Last Tuesday I drove up to Lillehammer and took part in my first official beginner’s class at the Lillehammer Bueskytterklubb. I had been looking forward to doing this for a long time. To my surprise the first lesson was in English, which for me was great (no complaints). The coming lessons will be in Norwegian (also good, gotta keep those ears open).
As the course is the first for autumn, it took place indoors at the Lillehammer tennis hall. There were quite a number of people there, from young to old. We took our places at the shooting line in order of tallest to smallest, and were given a thorough introduction to the basics of bow shooting thanks to the friendly Keith.
What we learned:
- What to wear: a protective arm guard on the non-shooting arm, and a leather tab for the middle and ring fingers of the shooting hand. The arm guard protects the string from hitting the skin, and the tab from the string hurting the fingers.
- How to stand properly: with our feet shoulder width apart, our body side on to the target, body relaxed and balanced (was reminded of the Ving Tsun stance here).
- How to hold our shooting arm: with the index finger nestled against our cheekbone, arm straight and tilted slightly upwards.
- How to hold our head: upright and not leaning or tilted into the bow, and our eyes looking down the arrow.
- How to hold the bow: relaxed (not a ferocious grip) in our hand grip, the wooden handle cushioned against the fleshy muscle webbing between our thumb and index finger. Those two fingers are usually enough to hold the bow; however, it’s possible to use the middle finger to stabilise it further.
- How to pull the bow string: there is a metal marker on the bow string, indicating where the arrow will be mounted. The index and middle fingers are positioned 2 cm beneath the metal bit when the string is drawn back. The string is drawn back to where the metal bit just touches the focusing eye. The hand is also positioned at the cheek bone and a point on the face is nominated as the anchor point, which will indicate where the drawing of the bow will stop before being released.
- How to mount the arrow: the arrow sits just beneath the metal marker on the string, indicating where it should be mounted. The tip of the arrow sits in the arrow shelf on the bow. This holds it in place.
- How to release the arrow: the hand travels backwards as the arrow is released. This movement is paramount in the law of physics, to generate the most energy and power and take advantage of momentum. If the hand falls forward and follows the arrow, then the arrow loses power.
- How to maintain tension: good tension and strength comes from within the body. It starts in the feet and rises up through the hips, core, shoulders, neck and head. This is the important element located between the holding of the bow and the drawing of the string back. Core strength and muscular tension within the body, as well as the opening up of the chest and shoulders back, is what generates the much needed power to propel the arrow. If the chest caves in and the shoulders round forward, then there is insufficient power to do anything.
- How to never, ever let go of the string, when there is no arrow to be fired.
- How to remove the arrow from the target: taking hold at the end of the arrow (furthest point in to the target) and pulling the arrow out.
- How to shoot as a club: the whistle signals what we can do while shooting as a club. Two whistles signal that we can go to the shooting line and get ready. One whistle signals we can start shooting. Once we’ve fired off our arrows, we put our bow in its holder and go back to the line behind the shooting area. Three whistles signals that we can move forward and collect our arrows.
Once we have all these components in place, then the process of bow shooting, from standing at the line, picking up the bow, mounting the arrow, lifting the bow up, sighting the target, lining up the arrow, drawing the string back and releasing, can start becoming fluid and rhythmic. How this is done is very individual. Some people wait and sight the target before pulling the string back. Others wait and sight the target once the string is pulled back. There is no ‘right’ way. The only right thing is to do the same thing over and over if you’re successfully hitting the bullseye. Try to repeat what you did and do it again. This is easier said than done and is what takes years of practice.
While the movement may be the same, the application of archery is not. Archery includes different distances, equipment, and obstacles. Adaptation, flexibility and compensation all play a role in success.
The bow string is the most important part of archery. Any piece of wood can be used to mount the string and this is what archers used to do in the old days. They rode to their place of operation, searched for a suitable piece of wood, and then took out their precious string and mounted it. Back in those good old days, hundreds of years ago, bows and string tension were much heavier and higher than they are today. A sign that we’ve grown soft in modern times? Perhaps. Archery was also connected to the spiritual world. In Japan, the bow and arrow were reverred as intuitive symbols. Fine tuning one’s archery skills, displayed one’s mental stillness, clarity and purity.