How mounted archery is growing from the old world battlefields to a new world sport
In the battlefields of old, archers were the bane of the plodding infantry. Able to extract high tolls on the footmen as they close the distance. However, the tables were usually turned when the infantry closed the gap and the lightly armored bowmen had to flee from the swords and pikes. Everything changed when archers were given the ability to manoeuver around a battlefield on the back of a horse. Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great both used horse archers against the Scythians to a devastating extent in both their reins. The Romans peppered the Parthians with arrows from horseback. And, the great Khans, Genghis and Kublai, led their hordes from the steppes of Mongolia to conquer almost three-quarters of the known world all on the back of ponies armed with nothing more than bows and swords. But if it was so prevalent and effective where are mounted archers of today?
Horse archers suffered greatly at the hands of crossbowmen, whose prominence rose in the Middle Ages. Crossbowmen were able to reload faster and the combination of horse and man provided them with a large target to hit. Then, during the 16th-century firearms began to take the field and was the final nail in the coffin of mounted archers, as the arquebus and musket proved to be much more efficient weapons. Mounted archery, for the most part, was no longer used in combat. Instead, mounted archery found solace and survival where most battlefield practices tend to end up; in ceremony and in art.
In Japan, the battle tactic was transformed into the art of Yabusame (the art of archery on horseback). It is a martial art whose roots date back to the 4th century. Initially displayed to the public and drawing crowds, the Emperor then banned it from public viewing as he did not believe that the crowds appreciated the solemnity, spirituality, and art. In modern Japan, Yabusame is as much art as it is a martial art. It is usually performed on special holidays and occasions and has even found an international following which it is trying to broaden through the help of its Australian followers.
Like Japan, Korea also has a rich history of horse archery practice dating back hundreds of years. In 2007, a federal law was passed to preserve its culture importance and traditions. Competitions are held annually and, with several events, has garnered hundreds of participants.
The Eurasian schools of mounted archery have also seen a modern revival under Hungarian Lajos Kassai. Kassai revived a method of shooting that has come to be known as the Hungarian technique initially utilized a thumb ring and using the thumb as the arrow rest. Later on, Kassai began to utilize the more conventional three finger release coupled with the arrow resting on the index finger of the bow hand. Unlike Yabusame and Korean horse archery, however, the Kassai school has found a strong foothold in other countries. Schools and competitions employing the Kassai techniques, philosophies and scoring systems have popped up in North and South America, throughout Europe and Central Asia. Many attribute this to the vast amount of different groups of people that this style of mounted archery originated from.
Once thought to have been a ghost of the fields of combat mounted archery has found a new home in the today’s world. Now seen as an art form to be admired, a martial art to be practiced and a sport to be played, mounted archery has finally found the modern connection between man, horse, and bow.