Sadak Atu: Reviving the Tradition of Kazakh Archery

ASTANA—Whether inspired by childhood games or tales of heroic archers, Kazakh archery, known as sadak atu, is becoming increasingly popular among people of all ages in Kazakhstan, transforming into a more inclusive traditional sport.

Ondasyn Tursyngali, an archery coach at the traditional Sadak Atu Federation’s club in Astana. Photo credit: The Astana Times

Ondasyn Tursyngali, an archery coach at the traditional Sadak Atu Federation’s club in Astana, used to watch his older brother and sister play sports at various competitions. Following in the family tradition, he is now a coach and is preparing to enter professional competitions.

“My brother and sister both practice archery. With their support, I came to this sport because I believe there is an undiscovered talent in me. There are many challenges ahead, and I am preparing for them,” said Tursyngali.

Peculiarity of Kazakh archery

The true origin of Kazakh archery comes from the nomadic lifestyle, which was very much based on war, martial skill, and hunting—all primarily done on horseback.

According to Tursyngali, the proper stance is important while handling the bow and arrow. Photo credit: The Astana Times

“The peculiarity of Kazakh archery is that we shoot with the thumb,” said Tursyngali. “Our grandfathers knew how to shoot while riding a horse. The arrow is placed under the thumb and over the index finger. It doesn’t move when you shake the bow. That’s the unique aspect of Kazakh archery. Other people shoot in the so-called European style, where the arrow is held between the index and middle fingers.”

Tursyngali emphasized the importance of proper positioning when handling the bow and arrow.

“You should stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed on both feet, and your body at a 90-degree angle to the target,” he explained.

Once in the correct position, one could place the arrow in the middle of the bowstring and draw. Tursyngali takes aim at a straw cylinder around 10 meters away and releases one arrow after another, hitting the target.

The key to success in archery is consistency, according to Tursyngali. “Your coach can guide you, but if you do not practice the same thing every single time and make an effort, you won’t succeed,” he said.

Inclusive sport

Kazakh archery is one of the more inclusive traditional sports for people of all ages, welcoming people of all ages and making beginners feel comfortable. The archery club accepts novices as young as seven.

The key to success in archery is consistency and patience. Photo credit: The Astana Times

“One of the features of archery is that it is accessible to people of all ages. Among us, there are people shooting from the age of seven to the age of 60-70. There are no age limits in archery—if you have the desire to learn, you can shoot,” said Tursyngali.

This also makes archery a great family sport, allowing everyone from a child to a grandparent to participate.

Archery’s physical and mental health benefits

Folk tales of men’s bravery using a bow and arrow have been told for generations. It is believed that being precise and cool makes one agile and intelligent. According to local legends, khans (rulers in the Kazakh Khanate) often stipulated that they would give their daughters to a man who hit a certain unattainable target. The most successful archers were guided by their decisive actions, wit, and calmness—all of which involve intelligence.

In a sport that requires significant mental strength and focus, patience and stamina are also important. According to Tursyngali, mastering archery is where mindset meets sport.

“Patience and restraint are associated with this sport,” he said. Staying precise under pressure cultivates grit and resilience while enabling one to apply those skills in other, more stressful areas of life.

Beyond the shooting range, archery can have a positive impact on improving one’s eyesight as well.

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