The Recurve / Freestyle bow is the most widely used bow in Target Archery, and is the only type of bow set-up that is allowed in Olympic Archery. This is overwhelmingly the kind of bow used to teach archery. When Archery was first an Olympic Sport, between 1900 and 1920, it followed the rules of the English Grand National Archery Society, and the only kind of bow used was the English Longbow, which was made of wood and had a form and design that was craft-based, with only two notable differences from the bows of the Middle Ages, although crossbows and Asiatic bows were in use round the world in other sporting traditions.
In the late 1920s a scientific approach began to be applied, and new designs, materials and manufacturing methods came into use. Bows evolved from the rounded straight-limb of the English longbow to a thinner, wider ‘recurved’ limb design similar to Asiatic Bows (the end sections of the limbs – the bendy parts of the bow – were made to curve forward in the unstrung position, meaning, among other advantages, that when the bow is strung there is more pre-tension before the bow is drawn). The rules still insisted that the archers should have no artificial aids to improve Aiming, but should use the tip of the arrow or other simple means of aiming, such as mentally estimating ‘gaps’ which depend on the distance to the target.
But in the late 1940s and early ’50s, progressive archers could think of better ways to increase scores, and the rules were changed, first to allow an aiming mark placed on the ground, and later to attach a sight to the bow. With new materials, the efficiency of bows increased by around a third compared to Longbows, and the next changes were to do with increasing stability, by making heavier handles or attaching rods and weights. But in the mid 1960s a group emerged who wanted to imrove sighting by using a back-sight (peep-sight) in the form of an aperture in the bowstring; and to combine this with a lens in the sight itself. They also noted that the various kinds of thumb-ring used by Asiatic Archers gave a much faster and reliable loose than fingers and shooting Tabs do.
There had already been a split between the archers who favoured evolution and the hard-core traditonalists who chose to continue shooting Longbows and wood arrows; this new development almost resulted in split between the evolutional modernists and the very progressive group, but in the end it was resolved by inventing two ‘Styles’: Freestyle and Unlimited. The following year the Compound Bow was invented, and the rest, as they say, is History – the vast majority of Compound archers shoot Unlimited. But the underlying principle of Freestyle persists, which is that a bow is a springy device with long limbs whose ends are attached to each other by a string which is attached directly to the limbs using a simple loop, and the bow is shot by holding it in one hand and pulling the string back with the fingers of the other hand. Another important principle is that the sight should only have one aiming point, and not incorporate optical magnification or electronic improvements. The arrow also has a simple definition (point, shaft, fletchings,nock), and is required to be simply attached to the bowstring using a notch in its end. Generally this formula allows development and innovation, particularly in the form of new materials, but prevents use of devices which reduce the amount of physical skill required to use the bow.
Although the formula is called ‘Recurve’, there is no requirement for the bow limbs to be recurved, if you fitted an English longbow with sights and a stabiliser, it would comply. But, because of their obviously superior performance, practically everyone uses recurved limbs, and also a sight and an arrow-rest, and stabilisers, and a device for checking that they are drawing the bow the same amount every shot.