Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lars Andersen and Historical Archery

There is a video floating around that has gotten a good deal of attention lately. In addition to 22 million views, I've gotten a couple questions about it myself. One of which on the Grand Heresy Forums. I responded some there, but I thought I would elaborate and provide a more thoughtful answer here.

I'll start off with the same disclaimer I've made before. The video is very interesting to watch. Lars Andersen is an extremely talented archer, and nothing I say here is to discredit that skill. The issue I take is passing off extremely impressive trick shooting as battlefield archery. He can do some very cool things, but not necessarily things that are of practical martial application.

I'll say up front that I'm not a fan of the tone the video takes. The thing pitches itself like an infomercial, making sensationalist claims about "uncovered secrets" and playing along the "myths debunked! everything you know is wrong!!!@!1" kind of nonsense. This is complete with the exaggerated incompetence you expect from a 4am infomercial. I half expected a transition to black and white film wherein a woman would unsuccessfully try to cut a banana by mashing it with the flat of a kitchen knife. With dramatic music, a voice-over would shout "BANANAS GOT YOU DOWN?"


There some important things to realize when dealing with the claims made in the video. First, despite the imagery used, archery is no more monolithic and uniform an art than is swordsmanship. Every culture has developed its own weapons and means to use them, and this includes archery. The Egyptians were using different bows and techniques than the mounted Huns were, or the Mary Rose era longbow archers. This is no different than the way the Norse broadsword, Japanese katana, and Italian rapier were each different in their use. They were different weapons, with different purposes, taught by different cultures for use in overcoming the different challenges they would face.

Much of what he is demonstrating is out of the Arabic tradition, which used the smaller bows that were used throughout the east, developing out of horseback archery. Horseback archery in the east had a very specific character, often riding into relatively close ranges, launching a series of arrows and getting back out. Their bows were compact, nimble, and relatively moderate draw weight. The opponents they fought were usually very lightly armored.

In the west, military archery is a long range affair with thousands of archers in block formation firing on other block formations at 300 yards or more with heavy powered bows. Mike Loades has credited the Mary Rose era bows as being 100-120lbs or more. I believe one gentleman on Weapons that Made Britain was actually demonstrated loosing a massive 150lbs draw weight bow. This is no small feat. These were weapons firing heavy projectiles at extremely long range to overcome thick maille and plate armor. The bows were often too long to comfortably use on horseback, and the higher poundage bows required a full-body exertion to draw properly.

Seriously. We can identify the bodies of English longbowman by their deformed spines and enlarged left arms.

This isn't to say that western archers never fought while mobile or skirmished. Robin Hood has a lot of basis in fact, as it turns out. Mounted archers of a sort also existed in the west, but in the manner of later mounted infantry, not fighting mounted but instead using the horse only for mobility to get into (and retreat from) a position.

We are talking about different weapons systems, different purposes, with different methods of deployment.

Aside from the historical issues, there is a secondary claim that is a theme throughout the video. Much is made about the speed with which he looses his arrows, even going so far as to show footage of his drawing juxtaposed to the drawing of other archers. What he fails to mention is that he achieves this speed by not drawing the bow back more than a few inches. If you watch closely, he very rarely draws the bow back more than a quarter of the way at any point in the video. This makes for impressive speed, and can probably put a lot of arrows on target, but you make major sacrifices in range and power in doing so.

He does some really cool stuff with it, but I would be extremely surprised if it would deliver anything approaching the kind of force you would need to put someone down through even a padded jack at 50 yards.

I'll state it again. It's an awesome video, and he does some really impressive trick shooting. You could even argue that the trick shots have some basis in history, in that professional archers even then probably developed the ability to do similar feats to show off to their friends. Some things never change. But the claims he can make and apply to his trick shooting don't really apply to any kind of martial archery.

Until next time, 

1 comment:

  1. he likes hawkeye in the avenger, I really like this video