The bow-and-arrow began in ancient times, but the competitive elements of wielding it came much later down the line.
Sports born out of weaponry are nothing new in the world. Combat sports go way back in human history; javelin-throwing, for example, can be dated as early in recorded history as 700 B.C., and was founded on the principles of throwing elegant spears with accuracy and power, and with an intention not to attack, but to measure technique. Another “old” combat sport example is ancient boxing, the first recorded game of which occurred around 688 B.C. But one particular sport that stands out to many in the history of mankind is archery. Why is this? Well, while most combat-oriented activities had been refined into a sport long before modern civilization, archery was widely regarded as a recreational activity, almost akin to a form of art, since the creation of the bow-and-arrow around 10,000-9,000 B.C. In fact, archery as a sport is extremely young compared to its counterparts, only seeing the first attempts at becoming a competitive, modern sport around the 1840s. The elements of archery that are practiced as a sport today are somewhat perplexing, but, like any sport, there is much more to archery than one can take from it at a mere glance.
Did Archery begin as a recreational activity?
Technically, archery began as a combat occupation. Like other forms of modern combat sports, such as martial arts, the primary function of ‘good bowman-ship’ was the ability to fend off and incapacitate enemy aggressors. In a time before the development of gunpowder and firearms, the bow was an elegant, but devastating long-range weapon in the right hands, and saw considerable usage across human history in multiple locations around the world. Eventually, many of the facets of archery – discipline, patience, and so on – which were already present in fighting also became driving forces in the activity’s turn towards recreation. The bow and arrow could be learned by anyone, not just soldiers and militia men, and even if the user had no intention of waging war. Mastering the elements that comprise a skilled bowman was enough of a goal for archery to become a full-fledged ‘hobby,’ and the competitive elements that transformed this hobby into a modern sport would come later down the line. Although archery was practiced as a sport in Ancient Egypt, the rules and methods that went into it are nothing like the modern sport of archery today. One may deduce that any ‘status’ archery held as a sport in Egypt was lost in ancient times, forcing its potential to be rediscovered closer to the modern age.
What led to the transition of Archery into a full-on ‘sport’?
Invigorating like hunting, methodical like golf…competitive archery is another precision-based sport that tests cunning, tact, and technique rather than brute strength or teamwork. Quite exquisite!
As mentioned before, the introduction of firearms heavily disrupted the bow’s previous popularity as a weapon – not only were guns and rifles easier to use without experience, they also fired faster and posed a deadlier threat in the heat of combat. The bow and arrow lost its reputation rather quickly in the realm of war, but it retained its grip on mankind through the hobby outlets which had already developed among enthusiasts. Archery made the leap from recreational activity to full-on, modern competitive sport in 1844; this momentous milestone occurred in York, when the first Grand National Archery Society gathering took place. From there, the sport slowly lost traction in England, and other sports, like tennis, accumulated popularity over a gradual period across the globe. As the number of practicing archery clubs declined, the sport faced extinction.
Facets of Modern Archery
Archery managed to survive, however, and today is popular all over the world. Modern, competitive archery involves competing bowmen firing an arrow over great distances with the greatest accuracy possible. The target at the end of the distance is usually round and ringed, awarding points based on how close to the center the arrow hits when it lands. Points are tallied after a set number of ‘turns’ and the player with the greatest number (i.e. ‘the best accuracy’) wins.
Pop culture and digital media have played a part in promoting archery across multiple generations. Here are four examples, separated by a few years each, which all revitalize the public interest in an aged, yet classic weapon.