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Rick M.




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jun, 2010 6:43 am    Post subject: Left handed archers         Reply with quote

I've seen at least one medieval illustration showing a left handed archer, but never a left handed swordsman, etc.
Is there any evidence, written or otherwise for left handed archers in medieval Europe, or was everyone trained to shoot right handed?

Rick
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jun, 2010 4:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Illustrations are not photo realistic. The archer may have been depicted left handed because the artist wants to show certain aspects of the subject. I've seen illustrations of hoplites where they are facing one another and one is shown to be fighting left handed. It was done so that the shield decorations on both shields are visible. IMO everyone was trained to fight right handed except in very unusual circumstances.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jun, 2010 4:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Or the negative was flipped over in the book production; this possibility makes it hard to be sure from an isolated figure. Other figures or text, that's a different matter.
"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Tom King




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jun, 2010 5:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've seen a few of those. Its just an artistic mistake.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jun, 2010 8:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Selby's Chinese Archery includes a text by an archer who shot left-handed. Of course, that's far from medieval Europe.
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Rick M.




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 3:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's not a mistake or a reversed negative because all of the archers in the picture are right handed but one. I wonder if someone with a dominant left eye could shoot accurately right handed.
The picture, by the way, is an illustration of the battle of Crecy I think, from Froissart.

Rick
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 5:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rick M. wrote:
I wonder if someone with a dominant left eye could shoot accurately right handed.


They can. They just have to close their left eye while taking aim.

As for archers' handedness, I think the asymmetric spinal distortion on the Mary Rose archers indicate that European archers of the time shot predominantly or exclusively to one hand, and right-handed shooting was far more common. In contrast, the ideal for Asian archers was to be able to shoot to either hand with equal dexterity, though it's likely that in reality most Asian archers (like Europeans) didn't shoot much to the weak hand.
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Zac Evans




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 8:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think they would have shot whichever arm they were strongest with. Archery was learned from a young age as a sport. That means there was no official teaching as you would have in the fencing schools or in learning to joust, and so no-one was watching over you to see which hand you were using.

Of course, bearing in mind the battle it's from, it could also be a metaphor to show that everyone in the British camp had to bear arms. Even the lefties...
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Tom King




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 10:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry Lafayette, but as a left handed archer I can attest to the fact that it is near impossible to shoot accurately using the non-dominant eye. The dominant arm also needs to be used, since it is usually stronger (letting you use a stronger bow). Now to you Zac, back in the day as a wee lad you would be beaten with a stick the width of your fathers thumb and then watch as your mother was beaten for spawning a satanic child every time you reached out with your left hand Big Grin So no left handed archers Big Grin
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Zac Evans




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 10:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tom King wrote:
Sorry Lafayette, but as a left handed archer I can attest to the fact that it is near impossible to shoot accurately using the non-dominant eye. The dominant arm also needs to be used, since it is usually stronger (letting you use a stronger bow). Now to you Zac, back in the day as a wee lad you would be beaten with a stick the width of your fathers thumb and then watch as your mother was beaten for spawning a satanic child every time you reached out with your left hand Big Grin So no left handed archers Big Grin


That's what people keep telling me, but there is a painting with an English left handed archer, so there you go. Anyone have any sources for the whole "burn Lefties" thing that everyone loves repeating all the time?
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Rick M.




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 11:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't recall the source, but I remember reading some time ago that forcing left handed people to do everything right handed arose in Victorian times.

Rick
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Tom King




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 12:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zac, a painting is far from a primary source, especially one painted a few hundred years after the fact. With all the other inaccuracies in paintings I doubt they got it right.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zac Evans wrote:
I think they would have shot whichever arm they were strongest with. Archery was learned from a young age as a sport. That means there was no official teaching as you would have in the fencing schools or in learning to joust, and so no-one was watching over you to see which hand you were using.

Of course, bearing in mind the battle it's from, it could also be a metaphor to show that everyone in the British camp had to bear arms. Even the lefties...


Are you sure about the sport aspect? In England, at certain times, archery was mandated for able-bodied men so that England could raise the archers they needed for campaign. They practiced regularly. I'd be surprised if there wasn't instruction and/or supervision over what was, in essence, a national defense activity.

Happy

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Craig Shackleton




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rick M. wrote:
I can't recall the source, but I remember reading some time ago that forcing left handed people to do everything right handed arose in Victorian times.

Rick
I've often wondered about this. My father had his left-handedness smacked out with a wooden ruler, but Pallas Armata (1639 iirc) and at least one of the early Leichtenauer tradition manuals talk about left-handers sword-fighting.

I can understand wanting line soldiers to fight with the same handedness, and suspect that could also apply to groups of archers, but I"m curious about exactly when left-handedness became a bad thing on its own.

I haven't done archery for years, but I switched hands all the time, sometimes without noticing. When I started paying attention, I discovered I had better aim left-handed, even though the mechanics were easier for me right-handed.

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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 1:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
IMO everyone was trained to fight right handed except in very unusual circumstances.


I don't believe this is true, at least as a sweeping generality. Several fencing manuals explicitly mention the existence of left-handed fencers, and even mention how to adjust certain techniques if you are left-handed or when facing a left-hander.

Here's one example, from the translation of Sigmund Ringeck's fechtbuch at http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/Ringeck.htm:

"Note: This tenet is addressed to left-handers and right-handers. If you are a right-handed fencer and you are closing to an opponent and you think you can hit him, do not strike the first blow from the (your) left side. Because you are weak there and you cannot resist, if he binds strongly against your blade. Because of this, strike from the right side, you can work strongly "Am Schwert" ("on the sword") and you can use all techniques you like. So, if you are left-handed, do not strike from the right side, since left-handers are usually not used to strike effectively from the right side and vice versa. "

Obviously, there were enough left-handers trained to fight at the time this was written (sometime between 1389 and 1440?), to justify an explicit mention of the difference in technique employed between left and right handers. Furthermore, the pre & early medieval Germanics, Franks & Celts considered left-handedness a lucky attribute ( i can't find my references regarding this, at the moment).

That being said, common sense & experimental archeology dictate that when close-ranked infantry formations & tactics were used, the main battle weapon (spear/pike/halberd/etc) *was* employed right-handed.

Dustin
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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 2:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A follow-up to my previous post:

Furthermore, there is evidence that indicates that left-handers may have been *more* prevalent in our past than in our (Westerner's, that is) current relatively stable societies, where we do not experience and engage in violent exchanges on a day to day basis.

http://economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3471297

The study involved "traditional" societies, because these are the ones less likely to use firearms in their violent day-to-day conflicts (the use of firearms negates any advantages of left-handedness).

"the two researchers found that the proportion of left-handers in a traditional society is, indeed, correlated with its homicide rate." Thus, societies with more to-the-death one-on-one fighting going on have more left-handers, since being a left-hander is an advantage in this context.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 2:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I do favor the idea of "dominant eye" being really important. As it is one of the first things that good shooting coaches I know ask newcomers about, I wonder if it would not have been assessed when youth started learning to use bows?

I am going to offer the "theory" that some people are taught to shoot by looking at the target while holding the gun or bow with specific posture, and subjective judging of distance and speed, not by aiming down a sight. Posture and technique in how one judges it is fairly critical in sporting clays, skeet shooting, etc. I only use the beads on a shotgun to judge if I am quickly raising it with correct posture. After that, it is all about posture and tracking the target. I switched my shooting side after I learned that I was left eye dominate. It upped my percentages by 25% (to low 90% hit rates), but, I did not have to develop any new arm strength to do it. I did have to get my double barrel shotgun stock bent to the opposite cant to avoid bruising my collar bone though.

Some of the classic English longbow era examples simply used the grip wrap instead of a carved arrow shelf to support the knocked arrow. As such, nothing about the equipment would absolutely have to have been "right handed" or "left handed".

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 2:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joseph Swetnam also mentions left-handed fencers in his early seventeenth-century manual.
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Zac Evans




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 2:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tom King wrote:
Zac, a painting is far from a primary source, especially one painted a few hundred years after the fact. With all the other inaccuracies in paintings I doubt they got it right.


The painting was done about 100 years after the event. It shows archers which were still majorly prevalant at the time, both in military and civilian life. I have not seen any original manuscript stating that left handers were beaten/flogged/killed. I'm going to hold my judgement until I've looked into that more though.

Chad wrote:
Are you sure about the sport aspect? In England, at certain times, archery was mandated for able-bodied men so that England could raise the archers they needed for campaign. They practiced regularly. I'd be surprised if there wasn't instruction and/or supervision over what was, in essence, a national defense activity.


I know it was law, my statement is based on human nature really. If you've gotta practice bow shooting by law, then humans will very quickly make it fun by turning it into a sport or competition. I turn it into a competition about 6 arrows in. I'm sure they would have too.
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Jeff A. Arbogast





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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jun, 2010 4:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Latin word for "right" is Dexter, from which dexterous is derived, while the Latin word for "Left" is Sinister (You know, the Devil, etc.). Lefties were considered unlucky, cursed, etc. etc. (A lot like today) and were treated accordingly. I have heard that a man could not become a knight if he was left-handed. Left-handedness was generally considered a real bad thing in medieval times, without considering the possible advantages of it. For instance, I can believe that left-handed Greek hoplites could be very useful in a Greek phalanx, which always had a tendency to move to the right as it advanced, as the man next to you was seeking the cover of the man's shield to his right, hence the awkward right-hand forward drift. Opposing phalanxes would tend to rotate around each other because of this tendency. If a clever General placed all his lefties on his far right flank, and there were enough of them, this would help stabilize his line, as the lefties would drift to the left against those drifting to the right. Just a theory, but it seems reasonable enough to me, and who knows, it may even have been used. Besides, lefties confuse the hell out of everyone, which in itself is a bit of an advantage, especially if the leftie knows how to exploit it. But they were just another persecuted and misunderstood minority by ignorant people, particularly the clergy, themselves among the MOST ignorant.
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