A manuscript on archery, spear and lancefighting, swords and wrestling by Sharif Mohammad ibn Ahmad Mehdi Hosseyni

Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani

This manuscript stems from the period of Shāh Esmā'il Safavid (1502-1524 C.E.) that deals with fighting with weapons such as bows, lances, spears, swords and wrestling.  A copy of this manuscript is kept in the National Library of Malek in Tehran.  The chapter 13 (which consists of 49 handwritten pages) deals with the topic of archery, wrestling, lance/spear combat, riding horses and swords and similar topics.  The whole manuscript is translated and annotated in the book: Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran. In the following some parts of the manuscript in original script and annotated translation as shown in the book Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran are shown. For the complete translation consult the book above:

(Note that all pictures and translations are protected by copyright) © M.Khorasani Consulting


In the name of God, most benevolent, ever merciful.

Thanks to the God of the world and greetings to Mohammad and his pure and innocent family.  I have written some words on archery so that anyone who wishes to shoot an arrow can benefit from this work. It will reveal the art of archery and the misconceptions regarding it in several sections.

First part: Concerning the principles of archery; when grasping the bow grip and drawing fully, locking[1], aiming at the target, releasing and pausing[2] a bit before "shooting with a hard bow"[3], "unrestricted/not formal shooting"[4], grouping[5]  and "holding a shield"[6] and upon releasing keeping the body parts tight[7], the bow should be of moderate length, not very long and not very short.  Keep your left hand strong and the target should be hidden behind the fist[8] and another thing to note is that the arrow should be drawn on the same level as the mouth.

[1] aqd kardanﻋﻘﺪﻜﺭﺪﻦ. To form the lock from the Arabic term for the arrangement of fingers using the index finger to lock the the thumb.

[2]This technique is called sākin (ساكن) in Arabic and describes drawing the arrow fully and pausing for several seconds to calm one's mind and to aim.

[3]čostandāzi ﭽﺴﺖﺍﻨﺪﺍﺰﻯ; čostkamān ﭽﺴﺖﻜﻤﺎﻦmeans a "hard bow" and this technique was used by champions to draw (Digital Lexicon of Dehxodā). It can also mean “quick bow,” by which it refers to the speed with which the arrow is shot.

[4] āzādandāzi ﺁﺰﺍﺩﺍﻨﺩﺍﺯﻯ. Unrestrained.

[5] jam'andāzi ﺟﻣﻊﺍﻨﺩﺍﺯﻯ. Grouping.

[6] separ dāštan ﺴﭙﺮﺪﺍﺷﺘﻦ. Shooting from behind a shield. This usually describes shooting from behind a convex circular shield that is supported on the elbow by its handles and sometimes balanced upright by its carrying strap around the archer’s neck.

[7] This means not relaxing the stance immediately after releasing.  If the stance should start to relax before the arrow is released, the shot will be unpredictable.

[8] In the Saracen Archery (see Latham and Paterson, 1970:60) it is reported that “Some archers say that if you cover your opponent with your left fist and shoot, you will kill him, but this is only true if one is at a certain specified distance.” Perhaps what is meant here is more general in the sense that the bow hand should be lined up with the target. The phrase “hidden behind the fist” might be a quotation from an older work.

. . . stay in their place firmly closed. After releasing one should bring the right hand and the left hand behind his back at once so that his thumb string falls on his bow handle[1].  Shouting, striking the ground with the foot, and following through should be done at once.  If the target is far one should place his weight on the right leg and if it is close one should place the weight on the left foot[2].

Sixth chapter: About the characteristics of the thumb; When nocking at the middle of the bowstring, cover the nail of your thumb by two dāng[3] (one sixth) with the index finger. Lock on the bowstring by putting the distal segment (end or tip) of your thumb on the middle segment of your middle finger.  Upon drawing the thumb should be tensed and the index finger should not be, and do not let the thumb’s relation to the middle segment of the middle finger be changed [keep it firmly in place].  [Check your] arrowhead is straight and the "arrow nock"[4] is aligned and the arrow nock is held between the thumb and index finger [of the drawing hand] and in no case should they be touching the nock[5]. The bowstring should be in the middle of your index finger[6].   The thumb should not lose its firm pressure [on the middle segment of the middle finger] at any point of the draw, yet there is no pressure [on the arrow nock] so that even if he draws the arrow ten times and brings it back, the arrow does not go out of its way, hence even a bee would not be disturbed if it was sitting on the nock.  

Seventh chapter: About the mistakes in the hands of archers; most mistakes are in the right hand of an archer, and one can find thirteen mistakes in the right hand. 

[1] The described practice is hard to imagine. The first part could be a result of the shoulder blades being forced together as part of the release.  This would be a normal technique in many forms of archery for maximum strength and to prevent “creep” (allowing the arrowhead to move forward just before releasing). However, there is no possibility and no other evidence for bringing the hands behind the back to touch the thumb ring to the grip of the bow. This might be some corruption in the text. If there was some reference to the khaṭrah (خضره ), it would make more sense.  The real difficulty is the phrase “behind his back” and what it really means. If the author wrote that the archer brought the right hand and left hand in front of the body, it would be more understandable. The only possible thing is that this passage might describe a concealed draw strategy for a foot archer. The horse archer used the horse’s neck to conceal what he was doing with his bow. Perhaps there was a technique or practice to develop flexibility so that the bow could be prepared and the arrow nocked out of sight of one's opponent.

[2] This would result in tilting the body at the waist while keeping the hand, elbows and shoulders in line.  Foot pressure is covered extensively in other manuals.


[4] gaz-e tir ﮔﺰﺘﻴﺮ (usually arrow shaft). Gez in Turkish also means arrow shaft as well as a distance. However the word has another meaning that went out of use in Turkish and that is arrow nock which was written in Arabic as كاز. Since the long vowel is used for the word when it means nock, it is hard to imagine that it could be used by mistake, but it might be a copyist’s error. The author may just mean that the arrowhead should be set on the shaft in a straight line coincident with the axis of the arrow.

[5] That is to say that the arrow is nocked on the string not being touched by the thumb underneath nor by the index finger on the side. This is an exaggeration meant to say that you should not squeeze the thumb and index finger together to hold the arrow nock.

[6] This may mean that the tip of the index finger rests on the string at the beginning of the draw.

. . . . .sitting down and throwing him; [its defense is] kneeling down on the ground. mašk-e saqqā [water container of a servant]: Grabbing the right hand [of the enemy] with the left hand, pulling/dragging him above the neck, grabbing the right leg [of the opponent] with the right hand, holding him above the neck and throwing him to the ground; [its defense is that one should] during raising/lifting the leg put one’s leg in the middle of the legs [of the enemy]. Yānbāši [Conquering the side]: Grabbing the right hand [of the opponent] with both hands, striking the right leg behind the leg [of the opponent] and throwing him to the ground; [its defense consists of] putting him on the ground. Lengālang [on one leg]: Placing the right hand/arm above the enemy's hand, grabbing one's own belt, striking the leg against his waist [of the enemy] and grabbing his hand/arm with his [other] hand as well, pulling him and throwing him; [its defense consists of] freeing the hand.  Dastganje [treasure hand]: Grabbing the big finger [of the opponent] with the hand and twisting his big finger.  Sarna'lin [head of horseshoe/slipper]: The enemy is holding one from behind.  One takes the leg of the enemy in the middle of one’s own legs and sits down and runs over him [throw over him]; [its defense consists of] distancing the leg [This technique is still practised in freestyle wrestling in today’s Iran and is called lokne be šekl-e digar[1] (stutter in another form)].  Yānbāši-e andaruni [Conquering the side from inside]: In a sitting position, one grabs the top of the elbow [of the opponent] with the right hand and strikes his right leg; [its defense is when] one does not give (or allow to be taken) the top of the elbow. Band-e oštor [tying the camel]: One mounts him [the opponent], secures the legs, pulls both hands, falls on top of the opponent; [its defense is when] one stretches the leg.  Jāb [force]: Grabbing the knee [of the opponent] by sitting on both [own] knees, . . . . 

[1]ﻠﻜﻨﻪﺒﻪﺷﻜﻝﺩﻴﮕﺭ; for the application of this leg trip see Rāygān Tafreši (2007/1386: 692).

. . . . twists the spear as described before so that it comes into the right hand.  But dunaq is when one brings the spear above the head and gives it to the left hand and makes a circle and strikes the spear against the spear [of the opponent] and then places the spear parallel to the shoulder and throws it up so that it comes in the right hand.  But dodulāb is when the spear is placed in a slanted angle in the hand and then one twists it upward completely so that the spear comes in the left hand and completes the circle and strikes the spear against the spear [of the opponent] and turns the leg in the way described before so that it comes in the right hand.  But dušaq is when one moves the spear in the hand like water so that it comes in the left hand.  Then, one turns it as described before so that with the right hand he strikes the bottom of the spear against the spear [of the opponent] and twists for a half circle and comes back again and completes the whole circle and shortens the spear.  Then again distance yourself from the right side and keep the spear parallel to the head and hold it with two hands. The combat application takes place in such a way that when he stretches his spear, you should also extend your spear and strike your spear against the spear [of the opponent] from the left side then draw back the spear a bit and strike on the right and distance yourself [to be able] to throw him.  Hold the spear in both fists [hands] and strike on both sides of his [the opponent's] head.  Its deflecting/defense is to pull up the spear high and go down with a "dexterous wrist"[1]If your enemy approaches from the back, one carries the bottom of the spear in a direction as indicated by the [angle of] sword belt [meaning to hold the bottom of the spear close to the ground][2]

[1] band-e latif ﺑﻧﺪﻟﻄﻴﻒ.

[2] hamāyeli ﺣﻤﺎﻴﻠﻰ.

If the enemy is a lion be it obvious or hidden   

One should talk with a lion with a sword

The one who sleeps in the grave should be with his companion

One cannot sleep in his house with his companion   

Each time you can step forward on the battlefield, do not take a step back and when you are entrapped in the middle of the enemies do not take a rest as from the hands of the enemy you can only escape by fighting and strike with power so that the enemies are scared of you.  In war take death easily on your heart and make it tasteful.  The Leader of the Believers Ali, greetings upon him, said that in war getting killed by hundred swords is easier than dying in bed in sleep.  Indeed you should not fear and be courageous as a short sword is in the hands of tall warriors.  Do not show any fears or weakness because even if you have one thousand lives you will not take even one [with you] and you will not be trapped by anyone or get killed and lose your reputation and be embarrassed among your friends.  The elderly [and experienced] have said that death is better than this life.  In this sense [there is] a rhyme: 

I should gain a name/reputation as long as there is death         

If I die with a good name that is good [thing]

. . . .and keep it short so that the horse is not allowed to turn its head; this is so that the horse does not turn but will instead let you approach it closely and mount it.  If you have kept it very short and the horse has turned, you should lengthen the bridle/rein in a the suggested way, so that it is shortened and the horse stands as prescribed so that you can mount with the lance and weapons.  In mounting, you should stay close to the stirrups as staying for any length of time close to the front legs of the horse is a big mistake.  When you mount you should place your foot in the stirrup and use your lance as a support and upon mounting, you sit straight. 


Chapter two: In warfare, champions[1] have outdone themselves in chivalry with the thrusting of their lances and sword strikes.  The story-telling peers and champions have described [how to replicate] this effect as follows: when two enemies are fighting, you should make your enemy angry and make him suffer.  You should not confront him out of ignorance but you should fight against him with intelligence.  Each time the enemy rides his horse towards you and wants to attack you, you should not attack him but keep yourself [calm]; if he intends to attack you with the lance, you should resist for a while, and if he targets you . . . 

[1] pahlavānān ﭙﻬﻠﻮﺍﻨﺎﻦ.

© M.Khorasani Consulting

Translated and annotated excerpts are all taken from the book "Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran"

Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani