The most romantic idea is that a martial artist, a samurai, commits his entire focus to one technique – live or die – to vanquish his enemy. But this thinking is not entirely accessible to an archer, especially a high-level sportsman that has to shoot multiple shots over an entire competition.
I will present three lessons for the modern day archer taken from martial arts strategy.
Lesson One – Winning Strategically
The first lesson is from the idea of ikken Hisatsu. This is the concept of ‘one strike, one kill.’ Meaning you train yourself to such a level that with one blow you are able to destroy the opponent – utterly and completely. In a recent discussion I had with my friend, a weapons instructor in the UK, he said ikken hisatsu is a great idea when using a weapon, but is a misleading concept when applied to an unarmed martial art. To an extent, I agree with him, but ‘one strike, one kill’ for my art is not a gimmick. You do not just ‘pull’ this rabbit out of your hat, aim and destroy the opponent. ‘One strike, one kill’ means you set up the opponent in order for an opportunity to use a powerful technique so that he will not pose a threat to you again. In a combat environment where you have one group against the other, this makes for a compelling winning strategy.
For archers, ‘one strike, one kill’ prompts you to look at your competitive setting and to see how you have to set yourself up to win with each arrow, with each challenge, and with each new opponent. This is a top-down strategic way to look at how you need to prepare yourself in order to set yourself up to win. It is not just shooting a perfect arrow; it is about shooting in order to win. Few archers take the time to look at it from this point of view, prefering to look at equipment setup, number of arrows fired, score for the day, etc. All of these are important, but not so important as understanding that you can win and you need to prepare yourself for that challenge!
Lesson Two – Details and Structure
Martial arts is all about structure! Martial arts is not at all about structure! A martial artist worth his salt would know about 12+ kata (patterns). Each kata would house about 25 techniques. Each technique would have about 2-3 different applications and drills. This equates to about 1000 different moves, not even mentioning the more basic skills that a practitioner would have to know to even learn each kata. With this amount of detail, doesn’t a Black Belt get analysis paralysis? Not on your life! Analysis paralysis is met with immediate chastisement in a very dynamic environment where your opponent is out to strike you. The lesson here is that the structure of the martial artist is not the core essence of the art. The art has to be objective based – meaning the martial artist needs to know that there is a changing environment out there and all of the structure he has learned needs to be driven by his goals – striking the opponent, blocking and covering incoming strikes, and dealing with other opponents.
Likewise, an archer that obsesses over breathing, or the way of pulling the string, or the feel of the drawhand against the cheekbone, or the movement of the clicker is getting it ALL WRONG. Focusing on the details will get you killed. Your job when you are standing on the line is to shoot an arrow into the goal. Of course you need to prepare the shot correctly, get your breathing right, and draw the string back correctly. But the most important thing of all is only to aim and shoot – that is your job. Focus on your muscles or your clicker and you will falter.
Lesson Three – Timing
This is an issue again awashed with detail. You can strike the opponent before he launches an attack, during his attack, and just after his attack. Timing issues in the martial arts are also different for the various distances you engage the opponent in. For a more enlightened response, all the martial artist has to do is to strike or block when it is required. All your training is for nought if you apply the wrong drill to whatever the opponent throws your way. You need to choose the right one and choose it at the right time. This means the martial artist needs superb reflexes, mental speed, and a great deal of experience.
For the archer, timing was chosen as the last but very important lesson. You have two and a half minutes. Do you quickly shoot your arrows? Do you wait for your muscles to rest up? Do you space them all out evenly? Some of this will depend on how you train, and the circumstances you find yourself in at the competition. But when you’re standing at the line, the main lesson is that you must shoot when it is the correct time for you to shoot. The mind is set a parameter of two and a half minutes. If you are focusing on your job of shooting the goal, then you need to allow yourself to decide when is the best time to shoot that arrow. Not any faster, and not any slower. It is the same for practice as well as for competition. Timing is when you are ready to shoot your goal!