Lars Andersen – Fact or Fiction?


Over the past week there has been a lot of discussion about the new Lars Andersen video that has been circulating the web and I have been asked how true his claims are so many times that  I decided it was time to respond.

Mr. Andersen is an excellent archer, of that there is little doubt. However his claims of historical and ancient techniques are much too broad and inaccurate, revealing that he is not actually an expert in traditional archery used for hunting or warfare. I can say this because I have spent over 20 years studying traditional archery, circumnavigated the world for my research, and operate a respected traditional archery school in Vancouver, BC.

In addition to the inaccurate historical claims, Mr. Andersen’s opinion on Hollywood archery is also incomplete. Having worked as an Archery Consultant and Trainer on several different TV shows, I will agree that film archery isn’t always accurate, often due to not hiring a qualified archery consultant or having a dramatic but unrealistic image of archery in mind. For example, the director has an image in their mind, often influenced by film as well, and wants the scene to play that way. Unfortunately, Hollywood is not held accountable for its mistakes, resulting in situations such as the bows being strung backwards in the latest Ridley Scott epic “Exodus”. My job is to make sure that the director’s vision is done as safely and as authentically as possible.

I have laid out many of Mr. Andersen’s claims below and will endeavor to reveal what is fact and what is fiction.

 

Fiction: Mr. Andersen uses “forgotten historical methods and holds all his arrows in the same hand he shoots with.”

Traditional archers and scholars have not forgotten these methods. They may have fallen out of use in the West due to the advent of firearms but they were far from forgotten in other parts of the world. Even Benjamin Franklin suggests the use of archery stating that bows could be loaded and shot faster than a musket man and had no smoke to get his eyes before his next shot. [1] To claim they were “forgotten” and that he claims them as his own is a huge insult to those of us who spend time, money and effort to do such research.

Unknown – “Assyrian artwork (showing multiple arrows held in the hand) shows that the method was at least 5000 years old.”

The method of holding arrows in the drawing hand may be 5000 years old, but the 645 BC Assyrian artwork they showed is only a little over 2,500 years old, and does not prove what was done 5,000 years ago. This simple statement that misdates the artwork calls into question the accuracy of his claims of historical knowledge.

Irrelevant Fact – Lars “shoots more than twice as fast as his closest competitors.”

Mr. Andersen may be the fastest archer in the world, but he only comes to half draw which does not allow the bow to deliver its full power and reduces the accuracy when continuously shooting for any length of time.

Unknown – “The back quiver is a Hollywood myth.”

We don’t have very many representations of medieval back quivers. I believe that sometimes the back quiver depicted in historical artwork could be mistaken for the longbowman’s bag quiver being slung over the back diagonally. The Bayeux tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 has a group of four Norman archers and the two in the upper portion have possible back quivers. [2] They are also shown drawing with two fingers to the chest. Is this an accurate depiction of medieval archery or an artist’s rendition? We can never know which is why definitive statements should not be made. As historians and researchers we cannot make such broad claims and must have proof. This is another reason perhaps this video annoys archers like myself who spend hours of research and experimentation on these subjects.

Fiction – Shooting at a stationary target is “something that was unknown in the past.”

This is inaccurate because any archer, whether using a bow for hunting or warfare would have practiced the skill by shooting at stationary targets before trying to shoot at moving ones. In order to be accurate, the narrator should have said that shooting at a stationary target was once basic training and not the end goal like it is now. Shooting at stationary targets is quite clear in the Luttrell Psalter from the early half of the 14th Century, showing what I like to imagine as an archer bragging of his shot to the centre of the target, a stationary target. [3]

Fiction – Modern archers “started placing the arrow on the left side of the bow. This is probably due to the fact that aiming at a stationary two-dimensional target makes you aim with one eye.”

Just like myself, many traditional archers I’ve met & interviewed shoot with both eyes open and do not sight along an arrow to aim. Due to the phenomenon known as the Archer’s Paradox, learning how to aim is sometimes difficult. This is especially true when using the three-fingered Mediterranean draw, which usually crosses the arrow to the opposite side, but of course it is not impossible. The thumb draw places the arrow on the same side as the draw hand and changes the physics of the paradox. I won’t go into it here, but suffice to say Mr. Andersen’s take on archery physics is somewhat off. I also wouldn’t say that ‘modern archers’ started placing the arrow on the left side. There are many eastern archery manuals and depictions that would say otherwise. [4]

Possible Fact – Mr. Andersen learned his techniques “from studying old pictures of archers.”

Lars may have used old historical artwork to develop his techniques, but that doesn’t mean they were accurate portrayals of archery at that time. These pictures have often been explained away with the fact that artists in the past were likely as unaware or dismissive of proper archery technique as modern artists. Just like Hollywood today, many of the artists may have depicted archery in ways that were easier and more dramatic looking. Where artwork may be accepted as accurate is in manuals or text relating to the topic. However, we don’t know whether the art was truly accurate or artistic license, and is something worth further research.

Fiction – “If he wanted to shoot like the master archers of old, he would have to unlearn what he had learned.”

Again, if he learned from traditional archers like Mike Loades or myself, he would not have had to unlearn what he had previously learned. It is only if he was self-taught or taught by a modern target archer that he would need to learn these “new” techniques.

Fiction – Mr. Andesen’s way is “simpler and more natural, exactly like throwing a ball. In essence, making archery as simple as possible. It is harder to learn how to shoot this way…”

Just because something seems simpler and more natural does not make it easy. Just like throwing a ball, anyone can do it, but it takes practice and skill to do it well. In fact, the latter part of this statement indicates that traditional archery is harder to learn, which means it isn’t any simpler than modern archery. And of course, things that feel natural are often less effective in the end.

Fiction – “Modern slow archery has led people to believe that war archers only shot at long distances.”

Researchers of historical archery have already argued that war archers shot at both short and long distances.  Mr. Loades’ book “the Longbow”, [5] explains this in regards to longbows while “Mounted Archers of the Steppe”, [6] explains it in regards to Asian Composite Bows.

Unknown – “In the beginning, archers probably drew arrows from quivers or belts, but since then, they started holding arrows in the bow hand, and later in the draw hand.”

This may seem absurd since the artwork the video uses to illustrate this point appears to show that the opposite is true and that quivers were invented later in order to make life simpler for an archer. However, the truth is that we don’t know when archers started using the method of holding arrows in the hand because we simply don’t have irrefutable historical evidence to date it. On the other hand, we do know that quivers were used over 5000 years ago because Ötzi was found with a quiver. [7]

Fiction – Mr. Andersen’s shooting technique is powerful enough that “his arrows still penetrate chain mail armor.”

To begin with, Lars makes the very common mistake of saying chain mail instead of the proper Maille or mail, which further illustrates his lack of actual historical knowledge. Secondly, there is debate about whether historical arrows shot during warfare could actually penetrate a properly made maille, not just the huge, non-riveted, loosely-linked rings that make up his “chain mail”.

 

In the end, I say this. Some may say “Who cares? You shouldn’t be so critical of someone who is obviously just having some fun”. The problem here is that Mr. Andersen makes some pretty big claims about history and historical archery. For those of us who have spent days, weeks and months studying and practicing historical archery, we find his claims insulting. I won’t deny that Mr. Andersen is very good at his type of fast shooting and I will honestly say that I’m slightly envious of his skill. However, we shouldn’t take Mr. Andersen’s comments about learning his methods from historical text and artwork as fact. Mr. Andersen has focused his skills and attention primarily on speed, and he accomplishes that very, very well. I would hope that in the end if this video accomplishes anything, it encourages discussion about Archery between professionals, historians, novices and anybody who thinks “Hey Katniss looks really cool with a bow, I want to try that out”.

 Sources

[1] The Replacement of the Longbow by Firearms in the English Army. Thomas Esper, pg 382
[2] The Medieval Archer. Jim Bradbury, pg 35
[3] Longbow, a social and military history. Robert Hardy, Haynes Publishing, pg 45
[4] Mounted Archers of the Steppe 600 BC – 1300. Antony Karasulas, Osprey Publishing.
[5] The Longbow. Mike Loades, Osprey publishing
[6] Mounted Archers of the Steppe 600 BC – 1300. Antony Karasulas, Osprey Publishing.
[7] Ötzi the Iceman. Angelika Fleckinger, museum folio

About Patricia Gonsalves

Patricia Gonsalves is a historical archer that has over 30 years of archery experience. She has spent years researching about historical archery and has circumnavigated the globe for her research. Beyond that, Patricia is also an Archery Consultant, Trainer and Armourer for film and TV, including the CW's Arrow and The 100.
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