Friday, 16 February 2018


It's getting on for three years since I last posted and this will be the final one.  After just over five years as a club archer, I have decided to hang up my bow.

There are a number of reasons why I am stopping now: increased responsibility at work meaning that I have less free time; other interests that are taking up more of my spare time; not making any progress from where I was three years ago.  This all adds up so something had to give and archery was the thing.  This leaves me a more time to spend with my family, too.

I guess my lack of progress started in 2015, when my father was seriously ill and subsequently passed away.  This meant more time being spent at my mother's home 300 miles away and not on the archery field, and I never achieved the same type of scores again. 

This blog will be live for some time yet, but I will be closing my Twitter account @embryonicarcher shortly.

I have had some great times and I send my thanks to the members of The Nonsuch Bowmen for your friendship and support.  I will still be seen at the field, in future, but only as a spectator (or perhaps behind the barbeque).



Friday, 15 May 2015

I Blame Twitter

I love Twitter, but it can lead you up alleys you didn't really know existed.  This week this tweet from Steve Nichols appeared in my timeline :

A Six Gold End is one of those things that we all aspire to but may never achieve; much like a hole-in-one in golf, a sub-4-minute mile or a 147 break in snooker.  Some may achieve it by pure luck but, usually, it is the confleunce of ability and conditions that make it more attainable.  I am really pleased for Steve, as I was for Mrs EA and EA jnr, who both had six-gold-ends two years ago and have the badges to prove it.  (EA jnr did it twice in the same round but you only get one badge!).

That said,  I did reply a little tongue-in-cheek:

Whilst it was a little cheeky, it was a semi-serious reply.  Six Gold End awards have a fixed set of criteria, which depends on the gender of the archer and their age (if under 18).  This table from the award claim form shows the minimum distances required for each category:

Note that, unlike the Archery GB classification awards, no account is taken of the bowstyle used when shooting. Compound, recurve and barebow archers are lumped together (longbow archers have their own award for a Three Gold End).  Thus my cheeky tweet: barebow archers will find it more difficult to achieve a six gold end than recurve archers.  Similarly, recurve archers will find it more difficult than compound archers.  If there are categories for bowstyle for classifications, then why not for six gold ends?  

One problem with this is that a six gold end is a six gold end, no matter what type of bow you used to put your arrows in the boss.  There are only two ways in which I could see this being made 'fairer':  (1) reduce the minimum distance for barebow and increase it for compound; (2) introduce a different award for each bowstyle (e.g. a 4 gold end for barebow and a seven gold end for compound).  OK this last one was a bit facecious but you get my drift.  Of the two changes I reckon the distance criteria would be more workable.

I also mentioned the Portsmouth 500+ awards in my tweet.  These are badges for achieving scores of 500, 525, 550, 575 and so on.  This is even less flexible than the six gold end award, as no account is taken of either bowstyle or gender.  Looking at our club indoor records from last season, every compound archer has a 500+ award, the vast majority of recurve archers have a 500+ award, and a small minority of barebow archers have a 500+ award.  

Unlike many clubs, we have quite a strong contingent of barebow archers, and at about half of them shoot at 1st class level and above outdoors, so why would achieving a score of 500+ in a Portsmouth round be so difficult?  I decided to look at some figures.  I took the outdoor handicaps required for each classification for both barebow and recurve, and looked-up the Portsmouth score required to achieve that handicap (I know I am comparing outdoor and indoor figures here, but there is no distinction in bowstyles for indoor handicaps).  I then drew the graph below and dropped a line from each of the bowstyle curves where it crosses a score of 500.  What this shows is that a recurve archer (blue curve) would be expected to achieve a 500 score when their outdoor classification is mid-way between second class and first class.  A barebow archer, on the other hand, would be expected to be shooting at an outdoor classification between Bowman and Master Bowman - two categories higher.

I don't pretend that this is totally scientific, as the higher outdoor classifications must be achieved at longer distances, where environmental factors come into play, but it does demonstrate quite clearly why I shouldn't expect to score 500 points or more in a Portsmouth round anytime soon.  I think that is a good thing rather than a bad one.  Is this situation likely to change?  Well, I hope so.  This was the response to my cheeky tweet:

Why is this important?  David Harrison is not only a fellow archer, but also the Chairman of Archery GB.  I know that AGB are keen to support the emergence of barebow archery and have made a start by allocating a section of the magazine for barebow features.  I have emailed David with some of my thoughts and am confident that he will follow-through with his promised support. 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

It's been a while....

I think I should stop putting time expectations on the frequency of my posts, given that this is the first of 2015.  Happy New Year!

In my previous post, I had just bought a second-hand riser but had not yet used it, intending to put it away as an extra Christmas present to open.  That plan went out of the window when Mrs EA saw a wanted post on the Archery Equipment for Sale UK Facebook group asking for a riser that would be suitable for repainting.  As the post was from the owner of ArrowSocks, a deal was done involving an amount of cash and a set of custom wraps for Mrs EA!

The 'new' riser is an SF Forged+, which is a great intermediate riser.  With my existing 28lb SF Premium Carbon limbs fitted, I felt an improvement over the old Premium+.  However, it soon became clear that there is a difference in the limb mounting geometry between the two risers, as the cast of my arrows at maximum limb bolt adjsutment was leaving me unable to reach 60yds reliably, when I could manage to do so with my old riser.  Time for some 'heavier' limbs!

I had been shooting with the 28lb limbs for about a year, so I was about ovedue for a step-up.  This time I went for a new set of limbs, the SF Premium+ Carbon limbs at 32lb.  These appear to be essentially the same as my existing limbs, but with a revised paint-job, and they certainly improved my range.  As you will know if you have read my previous posts, I am a string-walking barebow archer: I can now shoot at 60yds with point-on-gold and three-fingers under with room on the string to spare. 80yds is achievable by using my arrow rest as a reference so 70m should be fine, but I have yet to try 90m/100yds.

There have been some other minor equipment changes in the past few months.  I did buy a smaller (large as opposed to X-large) Black Widow tab, and that felt more comfortable than the one I had been using.  I also picked up a platform version of the same tab on the Facbook group and I now perefre to use this when shooting outdoors, as I need an under-the-chin anchor point to get the longer ranges.  When indoors I use a corner-of-the-mouth anchor point with the non-platform tab, otherwise I end up string-walking a stupid distance away fron the nocking point.  The other addition was an extra 200g weight on my riser to help keep reduce the amount of backward rotation after release.  I already had a 350g weight on the lower stabiliser mounting point, but this one is attached onto the middle position.

In terms of shooting acheivements since December, I haven't really moved on much after winning the handicap medal at the Surrey Indoor competition.  I didn't really get going on the indoor rounds as I missed many of the weekly sessions due to being away from home more than usual, either for work or more frequent trips 'Up North' to visit family.  Outdoors I managed to maintain second-class scores on all but a couple of occasions, but I didn't expect to make much progress during these colder months.

A couple of weeks ago I stepped-in to help out one of our club members - Dave - who is working towards becoming an AGB Level 2 coach.  Part of the course requires that the candidate works with a couple of 'improving' archers to identify their goals and to work with them on achieving these goals.  There are a number of sessions where the candidates come together and this coaching is observed by AGB assessors to make sure that it is being delivered correctly and to offer advice wher necessary. Unfortunately one of Dave's improvers had a nasty accident where he severely lacerated two of his fingers and was therefore unable to shoot.  Thankfully he has since revovered enough to get back on the shooting line, if not back at his previous capacity.

The first of these assessment sessions was held a couple of weeks ago at an indoor venue, and formed the first part of a full weekend session for the Level 2 candidates.  Dave started by checking and listing my equipment, then discussing my short, medium and long-term goals.  He observed me shooting for a few ends than started to make some suggestions to improve my techinique.  The first was the placement of my feet to improve my stability.  Next was my hand position on the riser grip. This felt very odd at first, but the change he suggested resulted in an immediate improvement to my groupings.  Tridh, one of the assessors took a particular interest in me, as she is a former World champion field barebow archer and I was the only 'improver' shooting barebow.  She suggested that I might need a little more weight in the bottom of my riser, as it was not quite sitting vertically in my hand before drawing.  More shooting and more feedback made for quite a tiring morning, but I came away with a feeling that I had learned something.

Now that the clocks have gone forward, we are now able shoot outdoors at our club on two weekday evenings (only one of which I can attend due to other commitments) as well as at the weekend, so I have had a few more opportunities to put into practice the revised techniques.  It appears to be having a positive effect, as I have managed to set new Personal Best scores for both the Warwick and Long National rounds.  My score for the Long National was only eleven points away from a first class score, so I am hopeful of crossing that particular barrier in the not-too-distant future.

One of the recent saturdays was set aside for a public Have-a-Go day.  We were busy most of the day and everyone went away pleased with the opportunity to shoot.  There were some so keen that they rejoined the queue a number of times to have more turns.  I was particularly pleased that there were lots of youngsters who were keen to emulate Katniss (or other on-screen archers) but were not disappointed when they found it wasn't quite so easy at it looked.  We look forward to welcoming many of our visitors onto our forthcoming beginners' courses.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

On the up?

At the end of my last post on 8 October, I chastised myself for leaving if for more than two months between posts.  Quite by accident, I seem to have kept my original promise, if only by a day!

To be honest, there didn't seem much to write about for a good few weeks.  I had an enforced quiet period with me missing a number of indoor and outdoor sessions due to family illness, being away from home for work, recovering from Tennis Elbow and, more recently, retiling the kitchen.  Who said life was boring?

So, what has happened in the last two months?  I guess the biggest change is the end of weekday outdoor shooting and the start of the indoor season.  I continue to shoot outdoors at the weekend as much as possible, weather permitting and, as I said in the last post, this is the first season that I have shot barebow indoors.

My first indoor session was spent experimenting with my anchor point when at full draw.  I use the string-walking technique so that I can aim the point of my arrow on the gold and, when I used the same anchor point as outdoors, my arrow sailed way over the top of the boss, despite walking a long way down the string.  It quickly became apparent to me that I needed to adjust by anchor point UP so that the end of the arrow ended up pointing further DOWN.  (This may seem odd to recurve archers using a sight, but it is the same principle).  I settled on a position where the index finger of my right hand was anchored at the corner of my mouth at full draw, and my first scored round the next week saw me score 389 for a Portsmouth, which I was happy with.

However, over the next few weeks my scores steadily declined and it became clear that my anchor point was not really consistent.  My outdoor scores had also plateaued and I had one nightmare day where I posted my first Unclassified score, having only ever shot below 2nd class at barebow once (and that was the first time I tried).  Clearly I needed help.

Earlier in the year I had volunteered to be a trainee archer for Bea, a prospective Level 2 coach. She worked with me over a number of sessions to improve my alignment and shot sequence, which helped a lot and made me shoot in a much more relaxed manner.  However, I felt I needed some more targeted advice so I approached Linda, who has recently become a level 1 coach.  She is the club's leading barebow archer and recently came 5th in the National Championships.  Linda worked with me to find an anchor point on my face that was repeatable and suitable for indoor distances, and also identified a number of possible problems with the setup and alignment of my bow.  We adjusted the position of my rest so that the arrow sat more centrally on the button, and she thought that the nocking point was too high (something that I sorted out later at home).  Finally, we looked at my tab and how I was using it.

When I first started shooting barebow I was using my original platform tab, but found that it was quite uncomfortable to use when string walking and I needed a tab with stitches to help judge my hand position on the string, so I bought a Black Widow tab, used by lots of barebow archers.  I then used the thumb of my right hand along the top edge of the tab to form a type of ledge that I was used to with my platform tab.  Linda suggested that this was prone to movement and suggested that I fold my thumb down and hold it with my little finger, just like recurve, and use the base knuckle of my index finger to reference a point on my face.

My next few outdoor sessions I used to practice my draw and release and managed to get some good groups at short distance.  Over this time I modified my anchor point to draw under my chin rather than to a point on my face, and this seemed to give some consistent results.  Moving to a longer distance revealed that most of my arrows were falling right with the point aimed at the gold.  A few experiments later, I identified that adjusting my string picture so that the arrow lined up between the string and the edge of the riser gave a better left-right result.

The first time scored a round using my revised technique was the Surrey Indoor Championships held at Woking on November 23.  This consists of three sessions, all shooting a Portsmouth round, so there are opportunities for a double Portsmouth as well as the standard round.  I entered a single session for the fun and experience and had higher hopes of a prize in the raffle than going home with a medal.  After a few dodgy sighters, I refined my string picture and settled down into an enjoyable couple of hours shooting.  I had five misses, mainly due to dodgy releases after being distracted, but ended up with a score of 388, only one point below my personal best and a good few handicap points below my current running handicap.  I left the venue very pleased but later at home was watching the final results being posted to Facebook by another club member when I learned that I had won the gold medal for overall handicap (in the range 66-100).  This is the first time  have won a competition medal other than by default (by being the only one in a class) so I have to say that I am really pleased and really owe a debt of gratitude to Bea and Linda for their advice.

The Evidence!

Yesterday I shot my first barebow Frostbite round (appropriately named considering the temperature) and managed a score which would have given a handicap well below my current outdoor running handicap, so it looks like things are on the up again!

So what's next?  In terms of equipment, I am going to try a smaller sized tab, as I think the X-Large Black Widow I currently have is slightly too big, as it extends outside the limits of my hands.  I have also just bought a second-hand riser that is a level above my current SF Premium.  It has been a good beginner's riser, but I dislike the cam method of adjusting limb alignment, and I think it's an appropriate time to move on.  The previous owner had just become a junior UK champion so I am hoping some of the magic remains in the riser!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Long Summer

I know, it's been a long time.  Over three months, in fact, since I last pounded the keyboard to update you with my archery adventure.  It's not that I don't have much to say, more a case of finding time to sit down and commit it to the interwebs.  So, what have I been up to since I last posted at the beginning of July?

One of the highlights was taking part in the Surrey County Championships for the first time.  I was hoping to shoot in the Masters (over 50s) category, which had 70m as the longest distance last year.  Sadly, this was changed this year, with Masters competitors shooting 90m along with the other gents.  At the time of filling out the entry form I had not even attempted shooting 90m, so I decided to enter for a 70m round making me ineligible for any medals.  On the day the weather was showery and blustery, in sharp contrast to the previous year, where temperatures rose into the 30s.  My shooting was not the best, resulting in a score of 464 for a WA (Ladies) (one above my handicap) but it was an enjoyable day nevertheless.

In the middle of July, Mrs EA and I had a child-free holiday in southern Bavaria.  Being eagle-eyed she had spotted a hotel that had an archery centre 100m away, so we reduced our socks-and-undies count to include our archery kit in our baggage allowance. (This took more time to achieve than the flight to Germany).  Plans were immediately scuppered on arrival in Germany where we were told that the hotel had been overbooked and that we had been 'upgraded' to a different one half a mile down the road.  It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the weather was so wet that we visited the archery centre only once during the week and the replacement hotel was a genuine upgrade and much closer to the centre of town.  The archery centre is set up mainly for 3D and field archery so I had my first attempt at shooting 3D targets and I have to say it was a little disconcerting at first but quite enjoyable. Do look them up if you are planning a holiday: Bogensport Zentrum Chiemgau

The week after returning from holiday I had the second session with my coach, concentrating this time on alignment.  I had developed the bad habit of not keeping my upper body perpendicular to the shooting line with the result that I wasn't expanding to the point where the load at full draw was being borne by my bones rather than my muscles.  I think this may have been contributory to the flare-up of tennis elbow that started around June and continued for a number of weeks before I sought professional advice.  Luckily my job comes with private medical cover so I was able to book an appointment with a local physio who inflicted a great amount of discomfort on my back and neck and advised me to change my computer mouse and do some simple stretching exercises.  It sounds odd, but it has been effective.

Looking out of the window as I type this, Autumn has definitely arrived after a lovely September and our midweek outdoor sessions have given way to indoor archery.  This is my first indoor season shooting barebow so there is bound to be some material for a separate post.

Whilst preparing this, I re-read my January post New Year New Goals and reviewed my goals for the year:

1. Improve my consistency

2. Achieve my 2nd class classification

3. Regularly shoot at 70m and above

4. Enter at least three outside competitions

I am glad to say that I have achieved all of them, although you could rightly argue that switching to barebow before achieving 2nd Class doesn't really count.  Much of this is thanks to the advice and assistance of the people at my club who are always willing to help, whether or not they have a coaching ticket.

"What about goal number 5"? I hear you cry!

5. Don't leave it more than two months before your next post!

Hmmm. Least said.....

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Not Quite Lilleshall

Last weekend saw the Archery GB County Team Tournament at Lilleshall.  I wasn't there (see below), but two of our club members, Dave M and Martin C were representing Surrey on the Men's Compound team, along with Chris M from the Woking club.  I guess we are pretty lucky to have two talented archers in the club, especially as they are both really supportive of other members, whatever their level.

This competition is a tough one and takes place over two days. The first day was a 50m qualification round followed by a team head-to-head with winners decided on a cumulative score. The second day everyone shot a World Archery 1440 round for a cumulative score.  The head-to-head was timed, with all three archers having to complete their shots in sequence within a specified time, which increases the pressure somewhat.

The Gents compound team came 12th out of 21 teams, with the Surrey Ladies compound team taking first place.  The Surrey Gents recurve team were placed 11th out of 25 and there was no Ladies recurve team entered.  Full results including the head-to-head knock-out rounds can be seen here.

Surrey Compound Team - Martin C, Dave M and Chris M
This was a busy weekend for the EA family, as Mrs EA was away with Miss EA looking at universities in Leeds (Friday) and Birmingham (Sunday), while myself and EA jnr were at the South of England Showground in Ardingly, West Sussex for Scoutabout from Friday to Saturday night. This event is held every three years and 5000 Surrey scouts and guides have the opportunity to take part in hundreds of different activities ranging from parascending to making fake wounds.  As well as helping out with the catering and organisation of my own scout group, I had also volunteered to help run the bellringing on a portable mini-ring - three hours on Saturday morning and three in the afternoon.  This was my first experience of a portable ring of bells, and the first time ringing outside in the rain! Although the bells were relatively small, running have-a-go sessions for absolute novices was quite tiring.  EA jnr definitely didn't want to come home on Saturday evening, but home we came ready to shoot on Sunday.

While the more capable archers were at Lilleshall, three of the EA family were signed-up to take part in the Sheila Brown Memorial Shoot on Sunday, which is organised and hosted by Mole Valley Bowmen in Leatherhead.  EA jnr and Mrs EA had shot in the event last year, but it was a first for me. Although the official gents' round was a York, I have never shot 100yds so had entered the Hereford instead.  There was a good turn-out by members of our club with three compound and one barebow archer shooting Yorks, three lady recurve archers and myself shooting Herefords, EA jnr shot a Bristol II and our other junior shot a Bristol III.

Conditions were bright but cool during the longer distances in the morning, and the wind and cloud increased steadily towards lunchtime.  I was quite pleased with my first distance (80yds), but found conditions fairly challenging.  I was not alone, as many other archers were commenting on the variability of the wind across the field, which was affecting many people's shots.  At 80yds I am not able to aim at the gold using a consitent anchoring position, so had to aim at the flag above the boss, but that did not seem to affect my scores too much, even though the flags were very small and difficult to see.

The wind seemed to get worse during the afternoon and as the cloud built.  During the final distance we had a couple of sharp showers, which sent people scurrying for their waterproofs or the shelter of their tents. I work near Leatherhead and can recall a couple of occasions in recent years when there have been mini-tornados in the area, so I was half expecting to see one!

After the obligatory raffle (no prizes this time) it was time for the results.  The Nonsuch team managed to pick up six medals: Mike F won bronze for gents York barebow; RA won gold for Bristol III recurve and bronze for junior boys overall handicap; EA Jnr won gold for Bristol II compound and silver for boys overall handicap and I won gold for gents Hereford barebow.  I am pleased to come away with my first bit of archery bling, but I was the only one in that category and must bow to the others who got theirs by shooting better than other people.  If you are wondering why Mike is holding a bottle of wine in the picture below, it is his prize for being the first person to put an arrow through one of the brand new target numbers.

Mike F, EA jnr, Me and RA
I know it is not quite Lilleshall, but we put ourselves up against our peers and had some success.  Whilst it is probably a little late for me, I would not be at all surprised to see these juniors competing at a higher level than this in the years to come.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Coaching Session 1

This week was my first coaching session with Level 1 coach Beatriz.  Along with Andy (her Dad) she is training to be a Level 2 coach and, as well as attending their training sessions, they are required to coach a number of other archers over a period of a few months and record progress.  I think Beatiz selected me because I had recently converted to barebow: either that or she saw that I needed a lot of help!

This first practical session was delayed due to work commitments and transport issues and came a couple of weeks after an initial information-gathering session, where Beatriz made a note of my equipment, then discussed what my goals should be for the short, medium and long terms.  She explained that, when goal-setting, you should remember the acronym SMART:

Specific - Being clear about your goal means you can be sure you have reached it
Measurable - Goes along with Specific - allows you to quantify progress
Achievable - No point in aiming for the impossible
Relevant - No point in doing something pointless (!)
Time-bounded - Set a time to do it otherwise it will never get done

The very same idea is also used in business management training and other areas.  Bearing this in mind we agreed my goals are:

Short term (first couple of months) : Reduce my misses to zero
Medium term (this year) : Achieve First Class barebow classification
Long term (end of next year) : Achieve Bowman classification

I guess it is arguable whether my first goal is actually achievable in practice, but it is a goal to be aimed at!  Looking back to my first post of this year, I set four personal goals to achieve before the end of the year and, I am glad to say, I have already achieved them!  A week or so after the goal-setting and information-gathering session, Beatriz took 15 minutes or so to observe me shooting and to make some notes on my technique, preparatory to the first practical coaching session.

At the beginning of the practical session we reviewed my goals and then Beatriz highlighted what she thought were the priorities to work on to achieve the first of them.  She also observed me shooting again for a few ends to confirm, and attached a length of light string to the tip of my top limb to judge how far back my drawing arm was moving.  This simple device made it very clear that my drawing shoulder was not coming round far enough at full draw, so that it was out of alignment with the rest of my body.  She also noted that the handle of my bow was not resting in the optimum position in my bow-hand.  The 'flat' of the handle should rest against the fleshy part of the hand below the thumb, and not in the crease between thumb and forefinger.

To get my shoulder round, Beatriz suggested that I first part-draw the bow using arm muscles (pricipally the biceps), and then finish the draw by rotating my shoulder round and back.  It was surprisingly easy to do, and I immediatley noticed that my arrows were landing on the target in a fairly tight vertical line, and that my drawing hand was not flapping out as it had done previously.  We discussed the reason for this and concluded that previously my shoulder rotation was very variable, which meant that my left-to-right alignment was not consistent.  In the worst case at least one of my arrows per end would miss the target left.  I shot a good few ends and, with the exception of a few boo-boos, I was getting consistent results and the whole shot process just felt better.

With the left-to-right consistency adressed, we discussed vertical alignment. I have noticed, in the month or so since starting to shoot barebow, that I seem to be relatively more consistent at the longer distances than the shorter ones.  I was discussing this on the line with Mike, another club member who switched to barebow last year and has been really helpful in these early weeks.  What he suggested, and Beatriz agreed, is that I may find problems with string-walking at shorter distances using my current, plastic Hoyt super-rest.  With string-walking, the shorter the distance, the further away from the nock you have to draw, which sets up some uneven forces in the bow and results in increased downward arrow pressure on the rest during release.  To confirm this, Beatriz used a slow-motion capture app on her iPad and we could see where the arrow pushed down on the rest as it left the bow.  The rest responds and sets up a vertical oscillation in the arrow so that it does not fly as straight as it could.  As we were shooting at a relatively short distance of 30m this effect was being seen as a large vertical spread on the target.  The solution is to change the rest to something more substantial, so I have now fitted a Spigarelli ZT wrap-around rest, which has a strong steel wire and is widely used by barebow archers, including Mike.

At the end of the session, Beatriz set me some homework.  This is to use a mirror to ensure that my body is perpendicular to the shooting line when I draw, and to work on getting my shoulder round so that my bow arm and drawing arm are aligned.  All this can be done with the ubiquitous stretchy band beloved of archers everywhere, and which I haven't touched since my beginners' course.

The next session is in about a month so until the I will be putting the training into practice with the hope (expectation?) that my shooting will improve.