Danish “Archer” Demonstrates Gullibility of Audience

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There’s this video, which at least a dozen people have forwarded to me, is circulating the Internet at the moment purporting to “demolish every Hollywood myth” about archery and “prove that Hollywood archery is not historical.” Since apparently hundreds of sites have uncritically repeated its many preposterous and unsupportable claims, with the result that many people have asked me about it, I thought I should offer a detailed analysis.

The question really comes down to three separate categories; (1) the claims made in the narration; (2) the trick shots shown, and (3) Andersen’s actual archery ability.

We’ll start with the third. Andersen’s quick-shooting technique is obviously effective (if speed is the goal), in that he is able to fire a lot of arrows at a very rapid pace. It’s worth noting that the narrator goes to great pains to explain why shooting at close-up distances is so important and denigrates “warrior archers only shooting at long distances,” (just one of many totally false claims) in order to paper over the fact that the man obviously can’t hit anything that’s more than about 20 feet away. No doubt there are literally hundreds of failed attempts that were cut out of the carefully-edited video. His gimmick is speed, not accuracy, and it’s obvious to anyone who actually knows anything about archery that his complete lack of any kind of consistent form is going to require camera tricks and a lot of luck, which is exactly what’s on display here. He may in fact be the fastest archer in the world; he just shouldn’t pretend to be accurate.

The really egregious part is the staggeringly inaccurate, misleading, and hyperbolic narration, written by somebody with little-to-no actual knowledge of archery history and a willingness to distort facts to make a bogus case. Here are some of the patently ridiculous claims put forward:

Native American archer Ishi, a member of the Yahi people, demonstrates the supposedly "forgotten" technique promoted by Lars Andersen.
Native American archer Ishi, a member of the Yahi people, demonstrates the supposedly “forgotten” technique promoted by Lars Andersen.

“He uses forgotten historical methods…” No, they were not forgotten. They just weren’t European. Archery is one of the oldest human activities, found in virtually every culture on Earth, and dating back tens of thousands of years. There are wide variations in equipment and shooting techniques around the world, and Andersen’s “discoveries” are well-known to anyone who has ever studied Asian and Eastern European archery, such as Mongolian, Tibetan or Hungarian styles. The famous Native American archer Ishi was known for shooting in a style very similar to Andersen’s, putting the arrow on the outside of the bow in the style of the Yahi People of the Pacific Northwest. My friend Patricia Gonsalves (archery consultant for Arrow and owner of Lykopis Archery in Vancouver, BC) is currently making a documentary about precisely these allegedly “forgotten” techniques as they are currently being practiced around the world.

“The back quiver is a Hollywood myth.” This howler is put forward in the middle of Andersen’s ridiculous infomercial-like demonstration of what’s supposedly wrong with the back quiver. All it needs is an exasperated voice-over saying “has this ever happened to you?” The back quiver is not a Hollywood myth, it’s a historically-documented method of carrying arrows, albeit one that is more favored by hunters and traditional archers than by target archers. Archers are very practical; they use what works, and when they find something that works better, they change to that, and the back quiver was in common use throughout Europe and North America centuries before Hollywood existed.

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The narration actually skirts close to accuracy when talking about target archery. With the invention of firearms, archery made the transition from weapon of war to sporting event, and with that came codification of rules, refinement of effective techniques, and modification of equipment, all in pursuit of what was regarded as the most difficult attribute to master. Something similar happened when the martial art of swordfighting became the sport of fencing. In the case of archery, accuracy at ever-increasing distances was chosen as the goal to focus on rather than speed or trick-shots. Having acknowledged that, the narration than launches back into bogus assertions and ignorance.

The narrator declares that shooting at a stationary target is “something that was unknown in the past,” which is patently absurd; archers who hope to hit a moving target such as an enemy combatant were obviously going to practice on a stationary target, and the modern archery target is a natural evolution of the ancient method; the difference is that what was once basic training is now the end goal.

Continuing on with a complete lack of understanding of the physics of archery, the narrator asserts “these 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.” In point of fact, no, it’s not. The reason for moving the arrow to the left side of the bow (for a right-handed archer) is something known as “the Archer’s Paradox,” a complicated collection of physics phenomena that results in the arrow hitting to the right even though when it’s on the bow it’s pointing slightly to the left. You can see it in the slow-motion footage during the tournament scene in Brave; as the arrow begins its flight, it’s oscillating back and forth, swimming through the air like a fish and moving to the left, until the aerodynamic effect of the air passing over feathers causes it to begin spinning, at which point the arrow turns and begins traveling to the right. (You can also see how simple and fast it is to place an arrow on the bow, despite Andersen’s absurd play-acting.) This scene was painstakingly recreated from high-speed footage shot by professional archers for Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, using historically accurate English longbows. Placing the arrow on the left side of the bow compensates for this effect; without it, archers would have to aim to the left in order to hit their target. In point of fact, most archers, especially those shooting traditional styles, shoot with both eyes open.

“Lars realized that what we thought was historical archery only works well for modern target archery and Hollywood films.” What he claims as a revolutionary discovery is in fact common knowledge among archers. The fact that Andersen didn’t know this is evidence of just how little he actually knows about archery, or how little he thinks his audience knows.

The narration says that Andersen learned his techniques “from studying old historical pictures of archers.” What he obviously fails to understand is that artists in the past were as likely to be just as inaccurate and ignorant of archery techniques as artists today. They generally painted scenes that they either witnessed without understanding, or made up out of their heads, often based on what previous artists had done and compounding the errors. Unless an artist was illustrating a treatise on archery techniques and having their work reviewed by a competent archer, it is very doubtful that anything they illustrated is in any way a reliable record of archery form. What IS accurate is the archaeological evidence in the form of bows and physiological indicators in the archers’ bodies, such as separation in the shoulder cartilage, the thickness of bones in the bow arm and elongation of the bones of the draw arm, all of which is well-documented and known to competent historians.

“If he wanted to shoot like the master archers of old, he would have to unlearn what he had learned,” the narrator tells us. If Andersen had ever actually learned anything from real archers before going on his historical quest, he would have had a lot less to unlearn. What he had learned is the usual collection of bad habits that self-taught amateur archers always display, many of which continue unabated in his new, allegedly historic techniques. He is a terrible archer who can shoot fast. He shoots very fast. He shoots very badly very fast.

"...as simple and natural as throwing a ball..." which he's also not very good at.
“…as simple and natural as throwing a ball…” which he’s also not very good at.

His new technique is described as “simpler and more natural, exactly like throwing a ball.” This is accompanied by a shot of him throwing a ball very badly and awkwardly. He throws about as well as he shoots, but nobody would ever put up that segment and try to compare him to Major League pitchers, because most people know how to throw a ball at least enough to know that this is not a particularly impressive example of the skill. Another fun exercise would be comparing Andersen’s clumsy attempts at running and jumping to actual practitioners of parkour, martial arts, or gymnastics. Frankly, I’m surprised people aren’t mocking his awkward attempts at action shots, since to me he looks about as impressive and coordinated as the Star Wars kid.

The real howlers pile up when the narrator tries to expound on the history of how ancient archers carried their arrows, telling us “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 is patently absurd, since the historic artwork shown during the sequence clearly illustrates that carrying the arrows in the hand is the oldest method, not a later refinement. The quiver, whether for back, hip, calf or saddle, was invented to simplify the archer’s life by getting the arrows out of his hand. The sequence shown in the video is exactly the opposite of the historic record, but it’s a lie they feel is necessary in order to build up Andersen’s credibility. The reality is exactly what the narrator later says, that holding arrows in the draw hand “requires immense practice and skill, and only professional archers, hunters and so on, would have had the time for it,” though truthfully, there were historically very few professional archers or hunters. Archery was just one of many skills a soldier was expected to have, and a hunter was also known as “somebody who liked feeding his family.” Here the scriptwriter is guilty of the sin of “presentism,” in other words projecting the attitudes and behaviors of the present onto people of the past. Specialization is a modern habit.

In reality, the quiver was the more modern invention that replaced the earlier method of carrying arrows in the hand. The narrator tells us “when guns started replacing bows, this technique was forgotten.” In actuality, it was forgotten long before that, when quivers were invented, in any culture that figured out how to make them. Many cultures never did; there’s plenty of evidence of aboriginal archers around the world who never adopted quivers, such as New Guinea and elsewhere.

After claiming that Andersen’s shooting technique is powerful enough that “his arrows still penetrate chain mail armor” (in truth, a 10-year-old with a 15-pound bow can penetrate chain mail at the short distances Andersen favors), the narrator again demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of actual archery, paired with Andersen demonstrating what he thinks modern archery looks like.

Most archers use both arms, unless they have a good reason not to.
Most archers use both arms, unless they have a good reason not to.

We’re told “modern archers use only one hand, but in the past, some archers allegedly used both hands to give the arrow more power.” This is utter nonsense, unless you’re talking about one-armed archers like Jeff Fabry. Any competent archery instructor will tell you that an archer’s power does not come from the arm, but from the back muscles, and both sides are used at the same time. A quick skimming of Archery Anatomy by Ray Uxford, Core Archery: Shooting With Proper Back Tension by Larry Wise, Why You Suck at Archery by Steve Ruis, Total Archery: Inside the Archer by US Olympic Archery coach Kisik Lee, or any of a hundred other books going all the way back to Maurice Thompson or Howard Hill will put the lie to this fairytale. Again, either Andersen and his team are that ignorant, or they hope the audience is.

Andersen then goes back to his emphasis on speed over accuracy, power or the avoiding of injury, asserting that “from old texts, we know that Saracen archers were expected to be able to fire three arrows in 1.5 seconds.” More interesting is the fact that apparently the Saracens had stopwatches. How Andersen arrives at this “fact” is anyone’s guess, but it’s a nice lead-in to his collection of circus tricks and stunts, most of which are also popular fare with magicians and martial artists, such as catching a very slow-moving arrow. Just as splitting an arrow can only be accomplished with the use of carefully-prepared equipment (using bamboo for the arrow to be split, for example), all of Andersen’s tricks require equipment modifications, careful camerawork and editing. Splitting an arrow by firing at a knife blade, for example, could only be accomplished by using an arrow without a point, which would require shooting from a distance of about 10 feet or less (an arrow without a point will decelerate quickly), and careful observation will reveal a camera cut between Andersen’s firing and the close-up of the arrow supposedly splitting (it looks to me like the arrow passes close beside the blade and doesn’t split at all, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt). The second arrow was obviously shot from only a few feet away and was prepped to split. As for the supposed shooting at an oncoming arrow, he may have eventually hit an arrow fired over his head (not at him), but again, it wouldn’t have split, and in fact it probably didn’t. It looks like the arrow was deflected, then he picked up broken pieces already on the floor. I’d love to see Mythbusters demolish this fraud, and I’m only disappointed that so many people are so gullible as to believe it.

Andersen should stick to demonstrations of speed shooting and leave questions of science, history and modern archery skills to people who actually know something about those things. Along the same lines, web editors should check with competent experts before uncritically repeating nonsense.

Special thanks to my friend, animator, artist, fire-dancer and traditional archer Anna Maltese, whose far more polite take-down of this video inspired my own, and my friend Patricia Gonsalves, who taught me almost everything I know about ancient and non-European archery methods.

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31 thoughts on “Danish “Archer” Demonstrates Gullibility of Audience

  1. Man, just wanted to say that I’m not even an archer, but I took one look at that video and was like “You’d have to be an idiot to buy into this”. I’m glad someone is fighting the skeptical fight, though I’m disappointed that no one seems to be talking about this.

    1. ‘I am not discrediting his skill at what he does. It’s basically trick shooting, of a style that he created. Historically speaking, aspects of it might be serviceable in light horse archery – basically, engaging in skirmishes like the Scythians or Huns. Coming in fast and then peeling away rapidly. Not in tight military formation or heavy horse archery with tight discipline. Japan had heavy horse archery, for instance, shooting volleys from horseback at a distance and then charging. The Mongols had both light and heavy horse archery and used it depending on their needs. It was not used in medieval British warfare, nor in many other styles which didn’t come in close for skirmishes.’ – Anna Maltese

      Anna Maltese does not deny, but confirms the genuinely brilliant skills required by Lars’ so-called ‘trick-shots’. It sounds disparaging, but is it ? No, genuine trick-shots, whether in archery or in pool, simmply require extraordinary skill. Lars’ skill is so consummate, it’s off the dial. Who gives a sh*t about the historical waffle ? What a fast and accurate gunfighter he might well have made. !

  2. You critically say – ‘the man [Anderson] obviously can’t hit anything that’s more than about 20 feet away. No doubt there are literally hundreds of failed attempts that were cut out of the carefully-edited video.’

    Yet in the video at 3:15 we see him hit a target on the side-lines from the center of a football pitch which is likely over 100ft away (114 feet if it’s a full size pitch). Hold on I said ‘a target’, I meant 3 targets, in close succession, while walking backwards.

    As you have made a statement which is not only false but utterly at odds with the evidence infront of us I regard your entire analysis as flawed and biased. Good day.

    1. 100ft is only about 30m, which in all honesty not that hard to hit if all you’re going for is a hit on the target. I’m sure any archer given several tries will be able to hit 3 targets walking backwards, you just need to do it ONCE and you have a video proving your badassery, doesn’t matter if you failed to do it 50 times.

      I’ve yet to see any videos of lars performing his tricks to a live audience or be filmed by a 3rd party. Unlike other great shooters like Bryon Ferguson who is so good he can shoot a pill out of the air. However he readily admits he’s not that great outside his trick shots, many 3D archers would outshoot him at a field range.

  3. Obviously different than shooting a shotgun, but you do not aim when shooting. You rely on instinctual shooting, the same goes for bow fishing.

    1. yes quite a few archers use the instinctive style – usually for field archery (simulated hunting) But Olympic and International archers and all those who shoot at targets all have a sight with which they aim. This us largely because you can only really shoot instinctively when every shot is different (as in field archery) When you are trying to get 144 consecutive arrows as close to the target centre as possible only the first shot can truly be instinctive, so a sight is used.
      Even those shooting the traditional longbow, where sights are not allowed, still aim by using the point of the arrow

  4. Man you are a total moron. Someone makes a very entertaining video showcasing very impressive skills that are probably never ever captured on film before, and here you are discussing irrelevant technicalities and the academic integrity of the video, is this your first day on Planet Earth ?..

    Your post is also riddled with many false assumptions and even shameless lies about Andersen’s video; you are at the very least an imbecile, if not also pure evil. Not to mention your pathetic plug in of your female friend’s upcoming documentary is too sad to even pass as ludicrous…

    1. Seems like the only imbecile who never held a bow in his hand is you Vispilio 😀

      Lars video is a footage of circus clown playing with a child bow 😀

      On the other hand I like that video it makes me laugh so hard :D, only it should not have label “history” but “comedy

  5. Thanks for the history lesson, you must be a time traveller to know what went on thousands of years ago because in my book, unless you were there you don’t know anything for a certainty. The arching community is simply jealous,nasty,childish and embarrassed that their boring little “art” (not a sport a bit like synchronized swimming) has been turned upside down andyou know shit. Ouch!;)) Lars seems to know what he is talking about and he definitely proves his accuracy. Can’t wait for his next amazing video.

    1. Oh the history lesson is very accurate, As one of the “Arching” community, a Coach and an archery historian I (and numerous archaeologists) can vouch for that. Archery is far from boring and is a discipline which you have clearly never tried or you would find how difficult it is to do well. I don’t think anyone is jealous, we just would like viewers to recognise that this is trick shooting, has very little in common with the Olympic and International sport and that much of what is said in the voice-over is inaccurate.

  6. Geek Dad – You have done a good job for a presumably non archer in encapsulating the many faux pas in the voice-over, Could I however ask you to be so kind as to make the following corrections please.

    Remove all references to firing arrows. There is no fire involved. We do not set light to a bow to make it work (unlike a cannon.) A bow is shot, an arrow is shot or loosed

    The author of Archery Anatomy is Ray Axford not Uxford.

  7. Fantastic article. As an archer I couldn’t believe some of the preposterous claims in this video. As to the splitting of the arrow; Mythbusters have debunked that one. It is impossible.

  8. Thank you for this write-up. If only more people paid attention to people knowing what they’re talking about and stopped being dazzled by camera work and bad voiceovers…but watching videos is much easier than reading.
    And thinking.

  9. Before anyone writes a critical word about Lars Andersen, I would first like to see a video of that person shooting with a bow themselves. It doesn’t have to be an amazing perfect shot, but I really don’t want to hear BS from someone who has never even fired a bow in their life. Nobody is perfect, but Lars is honest and straightforward in his videos. It’s obvious he is a humble man, not an arrogant jerk. He appears to be confident and secure enough in himself, so he has no reason to trash talk or criticize others out of petty jealousy. I think Lars is pretty badass, anyway you look at it. He’s self taught, and dedicated to the sport. I use my bow everyday, been into archery for more than 20 years, and I can tell he is legit. Wish I could meet the man in person.

    1. All of his trick shooting involves gimmicked equipment, no skill needed. If you want to replicate his speed-shooting, you just need to make custom 1/2″ wide nocks and draw by pulling back the arrow instead of the string. His curving shots are done with over- and under-spined arrows.

      I don’t have any video of my shooting online, but I am a USA Archery certified Level 3 coach with 16 years experience, have taught over 16,000 people how to shoot, and my students compete on the national and international level.

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