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Tibetan archery etches its name into the world

September 10th, 2012

Triangle target-Tibetcul.comXINING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) — Dana Dotsko never imagined himself traveling from Indiana in America to the mountainous county of Jainca in China’s Tibetan plateau to competitively shoot arrows toward a triangle target invented by Tibetans some 1,100 years ago.

Unlike the five-ring archery targets popular in the Olympic Games and other international contests, the triangle target, about 80 cm high and with a bottom width of 70 cm, is made of earth and placed on the ground. A small wooden stick called Jiama in Tibetan, which originally means “scale” is put in the middle of the target.

According to the Tibetan competition rules, whoever shoots an arrow to the top of the stick wins.

The four-day biennial Magical Arrow International Ethnic Archery Invitational Tournament, one of China’s top three ethnic archery contests, opened on Saturday. Archers from 11 countries including the United States, Brazil, Turkey, Mongolia, Hungry, Poland, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea and 35 domestic archery teams will use their own traditional bows and arrows to compete for the first time in line with the Tibetan rules.

To get used to the triangle target, Dotsko started practicing on a smaller target at a longer distance a month ago.

“It’s a very challenging target. It offers a great deal of difficulty even at a closer distance,” said the 55-year-old radiology technologist who taught himself shooting from horseback 18 years ago.

Dotsko is amazed by the beautiful mountains on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and is eager to explore a different archery culture.

“I am anxious to see different styles of shooting. Tibetans shoot very differently. I have only seen them shoot on YouTube on the Internet,” he said.


Dubbed as the cradle of China’s ethnic archeries, Jainca, about an hour drive from the Qinghai provincial capital of Xining, is a multi-ethnic region predominantly inhabited by Tibetans and boasts of a deep-rooted archery culture.

Tibetans believe the bow and arrow that lama Palgye Dorje used some 1,100 years ago to shoot dead the last anti-Buddhism Tubo King Lang Darma is buried on the Lo Dorjedrak Mountain in Jainca.

After the collapse of the Tubo dynasty, soldiers posted to the then military stronghold of Jainca took up farming but turned to archery to make new friends and keep fit.

Tibetans have built a pagoda on the Lo Dorjedrak Mountain to commemorate Palgye Dorje for his great contribution to the survival and flourishing of Buddhism across the Tibetan Plateau.

Meanwhile, arrows have been entrusted with a number of auspicious meanings.

“To wish for a harvest, Tibetan farmers thrust an arrow into their fields. To pray for blessings and eradicate adversities, Tibetans place an arrow on top of a mountain and decorate it with hada and five-color prayer flags,” said Yang Zhongka, an official in charge of Jainca’s culture, sports and tourism affairs.

Yangge Dongzhi, a local from the Ejia Village of Kamra Township who started learning archery at the age of six from his father, said that archery has become an integrated part of local people’s life.

“If a village wants to establish a tie with another village, the most popular ice-breaking way here is to stage an archery contest,” he said.

The most popular colors Tibetans have been using to decorate their arrows, he said, are red which symbolizes passion and energy, yellow for prosperity and nobleness, black for power and fairness, blue for wisdom and tolerance and green for hope and peace.

“Many people expect Jainca archers to be the most skillful ones simply because we live in this cradle of ethnic archery. I personally take it as a misunderstanding. I think we’ve won the title in a large part because we value our history and use archery as an inspiration to our moral pursuits,” said Yangge Dongzhi.


Though smaller as it appears, the triangle target is of the same area with the ordinary five-ring target, according to Yang Zhongka.

“As the target narrows from bottom to top, shooting the top of the wooden stick will be very difficult. Moreover, it is not suspended in the air but placed on the ground. Such tough rules are based on actual combats as the inventors of the game were former soldiers. In real life, we know no enemies will stay aloft,” said Yang.

What else makes the Tibetan archery unique, as Yangge said, is that contestants are allowed to harass their rivals or exercise bluffs in the races back home.

“You may roar to the ears of your rival, pat his shoulder before the bow is drawn to its full extent and boo him. The real winners are those who can keep their inner peace amid distractions to shoot the target accurately. That is because on the battlefields only those who stay calm can survive. We will give them a thumbs-up!” said Yangge.

For losers, on-the-spot public ridicules are unavoidable. But their discomfort will vanish as soon as a celebration feast is started. According to Yangge, diners will exchange toasts with one another while women will sing and dance for the archers.

Although harassment is not allowed in the ongoing formal contest, a traditional open-air feast was staged in the downtown Daton pedestrian street, allowing more than 2,000 archers and guests to have a taste of the Tibetan cuisine, including buttered tea, boiled mutton and local biscuits.

Lin Huadan, chief of Jainca County, said that he wishes the tournament will fuse different ethnic cultures, cement friendships among people from different countries and provide an occasion for people to catch up with friends.

For Dotsko, whoever wins the contest does not matter much as his maiden China tour has unexpectedly led to a get-together with his archery buddies from Poland.

“I am happy to be here to meet new people and see some old people from the world.”

By Xinhua Writer Cheng Yunjie; Photo from Tibetcul.com

  1. Tori Dunn
    November 18th, 2012 at 04:26 | #1

    I am an Australian female traditional archer. I have recently competed in the IFAA World Field Archery Championships in Miramar, Argentina. Some shooters there recommended this Tibetan shoot, and I would love to attend when it is next conducted.

    Please, contact me and give me details of this particular shoot, or any other tournaments in China that I could possibly attend. I love to travel to exotic locations and meet archers from all around the world.

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