No, one-handed archery isn’t a lost art.
If you’re like us, you watched that crazy archery video with your jaw on the floor, wondering if everything we knew about archery was a lie. Now, an actual archer is debunking the video, with a corroborating analysis that should come as a relief to anyone fretting over the origins of modern archery.
The original five-minute video has been viewed a whopping 21 million times since it was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 23. In it, a Danish archer named Lars Andersen argues that ancient archers used entirely different techniques, in a much more dramatic style, than the archery we’re familiar with today. He proceeds to support his logic by demonstrating a kind of intense parkour-style archery.
But how much of Andersen’s video is a practical look at the sport of archery? Unless you happen to have descended from Legolas, or are defending your castle keep from invaders, you’re probably not going to be shooting while leaping through the air. Still, the most controversial part of Andersen’s video is his claim to be recapturing a lost art.
The accompanying press release for the video proudly declares, “World’s fastest archer disproves Hollywood’s archery myth,” implying that modern archery has little basis in historical accuracy and basically evolved from an Errol Flynn movie. If Andersen’s style is the most authentic way to do archery, as the narration insists, then how did modern archery, which involves a lot of standing still, aiming, and shooting at stationary objects, evolve so far afield?
According to a traditional archer named Anna Maltese, Andersen’s video “raises a lot of questions.” On her Facebook page, she wrote a practical and in-depth takedown of Andersen’s video, describing why his methods aren’t necessarily good ones.
Maltese criticizes the video on three fronts. First, based on the shooting on display, she argues that Andersen’s actual shooting ability is sloppy and imprecise. This is something Andersen himself admits in the YouTube video description: “it takes a long time, with plenty of misses.”
Second, Maltese takes on the camera angles and edits that Andersen used to suggest his precise marksmanship. She notes that many of his trick shots, particularly the last one where he shoots, hits, and splits an arrow in mid-air, are done without revealing the other shooter involved.
If it’s close by, if the shot is practiced, if the bow is very light, if it’s drawn shallowly, and *if* everything lines up, then [splitting the arrow in mid-air] can be done. But it’s not “historically accurate” or possible with a normal draw because at full draw the arrow will rip/burn the skin of the catcher’s hand clean away from friction due to it’s speed. The person shooting the arrow that Lars catches isn’t shown in the video, so we don’t know how they were doing it.
Keep in mind that if people are going to be doing this trick, regardless of how far or little they draw back, it’s the sort of thing that needs to be rehearsed with a partner in order to get it right, as Mythbusters demonstrated. It’s definitely not reliable in a chaotic battle as arrows are going to be flying in from many different directions at speeds too high – and completely unrehearsed with a trusted partner – to catch.
Maltese’s main critique relates to Andersen’s claims about the historical inaccuracy of modern-day archery. For starters, she writes, the techniques Andersen demonstrates are not “lost.” In fact, they’re being documented by a professional archer traveling around the world to interview modern archers still practicing the techniques today. They weren’t lost; they just weren’t European. We’ll pause while you cringe and deal with your Western privilege.
Moreover, archery techniques evolved in different ways in different cultures:
There is and was no universal “right way,” because every culture had different needs for archery in war, in battle, and in hunting at different times in their history.
You can read the rest of Maltese’s takedown, including her discussion of “the Archer’s Paradox” and the origin of the bow quiver, on her Facebook page.
Takedown aside, Andersen’s acrobatic skill must be commended. he says that he only picked up a bow and arrow 10 years ago, so we’re impressed that he can execute so many daredevil moves at all—even if they’re not the most precise or historically accurate.
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