I have recently taken up the sport of archery. It is not the Japanese form of archery, Kyudo, but modern target archery with a recurve bow. Now archery is not a sport of athleticism and it doesn’t take a lot strength, although you will see some guys at the range bragging about how many pounds they can pull on their bows. I am not by any means an athletic specimen, and I don’t have a lot of upper body strength. The indoor range where we shoot is a maximum of 20 yards. At that distance, even a bow like mine, of 20 lbs. is more than enough to shoot your arrows to the target.
No, archery is a sport of accuracy, consistency, form and concentration. Feedback is instant in that your arrows end up on target or not. Minor changes in your body stance, grip, hand positions, head positions, anchor, follow through and more can affect where that arrow goes. Even if you are sure that everything is exactly the same as the last shot, a small lapse in concentration when you release your arrows can make it fly wide of the target.
So what have I learned, since I began to practice archery? It is a practice. The more arrows I shoot, the better I get. It is not just about how many arrows I can get off in a session, but how many arrows I can get hitting the target. Sometimes it is how many arrows can I get close to hitting the target.
It is not about the equipment. I complained one time to my instructor about how I cannot hit the target with the equipment I was using. He took the same bow and same arrows and hit 5 out 5 in the middle of the target.
I have also learned to be more aware of my body and all its parts. Like when I first began tea practice, I felt like a cow in the tea room. I felt like I didn’t really have control of my body. In archery, figuring out my stance, where my elbows are pointing, what my bow hand is doing, what position my head is in, makes me consciously think about where my body is in space and what it is doing at any moment. And like when I started tea, it sometimes feels overwhelming with all the things I need to think about.
In archery, breathing is important. Don’t hold your breath, but taking the shot between breaths sometimes makes for a better shot. When I am aiming for the target, breathing helps me settle down and stops my hand from shaking. Yes, just like making tea, the temae helps me settle down, control my breathing and stops my hand from shaking.
I never knew how something like archery and chado could be so much alike.