I’m going to start with an apology because the title here is a teeny bit misleading, but I liked the sound of it so much that its staying. I’m taking a leaf out of Thierry’s book and being a little arrogant. Author’s prerogative or poetic license, whatever you want to call it. Let me elaborate for you – at school these past couple of weeks we’ve been focussing on superheroes and villains, I’ve been using Batman as an example a LOT in the last week or so, hence he is at the forefront of my mind at this present moment. However, this post is actually about another first-time experience for me – archery (hence the Robin Hood reference!).
So, for people who actually know me, I’ve never been the best sportsperson. In an effort to improve my posture and balance, my parents sent me to a grand total of two ballet lessons when I was a very small child, but it was a lost cause. I did learn to Indian dance when I was a bit older, in traditional style, classical, and Bollywood too, and I kept it up for much of my childhood and teenage years. I’m very much not a cyclist, as described in an amusing fashion here. I did play squash for a very brief time when I was still at school and I wasn’t completely hopeless. I went through a phase of playing badminton with my mum a few years back, but for some reason or another we stopped going, so apparently I have some hand-eye coordination skills, or maybe I just like hitting things. I had never kayaked before this day, but found I was okay at it. At one of the schools I teach at, rather than just English, we cover a version of the British Curriculum which also includes Maths, Science, Art, Music and P.E. This term, we are improving our football skills, and whilst I wouldn’t stand a chance with anyone my own size, I can accurately pass a ball to an 8-year-old and maybe even tackle them if I needed to. But only because I’m approximately a foot taller than them!
So anyway, I digress, I turned up for this archery session last weekend with very little expectation for myself, which I’ve decided is the best way to do pretty much anything these days. That way, you can’t be disappointed and in actual fact, I was pleasantly surprised by my abilities. I knew I would ache the following day, but I was very wrong about which body parts would hurt! I thought that the arm doing the work (pulling the string back) would ache the most. In reality, it was the arm holding the bow and my shoulders. Though that may have been due to my improper technique.
I learned that as a right-hander, you stand with your legs just wider than shoulder-width apart, facing 90o to the right from where the target is. You hold the bow with your left hand, elbow tucked in, perfectly straight, pointing in the direction of your target. You secure the arrow directly under the knot on the string and then, from two fingers distance underneath the knot, you pull the string back with three fingers of your right hand until you physically cannot pull it any more, taking care to keep your back straight. Aim with the knot at your eye and release. This description is really wordy, so take a look at this picture of my friend who has a profile that is equal parts beautiful and bad-ass (incidentally, she also re-pierced my nose for me, though she used a very different set of instruments and technique for that particular activity!).
The set-up of the archery field was pretty cool, even though they are still in the process of finishing the construction of the site. They are still building a great shaded area where you will stand to aim your arrows. We were taking it in turns to hide under the canopy of a tree to escape the hot morning sun, which wasn’t ideal, but we were provided with iced water, so that was great!
When we first arrived, we were all given a bow that would be suitable for our strength. Yannis, the lovely Austrian guy who is the main man running the show, told us that many archery clubs do not cater for beginners very well. Most people try archery with a bow that is too tough for them and get little training so are put off for life. It was quite amusing, because at the beginning when we were all being given an appropriate bow, we were all still a little nervous, and as Yannis went down the line of expats, he was assigning bows to the guys first, and then sizing the girls up to see who would be capable of pulling which bow. He picked up a small-ish (I say -ish, because it was taller than I am, but I’m only 5ft2…) and said “This is a weaker bow”, looking in the direction of us smaller girls. I put my hand up, unashamed of my weakness! Oh my goodness, this thing was beautiful. The handle was wooden, but ergonomically designed to offer a good grip. There was a small rest for the arrow to sit on, so you wouldn’t cut the delicate skin between your thumb and forefinger. It was heavy, but in a sturdy, manageable kind of way, like I knew I was holding it, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to drop it when holding it outstretched in front of me for any period of time. The bow I was using didn’t have a sight attached to it, so I can’t comment as to whether they were helpful or a hindrance but there were a few of the stronger bows that did have them.
When I got home (or rather, when I was doing the research before writing this post) I Googled the types of bows we were using. I had an interesting conversation with my parents on Skype after the archery event and I came to the conclusion that they were recurve bows. My Dad has done a little archery in his time and had assumed that I had used some kind of semi-automated device that meant I didn’t need to pull too hard. The only analogy I can think of right now is the effort needed to work a car with power-assisted steering, compared to an old school manual vehicle that gave you muscles every time you needed to turn a corner. I laughed rather hysterically at this point because that could not have been further from the truth. I think I gained respect points from my Dad that afternoon when I told him they were the real thing!
Anyway, I am again going off on a tangent (jeez, the word count on this post is mounting quickly… sorry! Have another picture to make up for it). Once we were all paired up with an appropriate bow, armed with three arrows each, we trooped out to the field, where Yannis and his crew demonstrated the proper use of the equipment. The first arrow pierced the board with ease. I think my instructor was as surprised as I was! My first three shots were progressively better and the last one was pretty central! Look at my board!
One of Yannis’ team has done a lot of research into the ancient practice of archery in Cambodia. Like a lot of skills that are dying out due to the development of newer technologies and automation, the true art of archery has all but gone from modern Cambodia. Nevertheless, where a few loyal people keep at it, there is still hope. We had a demonstration by this talented fellow who made it look so easy to shoot an arrow, but I imagine he has had years of practice. He told us of the different bows that would have been used in the time of the Angkor Era, over 1000 years ago, describing the differences between the King’s bow and a simple soldier’s bow. When it came to taking pictures with the drone we had flying about, I used one of these for photographic purposes purely because they were absolutely beautiful. I didn’t even take an arrow, because I didn’t think that you’d be able to see it in the shot and I had little to no chance of pulling the string. But even funnier than that, I managed to pick it up a hold it upside down. Classic Deena. I always thank my Indian skin in these situation because I very rarely blush, although to be fair, we had been outside for so long that we were all sweaty and looking a little red in the face due to a combination of catching the sun and just being out of breath.
Once we had mastered aiming and firing, the boards were moved out of the way to reveal a wonderful menagerie of animals that were in no way to scale at all! Can you see the giant mosquito just behind the red fox? And what about the stegosaurus just in front of the kissing frogs? Either my primary school dinosaur education and memories of Jurassic Park are slightly lacking in clarity, or those frogs had some kind of growth hormone injected, because they were pretty much the same size! I am not poking fun, I swear! Genuinely, this part of the session was definitely the most fun, and I overheard a lady saying to her friend “Don’t tell anyone what you’re aiming for, and then if you hit something, you can just make out that it was completely intentional!”. I liked this advice so much, so immediately began using this technique. It worked well for the most part, but kind of fell flat when I was aiming for the velociraptor’s torso, undershot it slightly, the arrow hit the ground, bounced between the kissing frogs and got the dinosaur in the leg. I mean, I have a way with words, and my secondary school drama teacher did manage to help me deliver lines in a convincing manner, but even I couldn’t claim that I had intended that to happen!
A little after this part, a few of us went for a quick washroom break, and I took the opportunity to chat to Yannis and floated the idea of writing a blogpost about my morning’s experience. He let me into a few secrets and after checking I could take pictures and put them on the internet, I have for you, a Siem Reap Exclusive! This archery field is just the beginning, and there are super awesome plans for an interactive “hunt” through the dense forest not too far from the centre of town. Each group would be accompanied by a member of the crew who knew where the next rubber animal was located. Then there could be some kind of scoring system to add a bit of competition amongst the “hunters”, the details of which I’m not privy to at this point in time. Unfortunately though, now that we are in the midst of the mini rainy season, this particular area is very boggy and more than a little waterlogged, so construction plans have had to be put on hold for the time being, but envisaging an official opening sometime in the beginning of the tourist high season, I can see this is going to be a new must-do activity in town for expats and tourists alike. In fact, I’d go so far to say that when I finally make it back home and settle down, I might even take up archery as a hobby. Or maybe I should stick to something a little less violent like badminton… we’ll just have to see.