Step 3: Nocking and Drawing

“When he has succeeded in this, he should, for some days, nock an arrow and bring it to full draw without shooting.” – Ṭaybughā

The next fundamental was also critical to the Mameluke’s phenomenal abilities. Understanding the tactical value of never taking your eyes off your enemy, the Mameluke trained at Nocking arrows at blinding speed and bringing them to full Draw without ever looking at the arrows or taking their eyes off their target.

Now that we finally need arrows, let’s talk about how to choose or make them. One of the critical factors, stiffness of the arrow, is easy to sort out. Take the draw weight of your bow and add 15 pounds. Keep that number in mind. The second factor, arrow length (measured from the depth of the nock to base of the arrowhead), is going to take some figuring.

The easiest way is to head to your local archery shop with your bow and ask for help. They should have on hand a draw-length-indicator arrow. Nock it opposite your Grasp hand so the arrow is perpendicular to the string. Lock on it as you just learned, then Draw until your index finger reaches your ear lobe. Have your helper verify your limbs are all properly aligned and your index finger reached the right spot, then they can read the measurement. Add 1″ to that and you have your optimal arrow shaft length.

Now that you’ve got your arrow length and stiffness, get a dozen arrows together that have lightweight field points and no feathers.

Video guide on getting your first set of practice arrows.

It should be mentioned here that so far no quiver has been needed, and still isn’t yet, even though we are now nocking arrows. The warrior’s clothing of the day generally featured a belt over the tunic that could be tightened when it was their turn at the archery range line and Saracen Archery specifically describes this practice. A simple belt can hold a good number of arrows when cleverly employed. This was done by sliding the arrowheads under the belt on the Draw side with the nock facing the elbow. This would cause the arrowheads to point toward the archer’s midsection then gravity would cause them to lay at a very convenient angle for picking up.

Only one arrow is needed at this stage, but forming the habit is good. Either a cinching belt or one with holes is fine. I’ve tried both, and I’ve tried them through belt loops and over clothing. See image below.

arrows in belt for practice
One unfletched arrow is all you need right now, but this shows the concept.

Nocking an arrow

Correct Nocking starts with picking up the arrow. Use the index, middle finger, and thumb of the Draw hand to pull an arrow from your belt by gripping it at the point 2/3 back from the arrowhead. Bring your Draw hand up to your extended Grasp hand and KEEP THE ARROW ON SAME SIDE OF THE BOW AS YOUR DRAW HAND. (This is in all caps to save some struggle for folks familiar with Western archery. [footnote]) Use the index finger and thumb of your Grasp hand to hold the arrow lightly against the grip (now you see the reason those two digits shouldn’t be held firmly). Slide your Draw hand down the shaft until your fingers reach the nock, {{optional: Quickly spin the arrow to the correct orientation so the cock feather is pointed away from the bow,}} then hold the nock between the pad of the thumb tip and the middle phalanx of the index finger.

{The reason for the brackets above is I’m not certain the Mamelukes used the concept of cock feathers. I couldn’t find any evidence of them in Saracen Archery. They may have nocked the arrow in either orientation, which would have been much faster, then relied on their unique follow-through to prevent damage to the fletching as the arrow passed the grip.}

Next, execute the Nocking motion diagrammed in Fig. 21 as follows: pull your Grasp hand back toward yourself a little while pushing your Draw hand toward the bow and letting the string slip under your thumb. Then push your Grasp hand forward and pull your Draw hand back. This should Nock the arrow quite quickly.

motion of the Draw hand during Nocking

Since your Draw hand is already in the correct orientation and location, simply complete the Lock such that the thumb is under the arrow and the part just above the first knuckle of the index finger is pressing lightly against it.

If your Lock is correct, you should have just enough pressure from the index finger against the arrow that you could rotate your hands 90 degrees inward (or really at any arbitrary angle) and the arrow should not fall away from the grip/arrow pass. This light pressure in the Lock is very important because it enabled the Mameluke to hold the arrow steady against the grip even while riding a horse at full gallop. Refer to the image below. [Special note here: If you find the nock slipping up and down the bow string and you are struggling to get the arrow Locked, your string’s serving is too thin for your arrow’s nock. Correct this issue and it will work much better.]

Draw hand position during Thumb Lock with arrow
While I used a fletched arrow for this image, I actually practice this step with un-fletched arrows. You’ll see why on the Loosing II page.

If the Nock and Lock are done smoothly, there should be no visible demarcation between completing the Nock and extending to full Draw. In fact, the entire act of bringing an arrow to the grip, Nocking it and achieving full Draw should appear to be one continuous motion.

While at full Draw, quickly check that you aligned your hands, elbows, and shoulders correctly, then relax the Draw without loosing the arrow. Put the arrow back in your belt, then repeat: pick up the arrow, bring it to the grip, Nock, Lock, Draw, relax. Repeat these steps “for some days” until you can blind-nock arrows and Draw them at lightning speed, all while never taking your eyes off an imaginary mark some distance before you. Try practicing on alternating sides.

You’ll note both this and the previous step involved taking the bow to full Draw and every following step also requires it. This is likely because “there are ten points to effective shooting, of which nine lie in the attainment of maximum draught by a properly completed draw and only one in the archer.” The importance of achieving a perfect Draw before ever loosing an arrow cannot be understated.


I just want to say again there are many excellent and fascinating ways to use a bow and arrow and I happen to love them all (including modern Olympic and compound hunting styles!). It is possible to use a thumb draw and have the arrow on the “Western” side of the bow and several cultural styles do exactly that. This guide is meant to exclusively showcase the Mameluke techniques taught in Saracen Archery and isn’t meant to imply this is the only “right way.” [back]

Locking and Drawing – Nocking and Drawing – Loosing I (The Release)