Almost all archery competitions score the competitors' accuracy. The competition is to hit fixed targets some distance from a stationary archer. In normal competition, matches are against one other archer. The archers take turns shooting arrows at a fixed target with nine concentric rings. An arrow that lands in the outermost ring is awarded one point, the next smaller ring two points, and so on up to nine points for the innermost ring. An arrow that misses the rings completely is not awarded any points.
There are three types of bows in archery competition, but Olympic competition only uses the "classic" type bows, typically made of advanced alloys and composites. These are expensive precision equipment.
Successful archery requires a steady hand, a good eye, and the ability to calm one's nerves.
Archery is descended from the use of the bow and arrow for military and hunting. It is known to be at least 5000 years old and possibly much older. Organised archery competitions date from no later than 1583 in England, not long before bows were superseded by firearms in war. Archery has been an Olympic sport since 1900 (with some interruptions).
There are two classical traditions in archery, the occidental, and oriental. They are not similar at all. The oriental tradition has a more powerful technique, though it is somewhat less safe.
Occidental archery uses a wooden bow that resembles a straight staff. To prevent damage to the bow from shrinking bowstrings and to prevent "memory" in the wood, the bow is unstrung when not in use. The occidental bow is made from yew, but can also be made from willow or lemon wood. The ends of the bow are notched to hold a bowstring. A handle is wrapped around the center, usually leather or cord (classically, a spare bowstring). The occidental bowstring is linen, waxed with beeswax to keep it from absorbing water and changing length.
The occidental arrow is straight, constructed of beech or boxwood, relatively rigid, fletched with three fin-like feathers, and painted with colored rings to show its owner. Hunting is with knife-like broadheads. Archers in a war used chisel-points to penetrate armor. Soft brass-headed practice arrows were developed in England so yeomen could practice more innocuously, without any possibility of being thought highwaymen or insurgents (chisel points) or poachers (broadheads). Occidental points are bronze, brass or steel.
The occidental archer holds the bow extended with the weak hand. and holds the string with the index and middle finger of his strong hand. He protects the strong hand's fingers from the bowstring with a square of leather or a half-glove called a tab. The bowstring can hit the extended weak arm quite painfully, so this arm is protected with leather strips or a partial gauntlet called a brace.
The oriental bow is a section of a circle. It is usually made of a composite of bamboo and lacquer in Buddhist countries, or animal glue, sinew, and horn. It is strung against the curve, and remains strung except for long-term storage. Bowstrings are classically split braided bamboo, or sometimes silk. The handle is most often carved, in bone or wood.
The oriental arrow is long, slender, and flexible. It visibly ripples around the bow when shot. The fletchings on the end are small, thin, and fluffy, and either trail behind the arrow or flatten when shot. The arrows are identified by calligraphy on the fletching. Hunting points are traditionally broadheads chipped from flint or volcanic glass, to assure that they cannot be used by insurgents against armored soldiers. Practice is with hunting points. War arrows use iron chisel points, and iron was a state monopoly of China for most of Asia's history.
The most common oriental school of archers starts a bowshot by holding the bow clasped to the chest, arrow point slightly up. Both arms are extended, the weak up, and toward the target, the strong arm back and away from the target. The bow and arrow are drawn down into a line with both arms locked on opposite sides of the body, but the elbow of the strong arm is permitted to flex. The bowstring and fletchings are held behind one's head. The arrow is held at the first joint of the strong-arm's thumb, and the string rests on a thumbring so it does not hurt the thumb. A headband is worn to keep the bowstring from hurting one's ear or head. Thick, loose clothing, usually a gi, protects the arms and chest from the bowstring at release. The soft fletching and flexible shaft cause less damage if they hit. Professional soldiers wore leather gauntlets, chest armor and helmets with flared ridges to protect against the bowstring.
The most powerful and effective oriental archers were probably the Mongols, who trained from childhood and shot from horseback.
See also: Kyudo