I stand here my feet spread to shoulder width, my hands holding a bow and arrow, focusing on a target some 40 yards in the distance. As I pull back the bow string and hold the nock of the arrow in place I do not aim at the target. I focus on my purpose and take a deep breath. I feel the flight of the arrow before it is released. I know when I am in the zone and release the arrow. As the arrow rushes forward it flies through space at a rate that seems devoid of time.
My graphite arrow slices through the air traveling over 275 feet in about one second. The sharp tip pierces the target only three inches into a fabric surface on the left edge of the bull’s eye circle. I walk to the target. Pulling the arrow from the target is not easy. They make a special tool for this, a large rubber cylinder that can be wrapped around the arrow for a better grip, that keeps the arrow shaft from sliding through your clenched hand. This tool saves my arrow from irreverent prying, twisting, and pulling and it saves my hand from graphite fibers that come from breaking a stubborn arrow. This tool also saves the money in my bank account; arrows go for about ten dollars a pop.
Archery is one of the purest forms of ancient life. Invented as a tool to harvest food the bow and arrow are, together, one of man’s most clever inventions. In its earliest form the bow and arrow equaled a pliable piece of wood held taught by a string made of animal gut; insert an arrow, add tension by pulling the string, and let it fly. No doubt a deadly, effective, and pure but simple act of genius.
From the beginning the bow and arrow was seen as more of a messenger than a weapon. It was improved by ancient archers with wonderful diligence and determined intelligence. Straight shafts for arrows were a necessity for accurate flight. Many hours could be spent balancing an arrow shaft. Fletching was added to the arrow shaft to help it fly in a nearly perfectly straight line. A nock was added to grip the bow string and give it reliable take-off. point. The choice of woods was essential for the bow stave. A wood that could hold tension and form was essential. Long bows, recurve bows, crossbows, and compound bows are all extended family of the original bow and arrow first developed by humans somewhere in the vicinity of 48,000 B.C.
In truth archery is much more than applied mechanics. It somehow reflects the universe both figuratively and literally. Archers who practice the Zen of archery know that the best arrows are not aimed but rather directed into a target. The direction comes from the archer’s perception of truth and purity and his belief in being at peace and in synchronization with his surroundings. Disbelievers who aim their arrows can still be effective. They simply cannot be accurate. To the reverent archer accuracy is truly a measurement of belief.
For those in love with this art hours can be spent mastering its intricacies. Its best use is in directing the human spirit, harvesting food, and mastering and understanding the art of patience. It is unintelligible to use this ancient art in warfare. This use is ugly and the greatest misuse of one of man’s purest inventions; a sacrilege to true archers.
Archery is an artifact of the human’s wandering spirit. To many the bow and arrow represents a better time gone and lost; a time when humans could experience the world without anti-cosmic interference. Indeed, a time when a person and their bow could sing the tune of the forest. One could say it was a time when sustenance was more important and more necessary than opulence.
There is a certain beauty in a bow and arrow. The bow stave held in the hand is an extension of the human spirit and flesh. The arrow placed on the bow string is an envoy of human intention. Care must be used in the arrow’s delivery. When released it may reflect both your will and your spirit; a message to the heavens, if you will.
As I stand here with my bow and arrow I think of the thousands before me who were dedicated to this art. All were pure archery practitioners; aware of the time and patience it requires to master the art and the craft. I am but a novice amongst many great archers before me. All of these masters were part of the greater whole. All were aware of great things beyond our perceived dimensions. All were capable of placing an arrow where it was intended, not where it was aimed. All were gifted in understanding the not so obvious; a gift from beyond appreciated by a lucky few.
In my mind’s eye I picture an ancient archer with bronze skin clothed in only a loin cloth. His arm muscles are taught and rippled as he pulls the string on his long bow and aims an arrow toward the sky. He holds the arrow release for a moment and meditates on his intention. The arrow is released and flies with intensity towards and unknown destination. The arrow is but a sliver contrasted against a deep blue sky. It flies and flies until it cannot be seen with the human eye. The archer directs it to the heavens; an offering of his spirit. The arrow is lost in time and space entering the dimensions parallel to our own. There it softly comes to rest on a different plane where the Great Spirits celebrate its arrival. There is harmony in this offering.
I stand here, once again offering my arrow to the target. I take in a deep breath and release it slowly and then I pull back the string and let the arrow fly. Time is lost for the blink of an eye. The arrow finds its mark. For a moment I feel as if I am one with the ancient archer.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in September of 2009.