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Archery is the art, practice or skill of shooting with bow and arrow. Archery has historically been used in hunting and combat and has become a precision sport. A person practicing archery is called an archer or bowman, and one who is fond of or an expert at archery is sometimes called a toxophilite.
The bow seems to have been invented in the late Paleolithic or early Mesolithic periods. The oldest indication for its use in Europe comes from the Stellmoor in the Ahrensburg valley north of Hamburg, Germany and date from the late Paleolithic Hamburgian culture (9000–8000 BC). The arrows were made of pine and consisted of a mainshaft and a 15-20 centimetre (6-8 inches) long foreshaft with a flint point. There are no definite earlier bows; previous pointed shafts are known, but may have been launched by atlatls rather than bows. The oldest bows known so far come from the Holmegård swamp in Denmark. Bows eventually replaced the atlatl as the predominant means for launching shafted projectiles, on every continent except Australia.
Bows and arrows have been present in Egyptian culture since its predynastic origins. In the Levant, artifacts which may be arrow-shaft straighteners are known from the Natufian culture, (ca. 12,800–10,300 BP (before present)) onwards. The Khiamian and PPN A shouldered Khiam-points may well be arrowheads.
Classical civilizations, notably the Persians, Parthians, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. The Sanskrit term for archery, dhanurveda, came to refer to martial arts in general.
Archery was highly developed in Asia and in the Islamic world. In East Asia the ancient Korean civilizations were well-known for their archery skills. Central Asian and American Plains tribesmen were extremely adept at archery on horseback.
The invention of firearms eventually rendered bows obsolete in warfare. Despite the high social status, ongoing utility, and widespread pleasure of archery in England, Korea, China, Japan, Turkey, Armenia, America, Egypt, and elsewhere, almost every culture that gained access to even early firearms used them widely, to the relative neglect of archery. Early firearms were vastly inferior in rate-of-fire, and were very susceptible to wet weather. However, they had longer effective range and were tactically superior in the common situation of soldiers shooting at each other from behind obstructions. They also required significantly less training to use properly, in particular penetrating steel armour without any need to develop special musculature. Armies equipped with guns could thus provide superior firepower by sheer weight of numbers, and highly-trained archers became obsolete on the battlefield. However, archers are still effective and have seen action even in the 21st century. Traditional archery remained in minority use for sport and for hunting in many areas long after its military disuse.
In the United States, competition archery and bowhunting for many years used English-style longbows. The revival of modern primitive archery may be traced to Ishi, who came out of hiding in California in 1911. Ishi was the last of the Yahi Indian tribe. His doctor, Saxton Pope, learned many of Ishi’s archery skills, and passed them on. The Pope and Young Club, founded in 1961 and named in honor of Pope, is one of North America’s leading bowhunting and conservation organizations. Founded as a nonprofit scientific organization, the Club is patterned after the prestigious Boone and Crockett Club. The Club advocates and encourages responsible bowhunting by promoting quality, fair chase hunting, and sound conservation practices.
From the 1920s, professional engineers took an interest in archery, previously the exclusive field of traditional craft experts. They led the commercial development of new forms of bow including the modern recurve and compound bow. These modern forms are now dominant in modern Western archery; traditional bows are in a minority. In the 1980s, the skills of traditional archery were revived by American enthusiasts, and combined with the new scientific understanding. Much of this expertise is available in the Traditional Bowyer’s Bibles (see Additional reading).
Archers are deities or heroes in several mythologies, including Greek Artemis and Apollo, Roman Diana and Cupid, Germanic Agilaz, continued in legends like those of William Tell, Palnetoke, or Robin Hood. Armenian Hayk and Babylonian Marduk, Indian Arjuna, and Persian Arash were all archers. Earlier Greek representations of Heracles normally depict him as an archer. Yi the archer features in several early Chinese myths, and the historical character of Zhou Tong features in many fictional forms.
While there is great variety in the construction details of bows (both historic and modern) all bows consist of a string attached to elastic limbs that store mechanical energy imparted by the user drawing the string. Bows may be broadly split into two categories: those drawn by pulling the string directly and those that use a mechanism to pull the string.