Last spring I took up archery again, something I hadn't touched since high school. The reason is that I've become sporadically involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism
(SCA). I'll happily admit that this is one more way to play adult dress-up and be escapist. It differs from, for example, Renaissance fairs in that it is participatory and not a spectator sport. You are expected to do
something. I surveyed the options and decided that archery offered the best prospects. In this, I leaned heavily on the gene pool. My brother is a target archer of some distinction with the modern, compound bow. I need hardly say that such weapons, which resemble a block and tackle more than a longbow, are not welcome at SCA events.
During the last few months I've wondered if it was the right choice. This is not something easy to learn. There are regular practices, plus my own backyard practice as often as schedule and safety permitted.
As with many other aiming activities, there are three basic pieces to the puzzle. One is assimilating an ancient protocol whose main end is to keep people from killing each other, squirrels, cats and dogs by accident. Next is tuning the hardware into a state in which it a) does not interfere with one's exertions and b) actually advances them. This is not so easy. Bows, and the wood arrows SCA requires, are maddeningly individual. One must make adjustments one at a time, in order to assess each step and see if it is helping or hurting. One must also wade through masses of often contradictory advice and opinions.
Last, and most important, is tuning the archer. It has occurred to me that one learns a part of that tuning through the equipment process, by learning to set aside the information that does not help, and concentrate on that which does. It not only comes close to zen, in Japan it is a contemplative art in its own right, kyudo.
The contemplative dimension of archery landed on me rather suddenly this week. A spell of moderate weather has let me get outdoors and try out some of my tuning and reading. I expected a difficult run-up to get to the point where I had been forced indoors. What astonished me was that, with the tuning of my older bow more complete, things were advancing far beyond where I had been: I was actually good. I had become absorbed in the process, had overcome the diffidence that goes with starting a new activity at 60. The tuning had succeeded, and the equipment was now much more part of me than before. Satori!!
I don't see kyudo
as an end, but rather as a different perspective. The Welsh and English were less spiritual and more physical in their approach to archery, but they had the advantage of starting at age seven. At my age, one must recruit mind and spirit to the learning process.
Labels: archery, Society for Creative Anachronism, Zen