Ever been in a pub with a club mate when a friend walks in? You introduce them, obviously. Let’s call your club mate John and your friend – a non-archer, of course – Derek. The conversation may have gone like this:
Derek: So – John, isn’t it? You’re an archer, too? Tell me all about it, then.
John: There’s so much I could tell you, I don’t really know where to start. But this is how it goes for me on a typical visit. I open my bow box – always the left hand latch first and then the right hand latch – and take out my riser. That’s the centre section, made of a special alloy for strength and lightness. Then I always fix the lower limb into the riser first, then the top limb. They’re called take-down bows for easy storage, you see. I go through an absolutely precise routine as I assemble the bow, as you’re probably already gathering. Put the string on next, of course, then the V-bars, all the stabilisation, the sight block, the sight, until it’s fully assembled.
Derek: Wow. It sounds really detailed.
John: Oh, it is. Then I put on my chest guard and position it a bit for comfort. Then my quiver – always to the third hole in the belt. Then the arrows, checking each fletching one by one, the piles – those are the points – and I’ll give each arrow a spin to check for straightness, always in the same number order. Then my bracer, always two inches above the hand-wrist joint. Not forgetting my bow sling.
Derek: Sounds like you’ve got quite a routine, there, John.
John: Oh, yes. Once the chest guard and everything are on I feel – well, I suppose you’d say I feel dressed. It’s comforting. And then I take the bow on to the shooting line. You know, I love that bow. It’s a beautiful thing, lovely recurved limbs, a gleaming black riser, matt black stabilisation. The heft of it in the hand is something else. It’s my intimate friend.
Derek: Really? A relationship with a weapon, I suppose you could say.
John: A bow is a beautiful piece of art work to me, Derek. It’s always in my mental spotlight, if you like, turning slowly like those new cars at a motor show.
Derek: Without the model draped over it, ha ha.
John: No, I’m the only entity allowed to touch it. And you have to do everything absolutely precisely. It’s a precision sport, you see, and my precision begins as soon as I open my bow box – left latch, right latch, and so on. The mental preparation starts right there.
Derek: I’m getting the picture, John, I really am.
John: The essence of it all is to get three arrows at a time in the tightest group possible, and in the ten ring – that’s the centre of the target, Derek. I can’t tell you how good that feels. It’s my three cherries in a row, my jackpot, my lottery win. And groups like that really inspire you. You think – keep shooting like this and I could win the club champs. Or get selected to the county team. What the hell – the next thing, you’re being selected for the Olympics, you’re on the centre podium, the gold medal’s round your neck, the national anthem’s starting up, tears are coming to your eyes……
Derek: Wow again. You’re really into all this…..even as an entity.
John: Put it this way, if I don’t shoot for a day I start to get itchy palms, my heart misses a beat every time I see a target face or archers on the telly or in a newspaper – you know, when you’re not expecting to see them, unlike in an archery magazine. I’m mentally salivating at the thought of getting down to the club to shoot.
Derek: Sounds like a kind of conditioning process to me, John. It would have Pavlov salivating, never mind his dogs.
John: And the thing is, you do it even though you might be freezing cold in the middle of a drenched archery field and you end up with sore fingers and stiff shoulders – especially if you’ve not been able to get down to the club for a while or your technique’s a bit off – and an aching lower back from carrying too many targets back to the equipment hut. And there’s the disappointment to handle if you get bad scores, and the envy if somebody does better than you, but it just drives you on to the next shoot, chasing the end of the rainbow, the eternal optimist. The target face is my circular rainbow. In a crazy kind of way you like the pain of it, the stress, the sheer grinding, mechanical repetition of it, the sense of unreality that takes you over. It’s almost as if I’m outside of myself observing my body going through the motions of shooting – I am robot.
Derek: Or entity. I have to say, I never thought archery was such a rag-bag of complexes. Let’s see – we’ve got obsessive compulsive disorder – I think you’d prefer to call that being precise, of course. Then there’s object fetishisation. Bow love in your case, John. Add to that overtones of bondage – you know, chest guard, quiver, bracer, bow sling. Then there are delusions of grandeur overlain by addictive behaviour, shot through with sadomasochism, and then there’s conditioning that would make the Manchurian Candidate look like a novice. Not to mention what you might call depersonalisation episodes – I am robot, indeed. Do you have a psychiatrist among your members?
John: Yes, we do, as a matter of fact.
Derek: Well, there we are then. Help is at hand.
John: No, it’s not. He’s not doing consultations until he gets his Master Bowman qualification.