Beyond Strength: Why Technique Matters for Shooting Asiatic War Bows

Heavy bows and microexpansion

Remember, you are not merely trying to pull your heavy bow back. You’re striving to shoot it with good form, which requires a clean release. Toward this end, make sure to leave room for microexpansion as you approach your bow hand anchor. Microexpansion is the final phase of expansion that occurs at the tail end of your draw. Once you’ve fully settled into your back, continue to gradually expand toward release to ensure collapse never occurs. This requires a controlled, focused state, but will pay dividends in ensuring an ideal release.

Learn more about microexpansion here.

(Above) Make sure you leave room for microexpansion as you approach your bow hand anchor (shown here as yellow tape wrapped around the shaft of the arrow), so that your release is clean.

How bow elbow orientation impacts your ability to handle heavy bows

Medial rotation of your bow elbow—both predraw and during draw—is an essential component to handling heavy bows. It aids in joint alignment and encourages scapular depression (the settling of the bow shoulder) by reinforcing use of the latissimus dorsi and pectoral muscles. Be careful to not hunch your bow shoulder as you rotate your bow elbow.

Below: Depictions of bow elbow orientation as it progresses from lateral to overly rotated. Medial rotation is key when shooting war bows.

(Above) Lateral rotation of the bow elbow is NOT RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credits: Justin Ma

(Above) An unrotated bow elbow is NOT RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credits: Justin Ma

(Above) Medial rotation of the bow elbow—both predraw and during draw—is ✅ RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credits: Justin Ma

(Above) An overly rotated bow elbow will cause tension and is NOT RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credits: Justin Ma

How an inward bow arm angle will help you avoid strain

Maintaining an inward angle with your bow arm—both predraw and during draw—will help you avoid straining minor back-side scapular muscles. It also allows for a natural cant. An inward bow arm angle also prevents string slap.

Below: Depictions of bow arm angles.

(Above) The bow arm being too straight in relation to the shoulders is NOT RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credits: Justin Ma

(Above) An inward bow arm angle—both predraw and during draw—is ✅ RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credits: Justin Ma

The linchpin: Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of various thumb draw hooks

Hook configuration has the potential to greatly impact your ability to draw a heavy bow. A common misconception when it comes to using thumb draw with war bows is, “Man, you’re gonna destroy your thumb.” Luckily, your thumb is an incredibly strong apparatus, and using it correctly with heavy bows will result in risk- and pain-free shooting. The thumb tendon will develop as you exert load. As with any exercise activity, if there is discomfort, take a rest day.

A major theme you will recognize throughout this article is that the guiding principle when it comes to proper technique is to achieve relaxation by conforming to the body’s natural angles, and the draw hand is particularly important in this regard. For this reason, the common criteria for an efficient heavy draw hook is 1) thumb pad comfort and 2) the ability to reduce effort in draw hand wrist and joints during the draw.

Hook depth

The first variable when it comes to your hook is depth. Hook depth refers to which section of your index (and middle, if using a double hook) contacts the thumb. With a shallow hook, the primary point of contact is the distal joint. With a deep hook, it is the intermediate segment of the finger. For drawing heavy bows, a deep hook is recommended, as it promotes greater stability, comfort, and relaxation in the draw hand.

An example of a shallow hook, where the distal joint contacts the thumb. This configuration is NOT RECOMMENDED for drawing heavy bows. Photo credit: Justin Ma

An example of a deep hook, where the intermediate section of the index contacts the thumb. This is the ✅ RECOMMENDED configuration for drawing heavy bows. Photo credit: Justin Ma

Position of the hook

The second variable is the position of the hook on the thumbnail. For pulling heavy bows, your primary hook (index) should contact the thumb behind the nail in order to fortify the hold (see below diagram).

Orientation of the thumb

The third variable is the orientation of the thumb: slanted versus orthogonal (perpendicular). A relaxed, slanted thumb angle provides a more natural resting state for the hand, and therefore a more comfortable pull (see below diagram).

A diagram illustrating the various optimal and suboptimal hook techniques. Credit: Justin Ma

Depending on your anatomy, the ideal goal of a deep hook behind the thumbnail with a slanted thumb may or may not allow for a double hook. If you find your middle finger cannot comfortably sustain contact with your thumb whilst drawing, it is recommended you transition to a floating single hook. The goal of a floating single hook is to retain the stability and comfort associated with a double hook. A floating single hook deviates from the more widely known anchored single hook by untethering the thumb from the middle finger (hence “floating”) whilst maintaining a deep hook behind the thumbnail with the index.

In conclusion, whether it’s a floating single or a double hook, a deep hook behind the thumbnail and a relaxed slanted thumb will provide the most stability and comfort for drawing a heavy bow.

Below: Depictions of an ideal floating single hook, from various angles. (Photo credits: Justin Ma)

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