The first thought I had when it was time for hands-on was I am afraid of string tension. That’s strange, I mean, I play the guitar, I even re-string and tune up my guitar on my own, for goodness’ sake! It could be that one instance when I was watching a friend play a guitar with old metal strings and suddenly, the thinnest string snapped. Snapped, shattered, splintered, I don’t know which; I only remembered closing my eyes shut and when I opened, little pieces of the metal string was embedded in whatever it landed. One piece even got lodged in the guitar body. It was a miracle none landed on (or in!) our skins, but I’d immediately wondered what would’ve happened if I wasn’t wearing my spectacles and a sharp end had its trajectory landing in my eyes. That one incident might be what made me fear the effects of string-tension-gone-wrong five years on.
Once I was handed the bow, however, all I was focused on was my standing posture and the strength I had to put into pulling the string back. Everything came naturally and the only thing that didn’t was my aim and handling the weight of the instrument. We were using right-handed bows, but a simple eye test deemed me left-eye-dominant and therefore a left-hander in archery. Took me by surprise because many people have a direct relation when it comes to dominant eye and dominant hand; I write with my right hand and my whole right arm is much easier to remain stable when outstretched with a weight in my hand. (I’d never know if my mother found out that I was left-handed at a very young age and forced me to think right-handed is normal, though. She dislikes left-handedness as if it’s a disability that remains to be corrected.)
There weren’t any left-handed bows at our disposal for the lesson, though, so I had to make do by shutting my left eye and hoping my right can do the job of aiming and gauging distance on its own. The bows belonged to Kaki Bukit Community Centre where the lesson was hosted. The lesson was also restricted to the indoor hall, so it took the edge off distance aiming.
The bows we were using were recurve bows with 16-18 lbs. draw weight. Recurve bows are the only ones you get to see at the Olympics; other types of bows include composite (usually for hunting, has a pulley system at the nocks) and longbow (the ones we always see in medieval films). The draw weight is the measurement of strength needed to pull the string back, and can translate to how strong the shot will be. Beginner bows normally have draw weights between 10-25 lbs., so what we had for our first lesson was considered a good start for young adults. The weight of the bow itself is another matter. The bow may be a take-down recurve (that means you can take apart the limbs from the handle for compact storage and transportation) and the limbs may be fibreglass-laminated but when all set up, holding such a huge and long item in one hand can be quite tiring. For this first lesson, our bows weren’t fitted with stabilisers nor bow sights so that we got the idea of doing it “raw”.
We had our target boards less than 10 metres away from the shooting line, so no pressure about aiming too wildly off the target there. Competitively, in the Men’s Category, the target boards are set 90 metres away from the shooting line, and the Women’s Category have it at 70 metres. Point system works as shown on the photo above; outermost ring scores 1 and second-inner-most scores 10. The circle right inside is scored as “X”, although it actually carries a score of 10 with a bit of a bonus value. “X” is a deciding factor when there’s a tie, such that despite the same total score, the archer with more “X”s will make him/her the distinct winner (for example, a score of X-10-10 is better than a score of 10-10-10). Arrows that land outside of the target are marked as “M”. Scores are tabulated in descending-value order (e.g. 9,9,8,5,4).
It was too exciting so we didn’t keep score (and anyway even if I did, it was embarrassing because I had an “M” that landed outside of the square target paper). Soon it was time to help with packing up and I found myself thinking, Hey, archery feels quite as good as shooting. Maybe I can ease off my urge to shoot a rifle when I’m feeling restless, and shoot an arrow instead. I’ve shot a try-out SAF SAR 21 assault rifle at an Army Open House and at the Army Museum before, and I had been itching to pick up shooting as an activity ever since. It has that feeling of… holding a lot of potential energy, and with my own two hands, releasing it. Not unlike how we all slowly pick up bits of stress and fatigue in our daily lives at work or in school and let it all go when play time finally comes around, but a firearm makes all that action so much quicker and satisfying. Well, I think archery is even better than shooting now, after I’ve felt that the bow doesn’t only hold potential energy, but pulling the string back adds an element of escalating excitement, my arms’ strength holding the power to how good the shot will be, and knowing that when I let it go, it had a great deal of my own body effort involved instead of the sole effort of a well-made shooting mechanism.
And all my stress goes along with the draw, into the arrow, and out of my hand, into the target board. All thanks to that string tension I was so uneasy about at the start of the class. I guess I managed to turn my fear into my own device. Maybe archery should be a form of meditation (haha)
This was the first of three lessons, and the next lesson is in two weeks so I’ll add more stuff in then. If anyone has any questions or suggestions on how to improve my blog post, or tips and stories to share from your own archery experiences, do leave a comment below!