Monday, May 15, 2017

Instinctive skills.

When I first started shooting with my new 60lb Horse Bow I was only getting about a third of my shots in the gold and inner red bands of the target. In addition, my back and chest muscles rapidly became sore. After a month, I am now getting over half of my shots in the inner area. Still not good enough, but my muscles have largely adjusted and I anticipate further steady progress.

I am interested in shooting accurately through instinctive archery, without conscious aiming. The process is the same as in learning to draw accurately without conscious effort and can be illustrated with a little experiment. This demonstrates the link between thought and action (I originally got it from an old book on auto-suggestion).

First you need a target. You can print out the one provided (click on the image for the full size version) or draw it out roughly on a piece of paper.

Next you need to make a simple rod and pendulum. Get a straight piece of light wood about 30 cm long (or a piece of stiff wire – anything will do). You need a weight (a small nail will do), which you attach to the end of the rod with thread so that it will hang about 20cm below the end of the rod.

Hold the rod so that the pendulum is hanging just above the centre of the target. It is a good idea to hold your arm slightly away from your body, so that your body does not steady it (and do not rest your elbow on the table). Hold the rod lightly and as far away from the pendulum end as you can comfortably manage. Relax your arm and - from this point on - ignore your arm! Concentrate on the target! (You will NOT need to make any DELIBERATE movements of your arm.)

Please note that the following exercise does NOT rely on anything “supernatural”.

This exercise is entirely to do with the normal functioning of mind and body. However, please do NOT try to work out how it functions until later (there is an explanation at the end).

Concentrate on the target and start saying to yourself, slowly and steadily, over and over again, “A B, A B, A B, . . . “

(It may help at first to look rhythmically from one end of the A/B line to the other, at the same time.)

After a few moments the pendulum will start to swing along the A/B axis. Don’t get excited, just keep going until the swinging motion is nicely established.

Now try thinking, “C D, C D, C D, . . . “

(you do not have to say it aloud, although it may help at first).

The pendulum will gradually respond and change until it is swinging along the C/D axis.

Again, just keep going until the C/D swing is well established.

Now try thinking,
“Circle, circle, circle, . . . “

Just keep going until the pendulum is steadily swinging in a circular motion over the target.
All these pendulum movements should have happened WITHOUT any requirement for deliberate arm movements - it should have felt like the pendulum was swinging all by itself!

Finally, just think, “Stop”, look at the centre of the target - and relax!
(It can take some time for the pendulum to fully slow down so, after a moment or two, I usually just break off and put the pendulum down.)

How does it work?

Well, the preparations have made it clear that something is supposed to happen with the pendulum. The obvious expectation when you start thinking, “A B, . . . “, is that it is supposed to swing along the A/B axis. So your unconscious mind promptly fulfills your expectations by synchronising the tiny movements that your (unsteady) arm makes anyway. Normally, these movements cancel each other out and so (apart from the odd quiver) the pendulum stays stationery. Since these tiny movements now reinforce each other, the movement of the pendulum will gradually buildup without any noticeable effort on your part (another observer MIGHT notice very slight movements of your arm, but these will be tiny compared to those made if you deliberately swing the pendulum).

This is a very good exercise for training yourself not to interfere with things that are best done on an unconscious level, i.e., learning to think about the desired result and knowing that it will come about without the need for deliberate effort on your part. It is also the way that I try to teach students to draw - to perceive what they want to draw, whilst letting the hand and eye do the rest, without conscious effort or strain.

NB :
There is a twist to this exercise that can be very revealing. You get the pendulum swinging in a circle. Then try to convince yourself that it is very frightening, perhaps that it is "supernatural". You want it to stop, but it won't stop swinging. If you can work yourself into a convincing state of panic, the pendulum will normally swing even faster! This is because your unconscious mind does not understand negatives. The intensity of your fear is interpreted as an even stronger desire to make the pendulum swing harder. Your unconscious mind is simply carrying out what it is interpreting as your wishes.

The moral of this is - DON'T PANIC!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Back on target!

I haven't blogged about my archery for a while because I am still getting used to my new bow. The first effect was that my poorer shots got worse, probably because it was harder to get a smooth release with the heavier bow. Then my muscles started to protest under the extra strain and, as I got sore, my accuracy suffered! I went down from one third of my shots being gold (or touching) to only a quarter!

Gradually my muscles have adjusted and now I am nudging 40% good shots. However, I find I am more accurate if I don't go to the full extent of my draw. I suspect that, at present, I am only pulling about 55lbs. However, that is now coming easily and I think that my draw length will naturally extend as my muscles adjust further.

The important aspect is that the bow now feels more natural to me. I find that I make corrections to my draw with less thought, whereas at first I was very aware of the extra strain.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New bow!

A few weeks ago my bow developed a crack, which I repaired with glue and reinforced with tape. The repair appears to have been effective but, since I couldn't know if or when it would fail again, I thought it was time to upgrade to a new bow. My old bow was an American flat bow, nominally pulling at 35lbs. However, since I draw arrows to my ear, it was actually working out at 40lbs. The new bow is a Chinese made Hungarian style longbow, bought through Amazon. I wanted a stronger bow and this was quoted as being 50lbs at a draw length of 28 inches. However, it has a safe draw length of 33 inches and my own draw length is 30 inches, I anticipated that I could probably get a pull of 60lbs (which has turned out to be the case).

(I have to admit that the price was an important factor in my choice of bow. I would really fancy buying a genuine English longbow but, at five to six times the price, that would be too much to pay unless I was sure that I could handle one of at least 60lbs draw weight.)

The new bow arrived last Wednesday, since when I have been learning to adjust to the bow's particular characteristics. At the start, with my old bow, I was hitting the gold with roughly a third of my shots. This continued with the new bow but the wilder shots nearly doubled in number! I think that this was because the extra power exagerated the effect when my technique was poor.

I have been concentrating on using the new bow and the ratio of good shots to poor ones has improved considerably. However, when I briefly went back to my old bow it was interesting to note how little effort it seemed to require to use it! My accuracy had also gone up to nearly 50%!

In the longer term, I expect the greater power to be a big advantage, particularly over longer ranges. Already I find that I am making adjustments in my technique and the bow is becoming comfortable to use.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


I got quite a bit of practice in today, 400 shots. But the most remarkable thing about it was how unremarkable it was! I scored an average of 35.25% in the gold and 20.25% outside of the red band. That is just 1% improved on two days ago, but the percentage of poor shots has also gone up by 1.75%. However, whilst there were fewer really bad shots there was also very few very good ones. Normally, every so often, things will just come together and I will get a series of shots which just seem to go effortlessly into the right spot. For example, 3 arrows will perfectly place themselves into the inner gold - and that is really what it feels like!  It is as if the arrows decide where to go, I just go through the motions of firing the arrows! But today the spread of the arrows was remarkably even, not too bad, just not very good!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Better Zen!

Yesterday, over 400 shots, I  was averaging 34.25% into the gold, with 18.5% going outside of the red band. Today, over 300 shots, I averaged 44% gold, with just 13.67% outside of the red.

I was undoubtedly more relaxed today, able to quickly settle the bow into the position to shoot, which I think is an important factor. The poor shots often seem to be the result of poor timing, releasing hurriedly or "snatching" the shot. I believe my frame of mind is the important factor in continuing to improve.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Frustrated Zen?

Why does this happen? My first 25 shots of today's practice. First arrow goes nicely' into the inner gold, then my arrows start going all over the place - until the last 3 (bottom right), all into the gold, 2 of them inner gold. My best theory is that after a good start I am trying too hard and it is only when I give up at the end that my hand and eye start synchronisIng properly again!

It was a nice day in the garden so I got in some extra practice today, 200 shots in the morning and 200 in the afternoon. My average was fair, 34.25% gold, but I still had 18.5% of the arrows falling outside of the red. I should be able to do better!

The Zen of archery

When I was young, like a lot of kids, I played with crudely made bows and arrows. I briefly got to try out proper archery when I first went to art college, but it is only recently that I became seriously interested (one of the advantages of being retired and having time on my hands). Instinctive archery (shooting without conscious aiming and without mechanical aids) is what appeals to me, probably because I see it as similar to the way that I create art. For that reason I think that it is worth writing about my progress and what I am attempting to do.

I am shooting 33 inch carbon fibre arrows using an American style flat bow, pulling at approximately 40 lbs. However, to develop instinctive skill, the one recommendation that I believe to be true is that it takes a lot of practice! This is why I have developed my own particular way of doing things.

I use a back quiver as this enables me to reload quickly after shooting (after releasing an arrow my hand is already in position to lift out the next one). This means that without particularly hurrying the process, I can release an arrow approximately every seven seconds. This is not really all that fast, skilled speed shooters can do much better. My own purpose is simply to cut down on practice time. l also carry 25 arrows in the quiver. Since at present I am only shooting at a range of 10 metres, this means that shooting the 25 arrows and recovering them takes just less than 5 minutes each time. Two half hour practice sessions each day means that I shoot 300 arrows per day. To avoid unnecessary damage to the arrows, I divide my shots over 8 target faces, three per target - with one extra shot so that it is easier to work out my accuracy as a percentage!

My main concern now is to improve my consistency. If a shot is off centre by 6 inches at 10 metres, it will be miss by 12 inches at 20 metres, so I need to learn how to consistently hit the centre. Since I started I have improved, but I still need to get a lot better. At present, I score myself according to how many arrows I can get into or cutting the centre gold.
This is the first time that I achieved 6O% accuracy (15 arrows in or cutting gold) a few days ago. Unfortunately, most of the time my average occuracy is more like 32%, but there are signs of it improving!

THIS is what I need to be getting regularly (the rest of the 25 shots were only average)! However, if it can happen once, I can do it again! It is the mental process of getting up to this standard that I believe is of interest and that I am primarily concerned with writing about.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Some more Inspiration from the Past

The original inspiration for this painting was Claude Monet's, "Women in a Garden". There are three women in his painting, but I was a bit short of women, so this is:

"A Woman, a Dog and a Bird in a Garden", July-Dec, 2016

Oils on canvas, 69.5cm x 49.5cm.