Just Shoot The Damn Target

Discussing form and shooting technique has little appeal to me.

This statement may seem a bit arrogant, but I don’t want to think about the details of my shooting. I just want the arrow to end up where I’m looking and find that constantly analyzing the process does anything but. If I’m drawing with my back and my bow arm is steady, I’m good to go.

I know many archers who are the opposite and are quite particular when it comes to their form. They are always making adjustments; always looking for the next tip to make their groups a little bit tighter. They watch videos, attend seminars, create “check my form” posts on social media, and even pay significant sums of money to attend clinics and learn the methods of other archers.

I have no issues with this. The passion we have chosen to pursue is full of nuances and half the fun is finding that particular thing that appeals to you the most. Whether its the pursuit of gear, hunting methods, or form, discovering what keeps you passionate is half the fun.

I applaud those who want to squeeze every last ounce of potential from themselves and respect those who are willing to help them do it. I am also very grateful for those who have developed methods to cure target panic. That is serious business and usually requires more than the story I’m about to tell you. Still, I’m going to tell it anyway. Why? Because whatever it is you are pursuing, I don’t want you to forget the bottom line.

I approach shooting like hitting a softball or a baseball. I’ve heard many use the baseball analogy as it applies to throwing a baseball, but think hitting one is the better of the two. It takes hours of daily practice to develop a good swing and years of playing to perfect it. In the beginning, you acquire muscle memory through repetition. You develop a powerful stance, a good eye, hip rotation, hand speed, and the habit of swinging through the ball. Once those elements are in place, it becomes a mental game. This is where it gets challenging. This is where players get tripped up and slumps happen.

Slumps require no explanation for those who have played the game. You probably shuddered at the mention of the word, in fact. Those who haven’t are blessed, but I will summarize the experience so we’re on the same page. Imagine you are good at something. Maybe even great. You do it every day and it is a crucial part of your life. You do it so well and so often, some even associate you with it. Now imagine not being able to do it anymore. It might not be noticeable to anyone else at first, but something isn’t quite right. You chalk it up to a bad day and move on. No big deal. Then the day becomes a week. Maybe two. You realize it isn’t just bad luck and grow frustrated. People start to notice. You notice that they notice and make excuses. Another week passes and it gets worse. You are out of excuses and are frantically searching for the problem. People question you. You question yourself. Your confidence begins to unravel.

This is how a slump feels. It is terrifying. Eerily similar to target panic, but I’m not going to jump down that rabbit hole right now. I’m focusing on slumps for the sake of this story.

I’ve always been a fair ballplayer and a good hitter. I’ve prided myself on the latter and have experienced more than my share of the dreaded “s” word. I powered through a terrible one my Senior year of high school. The season wasn’t very long, but I couldn’t hit anything for two weeks. I think I was two for twelve, which isn’t where you want to be when you bat in the heart of the order. I can think of few instances in my life when I was as frustrated as I was those two weeks. I couldn’t make solid contact and would just hit dribblers down the first base line. It escalated and I started asking Coach to watch me hit and tell me what I was doing wrong. I’d ask him every at bat, but he couldn’t help me. He was as befuddled as I was. My swing looked fine. I wasn’t chasing bad pitches. I wasn’t dropping my hands. The best he could come up with was speculation.

“I think you’re pulling your foot.”

“You might be opening your hips too soon.”

“Maybe you should try a lighter bat.”

“Maybe you should try a heavier bat.”

“Try moving up in the box.”

“Try moving back in the box.”

I was tied in knots. Nothing worked. My average was plummeting and I was hurting the team. I didn’t think I was ever going to get my swing back. Hitting was my favorite thing in the world and I was dreading every at bat. Let that sink in a minute.

Our next game was in Cadillac (Michigan). They were a rival and I remember it well. We played double-headers to make scheduling easier and there would be ample opportunity to hit (or not hit, which is where my head was at). I was still batting clean-up and can only assume it was because Coach didn’t want me to have a total meltdown. He needed me to snap out of it.

My first at bat went as expected. I asked him to watch me hit and promptly grounded out to first base. I didn’t feel right in the box. I was uncomfortable – focused on the worse case scenario. The following at bat was headed that direction, only this time Coach wasn’t having it. We took the field together. I was leading off the inning and he was trotting to third. I began to ask the question he’d grown accustomed to and, without breaking stride, he interrupted me with five words I’ll never forget:

“Just hit the ball Nick.”

Thats it. No more. No less. He continued on to third and I peeled off to the on-deck circle, while the pitcher warmed up. I watched every pitch, hand-to-mitt, for the next several minutes, taking cuts and repeating the words in my head like a mantra. The rock-and-fire motion of the pitcher combined with the “thwack” of the ball hitting the mitt put me in a trance of sorts. I was calm by the time the umpire called me to the plate. I crossed the chalky white lines of the box with a confidence I hadn’t had in weeks. When I dug in, every muscle in my body coiled with purpose. And when I looked at the pitcher, all I could see was the ball. I felt different. I felt powerful.

The first pitch was a lefty’s dream – over the plate and just a bit inside. I gave it hell. I could tell it was a good one by the way the aluminum flexed on contact. The ball left the bat and shot into right field, taking all of my doubt and anxiety with it. The ball didn’t stop until it hit the top of the fence. I think I ended up with a double, but it felt like so much more. I might have been standing on second, but I was on top of the world. I followed that up with a handful of others and my confidence grew with every swing. I didn’t make another out that evening. The slump was over.

I realize this is an archery blog and I’ve spent significant time babbling on about baseball, but if you swap the bat for the longbow and the ball for the arrow, you’ll find a lesson as clear as spring water. While the details are important, sometimes you need to get out of your head and just shoot the damn target.

PhoenixStumping

TIP: If you are having an unsalvageable session, try putting the bow down and walking away. I’ve found this to be a better solution than breaking down the elements of your shooting and powering through. Doing so might just stretch a bad day into two or could form a bad habit that takes years to break.

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The Age of “Content”

 

 

Arrows

Its 2017 and the amount of traditional archery-related content on the Internet is astounding. Especially compared to what it was when I picked up a bow eight years ago.

Traditionalists hadn’t acknowledged the existence of Facebook as anything other than something “those damn kids” did. If you wanted to learn about bows or argue with like-minded people, you created a handle and joined a forum. That is the way we liked it and the traditional community had three of them: Trad Gang, the Leatherwall, and the Trad Rag. If you shot a bow and didn’t belong to one or all three, you either didn’t own a computer, or “were too busy shooting to mess with that nonsense”.

What we have now is shocking in comparison. New forums have emerged and even the crankiest of traditionalists have made the migration. You can’t go a week without getting added to an archery/bowhunting page or receiving a friend request from a stickbow-wielding stranger that stumbled on to your profile via Suggested Friends. And that is only two networking mediums.

When I started Life and Longbows in 2010, there was nary a stickbow blog to be found. Trust me. I knew how to look and looked often before purchasing a WordPress account. I was in my late 20s, had discovered something special, developed an insatiable hunger for it, and was eager to share my experiences. I wasn’t the best archer, and a novice hunter, but I could write a little bit and was willing to share. There was very little content out there. I could share a post with a terrible photo, not tag anything, and end up on the first page of any search engine with generic keywords like “traditional archery” or “longbow”.

Traditional blogs have multiplied since then, but the timing is terrible. Blogging is fading – like that ratty old hunting hat you keep on a hook in your closet for nostalgia. Most people don’t want to read anymore. They may skim, but prefer content they can multi-task around. You can listen to a podcast at your desk while you’re working, or in the car while you’re driving and no amount of words can describe a bear hunt as well as someone filming one first-hand. Reading something requires imagination and a full investment. We are becoming a society of people that is only half-invested. Sorry, that is the truth of the matter.

We are also experiencing a shift in our demographic. Traditional archery was an older man’s game, but they are getting older. Soon it will be a younger man’s game. It will have to be, or there won’t be anyone left. A friend of mine always says “We are one generation from extinction” and these words are more accurate than I would like them to be. But the community isn’t dying. Its just changing. Technology is improving and is more accessible than ever before. There is no choice but to change with it – our little community included.

And I believe that it is. Our ilk tends to give “millennials” (lets be honest, this is basically a stereotype for people between the age of 25-40 these days) a hard time, but that is the new demographic and it isn’t changing anytime soon. Young, passionate, tech-savvy millennials are doing more to drive our beloved past-time forward than most would care to admit. Trad Geeks, Twisted Stave Media, and The Push are doing wonderful things behind a microphone or through the lens of a camera. They are hungry, eager to teach, and work hard to produce good content. They work even harder to network and engage. And yes, social networking is work. Anyone who says different has obviously never done it. It is a grind.

So here is the real question…

Why aren’t I doing the same? I’m still passionate. I’m savvy. I’m a young marketing professional. I love and understand digital storytelling. And I’m an avid social media user. I also have nine years worth of experience (three of them as the President of the Michigan Longbow Association) and connections. Why aren’t I podcasting? Where are my videos? Why am I not feverishly pushing modern content to the stickbow shooting masses like I did when I began?

Why am I writing this post?

This question has singed the synapses of my brain for over a month. I like to understand things that bother me and I don’t understand this feeling. I suppose this post is my attempt to verbalize it.

I once read about the phases of a hunter. I do not recall the publication, but it discussed the progression from someone making their very first kill, to killing often, to only killing trophy animals, and eventually to not killing at all. It was a fantastic description of the cycle of experience that hunters face as they get older and I think it correlates to what I’m currently experiencing.

I started out wide-eyed and wonderfully overwhelmed. I began to immerse myself in the culture, meeting and engaging with as many people as possible and trying to be somebody in this community. I then trimmed that group down to certain people and created my own social circle. Now I find myself pulling away from that circle and creating an even smaller one. The desire to “be somebody” is no longer there and I find myself wanting to keep some of my experiences closer to the chest.

The drive to learn and share is still there, but not to the degree it used to be and I’m not sure why that is. Did I burn myself somewhere in the middle of my journey? Possibly. Am I lacking the time I used to have to devote to this area of my life? Definitely. But I’d like to think there is more to this than lame excuses.

Part of me believes I’ve passed the torch (not that the aforementioned have any clue as to who I am or are even familiar with this blog) to better hosts. Online traditional content is in good hands and I don’t have the desire to be the host of that content beyond what I am already doing. I love to write, but only about certain things. I tried my hand at product reviews, but that felt like a job. I did an interview or two, but enjoyed the process more than the product. I wrote my share of “How To” articles, but realized I’m far too unorthodox, impulsive, and sloppy to tell people how to do things. There are others who do this far better than I ever could.

DadShooting

I write to capture interactions and experiences. That is what Life and Longbows is. It took me seven years to figure that out – to figure me out – and I am satisfied with that realization. Furthermore, I just want to enjoy all of this. I don’t want to tinker with gear or push product or rant about why hybrid longbows are better than D-style longbows on a podcast. I don’t want to feel obligated to bring a camera with me everywhere I go and miss important stuff while I’m trying to operate it. I don’t want to have deadlines.

Looking at an experience as “content” is exhausting and it takes a little bit of the magic out of it. That doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to. The beauty of an arrow in flight and the people that witness it are what matters the most to me now. Appreciating it fully means sharing it when and how I want to.

This is how I like to do it and will continue to as long as there are people who wish to read it.

To those who have been and continue to do so…thank you.

I’m also in the process of doing something I’ve always dreamed of doing – writing a book. It will be titled Life and Longbows in tribute to this site and will contain a mixture of work from stories published here, in other archery publications, and new content I haven’t yet released. It will be available for Kindle as well as print (in limited copies) and I am hoping to release it this winter. Stay tuned!

 

 

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