This system of grading the skill level of horseback archers has been set up with the following aims:
- To allow mounted archers to have a tangible standard with which they can compare their ability from season to season, individually or against friends, so that they can monitor their improvement and find encouragement to practise and improve.
- To provide an achievable goal for anyone in the sport - beginners, improvers, those that aren't able to participate in competitions or training camps due to location or financial constraints, even experts.
- To bond those new to the sport within just one day or one weekend of riding with scores achievable to a competent novice; while requiring a longer period of demonstrating a greater competency for advanced horseback archers, with multiple tests and increasing importance being placed on the ability to maintain one's performance whilst under pressure (after all ours is an art born of shooting accuracy in combat situations!)
- As more people enter the sport to provide a means by which people of a similar standard may be organised to compete against each other either in a competition or postal matches.
- To allow competition organisers to identify those with sufficient ability to compete at a particular event and potentially satisfy insurers of the competence of participants.
- As more people are keen to compete in high profile international competitions there may come the time when national bodies must select a team to send as their representatives. Using grades and therefore an indication of performance over a longer period for selection reduces any disadvantage conferred on an individual by being unable to attend a certain event, being unlucky with their performance on a certain day (whether just a bad day, windy or wet weather, or being poorly matched with a borrowed mount); this can only raise the transparency of selection and the confidence of individuals within such as system.
There are 4 student levels: S1, S2, S3 and S4. These require a demonstration of ability in the Korean discipline only; thereby being accessible to those who have limited range when shooting due to their age or having weaker bows / entry level equipment. All points must be earned by hitting the target - there is no gain in covering the course at a faster speed (though when slower than a certain minimum speed docking of points occurs). This was designed to try to instil in beginners the importance of good technique and focus, and hence accurate shooting, and not to encourage people to ride fast to gain extra speed points and disguise weak shooting.
There are 8 horseback archer levels: HA1 to HA8. All of these require the ability to attain a set standard in both Korean and Hungarian disciplines thereby testing a variety of skills: shooting at varying range including long distance, shooting forwards and backwards at varying angles, holding the arrows in a quiver or in the hand. By this stage archers should have developed a good enough technique and sufficient strength to hit targets at the longer range required of a Hungarian course. In view of the wonderful variation in our sport and the derivation of different modern styles from different ancient cultures / geographic locations it is necessary to learn the technique and demonstrate competence in Qabaq in grades HA3-8.
The higher the HA grade the more scores must be submitted. As only one grade can be registered for each discipline per day it introduces the requirement of consistency in scores achieved over a period of time. We hope this will improve the reliability of classification and we hope it allow people to have greater confidence in the system.
Scores used for classification may have been achieved in private practise (with just 2 helpers present to act as witnesses), at club practice or in competition. To allow us to include scores from competitions where the rules differ from ours, as long as the conditions are not easier (ie targets must be no closer or bigger, targets must be round with the correct number of scoring bands), sufficient information must be given for us to calculate time bonuses/penalties and bonuses for consecutive hits.
The scores submitted for a classification must have been achieved within a 12 month period. And all scores should be submitted together when sufficient to obtain a particular grade. Pin badges are available on attainment of a grade. A person’s grade will remain till the end of the calendar year following the year when that grade was awarded. Once a horsearcher always a horsearcher; once an HA grade has been achieved a person will not drop below this grouping in the case of competitions or postal matches.
As far as timing goes, those who have them should use electronic timing gates. A far cheaper and equally acceptable way would be to use a pair of stopwatches: they are started simultaneously and taken to either end of the run, using the "lap" button a time can be recorded by the persons manning the start and finish gates and through subtraction the time is calculated. This would be preferable to using flags at either end and a single stopwatch as less inaccuracy is introduced and the risk of flags distracting the horses is avoided. Grading scores can be recorded with just 2 helpers who can multi-task for timing, scoring, watching for drawing before the start and collecting arrows; the signatures of 2 witnesses are required for the form.
In order to create a grading classification system we had to start by defining the rules under which these scores would be achieved. As we all know there has been variation across the world regarding the finer details of setting up courses and scoring runs.
Firstly we standardised targets - using the 90cm radius 3 zone targets that are so well established throughout Europe for the Hungarian discipline, and for the Korean discipline, a FITA80 target which is 5 ring (10 zone) and 80cm diameter (though scores obtained using at square 5 zone traditional korean type target with sides of 71cm is also admissable - the area of each zone is the same as the FITA80 target).
The Hungarian rules are as we’re used to (the first of Kassai's courses that is, with the three 30m zones demarcated by poles, not the new rotating-target course).
The Korean has a redefined perpendicular range to the target, set bonus points for hitting 3 consecutive or all 5 targets on the serial run and clarification of the penalty for drawing your arrow before passing through the start line - these have seen variation over the years. The biggest change is that while points are gained for going faster than a set speed (90m in 14s for Korean, 16s for Hungarian) there is no further gain for going faster than 10 m/s (equal to 90m in 9s). This was designed to recognise the greater difficulty in shooting accurately at speed, but try to stop the sport tending towards a situation where speeds are continually increasing and to maintain a necessity for accurate shooting that can cannot be masked by lesser hits made at great speed. Slow speeds are dealt with in the normal manner; disqualification in Hungarian and loss of points in Korean.
Due to the wide variation in the exact measurements of Qabaq set ups and different postures of Qabaq shooting we have tried to keep things simple to be as inclusive as possible. There can be variation in the height of the pole and target within set parameters and the scores are defined only by the number of hits, not, as in some competitions, taking into account the archer's posture or their position relative to the pole when the shot was taken.
The grading system will be overseen by a board comprising of a member from each country that chooses to adopt the system. We recognise that over time as more scores are gathered it may be necessary to review the score required in each discipline for different grades. In the future it is possible that different disciplines and courses may be included. The board will review all such matters together.
This system has been developed by Darren Wardle (MA3) and Dan & Claire Sawyer (BHAA) in consultation with the committees of the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas and the British Horseback Archery Association.
We very much hope that it will inspire and provide focus for horseback archers all over the world; through personal betterment or friendly comparison. Whether you count yourself as a martial artist or sportsman let this be another means by which we can enjoy this fantastic sport of ours together.