The I.L.A.A. - the Longbow and its history

The word "Artillery" comes from the French "Arc-tirer"; to draw the bow. Many still current expressions in the English language come directly from Artillery Shooting or shooting at the Marks. Are you "up to the Mark". To "up the Stakes". To "hit the Mark". To “make your Mark”. To "lower your sights". To" have Clout". Even "on your Marks" is nothing to do with athletics; it meant do you have your eye on the Mark, i.e. are you ready to shoot.

The longbow evolved as Europe's Medieval Artillery. A powerful weapon that was quick to produce in large numbers, the longbow could be used not only in straight directional aim; it could on command instantly transform itself into a weapon of indirect ranging shot.

In today's terms it could metamorphose itself from rifle to light gun fire in an instant. The reason for practising the switch between a direct to a high trajectory distance shot was to be able to get at one's adversary behind hedges, trees, battlements, escarpments etc. In order to do this the longbowman had to be able to "range" his shots very accurately.

It was an ability that was decisive in battle, because it disrupted the adversary's ability to form up for attack. Today in peacetime, these are forms of archery where you really get to see your arrows fly high up into the distance. It is truly about mankind extending its reach.

Two main longbow traditions

Ranging; the ranging traditions of the longbow are those of Artillery Shooting, or Shooting at the Marks and Flight (distance) Shooting. Clout Shooting is an intermediate form between the ranging and aiming traditions. Speed Shooting can be either; both direct at a Target, or indirect at a Mark.

Aiming; the aiming traditions are more numerous and include all forms of target, whether in field archery at inanimate targets, or at the circled targets more commonly used where space is limited. Target shoots for the longbow are held in metric as well as in Imperial form, whether one way or two-way. Well known forms are the York, the Hereford, the National and the Albion.

Other aiming traditions are in Beursault gardens which use minimal space and enhance their safety by using wooden guards along the archery range. The vertical aiming tradition is represented by Popinjay, where symbolic birds are knocked off their perch with blunts. As hunting with the bow is not allowed in the U.K. that tradition is expressed through field archery which uses either "spot" two-dimensional targets, or three dimensional representations of a variety of animals.

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Definition of the I.L.A.A.

A full and detailed engineering definition of the longbow is what keeps the sport safe. This definition takes account of and includes all forms of the longbow from the heavy-weight Artillery / Livery bows to the lightest target bows; from full compass bows to limb-flexed bows; from horn-nocked to self nocked; from bows with or without handgrip; from laminated to self-bows.

The International Longbow Archers Association longbow definition (© Mr. R. E. Cornhill)

Input for this definition was gathered from around 100 bowyers, archers, related experts and engineers.
It was widely consulted and then codified by Mr. R. E. Cornhill who is a materials engineer.

- The aim of producing rules for the definition of a longbow

To separate technically and ascetically the longbow from all other bow types from around the world.

To provide a level playing field for the development and manufacture of high performance bows for target, distance and all competitive shooting.

To provide rules that bows can be checked to simply in the field with simple tools.

Rules to define the required compliance of a longbow

- Materials

M1. Bows are to be constructed only of natural wood. No laminates are to be impregnated with resin or any other material.

M2. The only deviation from natural wood allowed is the use of bamboo, (strictly a grass), for a back laminate ie. the laminate in tension. This concession is allowed for safety reasons.
However, in bows used in distance shooting no bamboo is allowed in any part of construction.

M3. String nocks can be made of natural horn or bone fitted to each end of the bow. >

M4. A horn, bone or hardwood arrow-pass plate can be inserted into the bow side to prevent arrows wearing the bow at the arrow-pass area.

M5. The hand-hold area of the bow can be wrapped or covered in any material desired to give a good hold to the bow, or not wrapped at all.

M6. When a bow is constructed or mended, any glue can be used for, gluing together laminates, fixing horn nocks, fixing arrow-pass inserts, fitting handle materials

M7. Any stain, varnish or oils can be used to finish, waterproof and protect the bow.The finish must be transparent enough for the construction materials to be seen and identified. Therefore paint or any opaque finish is not allowed.

M8. Any non natural wood backing or patches of any type are not allowed.

- Bow construction and form

Bow construction and form

CF1. A maximum 6 laminates of type any wood types, placed in any position in the bow may be used. Any repair or handle build-up will be counted as a laminate. 

CF2. The finished bow can take on a side profile shape with any of the following features i.e. Any amount of string follow.
Any amount of forward limb set and any amount of reflex
Any amount of rec-curve as long as the curve starts not less than half way along the limb when measured from the nock point.
For all the above, when the bow is strung the string must not touch any part of the bow other than where the string is nocked. 

CF3. Viewing the bow by looking onto the back surface, the bow will taper from its maximum width at centre down to the tips.
Any taper profile is acceptable and the centre section may be parallel.There must be no reduction of width in the handle area, the width at the bow centre must not be exceeded at any other position along the bow length.

CF4. The cross-section of the bow at any point along its length can be of any size and shape ie. round, oval, “D” shaped, square, rectangular etc. as long as it fits within a rectangular template with a ratio of sides 1 to .625. Where the front and back surfaces of the section must touch the long sides of the template. See examples below.

- Examples

Examples of any cross-section shape fitting into a 1 to .625 ratio rectangular template, with the sectional shape touching both long sides of the template.

CF5. The handle may be built up on the belly side with wood to form a comfortable hand grip, more necessary with light draw weight bows. No arrow rest ledge of any form is allowed.

CF6. Horn string nocks may be used. These usually take the form of a slim conical shape bored out from the cone base to fit over the bow tip. The string can also be retained with nock grooves cut into the bow stave. The grooves can be of any size, shape and form.Horn and self nocked bows can also incorporate extra grooves to fit a slack string, to aid stringing the bow.

CF7. There must be no artificial aids to aiming and sighting, either on the bow or the string. Rubber bands, tape or sight marks of any kind are not allowed.

Note: The above freedom of form and cross-sectional shape allows most types of longbow to conform to the rules. Typically replica late medieval hunting and war bows. Victorian target and sporting as well as modern target, clout, mark, field and distance shooting bows shall all comply with the rules that define a long bow. Any existing longbows used in the above catagories will almost certainly be compliant.

- Reasoning for the Rules

M1. Mostly for traditional reasons, but impregnated laminates would give an advantage to a user who could afford the cost of creating a high tech. composite more akin to glass and carbon fibre composites.

M2. Not an essential rule, but some such bows do already exist and are at present legal. Bamboo has a very high tensile strength, higher than any wood and is low mass for its strength. Its advantages are particularly accute in distance shooting. It is therefore in the tradition of flight/distance shooting that the concession cannot be applied as its advantages over other bows would give an unfair result.

M3 & CF5. Maintains the status-quo of existing rules.
NOTE. Only horn nocks are allowed by the BLBS for target shooting bows. ( apparently based on Victorian tradition ).

M4. To preserve and lengthen the life of a bow.

M5. Leather is the usual wrap material for a bow. No material gives an advantage except to possibly afford a better grip.

M6. One would presume the best adhesives would be used which for reasons of safety and bow longevity is in everyone’s interest. It would be difficult or impossible to test what glues had been used. Best to not have rules that cannot be enforced.

M7. This allows any personal preferences, but does not allow non-wood to be disguised and hidden.

M8. Non natural wood can and will be used to give an arrow speed advantage, as used on flat-bows. It would be difficult or impossible to write rules to control materials, patch size and thickness, patch position etc.

CF1. Gives freedom to experiment and develop with woods and combinations of woods. To help save costs, as by laminating non perfect ( knots, flaws etc ) staves, imperfections can be offset and misaligned to still produce good usable bows. I cannot see any reason to over specify that restricts in any way.

CF2. Possibly the most contentious of rules. Apart from the technical difficulty of writing controlling rules there is the difficulty of checking. When closely examining some of the reasoning, does it matter. Re-curved tips seem to be the most argued point, but as long as the string does not touch the bow at any other point than that where it is nocked it offers limited advantage, and some disadvantage.
The re-curve tips give less bending, therefore the rest of the bow has to bend more and wood has bending limits. Therefore a bow of the same draw length and draw weight would have to be made longer. A longer bow gives higher inertia, that slows the bow tips and therefore slows arrow speed.
If the re-curve starts as a minimum of halfway down the bow limb, the side profile would look ascetically acceptable, not the buffer low horn look of south European or Asian bow.
The same applies to re-flexing the whole bow, due to the limits of wood bending only limited re-flex can be built in without over stressing the wood or making the bow longer with its limitations.
The less rules, the less detailed measurement and examination needs to be carried out, with the ensuing grey areas and argument.

CF3. The front and side tapers of a bow dictate the tiller shape, which has to be within limits, or the bow will permanently distort or break. Therefore the tapers are self controlling. From the front view, any width narrowing in the handle area brings the bow into the flat bow type. ( it does not look like a longbow ).

CF4. Probably the second most argued about rule, but under close analysis need not be.
First if the bow section fits within the 1 to 0.625 ratio rectangular template it is not a flat bow, any wider or thinner would be.
Secondly because wood has its bending limits, this section ratio dictates the bows minimum length for a given draw length and draw weight. For bows of short draw length and light draw weight as needed by some older archers and slight lady archers a minimum length could be over restrictive and not allow them to compete in some disciplines at all. Wheelchair bound archers could not physically shoot any thing but short bows.
Considering the actual shape, the flatter the maximum tension and compression surfaces are the lower the stresses will be all other things being equal. Higher stresses cause permanent distortion or breakage, therefore any assistance to design lower stressed bows should be good.
The much argued for traditional Victorian “D” section is technically a poor design which gives unnecessary high local compressive stresses, causing string follow after little use, unless the bow is made over long.

CF5. A built-up handle can give a more comfortable grip that can help accuracy. This feature is allowed at present, therefore many such bows exist. Which would became illegal if a built-up handle was not allowed.

CF6. All as the old rules allow. Some of the high draw weight bows would be almost impossible to string without a slack string stringer and its attachments. 

CF7. Self explanatory. (more of a shooting rule than the definition of a longbow). (© Mr. R. E. Cornhill)

The I.L.A.A. - Longbow specific

The I.L.A.A. is the only Archery Association in the world that has a comprehensive engineering definition of the longbow. 

This is the Association’s response to longbow archer’s demand that the sport stays safe.

The I.L.A.A. therefore functions without restrictions on the draw-weight of participating longbows in the traditions it supports; artillery shooting; target shooting (one and two-way), clout shooting (one and two-way), flight shooting, speed shooting, wand shooting, beursault, popinjay, line shooting and field shooting.

It believes that appropriate decisions regarding bow-weight are best left to be judged by organizers according to the event, the degree of over-shot and other features particular to the ground.


Management of the I.L.A.A. is vested in a 5 member Management Committee:

Chairman - Peter Ord
Recorder - Andrew Coe
Auditor - Ian Budden
Secretary - Catherine Mooyaart-Marteau
Treasurer - Brian Mooyaart

The Committee receive additional support from Shooting Representatives and those specialised in Risk Assessment.
Each support the variety of Longbow aiming and ranging traditions encompassed by the I.L.A.A.

To contact the Shooting Representative, or Management Committee member appropriate to your enquiry,
please leave a message and we shall contact you as soon as possible.

Tel: 01227 752375 and from abroad 00 44 1227 752375 (strictly evening only 19.00 - 21.00 hrs UK time)

Or simply leave a message