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ARCHERY

There is no substitute for diligent practice

“…an hour’s earnest practice each day for a month will make one begin to feel like a bowman, and three months of such work will make him a fair shot at thirty or forty yards.”
— Maurice Thompson, The Witchery of Archery, 1879, p.157

Shaft Shooters was launched in 2000 to document research and findings related to athlete development and high performance training with a focus on archery. It has since grown into a platform to share information of everything from traditional barebow archery to Olympic recurve competition development.

“The history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.”

Fred Bear
Black Widow PSR-II takedown recurve

Get Serious – Get Hoyt

By Mark V. Lonsdale

People often ask if the added cost of a Hoyt is worth it? The answer is an unequivocal absolutely!! Just look at all the number of National and World Champions shooting Hoyt bows.

Hoyt Xceed riser, developed for Barebow competition, with Hoyt Velos limbs. A winning combination.
Nike says, “Just Do It” — Hoyt says, “Get Serious”

Which Type of Archery is for You?

Freestyle, Traditional, Bowhunter, Barebow….read on.

Back before compound bows, and yes, there was a time when compound bows did not exist, the options were relatively simple. For organized club archery there were the FITA target archers seen in various public parks on the weekends. This is what we now call Olympic archery, but back then there were only recurves. Less organized but equally popular were the traditional recurve shooters and longbowmen who either shot instinctively or gap shooting. Some hunted while others simply maintained the tools, skills and practices of traditional archery and medieval longbow archers.

Many people were drawn to archery by movies such as Robin Hood, and more recently, Hunger Games
Instinctive archery with a Black Widow recurve

Gone are those simple days. Entering the arena of organized archery today can be quite confusing, but there are options to suit any goal, personality or athletic endeavor. To try an simplify things, USA Archery supports Olympic Archery, the US Olympic Team, both recurve and compound, but also organizes 3D shoots. USA Archery also runs National Indoor and Outdoor target events. National Field Archery Association (NFAA) is best known for 3D and Field Archery, but also organizes indoor and outdoor target shoots. On the international level, World Archery is the governing body.

Vegas Shoot indoor event supports several classes of archery

Again, in an attempt at simplification, ages are divided into Divisions, and the type of bow into Classes. More on that below.  

Types of NFAA Shoots

The NFAA is involved with almost every style of competition including indoor (300 NFAA round and Vegas round), outdoor (field archery), marked and unmarked 3D. Their biggest tournaments are indoor tournaments and are part of their 3 Star Tour. 

BtB Open and NFAA 3D Nationals

NFAA Competition Divisions

NFAA competition divisions include the following:

  • Cub – Under 12 years of age
    • Youth – Ages 12 through 14
    • Young adult – Ages 15 through 17
    •  Adult – 18 years of age and older
    •  Senior – 50 years of age and older
    • Silver senior – 60 years of age and older
    • Master senior – 70 years of age and older
  • Professional – the guys and gals that shoot for the big money:
    • Any age is allowed
    • Must pay for Professional Division membership plus NFAA Pro dues (in addition to regular membership).

NFAA Shooting Styles

NFAA shooting styles include the following:

  • Freestyle
  • Freestyle limited
  • Barebow
  • Competitive bowhunter
  • Bowhunter freestyle
  • Bowhunter freestyle limited
  • Traditional

NFAA Shooting Style Equipment Rules

Here are the equipment rules set forth by the NFAA constitution:

General Rules

  • The bow must have a handle/riser, two limbs, and a string.
  • The bow must be able to be drawn with one hand while holding the bow’s grip with the other hand.
  • The bow has a maximum peak weight of 80 lbs. or less.
  • The bow shoots an arrow at 300 feet per second or less (variance of 3% is allowed)
  • The arrow shaft being used has a diameter of 0.422 inches or less.
  • The arrow point diameter is 0.425 inches or less.
  • The arrow does not have lighted nocks.

Barebow

Other organizations have slightly different rules, but here are the specific rules if you are shooting in the NFAA barebow style:

  • All equipment (bow, arrows, strings, and accessories) must be free of any markings that could be used as a sighting aid.
  • The bowstring has one consistent nocking point.
  • Stabilizers are permitted as long as they do not contact the shooter.
  • One adjustable draw check is permitted.
  • One level on the bow is permitted.
  • Only shooting gloves, tabs, and fingers are allowed to aid in shooting the bow (exceptions are made for handicapped individuals).
  • All arrows must be the same weight, length, diameter, and have the same fletching.

Freestyle

  • This is usually the realm of the fully tricked out compound bows.
  • Any type of sight can be used including adjustable sights.
  • Any hand operated release can be used (exceptions are made for handicapped individuals).
  • The rear stabilizer cannot touch any part of the shooter’s body.

Freestyle Limited

  • Any type of sight can be used
  • Similar to freestyle but no mechanical release
  • Only gloves, tabs, and fingers can be used to release the arrow (exceptions are made for handicapped individuals).
  • The rear stabilizer cannot touch any part of the shooter’s body.

Competitive Bowhunter

  • No device of any kind can be used for sighting.
  • No clickers, draw checks, or levels are allowed.
  • Only one anchor point is permitted.
  • The archer’s index finger shall remain in contact with the arrow nock during the shot cycle.
  • Only gloves, tabs, and fingers can be used to release the arrow (exceptions are made for handicapped individuals).
  • All arrows must be the same weight, length, diameter, and have the same fletching.
  • Draw weight cannot be changed during a round.
  • No other adjustments to equipment may be made during a round.

Freestyle Bowhunter

  • Up to 5 sight pins may be used.
  • Release aids are permitted.
  • Archery sight pin guards and a level are allowed.
  • One anchor point is permitted.
  • All arrows must be the same weight, length, diameter, and have the same fletching.
  • Stabilizers less than 12 inches (from the back of the bow) are permitted.
  • Stabilizers, stabilizer couplings, V-bars, and counter balances may be used.
  • No adjustment to equipment is allowed during a round.

Freestyle Limited Bowhunter

The rules for Freestyle Limited Bowhunter are the same as the Freestyle Bowhunter except for the following:

  • Only gloves, tabs, and fingers can be used to release the arrow (exceptions are made for handicapped individuals).
  • The archer’s index finger shall remain in contact with the arrow nock during the shot cycle. In other words, no string walking.

Traditional

  • Only longbows and recurves are allowed.
  • No sighting device of any kind can be attached to the bow.

For more information on the rules regarding equipment, check out the NFAA constitution

Defeating Target Panic

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Target panic is one of those curses that plagues most archers at some point, and for many, more often than they would like. The manifestation is involuntary movements, jerky releases, plucking the string, snap shooting, collapsing, all resulting in horrible results on the target. A big part of this is feeling the need to rush the shot or release as soon as the sights or arrow point crosses the 10 or X. That feeling is target induced panic.

There are a number of causes of target panic, some physical and some mental. On the physical side, an archer may be struggling with too much draw weight or may be out of condition. In either case, the archer feels a need to release the arrow as soon as he or she comes on target and before fatigue causes a collapse. Another physical issue can be simply not being in good alignment behind the bow and not engaging the back muscles. With poor form the archer is supporting the draw weight with arm strength alone rather than good skeletal alignment. This results in muscle tremors and a need to release the arrow. With good form the archer should feel the back muscles engaged and the scapula moving forward, allowing for a longer more relaxed hold. While an observer may not see this movement, the archer should feel it.

On the mental side, the archer may be worrying that he or she cannot hold the draw long enough to transfer into the back muscles. Or as stated in the NTS system, Draw to Load, Anchor, Transfer to Hold, Expand/Aim, and then Release. Again, the worry can be generated by too much poundage in the bow or poor physical conditioning.

One useful way to think about the shot process is to separate the holding/aiming from the shot execution/release. The way to do this is to practice drawing, holding, feeling the transfer, without releasing the shot. By letting down and not releasing the shot, the archer is building confidence in his or her ability to aim and hold on target without the mental pressure to release. It may also help to use a bow with reduced poundage so that the archer can focus on form and not struggle with holding.

Another important psychological aspect is mentally visualizing the transfer to hold process. Again, while this process is so minimal it may not be visible to the observer, the archer should be imagining the draw elbow coming back and around in alignment with the arrow. The archer can feel the scapula engaged, even if it is not noticeably moving forward. While this is happening the archer is aiming and holding the bow sight or arrow point on target.

One way to work on form is to begin on a blank bale. This allows the archer to focus on body mechanics and process without the pressure or aiming and releasing. Also work on holding longer than normal, 5 to 10 seconds or longer, before letting down. After several iterations without releasing, add the release and follow through, again, without an actual aiming point on the bale. This form of practice allows the archer’s brain to focus on feeling and visualizing correct form as opposed to rushing to shot execution.

The next step is to add a target at 10 to 15 yards where hitting gold is all but guaranteed. This allows the archer to build confidence in the shot process.

Keep in mind that simply entering more competitions will not cure target panic. While competition experience is valuable, and it is important to become comfortable under match pressures, the archer should enter a competition confident in his or her ability and readiness. Part of that readiness is curing target panic before adding the pressures of tournament archery.

To conclude, the cure for many problems in a variety of sports is to go back to basics and reinforce good fundamentals. Break component skills down to individual exercises, and then gradually recombine them into smooth relaxed execution.             

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Consistency is the Measure of Success in Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale

It is not sufficient to occasionally hit the 10 or X in practice. The goal is to be able to shoot gold consistently in practice, and then to be able to replicate that in competition.

Shooting gold is a true motivator but the goal is to first eliminate all the blues and blacks, and then to start eliminating those reds.

Stop thinking and just shoot!

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Specificity in Training

By Mark V. Lonsdale

One of the first pieces of wisdom that I learned in physiology and kinesiology was SAID – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. In other words, we develop levels or strength, stamina, flexibility, and fitness based on the demands that we place on our bodies. The topic of SAID had come up in the SCUBA diving program that I taught at UCLA, a part of scientific diving and underwater kinesiology studies. This was in reference to the need to develop the correct leg muscles for swimming with fins (flippers) as opposed to the muscles we used for walking or running. Only swimming with fins loads the specific muscles needed to be a strong diver, and individuals who are not conditioned to fin swimming are more prone to leg cramps while diving.

It is also a well-known axiom that the best physical training for any sport is actually doing the specific sport. Using Judo as an example, it is not sufficient to develop strength in the gym and speed through running since Judo requires very specific skills, techniques, and reflexes. Only through a well-structured Judo training program does one advance in Judo. While additional strength training and cardio will have benefits, they are not a substitute for Judo training.

Similarly, with archery, form and technique are far more important than brute strength and stamina, even though it does require a level of strength to draw a bow and stamina to do it 100 to 200 times a day. This also explains why USA Archery have Specific Physical Training (SPT) Drills in their Level II Instructor manual.

Just because an individual can bench-press 300 pounds and run a marathon does not mean he or she will be a competitive archer. But while being an athlete undoubtedly aids in any sport, the specificity of demands in archery are unique to archery. This is one reason we recommend beginning with a lighter draw-weight bow to first learn form, before moving up to the draw weights associated with championship archery. Keep in mind that the archers who are successful on the national and international stage have been drawing bows and shooting arrows for years if not decades. In that time they have developed the muscles and skills specific to archery.    

Engaging the back muscles and achieving skeletal alignment, while not relying just on arm strength, is critical and specific to archery

Two mistakes that novices can make in archery are “over bowing” themselves, getting a bow with too much poundage, and shooting too much too soon. The first is more of a problem with men and male teens who think they need to get a bow suited to hunting and to “run with the big dogs” – something in the range of 50 to 60+ pounds. Big mistake! The other issue is reading that top archers are shooting 250+ arrows a day in training, but not taking into account their years of adaptive training and specific muscle development.

Whichever discipline, barebow, traditional, target recurve, 3D or freestyle, start low and adjust the number of arrows per session based on age, physical ability, and experience.

So start light and start slow. A 28# to 30# bow of the appropriate size, and 60 arrows a session is a good place to start for an adult. Youths or teens may be better with 15# to 20# depending on their age, physical development, and the recommendations of their coach.

As for the number of arrows and frequency of training to start out, listen to your body. It is important to allow time for aches and pains to recover between sessions. Since a novice archer is using joints, tendons, and muscles unique to archery, it takes time for these to adapt to the new imposed demands. It is also important to get coaching and start out with the correct form so as to avoid painful tendon over-use injuries or tennis elbow.

Hooking the bow string can also result in some discomfort if the draw weight is too high and the fingers have not been given time to adapt. Apart from working with stretch bands at home or on the road, one exercise that can strengthen the three fingers used for hooking is carrying a bucket with those three fingers and matching the weight of the bucket to the draw weight on your bow.    

With time and patience the novice archer will soon become a competent competitor and will be able to upgrade equipment and draw weight commensurate with their physical adaptation and development.

To conclude, general health and fitness is important in any sporting activity and a common mantra is, “athlete first – archer second.” But this can be a little misleading. At the national and international championship levels athletic ability can be critical, but to become a competent archer requires only diligent practice and competent coaching. That said, 3D archery can be an excellent form of both physical exercise and archery practice.

BtB 3D Open in Friant, CA, 2020

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WEEDING THE GARDEN

THE MISTER MIYAGI SCHOOL OF ARCHERY & WEEDING THE GARDEN

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Nishioka-sensei, whom I respect immensely, likes it when I begin my Judo classes and ruminations with a story, so here goes…. The front lawn at my house has one of those ornamental rock rivers flowing around it, made from smooth river rocks. There is no water, it came with the house and is not something I would’ve taken the time to put in, but visitors seem to like it. I have never had the time or inclination to become much of a gardener, but I have always liked Japanese Zen gardens – the ones where the sand is raked to flow around a large rock or center piece. I find them very peaceful and contemplative. I have also associated martial arts with gardening ever since I first saw Mister Miyagi trimming his bonsai trees in the Karate Kid movie. I had also trained under a Japanese sensei that owned a landscape gardening business – but I digress, so back to my front lawn.

Mark Lonsdale (standing) coaching a Judo class at University Judo Club

Since work and competitive sports require that I travel a lot, it did not take long before weeds began creeping into my ornamental rock river. At first I attacked them with enthusiasm, pulling, picking and plucking and then resorting to weed killer. But as weeds are genetically apt to do, they kept coming back, and there always seemed to be other engagements that were more pressing than weeding – gym, training, judo, shooting, writing, coaching, travel, etc. So eventually, because of neglect, the lovely river of rocks was lost to the weeds.

Bonsai In A Zen Garden Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image  42068285.

So what does this have to do with archery? As an instructor and coach in several disciplines, including Judo, rifle and pistol shooting, and archery, I often have the opportunity to observe individuals who have allowed their skills to deteriorate. In some cases these are adults who were competitive in their teens or college years but then drifted away from training only to return as adults. Others were once proficient practitioners who simply failed to maintain their skills through regular training – and by regular I mean more than once a month. As with any precision sport that requires repetition to master, archery is a perishable skill that also requires frequent practice.

Launching into my Mister Miyagi spiel, I explained that, “weeds” had crept into their garden of skills to various levels, dependent on how much they had neglected their training. At first the weeds may have been small and insignificant, but left unaddressed the weeds had run rampant.

Be assured that, I was not telling them anything they had not just learned in the previous ten minutes. They were astute enough to self-analyze and recognize that their form and technique were lacking at best. But the nodding heads told me that the analogy was sinking in, so for the next hour we worked on “picking weeds.” The four key elements were:

1. Break form and technique down to component parts to help identify weaknesses. For target archers, this usually means referencing the National Training System (NTS) 11-step process.   

2. Understanding that function follows form, before one can hope to score 10s, it is important to build a foundation of good form.

3. To progress, one must be willing to commit to regular training – ideally two to three times a week, and then daily or twice daily prior to a match or event.  

4. Finally, it is critical to develop the mental toughness to be able to function effectively under match pressures. There is no better way to develop the right mindset for competition than to participate in competitions.       

Following one of these Mister Miyagi sessions it is not unusual to receive emails from the participants indicating how much they had enjoyed the program and, more importantly, that they intended to institute regular technical development and “weeding” as part of their training program. In one case, some weeks after training, I ran into one Masters athlete where I asked how he was doing. His answer was, “still weeding the garden.” This made me smile and let me know that the analogy had resonated with the group.

To conclude, knowing that all physical skills are perishable, we all need to be constant gardeners in our own sports gardens. As instructors and coaches in particular, we must diligently seek to achieve and maintain demonstration quality skills through constant self-analysis and practice (“weeding”), particularly when demonstrating to our students. If for some reason an instructor cannot physically demonstrate a technique correctly, then he or she must ensure that there is an assistant instructor capable of filling that need.           

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