On the fifth day of each month, 5 on the 5th shares five of something that I like or recommend to readers. Whether it’s five items that share a common theme, or five reasons why I like the topic at hand, this monthly meme gives us an opportunity to talk about other subjects that aren’t normally discussed here at the blog.
Some of you might remember that I was taking a beginner’s archery course over the fall and early winter. Well, the final class was a few Saturdays ago, so I wanted to share what I learned over those 10 weeks. And what would a post on archery be without some GIFs of famous fictional archers? 😉
So, here are Five Things I Learned from Archery Lessons!
Lesson #1: Archery is HARD.
Legolas, Katniss, and other screen characters make it look easy. But once I attended my first archery class, I realized there’s a LOT more to archery than holding a bow and shooting an arrow at the target. Every aspect of your posture – your stance, the position of your feet, the way you hold your shoulders, your grip on the bow and the string, and much more – has to be just right. Take a look at this diagrammed breakdown of the steps at Learn Archery. It’s a intricate, painstaking process – and if the archer forgets the smallest detail, it can throw off the shot completely.
Lesson #2: Archery requires patience, perseverance, a positive attitude, and a good sense of humor.
This is a no-brainer, thanks to Lesson #1. And if you have trouble remembering the details of each step (like I did), archery can be a real test of patience with yourself. However, my instructors reminded me to take my time with the draw-and-loading process, even if it meant going slower than the other students. So I did, and found I had better luck when I paced myself and didn’t overthink my shots. Gradually my skills and aim improved; and by the end of the course, I was proud that I hadn’t given up (and that I’d gotten a few bulls-eyes, too!).
As for the sense of humor? Let’s just say it prevents you from getting too discouraged over missed shots and other mistakes. It’s especially contagious if your classmates share their funny sides during target practice and in between rounds. None of us goofed off with our gear (we didn’t want to make things dangerous!), but by telling jokes and being appropriately silly we were able to ease each other’s tensions and anxieties about learning archery.
Oh, and the instructors had their own brand of humor, too. Sometimes they let us shoot at dinosaur printouts or donated stuffed animals for targets – and that ALWAYS brought out my competitive spirit. 😉
OK… Now that I’ve disturbed you with that last bit… (*blushes*)
Lesson #3: Archery is a great workout for your arms and shoulders!
This sport requires a good deal of endurance and upper-body strength. Especially when your archery class is 2 hours long and you’re actively practicing for most of that time, you’re bound to feel some strain or soreness in your shoulders, arms, and hands after the first few sessions. But like any other exercise, it gives you a certain pride and sense of accomplishment to know your muscles are benefiting from something fun.
That said, the following bits of archery gear can help you reduce muscle strain or protect yourself during archery:
- Use a fingertab or shooting glove to protect your fingers against the bowstring and ensure a smooth arrow release. (Our instructors gave us fingertabs during our first class.)
- Wear an arm guard on the arm holding the bow. This protects the inside of your forearm in case the bow or bowstring hits it.
- Practice your form and build up arm strength outside of class using rubber exercise bands or archery-specific stretchbands.
Lesson #4: Trying your character’s hobbies and activities gives you a new appreciation for that character and her strengths.
Why did I sign up for archery lessons in the first place? My WIP’s protagonist. Eva is a skilled archer, and her talents with the bow and arrow come in handy throughout the novel. However, just because Eva’s an archer doesn’t mean I was one myself. So, I figured that the best way to understand her strengths (and to portray archery accurately in the story) was by trying it myself. In other words, fun research! Yay!
In addition, once lessons began and I learned Lessons #1 through #3, I realized what I had made Eva capable of. A character needs more than physical strength and endurance to be a competent archer – they also need patience, persistence, discipline, and the ability to concentrate. Thankfully these were traits I had already considered for Eva’s character, but now I know how truly valuable they are.
Lesson #5: Traditional bows are strung only when they’re going to be used.
In addition to practicing archery to understand how it works, I also asked my instructors archery-related questions. One thing I discovered as a result was that traditional bows (e.g., longbows, recurve bows) should never, ever be strung all the time. Rather, bowstrings should only be put on right before use. This prevents the strings from damage or breaking when it’s not being used. It’s a different story for the modern compound bow, which uses a cable-and-pulley system to pull the bowstring and bend the bow’s limbs. (FYI: I used a recurve bow for my lessons.) Either way, I found this tidbit fascinating, since you never see film characters removing or tying on new bowstrings. (*tsk tsk Hollywood*)
BONUS: What Else Do Writers Need to Know About Archery?
If you’ve never taken archery before and you’re writing about sharpshooting characters, the answer is… LOTS. There are other facts regarding terminology, equipment, and “myths” that are crucial for writers to know, especially when working on stories set in medieval or historical periods.
A great place to start your archery research is this post at Ink and Quills. Kaitlin’s points and lingo are spot-on, and she includes some great archery videos and lots of additional links. However, the best way to research archery for your book is by trying it yourself. 😉
Have you taken archery lessons before? What other activities (sports or otherwise) were you wary of trying in the past but thoroughly enjoyed when you gave them a shot? And for any writers out there, does your WIP include archery or characters who use a bow and arrows?