Archery - not only from horseback

A piece of Hungarian tradition

The Hungarians title certain objects, groups, places and more, which they think are integral to their culture, Hungarikum.

A Hungarikum is comparable to a UNESCO World Heritage, except that it is only for the Hungarian culture.

Two of the Hungarikumok are the traditional hungarian bow and horseback archery in the Kassai-method.

And my day consisted of these two Hungarikumok.

I’m one with the horse

Because it was the first time for me to join the horseback archery group I wasn’t allowed to ride or shoot. But these weekly gatherings aren’t just about that.

The Clan Sebastian belongs to is Nagy Törzs - Törzs is Hungarian for Clan (like in Szivárvány Törzs), Nagy translates to big and is the family name of its leader. If you try to get the meaning in English, you could probably say: Clan of the family Big.

Meeting point is usually saturday at 8:00 in the morning but this week we met on sunday. We start with cleaning and then massaging the horses (Hucul horses again, but these look more unrefined than ours).

Next to this there are more tasks, though, like preparing the aims and removing stones from their surrounding area to prevent the breaking of arrows. The atmosphere is positive and relaxed, everyone tries to make themselves useful - including me.

After cleaning and warming up the horses, removing the stones and placing the aims the people do a small warm-up-round and then shoot a few rounds to get into the flow.

Right now the Clan has three horses trained for the horseback archery, two more are trained parallel to the shooting - the archers who are not currently shooting either run around and collect the arrows or train for exams to rise in the ranks of the Clan.

Every member can go a couple of rounds, the horses are ridden without saddle and bridle. The thought behind this is that rider and horse become a centaur: down from the hip the rider is a part of the horse while the human top shoots.

… and on the other hand:

Sebastian teaches traditional Hungarian archery for whoever is interested in it - and this traditional way is quite different from what I’ve learned in my sport archery time in Germany.

Archery is not only a sport and hunting art but also a form of meditation - only those who find their center and are able to turn their focus on their own body are able to hit their aim in the long run.

We shoot, unlike with Olympic Recurve or Compound, without any additions. There is no arrow rest, no stabiliser system, no protection for arm or the fingers, no sight. Some bows have a bowstring serving - but this, too, is the exception rather than the rule.

What I personally find hardest about this technique is, that the hand holding the bowstring doesn’t rest on neither cheekbone (like you do it with the longbow) nor below the chin (as done with Recurve bows) but rather in a straight line with the hand holding the bow, around the height of the chest.

What I think is absolutely amazing, though, is, that we don’t only shoot with our regular hand (bow in the right one for me) but in equal measures with left and right - and not only with the usual sideway footing but also with the front and the back to the aim as a starting position.

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