Getting my Katniss on
Becoming a Hunger Games archery warrior: Finding Zen and my inner badass with abow
Maybe that's why Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games are such a sensation, with a trio of bestselling books and the movie earning over half a billion dollars worldwide so far.
Usually action heroines have ass-kicking skills that are awesome but unattainable, like round-house kicking Buffy Summers or the sword-wielding bride in Kill Bill. Katniss' skill with a bow and arrow is more approachable, in part because it's originally a survival skill, not a tool for taking out enemies.
I got in touch with James Loesch because his website provided sufficient evidence his wardrobe does not consist entirely of camouflage. This was reassuring.
It turns out there are a few people in Houston offering archery lessons, but I got in touch with James Loesch because his website provided sufficient evidence his wardrobe does not consist entirely of camouflage. This was reassuring. Also he had all the equipment I'd need; all I had to do was show up.
Loesch has also won 13 national championships as a competitive archer, including two NCAA championships, and he told me that since he began teaching archery in 1996 he's taught several other nationally-ranked archers.
If I was nervous about handling an actual weapon, my fears dissipated when I arrived a few minutes early to my lesson at the narrow practice range tucked in the back of West Houston Archery. The archers ahead of me were two adorable siblings who could not have been more than 6 years old. They were shooting at the normal-sized targets 20 yards away, but seemed to have only vague concerns for form and posture, hitting the ceiling once or twice.
This was good. The bar for not embarrassing myself was low.
Before picking up a bow, Loesch had me determine which eye was my dominant eye by using my hands as a makeshift scope. I was sure I'd be left eye dominant, since that is my only eye with perfect vision. I was wrong. My right eye, in which things get blurry at a distance greater than 10 feet, is the one that calls the shots. Awesome.
After that, there were just a couple posture pointers: Feet even and sideways to the target, head straight up, elbow high. There are some extremely fancy bows, but I started on a basic Olympic model, with just a handle, string and scope. I attached the bow to the string in between two braces (small notches that mark the right spot) and was ready to go.
Using three fingers, I pulled the string back, and let the arrow rip . . . into the beginner target about 15 feet in front of me. My first arrow landed left of the target, but the subsequent arrows got closer and actually made it into the outer rings.
Loesch tweaked my form as I shot, reminding me to tuck my thumb down, to fully extend the bow back until my fingers are against the side of my face and to loosen my death-grip on the handle. My biggest challenge was a tendency to tuck my head down towards the arrow, as if I was shooting a gun. In archery it's important to keep your head straight up to establish a consistent base and know where to set your scope — leaning down means the sight path through the scope is off, and my arrows would land high.
I thought archery would be a good way to channel aggression, that I'd be picturing various ex-boyfriends' faces in the bullseye. Instead it's like therapy.
To remind myself to stand tall, I would shake my head out before raising the bow and emulate the "proud warrior" yoga position. It sounds obvious, but for me it was a breakthrough, and my arrows started to sail into tighter clumps, landing in the heart of the target several times even after I advanced to a 20-yard distance.
I came in not knowing what to expect, but as I repeated the motion I discovered that archery is awesome. It's similar to golf in that you are only competing against yourself, trying to find the perfect form for a beautiful shot, but golf can't match the feeling of power that comes from feeling an arrow whip out of your hands.
I thought archery would be a good way to channel aggression, that I'd be picturing various ex-boyfriends' faces in the bullseye. Instead it's like therapy. With the focus on finding my shot, my mind cleared of all other thoughts and I felt immersed in a Zen-like calm.
"We've got another one hooked," Loesch said.
I won't exactly be representing the U.S. in the London Olympics this summer, but I liked the progress I made during my lesson and I'm excited to see how far I can take it. And if somehow we slide into a post-apocalyptic, dystopian state, well, I'm slightly more prepared than the rest of you.