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We're still here - Sarmat Archery

This time I'm going to talk about several rather than one bow, in fact a whole series of them and the people who make and sell these. You'll know these folks from our previous issues, as we've written about their troubles before, but not in the way we'll be doing today. Now, we are going to tell you about our friends at Sarmat Archery, what they are up to and how they are doing. Starting with their bows, of which they offer a whole range through their shop.

Satmat Archery currently has a range of 25 bows of different types, including: 3 Traditional Japanese style bows made of bamboo and wood, 11 Traditional ones also from bamboo and wood, and 11 Fiberglas laminated. In addition, you can also buy wooden arrows, bow strings and leather goods such as arm-guards and quivers. It is also well worth having a look at their sister shop "Sarmat Crafts" This is their new project to create and sell unique Ukrainian handicraft products with a wide scope of specialisation, consisting of: folk crafts, handmade goods for the home, interior and design, handmade jewellery and ornaments, artisan pieces, handmade toys made of natural materials, other individual and small-scale products.

When it comes to bows, two of us (members of the editorial team) have bows or several bows of Sarmat making. I myself, sometime before the war ordered three sticks from them: Rarog, Mamai (my wife's favourite bow) and very unique one for my daughter Maria made to special order - a short and light version of their well known longbow Skolot. Laurent, on the other hand, bought Jurchen, with which I may venture to say he fell unabashedly in love.

Let's start with the Rarog, which is a traditional bamboo-laminated bow - a stylisation of the long recurve bows that were used in northern Kievan Rus. It consists of a symmetrical grip with leather hold and long deflexed arms (68 or 71 inches), and the option is also available to make it with a cutout in the grip on the left or right side.

Mine is 68 inches and has a draw weight of 50lb at 28 inches. It looks very solid, it's quite thick but that's what the construction requires with 50lb of draw weight. Made with great care and attention to detail, although it is not really a bow for someone who likes the shiny things in designer style. It is rather aesthetic in its appearance, but this in no way diminishes its excellence. I know what I'm talking about as in 2019, having shot this very bow, I scooped the Irish vice-championship in the historical category. At its 50lb it hardly gives off any vibration to the bow hand, so for such a heavy bow it pulls very smoothly, where the action of both arms are even and constant without stacking. Yes, one have to learn to shoot it, it is not a fast bow that will launch an arrow towards the target at 250 FPS or so, but nonetheless very forgiving. It has another feature that I appreciate, namely that due to its simplicity it can be easily modified, but here I would advise caution as the bow may break easily and the warranty will be void if you start tampering with it. I have, however, taken the risk and have not regretted the result.

On Sarmat website visitors will find an interesting yet detailed description of this bow along with an explanation of its origin:

The bamboo-laminated Rarog bow is a signalization's of the finno-ugric and saami long recurve bows. Similar bows were widespread in the north of Eurasia in the Middle Ages and earlier times.

The scheme of the finno-ugric bow

Several alike bows have been found in Europe. One was excavated in Veliky Novgorod. A total of 3 bows have been excavated there. The oldest one was found in 1956 and dates back to the mid-10th century. This bow was made of wood (birch and juniper), sinew and bone. Judging by the length of the parts found, the length of the Novgorod bow was about 190 cm. The northern Slavs used such bows for hunting and in distance fighting.

bows found on the excavations in the Novgorod

Medieval illustrations show that the long recurve bows were also common in central and northern Europe in early Middle Ages.

he scene of the Stuttgart Psalter (9th century). This Illustration shows that archers used long recurve bow in the early medieval Europe

Rarog got its name from a fiery demon mentioned in Slavic mythology, often depicted as a fiery falcon. The bow is made entirely of natural materials - ash covered with laminated bamboo, where the ash gives power, while the bamboo makes it more flexible and reliable. This bow is suitable for archers of all levels of experience. However, consideration should be given to the draw weight. The Rarog comes in two lengths, 68 and 71 inches. The 71-inch variant is well suited for long-distance archers. The maximum draw length is 31-36 inches, depending on draw weight. A string and fabric sleeve are included with the bow at no extra charge.

The Mamai is a bow that needs no introduction, well known and appreciated among traditional and historical archers. Made from the same materials as the Rarog, but shorter and with a much deeper deflex. It is a stylisation of a composite bow of medium length. Such bows were used by nomadic peoples in Asia and Europe until the 18th century.

It is a very lightweight and, above all, a very graceful eastern-type bow, as easily modifiable as the Rarog, but in my particular case I was strictly forbidden to do so by the owner (my wife), who cannot imagine shooting anything other than her beloved Sarmat bow. And I must add, she has several of other bows, including a really expensive model from Bearpaw which she has never used, claiming that nothing could be better than her Mamai.

Anyway, as usual, she is probably not wrong in this case either - I see it every time I watch her shoot. It comes to her with great ease, almost naturally, as if she were born with a bow in her hand. What is interesting - is that this naturalness and a kind of gracefulness that accompanies her shooting only happens with Mamai in her hand. As if the causative forces of physics were miraculously sealed only in this bow. All the rest, expensive and exotic models seem to an imitation of primordial entities dormant in ash and bamboo, that came to us from Ukraine enchanted in Mamai shape.

The Mamai is a stylisation of the bows used by the Turk-Tatar peoples of Eastern Europe and their neighbours following the Golden Horde period and up to the 19th century. These bows differed from the traditional Turkish bows existing at the same time by their greater length, the thickening of the grip towards the belly and the additional flexing of the arms near the handle.

After the fall of the Golden Horde, Turkic peoples created several states in Eastern Europe: the Crimean Khanate, Kazan, Astrakhan and others. They all shared a related language, a similar culture and a common Islamic religion.

Mamai derived its name from a powerful military commander of the Golden Horde at the end of the 14th century; he was a representative of the Polovtsian-Czuman people, who later became the basis of the Crimean-Tatar state.

The main feature of the Tartars' military tactics were highly mobile mounted warriors who operated in the 'wilderness', i.e. the vast, almost uninhabited steppe. They used several horses to cover long distances quickly.

The main weapon was the bow. Their tactics in battle included the use of the bow on horseback. Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan, describing the tactics of the Tartars in the 17th century, wrote that the Tartars' arrow range was greater than that of the firearms of the period.

Usually, the Tartars split into several detachments to distract the main enemy forces. During this time, other detachments would attack settlements left unprotected.

Bashkir bow from British Museum, presumably 19th century.

It was only with a tenfold advantage when the Tartars decided to attack. To confuse their rivals, they would mount dummies on horseback, making themselves appear larger in number.

Mamai has been in service to my wife for several years now, she has shot it with different arrows, carbon and wooden ones with three and two fletchings, with no major difference, the only thing to watch out for is choosing the right weight of the arrows. Light ones (or too light) will cause a noticeable vibration, they can also damage the bow in the process, but if correctly chosen will go where you ask them to:)

I borrowed the bow from her on several occasions and each time I was tempted not to give it back:) Not only is it light as a feather, but it also looks stunning and shoots great, it's hard to believe, but even for a clumsy guy like me someone finally invented is a docent bow that takes my arrows straight to the target.

Mamai is made of bamboo laminate. The core of the bow is of hard wood (ash or other), the outer layers of bamboo. The tips are reinforced with additional internal wood inserts to increase stability and prevent twisting.

Maggie and her Mamai

It has a symmetrical handle with a leather grip and It's a medium length bow suitable for archers of all skills. It can be shot using the standard 3-finger draw or with a thumb ring.

Mamai maybe used also for horseback archery. When choosing a bow, be sure to select the correct weight for your draw length.

The bow is sold with a Dacron B-50 (or analogue) string and a fabric sleeve cover.

Overall length tip to tip along the belly:

59″ (149cm)

String length: 56″

Draw weight: 22-45# (at 28″)

My daughter Maria's bow, on the other hand, has a somewhat longer story. Maria started shooting at the age of 4. I’ve managed to buy her a mini longbow from Bearpaw, but she grew out of it very quickly and at the age of maybe 5 and a half there arose a problem, as Maria enjoyed her longbow very much, but she could no longer shoot it, moreover at that time there was no longbows on the market with the right specs for girl at her age.

I had been looking for a long time and was losing hope of success as most of the manufacturers or bowyers either refused me or priced their services very dearly.

Finally, I came across the Sarmat Archery website quite by accident and started studying their range. First of all, I was shocked by the price range, which seemed very attractive even in comparison with Chinese manufacturers. However, I was cautious given that in the past I had fallen for cheap archery equipment.

Maria's Skolot

So I did my own research, read reviews, talked to people and watched Armin Hirmere's videos about Sarmat Archery and their bows countless times.

I was essentially ready to make a purchase, I had chosen a bow for myself and Maggie but couldn't find anything for Maria, so I decided to write and ask if they could make a custom bow for my little one. But honestly "between the heaven and truth" I didn't expect a favourable response, especially looking at how I had been dealt with by a dozen previous bow makers. Surprisingly, after only a few days I got an email with a series of very specific questions, about the girl's age, height, her draw weight, draw length plus some other stuff I can't remember right now.

I promptly replied and again, I must admit, anxiously enquired in my email about the price of such a bow. It took me two days to get an email back saying that they had spoken to one of their masters and he had determined that a 52" long bow with a progressive draw weight of 20-25Lb and a maximum draw of 26 inches would be suitable for Maria. The price of the bow knocked me off my feet and, to tell you the truth, I started laughing like a lunatic thinking that the girl in customer service had forgotten to include the zeros. For, according to her, Sarmat had priced the bow at $25.I asked for a correction, but again received a reply of $25, so I queried why so cheap and received a reply along the lines of "what did you expect - a bow for a child, so the price must also be childish:)".

Maria and her stick

At the Valley Bowmen competition

Maria is now almost 9 years old and is slowly growing out of her Mini-Skolot with which she has managed to break several national records and win a handful of various championships.

When I asked her what she liked best about her bow she said "everything", but there were two things she put first. Firstly, that her bow is unique, it's not standard and that someone has put a piece of their heart into it and she really feels it. Secondly, that it is very light and so simple that it couldn't be simpler, given that thousands of years ago people shot the same bows as she does today makes her part of a great history, of which she is an unabashed fan!

I know how this may sound, but most of you archers will probably understand me when I say that Sarmat bows have become part of our family figuratively and literally and through these bows the people of Sarmat Archery become more than just another seller of archery equipment. That's why we have spoken and written about them so many times, for through their craftsmanship and handwork they shape our dreams, allowing us to become better people with the help of the sport we are passionate about. So to speak, they keep watching over us...

Please remember them - they are still here, waiting for some girl to ask for a new bow.

Some time ago, when I approached them to write an article about their work and what they were doing now, I did not expect the response I would get. At first, they were very happy and wrote back that they would try to write something interesting for our readers. Just a few days ago I received a short message that the master who was supposed to tell us about his work had lost his house, which had been damaged, and the customer service girl who had decided to cover for him could not finish the article either because power stations are being bombed all over Ukraine and the electricity, if there is any, lasts for only a few hours or even one, or there is none at all for days. Using a computer in such a situation is pointless. Sure you can pitch a short post, but surely you can't write an article that way. When I read the news, I felt extremely stupid. Here I am sitting at my computer in my light-up room, full of good thoughts, waiting for a few words from Ukraine, while bombs are falling on their heads and people are dying all over the place. Such correspondence is a sobering blow and puts one's head in the right perspective. Forgive me, fellow Ukrainians, the comfort and peace of mind in which we now live is, like the grain of sand in the wind, fleeting and illusory, as you learned on 24 February. Therefore, what is obvious to you and what is your everyday life does not always reach us immediately, but we will try harder as you strive for us and hold a guard over us, for which we are immensely grateful.

This led to my article about bows but also about the people who make them. Sarmat Archery supports many initiatives in Ukraine, you may read about their daily work in their Facebook posts. At the same time, they keep up pushing to make bows, despite it being very difficult for them in the first months of the war, and it is now again. As they wrote in their own words, many of them found themselves in a very difficult position: "The first 50 days of the war, I was in Kyiv and was engaged in volunteer activities. I helped the territorial defence of Kyiv, people of the age and animals. 3 weeks ago I was forced to go to Warsaw. Since I received a salary from a percentage of the products produced, during the hostilities I was left with no earnings at all. Like millions of Ukrainians. Nevertheless, I have been publicising the news about Ukraine for you in our group every day for 2 months now...”

As an archery community and as conscience-driven, compassionate and empathetic people, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fate of our friends from Ukraine. If you can, please support them by buying a bow or arrows, donating to the accounts provided on their website and Facebook or at least telling your friends about them. Every gesture and every initiative counts.

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