bad archery pt. 251

25 January, 2015

So in the last couple of days, perhaps a dozen people have been kind enough to forward me the video of Lars Anderson’s latest exercise in speed and stunt shooting. It has been wildly popular on the internet, racking up (at this writing) over 14 million views in around 48 hours, in a superb, engaging display of viral success. If you haven’t seen it already, you can tick up the counter right here:

Unfortunately, almost from the gun, I smelled bullshit. Firstly, it would be vastly more impressive if any of the shots were taken under any kind of controlled conditions. As an audience we never see the first take, or the fifth, or the thirtieth; we only see the one that comes off; just like archers only ever Instagram the best end of the day (holds guilty hand up) – and, crucially, just like Hollywood. To be honest, I’m sure if I did at least a couple of the short-range shots thirty times I’d pull them off once too – and I hope I wouldn’t make a video full of generalisations and straight-up inaccuracies about what is and is not ‘faster’, ‘better’, and ‘more fun’ archery. 

The brazen use of historical pictures and engravings is particularly disingenuous – even if we assume that illustrators of the past were more accurate than illustrators now. For example, he cherry-picks a bunch of images to suggest that right handed ‘people’ in the ‘past’ shot with the arrow to the right of the bow/riser, then barely a minute later pulls out another bunch of images from across millennia to ‘prove’ that people held arrows in the draw hand – several of which show right-handed archers shooting with the arrow to the left of the bow, just as they do now.

There are many references to ‘ancient’ texts, ‘old manuscripts’, ‘old texts’ and ‘ancient’ archery – which could mean anything, basically. The bow was invented at least 11,000 years ago and possibly an order of magnitude before that, and spread to every culture across the globe. What part of ‘ancient’ is he talking about?

The only old script actually cited in this video is Arab Archery, which is described as ‘the most extensive historical book ever made about archery’ (which Roger Ascham might take issue with).  The hundred pages or so available on the internet in English translation has a quote pulled about a speed-shooting method – the technical details of which are left undescribed – claiming “This is the best type of shooting and there is nothing beyond it in power or accuracy”. Take a minute to read the thing in context, and you can read the full text here.

Others said that Kisra once ordered Bustam to shoot a lion in his presence. One arrow, however, failed to kill the beast, and Kisra exclaimed that an arrow was not a satisfactory weapon; unlike a sword with which one can strike one blow after another, or a spear with which one can thrust repeatedly… The interval between each two shots might endanger the safety of the warrior or the hunter. Bustam gave thought to the matter and subsequently devised the shower or successive shooting, with five, ten, or fifteen arrows, all held at the same time in the archer’s hand. They are shot one after the other in rapid succession thereby rendering the bow and arrow superior to the sword and spear… Al-Tabari said that he himself had shot in this fashion fifteen arrows, one after the other in rapid succession. This is the best type of shooting and there is nothing beyond it in power or accuracy, and no one can manage to do it except a person who has trained himself in it and has obtained mastery in it and also in horsemanship. The kings of Persia were wont to take children and teach it to them, rewarding those who mastered it and punishing those who did not.

Unfortunately Kisra, and probably Bustam as well, are mythological figures, the Islamic analogues of the Grail legends.  (As for Al-Tabari, a scholar who died many centuries before Arab Archery was published, well, you may want to have a read of this).

This isn’t evidence. It’s a folk tale. But it’s cited as evidence, on screen, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. It sounds like the sort of patter magicians have been using for eons to bolster exotic tricks. And Lars… where’s your horse? 🙂 As for the quote that “Assyrian artwork shows that the method was at least 5000 years old”, I’ll let you look at what someone on Reddit spotted.  The oddest thing is this: there are dozens of available academic texts concerning historical traditional archery (you can read some here). Why pick out one that is at the very least of extremely doubtful veracity to back up what you are doing?

Don’t get me wrong; he’s obviously worked hard. He’s learned a great speed-shooting method – but that doesn’t make him unique, now or in the past. He’s developed some serious trick-shot skills. They can stand up on their own. Why does he feel the need to back up what he does with a load of thinly-gleaned ‘facts’ from a tiny, tiny handful of ‘sources’? And saying his is the ‘best’ method of archery is like saying that Thai food is the best food because it’s served quickest.

Also, I am pretty certain I know what would happen if he went toe-to-toe with the top tier target archers at Nîmes in action today. If he’s that good at these short distances, moving or not, why doesn’t he enter an open competition at 18m and show them all how it’s done? And I suppose it is mildly infuriating for a fan of the sport that Lars Andersen is ALL OVER the internet, with hyperbolic assertions made by laymen about the ‘World’s Greatest Archer‘ or the ‘Greatest Archer Alive’ – when Mike Schloesser banged in a staggering perfect 600 round in Nîmes a couple of days ago, one of the greatest displays of compound shooting of all time, and he probably can’t get arrested in his own hometown. Lars Andersen is doing the best thing that HE does, not necessarily the best thing archery can offer, and maybe not even the best thing archery can offer this week.

Apart from the historical inaccuracies, later on, the three arrows in 0.6 seconds bit doesn’t ring true. The sound, particularly. Listen closely for yourself. There’s some curious artefacts in the video at the 3.06 mark, which also suggests that the more spectacular shooting footage has been, at the least, ‘enhanced’ in some way. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he can do exactly as he says, in which case – why doesn’t he? Why doesn’t he appear on TV, on Mythbusters or in front of independent journalists or whatever? The only thing we have to go on is these videos. Why haven’t we seen him anywhere else? He doesn’t seem to like probing questions, mind. On his YouTube channel, he states that “I will also remove dumb “archery experts” comments” – which doesn’t exactly sound like a confident man who is happy with a reasoned debate.

There are many other half-truth statements and curios in this video (you have to close one eye? you can’t bend your knees with a back quiver? firing?)  – but I hope the above will suffice to make it clear that this is not science.

The thing is; I know well why this has gone big. It’s punchy. It’s unique. It’s entertaining. It’s quick. What he ultimately produces is great shareable content, designed specifically to go huge on the internet, and resonating with an audience who have seen LOTR and the Hunger Games and Arrow. Good for him. I don’t know what he is looking to ultimately do with this thing, but I do want to know why has he surrounded it with a load of pseudo-historical bullshit – and I’d like to see his skills tested in a slightly more skeptical environment.

This is what I don’t get: Why doesn’t he celebrate what he does – a showy modern distillation of not-remotely-forgotten mounted archery skills – for what it is? Why try and back it up with a lot of historical flimflam? He could easily have been a bit more careful and accurate with the sources and a touch less arse-y and arrogant with the commentary and it would STILL have been a great video. Why go to all that trouble, and then veneer it so thinly? Unfortunately, I suspect it’s all, ultimately, to do with making dollar. Am sure he’s shooting down offers left, right and centre at the moment, and good luck to him.

It’s an entertaining six minutes of trick-shots. But I love archery. You know why? Because it’s deeply, passionately, frustratingly real. And this… this isn’t real.  

There’s a lengthy discussion of the historical aspects of the video here.
This post was edited on 27/01/15 in response to extensive discussions on Reddit and elsewhere. All comments and feedback are very welcome. 

20 comments on “bad archery pt. 251

  1. Pingback: Archery Interchange UK   now this will make you cringe... - Page 2

  2. Pete Hargreaves

    I have to agree with all of the above, my first reaction was “how many takes did this take” ?????

    I shoot Barebow with reasonable proficiency along with flatbow and now Scythian bow … (in my humble opinion)

    I’ll get my coat !!!

  3. Nelson

    I’ve had friends send me Lars’s video over the weekend (I was familiar with his videos long before he became an internet sensation), I always reply to my non-archery friends that “Lars is entertaining to watch, but it’s not for me”. I don’t claim to be an expert in all forms of archery, however I have shot with archers from Japan, Nepal and various parts of Eastern Europe who practice the Mongol/Turkish style thumb draw and arrow holding (none of which was invented or discovered by Lars). What Lars fails to understand or at very least explain is why the arrow is shot on the opposite side of the bow, when using a thumb draw there is a slight right twisting pressure that keeps the arrow against the bow (actually you can see it in the beautiful close up kyudo photographs on your site).

    As for Lars’s claims that these ancient archers can shoot arrows faster by holding them in the hands, this part is true. You can see this in practice today in Mongolian mounted archery demonstrations, in case you can’t get out to the Himalayas you can see this technique practiced in kyudo (at a less Hollywood pace). Something that Lars should’ve done more research on are ancient quivers. Warriors did wear back quivers (they are not hollywood inventions), however these ancient back quivers had sinew and cording in the middle and top to prevent arrows from falling out while on horse back or running on the battlefield. There was an opening towards the bottom of the quiver where the archer can pull the arrow through by grasping the forward part of the arrow (this forward grip on the arrow worked in tandem with nocking via the thumb draw technique; again, this can be seen in slow motion in today’s kyudo). As you correctly pointed out with the Kisra myth, they’re mythological figures, the reality is archers can only hold 3 arrows at a time, it’s just not practical in field conditions to hold more than that. If anything Lars’s technique of holding arrows fanned out by the nock end is not only unstable, but dangerous, in the field these arrows can be “nocked” (forgive the pun) out of the hands easily.

    My archery friends who practice the thumb draw laugh at Lars’s claim that this is all forgotten knowledge, that he had to search ancient scrolls to discover these technique. In fact there is a specialized form of kyudo called Koshiya that teaches these ancient battlefield techniques of quick nocking, back quiver use and shooting on the move. The other misleading thing about the Lars speed shooting technique are the “power” claims, much of the power lost when you’re not at full draw, as my Nepalese pals have demonstrated with their shooting style. Often they will speed shoot, only anchoring (I use this term loosely) to their chest or less, the result are rebounder arrows, lots and lots of rebounders at anything over 5 meters and this is with 60lb+ horse bows.

    I won’t beat up Lars for his sensational claims, it’s certainly gotten him a lot of internet attention. However, his disparaging of target recurve or Olympic style archery sends a bad message to lay people who are interested or just getting into archery. He doesn’t seem to understand that target archery, specifically Olympic recurve teaches archers the importance of correct form, proper use of back tension and consistency in execution. Quite honestly I’m not very impressed with his handling of the Olympic bow in the video. I’ve already see too many people come to the range and want to speed shoot like Legolas, but they fail to learn how to properly draw and anchor. Often they will hurt their backs, biceps and elbows by not understanding how to properly, mechanically draw and loose an arrow. Don’t get me wrong, I love trick shooting, I’ve engaged in my own PT Barnum tricks, the Dude Perfect guys are great, even professional Korean target archers like Ki Bo Bae have done some fun stuff, but they all still practiced in good, safe form. This isn’t “next level” archery, it’s five steps back. Aside from Olympic style target, there are so many great forms of archery to choose from, like kyudo, Mongolian or Turkish draw, I hope people will learn proper techniques first, because Lars is a product of watching too many Hollywood movies (love the recreation of the Star Wars cantina scene).

  4. Pingback: Olympic links: 26 January, 2015 | Frontier Sports

  5. Protest Joff

    You call his techniques ‘LARPy’ including a Wikipedia link to LARP. There is almost nothing he does in the video that wouldn’t get you banned from a responsibly run LARP. Maybe you should think of another term to describe the video and not use a perfectly real-archery friendly hobby as a pejorative?

  6. David

    I hope this blog post won’t be seen as shredding what the video portrays. I watched it a few times, and he never says modern day archery is bad and shouldn’t be done. It just states that the fundamentals of it are not best for combat. This post doesn’t debunk him but rather just points out, like any video or post, it focuses in only what it wants the viewer to see. The viewer then has to come to their own conclusions and I think any reasonable minded person would question how many takes or some of the more questionable part of the video. However, the main thing I would like to state is that every time someone comes around with something that flies in the face of what’s established there is always criticism because simply it is different and no one likes to rock the boat. I would have never thought shooting this way and he does prove that it can be accurate and fast, he also states that it took him a long time and a lot of practice. So he isn’t disregarding putting in hard work! You also only point out bits and pieces of a 6 minutes video. What about him shooting the 10 arrows at the spinning target, the foam heads, catching the arrow and shooting it back, on the motorbike, on the roller skates, several of these yes would have taken many takes but he did do it (any reasonable person would think that – you aren’t unique for blogging it). So then your last statement bugs me, it isn’t real? Are you saying he isn’t passionate and hasn’t had frustrations? So you are the judge of what everyone else should think of Archery?

    Is anyone needing to be a combat archer? No. I’ll read up on some of the links you posted later, but take this to heart, I like Archery as well, but with all things I like – I generally hate other fans. Because they are people and people can be dicks no matter what the subject is. It is unnecessary and to me, flies in the face of actually being a fan. Also I would have never seen this blog if it had not been for Lars. Instead of trying to tear him down, why not just exclaim this is awesome, point out some things you question, explore them and move on.

    Also “Email me on john at theinfinitecurve dot com” easily added to a web crawler :\ Nice try though. (I say that because I’ve written one).

    1. takotsubo Post author

      I DID make it clear that I think it is engaging, entertaining, and unique (if not awesome), and I mentioned the work effort too. I do try and be as even-handed as possible on here (but I’m human).
      If I had to do a TL;DR for what it wrote, it would be this: Why not celebrate it for what it is? Why try and back it up with a lot of historical flimflam? He could easily have been a fraction more careful and accurate with the sources and a touch less arrogant with the commentary and it would STILL have been a great video. Why go to all that trouble learning all those skills, and then veneer them with nonsense? And most importantly, why not make it indisputably, provably real? Thanks for your comments.

    2. Xavier

      The claim that this style of archery could be used successfully in combat is just total rubbish. No-one who has even a rudimentary understanding of combat history would claim that combat archers ran around shooting arrows at close range like crazed crack addicts practising kindergarten level parkour. The greatest land mass conqueror of all time established his military supremacy using horseback archers who shot multiple volleys while closing on their enemy and then cut the survivors to pieces with swords and spears. Genghis did not employ archers skilled in the art of shooting targets while suspended from monkey bars – he bred stone cold killers capable of shooting huge poundage bows with incredible accuracy while riding at full speed.

  7. Stuart

    Excellent post!!! I like you love archery, also I only post my 70m six gold ends too lol. I am very cynical as to the validity of the claims made in the video and some of it seems to make sense but multiple accutate shots in under 1 second??
    Ive had the video forwarded to me several times now which is annoying as it interrupts my viewing of archery tv and top shooters like brady ellison and ki bo bae!!!
    I have seen a few “amazing instinctive archers” and question as to why they arnt clearing the board at vegas or nimes too!! Go figure !! clearly competitive main stream archery doesn’t float there boats!!
    Or are they just the entertaining side show using slight of hand and illusions to promote there personal art??
    Saw a recent myth busters using brady to bench mark an automatic loading “machine bow” brady set the time and accuracy for the myth buster team to beat
    Where was Lars??? Surely a man of his skill and viral reputation should have been on the myth busters expert go too list for this myth!!!
    Who knows lol
    Love your blogs keep it up

  8. LMB

    AGREE with all of the above. I was also annoyed with how Lars quite rudely compared himself to other archers in his video. “I’m faster than Legolas!” Please. But really irritated me comparing himself to Lojas Kassai. Uh, right Lars…. Let’s see you get on a galloping horse and out shoot any average mounted archer, let alone the master Kassai. What a turn off.

  9. nareik

    First off, claiming that this isn’t real is just completely unreal. Of course it´s real, the dude obviously spends enormous amounts of time on archery, which I assume all great archers have done throughout history. A lot of the stuff you say are trick shots. Of course it is. People who are great at their craft/activity always do “tricks” to impress people. I would also not be surprised if great archers in history did trick shots.

    “There are many references to ‘ancient’ texts, ‘old manuscripts’, ‘old texts’ and ‘ancient’ archery – which could mean anything, basically. The bow was invented at least 11,000 years ago and possibly an order of magnitude before that, and spread to every culture across the globe. What part of ‘ancient’ is he talking about?”

    What do you mean here? When something can be official ancient?

    “To be honest, I’m sure if I did at least a couple of the short-range shots thirty times I’d pull them off once too(…)”

    Please do! Show us.

    I cannot say I have the same knowledge, passion or skills that you do in the fine art of archery, but I just felt that a lot of your arguments seem overly bitter. I myself felt there was a lot of humor is Lars´s video, and a youtube video can never, ever be a historic document. Everyone should of course know that anything anyone claims on youtube should never be interpreted as truth. I am no great thinker, but I choose to quote a lot of great thinkers. Always question everything. I questioned your post cause it seemed sour and bitter.

    You have some good points, you claim things I cannot verificate. But as always when I see people who obviously spend an enormous amount of time on mastering some sort of sport/craft/art etc I take my hat of. Speculating on the true motives behind the vide as you do strike me as very strange.

    “(…) ultimately, to do with making dollar (…)”


    1. takotsubo Post author

      Hello Nareik. Thanks for your comments.

      “Everyone should of course know that anything anyone claims on youtube should never be interpreted as truth. I am no great thinker, but I choose to quote a lot of great thinkers. Always question everything. I questioned your post cause it seemed sour and bitter.”

      It certainly wasn’t intended to be. I praised what I thought was praiseworthy, and questioned what I thought needed questioning. I also tried carefully to avoid ad hominem attacks (unlike some other commenters on the video you can find on the internet).

      As for the ‘truth’, I tend to think that a man should stand behind both his action and words. I find it basically impossible to just ignore the narration and enjoy the stunting and the shots. It’s an enormous, elephant-in-the-room distraction. I suppose I could turn the sound off and just enjoy it for what it is, but it’s too late for that. I mean, it didn’t come with a warning card at the start: “Do you know anything at all about archery? If so, turn sound off now.” Archery is what I do here, and what gets discussed, I’m afraid. It’s my tiny corner.

      If it’s not about money then fine, but you have to ask the question – why? Why go to all that trouble to develop those skills, and then back it up with a lot of historical flimflam? As I said, he could easily have been just a with the sources and a touch less arrogant with the commentary and STILL have made a great, entertaining video that would have still gone viral. Would have taken about 0.001% more effort compared to the time spent working on the shots and producing the film. So – why?

      I completely agree that he’s spent a lot of time on his archery, but *this video*, for me, isn’t archery. It’s entertainment. Your mileage may vary.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and best of luck.


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