Tag Archives: archery

Anger for Sprints, Humor for Marathons

Yesterday was my third mounted archery lesson. I show up early enough that the mists still cover the hills. The vineyards, the barn, and the arena are still chilled and dewy. Usually, no one’s around except for the dogs, cat, and occasional hen that come to see if I have food or cuddles, or both. When someone asks how my training is going, this is never what comes up. They expect the hobby to be fueled by revenge. They expect me to be angry.

Anger gives energy in short bursts. It can be an extra jolt of motivation, and armor to wrap yourself in. It converts two-way communication into a one-way street. Under certain circumstances, when you need to protect yourself, when you need to pull yourself up over the ledge — anger is excellent. Anger rises when someone has crossed a boundary. Anger is both an alarm system and a security system, and it will snap shut on the offender. It is as intense as it is instant, and when you’re done, you’re worn out. Even for those who have a long fuse, I’m referring to the moment the fuse triggers the explosive.

The obsessive mind latches onto a perspective and holds there. It takes a stance, chooses a narrative, and makes it into the sole truth. It chews and chews until the original flavor — the objective truth of events — is gone. Only the narrative is left, and that’s what the obsessive mind feeds on. If the narrative is the story we tell ourselves, then we have the power to choose that narrative.

For example, I’ve unconsciously started looking for his car when I’m out driving. I can’t help it. Since I don’t know how to stop playing this game, I look for the cars driven by people I love and am still close to, instead. Chew, chew, obsessive brain, chew on something healthier.

After the breakup and subsequent loss of our child, I couldn’t find my anger. I felt drained of strength, and without my strength, I had no identity. Without anger to shield me and energize me, I didn’t know what to do or where to go. What confused me even further was that the strongest feeling wasn’t anger, but love. I was still in love, and generated love, but I had no place to put it.

Without anger, I felt weak, but the love and warmth in my heart kept growing and growing. Love wrapped itself around the heartbreak and grief. I didn’t want to be bitter. I didn’t want to destroy or be destroyed. I wanted to transcend this, and be transformed by it. When I started practicing archery more often, those feelings imbued the experience. I wasn’t ok, (I’m still not ok), but archery helped me get out of my head and into my environment for a little while. I felt the bow, the arrows, the targets, the trees, the grass, the hawks and the quails, and my fellow archers. They and I were all wrapped in presence and stillness. In that stillness, I could pay attention to the tiny movements that influenced my technique. Shooting wasn’t about the kill; it was about the stillness.

When I found a mounted archery teacher, it was the same thing. We think of warriors on horseback as a thundering wave of death; but one-on-one hasn’t been like that at all. It’s me and the horse, learning to talk to each other. You have to listen to the animal, and acknowledge the terrain and other distractions. You also have to listen to your own mental state, and its effect on your body language. Riding wasn’t about taking power; it was about listening.

My body has always told me early on when something was wrong, from vitamin deficiencies to appendicitis. I’ve learned to trust it. It knew that anger wouldn’t make me better this time.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of giggling in the midst of the zen. I’ve had arrows hit the target and then flip over themselves and land in the grass somewhere. I’ve done a great fast-draw and then dropped the arrow on my toe before I could shoot it. More than once, while standing in the stirrups, my horse would just stop and pitch me forward. This is silly, slapstick shit. Beauty and stillness is all well and good, but it’s not really fun. Fun is being able to laugh at yourself. If you want to climb a mountain, you’ll have a much easier time if you enjoy walking and sweating. If you can make your fuck-ups funny, you’re set. You look forward to the victories, but also for the jokes. It’s hard to quit if you love what you’re doing.

After the ride, I feed the horse and sit with him until he finishes. I brush him and pet his flank while he eats, the same way I pet the other animals at the barn when they ask for it. Then I take him back to his pasture. The exercise, the countryside, and being with animals is helping me heal in a way that breaking, burning, and screaming never could.

Even the self-talk has shifted. Rather than say “fuck!” when I make a mistake, I say “well, that was silly.” Maybe I was silly. Maybe the horse was silly. Maybe the arrow or the target was silly. Blame and negativity aren’t part of the learning experience. Each success is a surprise, and each mistake is hilarious.

So no, I don’t picture my ex when I’m shooting. I have no desire to do harm. My own pain was enough. When I ride, I’m with the horse. When I shoot, I’m with the landscape.

There was a woman I trained with a long time ago who always smiled. I’ve never seen a photo of her where she didn’t have a big toothy grin. At the time, I took her less seriously because of it; but I was wrong. She’s knowledgeable, formidable, and a fantastic friend. I think she was on to something.

If I were angry, I couldn’t do any of these things. I’d be stuck in the cycle of raging, passing out, and raging again. That’s not a long-term strategy.  Instead, I’m learning to flow with what is, and let go of what isn’t. I won’t hit the bulls-eye every time. I won’t always be graceful in the saddle. But if I’m laughing the whole time, who cares? I’ll be back tomorrow, no worse for wear.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
― Sun Tzu

Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
― Samuel Beckett

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I narrated a story! Spirit Forms of the Sea

Bogi Takács is a neutrally gendered Hungarian Jewish person who wrote a story about archers, shamans, and questionable pacts with Cthulu-like monsters. It was exciting to learn the Hungarian words.

If you would like to hear me narrate this tale, please proceed to the castle.

Spirit Forms of the Sea, by Bogi Takács.

Narrated by Setsu Uzume.
Produced by Podcastle.

Early Observations on the Practice of Archery

At its core, there are two main practices that inform the path of a martial artist. One is the external way (combat/fight focused) and the other is the inner way (development-focused). Both of these intersect, overlap, and weave through each other. The biggest challenges, like recognizing personal ticks, breaking bad habits, and breaking bad habits, absolutely rely on inner work.

My brother-in-law has been shooting for a few years now, and uses it both as a way to decompress (through focus) and a way to exercise (draw-and-hold). My ex had uncovered all my equipment and wanted to shoot, so I found a few ranges and bought more arrows. When we split, I remembered the reason I had bought them in the first place: I wanted to learn mounted archery.

Shooting for three hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays helps. It gets me out of the house, and it helped make the hobby mine again; rather than another remnant of the life we shared. I can’t think of a more soothing environment than a range nestled in a quiet grove, fresh with morning mist.

before

What a mess.

As you can see, I need some help. This is what it looks like when your inner chaos affects your technique. Practice pays off to an extent — all the arrows were on the paper — but there was little accuracy and less consistency. Hurt, nerves, fear, frustration, all these things eclipsed my awareness.

It was the same at Worldcon. I played push-hands with Nick Mamatas and Arthur Chu during morning tai chi. The second I lost focus or became agitated that I wasn’t winning, I lost. Arthur is legendary for being immovable, though. One story describes a time he was gazing out at the ocean and a friend jumped him as a joke. The friend literally bounced off and fell on the sand. Some people are naturally grounded. The rest of us have to work at it.

On the advice of Mike Loades, I sought out Justin Ma to learn the thumb ring technique (used in China, Mongolia, etc.), which would help me shoot from horseback. This method involves hooking the string around your thumb, as opposed to Mediterranean draw which is the three-finger technique you’ll sometimes see in movies. In addition to this particular technique, Justin gave instruction on body position, how different muscle groups work together, and even such small details as where your draw hand goes after the release. It turns out that the hand continues to move backward in a kind of graceful flow. I’m guessing that this motion helps keep your bow arm and shoulder in a more consistent position, so you’re not pushing the arrow to the left or right at the last second.

Justin also had a wealth of equipment knowledge, and told me that my arrows weren’t sticking properly because they’re too light weight — it had nothing to do with my bow or draw length. That made me feel better. Knowing that some of the factors working against me weren’t my fault took the pressure of perfection away. I settled into breath, body position, and observation with the goal of being consistent and present; not perfect. Perfection is tomorrow’s concern.

after

All those small details come together to produce a shot. Technique goes from your heels to your lats to your arms to your breath — that’s lot of muscle memory to attain. That’s all inner work. To achieve body awareness I had to let go of two things: my negative emotions, and the bullseye. I focused on position, and breathing. I relaxed. I paid attention to what I was doing, rather than what I should be doing (hitting the center, or “healing faster” from my breakup).

It seemed to help. This was one of my last shots from the same day.

Maxre’s Photos of Women’s Mounted Archery Competition

I came across Maxre’s gorgeous shots from around Japan, including several from a mounted archery competition in Towada.

Mounted archery, or yabusame, refers to the sport of shooting from horseback. Archers dressed in medieval hunting attire and race along a set track. They fire at three stationary targets. The best known Yabusame events take place on September 16th every year in Kamakura; which became the seat of power when the samurai class seized power and established feudalism in Japan. If you love fine art from classical Japan, go to Kyoto. If you love samurai history, go to Kamakura.

Yabusame is not to be confused with Kyudo, or “the way of the bow” (Japanese Archery) where your feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Mounted archery has been on my bucket list since I was thirteen, and it’s the reason I learned to ride.

Check out Maxre’s photos and buy a print — they’re extraordinary.

archer

Competition in Towada, Japan.