How Archery Taught Me To Be Water

It was the middle of October 2020 when I first stood outside the entrance of Lykopis, wondering what to expect. Lykopis is one of the only places you can learn archery – let alone actually shoot with a bow – in Vancouver. I waited uncertainly, hands in my jacket pockets, arms hugged against myself. For some reason, I imagined the other students would be haughty – confident and proud of their archery prowess. I’d soon realize this wasn’t the case.

As I turned my attention outward, I took a first proper look at a young man who was standing on the sidewalk a few feet away – another student. Intimidatingly tall, he carried what looked like an instrument case, which I then realized wasn’t what it was. The sign on the door was flipped to CLOSED, but I knew I hadn’t gotten the time wrong. Were we supposed to try the door? Was this a repeat of all the times I’d waited outside a classroom door with a flock of fellow students, only to find that it’d been unlocked the whole time?

Soon enough, a man with long blond hair pushed the door open and smiled, waving us inside. “Hey!” he said, “You’re here for archery? Welcome, come on in!”

This was one of the instructors – the one who would be leading our weekly Monday classes. There were three other students, all with varying levels of experience, and the experienced ones rusty, since this was the first week Lykopis had reopened after a province-appointed hiatus. It just so happened I’d hopped on the proverbial wagon just as it was getting going again.

At this point during my first class, I wasn’t entirely sure if archery would be something I’d keep doing for very long. I had no idea how much I’d grow to love it.

I should specify that Lykopis is a school that focuses on historical and intuitive archery. As my instructor told me early on, Lykopis teaches various disciplines of archery from across the world, throughout human history.

My first surprise: we would not be learning how to aim. Not for a long time.

My instructor explained that good aim came with form, but form mattered more. If you shot three arrows and they were way off the mark but quite close to each other, that was better than shooting three arrows and having one bullseye and the other two hit the edges of the target, but with larger spaces between them. It was about form. You see, the first instance with a closer grouping would mean that your form is consistent, and can be adjusted to serve aim. The second means that you (basically) lucked out on the bullseye, and aren’t doing the same thing each time you go to shoot.

In fact, my instructor said he himself was only just learning how to aim – and that learning the physics behind it was part of that. And even though it would have been easy to be dissuaded at the prospect of spending years on form before working on hitting what I was aiming at, I wasn’t phased. Even though – or perhaps because – I’m best driven by immediate results, I’ve always had a part of me that’s wanted to go through some kind of martial art or other skill that requires dedication, constant discipline, and straight-up hard work; someone to tell me to shut up and just do the thing, even if I’m not going to get immediate results.

As we started to shoot, I remember becoming conscious that I was taking longer than the other students to go through my arrows, and thus my social anxiety kicked in and told me to speed things up a little so they wouldn’t all be annoyed waiting for me.

Then my instructor said something that rang as an epiphany-like learning moment for me. “Slow down,” he said.

“There’s nothing fast about archery.”

And thus, my second surprise: archery is heckin’ slow.

You see so many movies, tv shows, and video games have characters like Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye, and Lara Croft where their whole thing is that they’re real good at archery, and you know that because they can hit their targets and they can hit them fast.

But no. For the most part at least, archery is slow.

Of course, there are situations where you do want to be able to shoot fast, and seeing how many arrows you can shoot in a minute (for example) can be a helpful gage of your skill level. But the focus is not on speed – it’s on being smooth. It’s more important to aim to be fluid with each movement – from getting the arrow from quiver to your anchor point to the target. Once you become good at this, speed is the natural byproduct.

One of the benefits of really slowing down and taking your time through each move is that you notice how your body moves and what actually needs to move and what doesn’t. One of the major points I’m working on right now is not fidgeting all the time. It’s easy to blame my ADHD or anxiety for that one, but regardless, it’s helped me observe when that happens both during archery classes and at home.

By working on slowing down, Lykopis has become a place where I feel at peace. I realized this recently when I was walking down the street approaching the school, but wasn’t in the area for lessons. Still, my body was notably more relaxed. My thoughts weren’t so hectic. Simply the practice of slowing down had made this association in my brain of the streets around the school and a state of calmness. That realization alone brought me so much joy.

Thank you very much for reading. Please take care of yourself however you can, and know that it’s okay to take things slow.

[Author’s note: I initially meant this to be just Part 1, which may or may not ever see a Part 2. I’ve attempted to comfort myself with the blaring fact that I haven’t yet written a Part 2 over a year later by telling myself that I am simply “taking things slow”. This may or may not be a comfortable lie. I may or may not be entirely sure.]

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