As old as time
by Alessandra Marzufero
The bow, the inseparable Robin Hood’s weapon of choice, is still considered an instrument of great appeal.
Riser, limbs, string, button and arrow rest: these are the principal components of the bow. There are many new additional components in the modern bow, such as the stabilizer and the sight. Bows have become so diverse that they can be separated into five categories, which are: straight, recurve, delta, asymmetric and compound, all with varying shapes and sizes. The compound bow is the most recent category and the most engineered bow of our time. It has a sophisticated system of cable and pulleys which reduces the traction force, so much so that in the archery they are compared to machines rather than to the traditional bow.
Forged on the archer
The origin of this magnificent object has deep roots in history. The first appearance of the bow was in the Paleolithic age as an hunting instrument. Over time its use bonded with the warfare, especially after the creation of borders between territories, in particular by the wish of their kings to widen them, becoming a permanent fixture in the battles. Historically each culture developed its own type of arch, based on the available material and manner of use. One of the biggest factors in developing the bow style was weather the archer was sitting on a horse or standing. In the first case the bow was longer, in the second one it was shorter. At one point in time the bow was customized to the physical needs of each individual archer to provide better performance. But after the Hundred Year War (1337-1453) the production of bows became a mass production, removing the peculiarities that characterized every single arch to conform in a standard bow. And because of that, new battle tactics emerged. Instead of being a precision weapon, the bow was now used in large groups so accuracy was not as large as a factor.
However the use of this tool has progressively decreased, replaced by stronger and more destructive weapons, and for almost three centuries the bow has been forgotten until the 20th century when it was resumed in the field of sport. In fact, at that time the archery became a Olympic Games sport, excluded then from 1920 to 1972. In Italy archery had success as a hobby for adolescents. Since the 1930s, under the fascism regime, it became a sport just for girls to such a point that a particular group called Giovani Italiane took form and the first female competition, organized by Accademia di Educazione Fisica, was held in Orvieto, a small town in Umbria. The first Italian archery company has been developed in 1956 in Treviso and managed the contests for both sexes. Nowadays in Italy there are two main Federation called Federazione italiana Tiro con l’Arco (FITARCO), born in 1961, that is divided in twenty regional committees, and Federazione Italiana Ariceri Tiro di Campagna (FIARC) created in 1983 representing the Italian association of the International Archery Association (IFAA).
Now the archery is not just a sport. In fact, there are a lot of amateurs lovers of this practice that claim it as a hobby. The reason for this recent spike in interest in archery is due to many different factors such as the cinematography, the historical reenactment, and some tourist accommodation proposing it as a open-air practice to stay in contact with nature. But an interesting point is the Japanese philosophy about archery.
In fact, in Japan the archery is considered a life-style. There are many parallels with life itself, with its facets and circumstances, sometimes favorable and sometimes not, that culminate with the human development of self-control, whereby it is possible to reach any objective. One of the authors who speaks about this philosophy is Paulo Coelho in his book The way of the bow, in which he describes how the bow became a symbol to live with a self-awareness: the bow represents life, source of the human energy, while the arrow is the intention which means «the thing that leads the force of the arch in the middle of dartboard» (p.55). The dartboard is the goal to reach and, in order to do that, it is necessary to be in the proper spiritual condition, picturing it as it gets closer and closer to the archer. Shooting the arrow means that the man is aware of all the steps taken until then, where each one of them is essential with all its own intrinsic and inestimable values meaning that it takes a lot of time and effort to reach the moment before the shot. It’s something that would make anyone to begin this practice.
Becoming an archer in Umbria
For that purpose, the region of Umbria has many facilities that offer archery: there are a lot of agritourism that provide it as an activity to practice surrendered by the beauty of the Green Heart of Italy. Also, it is possible to participate to amateur classes with the release of certificates. For example, two associations of Terni, the sporting association called Gaia and the Dreavel agency, organize outdoor activity days, including archery, which is held respectively in Fiastra and Norcia, and right here people can attend to a course of bow’s construction. Always in Norcia, the Sibillini Adventure association holds specific courses about instinctive archery (the original bow), starting to the basic course of 18 hours, including both theoretical and practice lessons, with a final certification of participation. Finally there is the Activo Park in Scheggino, a little Umbrian village, immersed in the typical wild nature of Valnerina, where it is possible to do many activities for kids and for adults, among which is archery.
But archery is not just a hobby. In fact in Italy we can find it in the aforementioned historical re-enactments, particularly present in Umbria. Usually, during these re-enactments are representation of days from the bygone eras, when the towns and Umbrian villages were divided into factions, often competing with each other. Historic marches, taverns and playful events characterize these moments, performed strictly wearing traditional robes and in specific times of the year. The challenges between factions, called by different names from place to place, are competitions whose the aim is the conquest of a prize, named Palio, which is namely a tapestry painted by some famous artist. In Umbria there are three historical re-enactments where the main challenge is a archery competition: two of them take place in Todi, the third in Città della Pieve.
In the case of Todi, both the archery competitions are held in the FITAST national championship (Italian Federation Traditional e and Historical Bow): the first race is in April and is known as Todi città degli arcieri, where 200 archers challenge each other on twenty pitches; the second, in October, is called Disfida di San Fortunato and provides a maximum of 120 archers competing on a course of 10 pitches, with the wonderful historical center of Todi as the background.
Alternatevely, the so-called Palio dei Terzieri is held in Città della Pieve in August. The town was divided in terzieri, portions of lend which were unevenly divided into the Castello Medievale, or knights class, that identified aristocracy; Borgo Dentro, referring to bourgeoisie class; Casalino, or pedestrian class, which means farmers class. The main challenge is known as Caccia del Toro (Hunting of the Bull), where three archers for each terziere has to shoot moving targets shaped like a bull, all situated on the same carousel. The competition is divided in three times, and every last one the speed of the gauges-target increase. The winner will get the prize (Palio), a tapestry in which the symbols of the three Terzieri and the high coat of arms of the town are depicted. That trophy will be kept by the winner until next challenge.
A sporting and historical instrument, and recently also endowed with a philosophical connotation, the bow represents a sort of link between the man of antiquity and modern man. This link allows the latter to escape from technologies that invade the everyday life and to savor the sense of the reality.
Enzo Maolucci (2012) Arco per tutti, Hoepli, Milano.
Paulo Coelho (2003) Il cammino dell’arco; nuova edizione 2017 di La nave di Teseo, Milano. http://www.activopark.com