04 August 2008

Weapons & Armies: The Longbow & Yumi

By Christine Koehler

The longbow was considered the Uzi of its time, terminology aside. It was the weapon to have, and the soldiers to train in its use. If you had effective archers, you had a great defense and offense. Think of Robin Hood's use of it in any movie--it was that good.

They're usually made from a single piece of wood, about the height of the person using it. Worldwide the average power for bows of all designs is about 220 newtons (50 pounds) at 28 inches of draw--good for hunting. For warfare, they tend to be much more powerful, about 900 newtons (200 pound) at 32 inches mark.

Men in medieval England were capable of shooting bows from 670–900 N (150–200 pounds). Deformed skeletons of archers have been studied, revealing spur-like growths on their bones where the over-developed muscles pulled. Archers trained from a young age in this, and their lives very literally depended on their accuracy.

English longbows, the earliest of which is dated to 2665 BC, were usually made from yew but could be from ash or whatever was durable and handy. Longbows must be long enough to allow its user to draw the string to a point on the face or body, therefore making it important for the bow to compliment the user's height.

The longbow was significant for victory during the Scottish Wars (1296-1357), feared by the French and their mercenaries during The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), then at home in the Wars of the Roses (1455–1487), and used to great effect during the English Civil War of the mid 1660s (1642-1661).

Across a couple continents, the Japanese used a heavy-duty bow for their own wars.

In ancient Japan they used something extremely similar called a yumi, long bamboo and wood laminated bows, which were part of the mounted samurai warfare. Exceptionally tall, over two meters and surpassing the height of the archer Yumi making and practice use techniques unchanged changed for centuries. They're recurved bows, and have the unusual characteristic of being off-center--the lower arm of the bow is shorter than the upper arm, making it useful when used from horseback, so that the archer can turn without the bottom of the bow hitting the horse.

Military History
Medieval Collectibles
Yumi Bows