Fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself. – Eugene Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery
They call it a “release” because it is.
Archery, when boiled down to its simplest principles, is about tension and release. You put tension on the string – you release it. You store tension in your back – you release it. This is done over-and-over again until you lose yourself in the action, which the most enlightened of us would argue is the point of the exercise.
Energy, after all, isn’t the only thing released when you loose an arrow. You release yourself as well.
For whatever psychological reason, people store tension. Some are able to deal with their tension without anxiety or aid. They are blessed. I am not among them. I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I store tension until I snap, which hurts everyone around me. I’m not violent, but you don’t have to be to hurt people you care about. Words can most certainly be weapons.
Maybe thats why I shoot the way I do – fluid and quick – like a snap of the fingers. The arrow is gone the moment my mouth tastes leather. A wise man or woman with degrees in applicable fields might say I’m attempting to “release the tension” – and in a hurry. That might be it. Maybe I can’t get rid of the stuff fast enough. Relief was the justification for all of this anyway. I picked up a bow in the name of stress. “Stress relief” was the reason I gave my beautiful and understanding wife.
“Yeah honey, it’ll be great. You know how work has me all amped up. This would be good for me. Plus, it helps you focus. You know how I need focus, right? I’d only do it once in awhile.”
I’m not proud of any of this. I’ve never thought it was “okay”. I hate myself post-explosion and have spent the last decade clinging to coping mechanisms like archery to prevent them. Jessica has been patient with all of them, because she knows I am trying. Some call them “hobbies”, but that isn’t what they are to me. They’re a life vest. I’m not able to let things go without help, which is probably the reason I jump into things so quickly when I find something I enjoy.
The aforementioned therapist might say this is unhealthy behavior and that I’m “self medicating”. Maybe so. I am most certainly addicted. There is no denying that. Archery has become a major part of my life. Its been a priority when it shouldn’t have and I have continually sacrificed for it and others like me. Still, if I’m going to be addicted to something, there are worse things than a wooden longbow and a handful of arrows. These simple tools continue to be a bright spot when things get dark. They have taught me more about life than any book or any teacher: honor and integrity; ethics and morality; pride and humility…
Tension and release.
I can think of no better analogy for life. It’s as if the lesson was thrown beneath our feet but only a small, eccentric portion of the population will ever see it.
I am thankful I’m among them.
Has archery ever helped you get through tough times? Feel free to share below. And remember, while archery is a wonderful thing, there is no substitute for talking.