Archery - Sport, Zen Art, Meditation...

by Daniel Wiesner, OMICRON electronics GmbH, Austria

You raise your bow, nock the arrow and start aiming for the target. It is a moment of concentration and harmony until you open your hand and the arrow starts flying into the direction of the target... this is my favorite hobby.

Imagine you are in a beautiful forest somewhere in the Austrian alps, equipped with a wooden bow, a few arrows and a map showing you where to find targets. It is a beautiful day and the only noise you can hear is the rustling of leaves in the wind and the twittering of some birds.  The last phone call and e-mail seem to be ages away. 
As you walk through the forest you find a small glade and see a target in the form of a (synthetic) deer standing in front of a tree. You raise your bow, nock the arrow and start aiming for the target. 
It is a moment of concentration and harmony until you open your hand and the arrow starts flying into the direction of the target… this is my favorite hobby.

How it began: Several years ago, my younger brother started with archery and bought his first bow, a nice traditional and handmade longbow.  I thought “Archery, how cool is that?” and went with him to different archery places.  In Vorarlberg, the most western state of Austria and close to Switzerland, we are in the lucky situation of having a variety of archery target ranges and field courses in the region.
Soon I had bought my own first bow and some of my friends started with archery as well. Starting archery is not easy since the right technique needs to be learned. It is recommended to have someone experienced around and start at an archery range with standard targets at measured distances and a stationary shooting line. I made the mistake of starting with field archery in rough terrain which resulted in many lost or damaged arrows, because I hit a stone or a tree (good arrows are not so cheap by the way)

The places I usually go to are field archery courses in the Austrian mountains with various targets in the form of 3D animal models. In some countries, bow hunting is allowed and 3D archery is used as a hunting practice as well. For me personally, hunting has never been a topic.
What I enjoy is the nature and varying targets and conditions such as changing weather, light, uneven terrain etc., which makes archery very exciting and challenging. Somehow, it is also a mixture of hiking and archery. You hike through different beautiful landscapes with and without woods and look for targets which are marked on a map.
Usually there are not many people around and it is very quiet. The dimensions of the course are large and if you want to finish all the targets you need to walk several kilometers.
I really like my job, but sometimes it is good to “de-digitize” and go out into nature. Afterwards I can return with loaded batteries back into our quite hectic but also exciting world.

The required equipment:  Basically, there are three main types of bows (leaving the crossbows aside for the moment).

  • A recurve bow is my bow of choice and recommended for beginners. It is a bow with limbs that curve away which results in a higher energy (and speed of the arrow) compared to straight-limbed bows. Usually the limbs are made out of several layers with different materials (carbon, wood, fiberglass…). Also, Olympic archery events are with recurve bows
  • Longbows are kind of traditional bows which are typically made out of wood and are pretty large. Typically, they are more difficult to shoot compared to other bows and they require more training and patience
  • Last but not least there are modern compound bows that use a levering system with cables and pulleys. Once the bow is drawn, it does not require much strength to hold it until the arrow is shot, which allows for high accuracy. Often, compound bows are enhanced with magnifying sights and release aids

For me personally, the charm of archery is the difficulty and the challenge of hitting the target and I prefer a recurve or a longbow instead of a compound bow with its mechanical advantage.
Choosing the right bow is important. I would not recommend ordering a bow online but going to a shop and getting professional advice (or asking an archery club for advice). The size and the draw weight of the bow are important aspects. Also, it is recommended to shoot a bow before you buy it, just to see how it feels.
Apart from the bow, the right arrow needs to be chosen. There are different arrow materials such as wood, carbon, aluminum and fiberglass and the arrow spine and length are of importance. If you go to a good archery shop they measure your personal draw length and cut the arrows accordingly. Alternatively, and considering that you know your draw length and the pull weight of the bow, arrows can be ordered online as well.

Beside the bow and arrows also a bow stringer, a string wax, a quiver, a shooting glove and an armguard are part of the recommended equipment.
Regarding costs, getting all the required equipment including a good bow is not cheap. On the other hand, the entry fee for archery courses is usually not high and a good bow lasts very long. So comparably I would say that you get a lot back for a long time after investing into the required gear.

Archery and meditational aspects:  Archery is one of the most challenging sports. Beside practice and the right technique, it is essential to stay calm and focused. If I go shooting and I have a lot of things on my mind respectively I’m distracted, I will have to buy a new set of arrows, because they finish beside the target in the hard ground or in branches. This way, archery alone is already a kind of (maybe unconscious) meditation. What fits very well together is archery and Zen. Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism which originated in India and China and spread to other Asian countries such as Japan.
It is difficult to describe what Zen is, but a central aspect of it is meditation. What I understand by meditation is the full awareness and presence in the moment including observation of the breathing and mind. In these regards, Zen means being aware of what you are doing without distraction. Zen meditation can bring quietness and stillness to someone’s mind, relief from stress and anxiety and bring inner peace and happiness. This kind of meditation can be done for example in a sitting or lying position, but for me it works best during the practice of archery.

There are several good books available which describe the topic in more detail. One of them is Eugen Herrigel's book “Zen in the Art of Archery” from which I got the following quote: “The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”
Real masters of archery shoot the arrow without much control of their mind. This means their body and mind have practiced the procedure so many times, that it is done without real effort and control.
The above-mentioned book describes this topic very well and gives a good introduction into Zen and Zen practices combined with archery.  In any case, independently if archery is done with or without the idea of meditation, I believe that the required concentration has calming effects of its own and that it is a very good training, not only physically wise but also with regard to the mind.

A great sport also for families and friends:  What is a lot of fun is archery with family and friends. Usually archery places provide a score sheet for competitive shooting.
With 3D archery, all participants shoot one after another until the target is hit but with a maximum of three arrows. The more arrows that are required to hit the target, the less points you get. Also, the targets have scoring areas, or scoring rings which provide different numbers of points depending on where the arrow hits.
After the course has been finished, the points on all scoring cards are counted and the one with the highest amount of points wins.
What is very important is that everyone is, and should be aware of a few safety rules, since although broadheads are not allowed but only target points, the arrows of bows with higher draw weights can potentially cause life threatening injuries. With a few basic rules archery is very safe though.
The last couple of years I have had the chance to practice archery on three different continents and I always met very friendly and helpful people.

A great experience for me has been archery in Australia with a completely different landscape compared to Europe and quite challenging temperatures during summer time as well.
Looking back, I am very happy that I found archery as a hobby which does not only make a lot of fun, but provides a good balance to my professional life as well. 


Daniel Wiesner graduated from the Technical College of Bregenz (Austria) with a focus on Electrical Engineering (2008) and received his BSc degree in Engineering and Management from the University of Applied Sciences in Vorarlberg (2015). He joined OMICRON electronics GmbH in Austria in 2008 and has held different positions including the leadership of the technical support team for protection relay and substation communication testing since then. Presently he is working as an Area Sales Manager for OMICRON with responsibility for Austria, Hungary and key accounts in other countries

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