submit this to my colleagues with the most profound regards.

 [bd1]By this, I hope he means that the archer should be steady in the saddle, rather than bouncing around making the horse nervous.

 [bd2]I have seen film of a Mongolian mounted rifleman, taken head on, showing a remarkable degree of steadiness. So much so, it seemed that his position was independent of the motion of the horse under him.

 [bd3]This is contrast to the modern Mongolian, Central Asian and Turkish forms of riding. In Mongolia, the saddle is often not large enough to sit down in. The Central Asian saddles used in Afghanistan are broader and more user-friendly, but the riding style is similar to the Mongolian.

 [C4]This is a popular position among Buzkashi riders in Afghanistan. It is also seen in miniatures in the Rashid-ed-Din manuscript in Edinburgh. The left hand is advanced holding the reins and the right hand holds the whip. The shoulders are almost at a diagonal to the direction of travel.

 [C5]Contrast this idea the “horse riding stance” from martial arts, which was used by foot archers at least. This is illustrated in E. G. Heath’s “THE GREY GOOSE WING” with a nineteenth century photograph of a Chinese archery instructor.

 [C6]Each thing at its own time in the sequence. The danger of holding the whip and the arrow at the same time while trying to strike the horse on the left side is obvious. You should not take up an arrow until the horse is moving at a reasonable speed. It can be confusing to you and the horse, especially if she’s cut by an arrowhead instead of being slapped by the whip.

 [C7]Paintings always show short reins. The standard Central Asian pattern was a leading rein attached to the left bit ring and secured to the person of the rider or the saddle and another rein running from the right ring of the bit to the left. This was the rein that was used for controlling the horse and it was only long enough to be looped over the pommel of the saddle if the horse’s head was up. The other was for securing the horse or leading it when not being ridden. Pairs of reins that were joined at their ends (often permanently) were common in Western Asia. I have a pair from Afghanistan that have a keeper that slides up and down the reins to form a loop that will go over the pommel to stop them flopping about. It also has a small loop to go over the little finger to allow the reins to be picked up quickly and a small lash to get the horse up to speed.

 [C8]This ignores the fact that a horse’s eyes are on the sides of its head not the front! What is a bigger risk is that the horse would start to turn and stumble because your weight would be going straight ahead instead of leaning in the direction of the turn.

 [C9]This is good advice for any horseman. Jerking the bit around in the horse’s mouth is not good. The interesting thing is whether the texts says “hands” because everything I have seen and read suggests that only on hand was used for the reins. Using either a bow or a whip (even a light bamboo crop) would greatly complicate using both hands to control the reins.

 [C10]This is just advising good posture again. It is something that never should be forgotten. The difference between moving with the horse and flopping about is well worth commenting on. Even in dressage competitions you see people whose bodies seem to whip about uncontrollably when rising to the trot. It makes the others look all the more graceful.

 [C11]The Japanese nock and raise their arms to draw, but this is related to the type of armour they used to wear. The large sode  (shoulder guards) were designed to fall back out of the way when you drew in that that manner. In battle raising the arms to nock an arrow both telegraphed your intention to your enemy and expose your armpit, which was usually a weak spot in your armour.

 [C12]It should be added that a calm, steady draw can be accomplished quickly after diligent  practice. However, rushing the draw only increases the chances of a mistake being made destroying form and consistency.

 [C13]This is a standard piece of advice for all old authors. Except when using an arrow guide or a siper, where precise nocking needs confirmation, it was considered that taking your eyes off your enemy was a fatal mistake.

 [bd14]In reality, it is not so much your vision that isn’t steady, it is that you concentration is on other things. It is stressed even in target archery on foot, that nocking should be unconscious without glancing either at the nock, the string or the bow.

 [bd15]Does this then refer to the ground target, a ball that had to be knocked from its place?

 [bd16]Perhaps more should have been made for having a steady platform from which to shoot. If using the legs to bring a horse up to speed, the breathing might be disrupted. If using a whip, the right hand is busy. However, a good archer could get an accurate shot off by concentrating on shooting. The point here is to perform the exercise correctly (and be judged competent).  One wonders at some of the things that the judges saw.

 [bd17]I must admit I do not follow this. If the target ball is the ground target, meant to be shot at from nearby with a downward slant, what is the author getting at? Shooting from within a sunken track limits the lateral digression of the horse, so we must be talking about approach distance or the reverse: having passed the target. Of course, shooting too early or too late would remove the challenge of shooting at a profound angle to vertical at a target that would be only available for a fraction of a second.

Unless the sunken track wasn’t used for this type of ground shooting because of the difficulty of  placing the target ball.

 [bd18]Taybugha was also strongly against loosing an arrow accidentally or when it would be ineffective. Safety concerns would be the main reason, but it would also show an lack of skill.

 [bd19]I assume this means that the ball target was used for horizontal shots as well as “ground” shots. In “Saracen Archery” the two mounted shots are the gourd (qabaq) and the slant (qighaj) with the implication that shooting horizontally is easy in comparison. Perhaps, if you shot the first two, it was not very hard to adjust to a target level with your bow or maybe practice on foot sufficed, if you could do the others.

My limited experience at mounted archery suggested that shooting horizontally was much easier than either of the other two. What is missing here is shooting at an elevated target.

 [bd20]I really feel this is true. What horseback archery teaches an archer is flexibility, both mental and physical. If you are not a good archer to start off with, you will not improve your skill by riding a horse. The one exception to that observation was a friend whose horsemanship and archery both improved when used together. I think that happened because his mind concentrated much better when it was fully occupied with two difficult problems than when part of it was free to be distracted.

 [bd21]This may be extended to the horse as well. Once it is familiar with the archery equipment, its noise and shapes, and the actions that accompany its use, there is little that it will not put up with.