The Mongolian Draw and the use of a thumb ring

By Chris le Roux

The most difficult single action in archery is undoubtedly the act of drawing and releasing the string. The purpose of this action is to ensure consistency, accur­acy and to inject the most energy into the arrow. Many techniques have been devised for this. The “pinch the arrow” method, used by the San of southern Africa, the use of a shooting block and the modern release mechanisms used to shoot compound bows serve as initial examples.

Countries such as South Africa, which have been influenced by European and British archery techniques, use the Mediterranean release technique. The (mostly traditional) archer uses three fingers to draw the bowstring. A leather glove is worn to protect the three fingers. The Mongolian release technique is another option and can be added to the techniques referred to so far.

My aim is to briefly explain the history of the Mongolian release technique and give reasons for using this method. The main focus of this article will be on the use of a thumb ring, which forms the focal point of the Mongolian draw technique.

Using one’s thumb to draw the string of a bow is common in Asian cultures such as India, Korea, Japan, Turkey and China. This technique is centuries old, with thumb rings found in Chinese graves dating back to the Zhou Dynasty (1100 to 221BC). There is evidence that some African tribes also used this technique. The thumb draw technique has become so closely associated with Mongol archery that it is commonly referred to as the “Mongol release”.

The Mongol bow is a composite bow made of wood, sinew and horn, held together by glue made from fish bladders. Since this is a short bow, the string (when drawn) forms a sharp angle. Drawing with one finger and not three makes a natural choice to accommodate the sharp angle of the drawn string. A thumb ring is used to protect the thumb from injury.

A thumb ring is a cylindrical or lipped ring (see Figure 1) that fits snugly around the lower part of the thumb of the draw hand. If it fits too loosely it will slide around and even off the finger, causing arrows to fumble. If it fits too tightly it will cause blisters and bruising of the thumb and even blockage of blood circulation. To accommodate a slight movement of the thumb within the ring, it is advised that the hole be oval-shaped. Thumb rings have traditionally been made of a variety of material, such as wood, bone, horn, ceramics, stone, precious stones and even glass.

The “workings” of the thumb ring are quite simple. The string of the bow is hooked behind the ring in the softer inner part of the lower thumb – the ring fits below the nocked arrow. The index finger is then used to “hook” the thumb tip to keep it from straightening under the pressure of the drawn string. The other three fingers of the draw hand are curled into the palm in sync with the index finger (see Figure 2). To release, one opens the thumb and index finger, allowing the string to slip over the smooth surface of the thumb ring. The draw hand is then pulled backwards away from the bow, ending in a straight draw arm that extends to the archer’s back.

In my experience, there are advantages and disadvantages in shooting with a thumb ring. On the positive side, it causes less drag on the string than the three-finger Mediterranean technique, owing to the fact that there is a single point of contact with the string (the thumb ring only).

The down side of this technique is that one needs to have a composite Mongolian bow to really enjoy the effect of this type of release. Archers using the thumb ring as release mechanism generally shoot off the right side of the bow, while my recurve bow shoots off the left side. I have also found that when shooting with any one of my thumb rings (wood, bone, stone or horn), the string makes a lot of noise when released – perhaps this is owing to the left-side bow I use. Lastly, the Mongolian release style places much strain on the thumb. After about 20 shots, blood starts showing under the skin on the tip of one’s thumb. After a day or two it turns black and remains like that for a number of days! Nevertheless, I have found the research and the experience to be very stimulating.

Sources were collected from Google: “thumb ring”, “archery” and “Mongolian archery”.


Updated: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 3:20 PM