Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of different sports. Some of them I had to do at school, football, hockey, rounders and so on. Others I independently pursued for years because they seemed like a good idea at the time, such as swimming and rugby.
Then there were other activities such as martial arts which I actually enjoyed and it was nice to be part of a club, to make new friends and belong to a special group who were all into the same thing. I did Ren Sei Kan Judo for years as a boy, then Shotokan Karate with a friend from school for years. We did a few competitions, some public demonstrations and we were taught by one of the nicest and the most powerful and naturally strong men I’ve ever met. The kind of guy that could shatter big, heavy, wooden things without much effort. After that it was a couple of years of Kung Fu with a little sensei who could put someone on the floor without even moving and then later I got into Fencing. The kind with the pointy swords, not wooden panels and a hammer. The one thing all of these activities have in common is that they’re competitive and you are always competing against someone else.
I’ve just started an archery beginner’s course and while the sport itself is competitive in the Olympics, and the club has competitions internally and with other clubs, it doesn’t have to be something you do against someone else. It can be about self development and personal achievement. About improving your skills in competition only with yourself. In general I’m sometimes my own worst critic, and with archery if an arrow flies off, I grimace and get annoyed. I am learning why it happens and how to adjust so I focus to improve my posture, or raise my elbow, or pull my arm closer to my cheek. In some ways it’s meditative and relaxing, I can clear my mind and focus only on the target in front of me, and overall I’m really enjoying it.
There is some competition between the beginners, but it is very light hearted and I’m finding it’s nice to belong to another club as it has been quite a while. People of all ages and backgrounds are involved in archery, from little kids who are amazing already, to grey haired grandfathers who are beginners themselves or masters of the sport.
So, when I’ve finished the beginner’s course I’ve already decided that I want to continue with the sport and join the club. You’re not going to see me on TV at Rio with a bow, and I’m not Robin Hood or am I going to be in the national competitions. But that’s ok. That’s not why I’m doing the beginner’s course. I’ve got years of practice to go before I’m halfway decent, and there is still so much to learn, but that’s alright too. I think for me archery is going to be meditative, and a place I can go to relax and just unwind while shooting pointy bits of metal at a straw target.