Passing It On and Offering Instruction

“How do you shoot?” I had just handed the young man an extra Osage and bamboo bow from my rack and told him to keep it as long as he wanted. The youngster, I’d say 15, practices martial arts at the same dojo as I, and he frequently asks me about primitive and traditional archery. I always try to oblige.

This young man has the makings of an outstanding individual. Gentle, kind, well mannered, intelligent, a thirst for learning – he receives my vote. And he now holds the same rank in karate as I. Depending upon one’s perspective, that speaks well of him or poorly of me. I have years of training on him, though interrupted. His high kick is a thing of beauty. It soars head high with ferocious speed. But then, so does mine. However, mine must first go to the knee, thereby rendering the opponent supine before loftier locales become viable targets! All this aside, however, I regretted his asking that question.

Truthfully, I don’t know how I shoot. I long ago concluded that the system is some blend of a great many others and has morphed over the years into what some consider a distorted regimen that can’t be accurately named. I greatly admire those who are pure instinct shooters. One such is a regular companion who executes a graceful push/ pull as the bow swings from his side and on target. As quickly as he touches anchor, the arrow is on its way. And in the game fields, he is as certain as anyone I have ever seen shoot. His system doesn’t work for me.

And I have even received instruction from one who shot for some time with Howard Hill. This man who gave me that instruction talked about a secondary point of aim and how he got on target by this method. And get on target he did. Paper plates thrown into the air, golf balls bounced along the ground, squirrels or rabbits or deer – the arrow always connected. It took me two months after that to get back consistently into a 12-inch circle at 20 yards. His system doesn’t work for me.

There is another shooter with whom I am acquainted who shoots what he says is the gap. He draws his bow and anchors with it perpendicular to the ground, and then holds and holds and holds. He can hit a tiny spot within a tiny spot. His system doesn’t work for me.

And there is shaft shooting and three fingers under and nock to the eye and a broad host of others. These systems don’t work for me.

I attempted to explain to the young man and address his question. “I put my bow arm out with the bow at about a 45-degree angle; I think I see the arrow tip in my peripheral vision but I’m not sure. Then I pull the string to full draw and middle-finger anchor tightly in the corner of my mouth and then form an imaginary line from my elbow down through the fingers and arrow and through the air to the target. And then I tilt my head hard into the string and make sure nothing is wobbling and let the arrow slip from my fingers almost by surprise. And I hold right there in that position until the arrow arrives. That’s how I do it.”

The young man listened intently and looked on in obvious confusion. He nodded. I then realized that whatever pedagogic skills I possessed in the exegesis of literature had likely stayed in the classroom at my retirement and clearly didn’t transfer to explaining archery, at least not in this particular exchange. I finally told him that I was not at all certain that how he did it was of much importance as long as he had a well developed and consistent anchor and smooth release and rock-solid follow through and that it worked for him.

“All I know as an absolute in my shooting,” I said in conclusion, “is that when I do it right I hit and when I do it wrong I miss. The arrow goes every time exactly where I tell it to go.” This he grasped fully. He smiled.

I then asked him how he did that marvelous high kick. “Nothing to it,” he noted. He is too much the gentle sort to remind me that I am older than his grandfather!