Swords, Arrows and Age

on April 15, 2012 in Misc

So when I had my second archery lesson on Tuesday I  learned a couple cool things.

First off, remember that I’m working with a simple traditional bow and not one of those fancy (and expensive) compound ones that look like a steampunk weapon.

Anyway, when your fingers release the arrow it doesn’t fly in a perfectly straight line or even a smooth arc to the target.  Instead it “porpoises” before straightening out.  And yes, that’s the word the instructor uses.  What I really like is how from my viewpoint as an archer I can see that slight, split-second side-to-side wobble that you can’t detect as a  spectator and movies never show you.  But it’s there, and that porpoising has to be part of the calculation for your aim.  Kind of a Zen moment, for me, to see this movement and for time to be a little suspended as I witness it.

Second, according to the guys who run the archery place, the best shot in Colorado was the old man at the other end of the shooting range.  And I mean a white-haired, shuffling, hunched over gentleman.  From what I could see he was indeed one hell of an archer, but few people outside the place know it because he has no interest in competing and never goes to tournaments.  He just shoots arrows for love of the sport.  Kind of a beautiful purity to this attitude, isn’t there?

What I really love is that I’m finding more and more how age is no barrier to excelling at a sport.   Take fencing.  This month I’m having some private lessons from a gold medalist Olympian (I LOVE telling people that because it sounds so glamorous).  He’s middle-aged and can whip any younger man or woman in the place.  There’s another Olympian at the Center who also gives lessons, I know he’s past 50, and you so don’t want to face him on a strip because he’ll nail you before you see him coming.  Finally there’s a third instructor who’s in his late sixties, has had hip replacement surgery, and he can’t be bothered with deep lunges when all he has to do is parry and disengage and thrust the blade with such speed and accuracy you might as well call the bout 15 – 0 in his favor and go home.

See, the thing about action hero stuff like archery and fencing is that they’re highly tactical sports.  They’re not so much about muscles and endurance (granted, the best fencers are in fantastic cardio shape) as they are about being psychologically in control of oneself.  The best of them stay calm.  They size up their opponent or target.  In fencing, they use small, sharp, accurate movements and techniques that have been honed to perfection over the years.  No, they can’t compete against younger, fresh Olympic-level competitors.  But as athletes and masters of their arts they’re still damn fine.

You know how in movies and TV shows the revered martial arts masters are usually old guys (or women)?  Sometimes this isn’t a romantic myth.  Sometimes being old and a master of something is reality.


10 Responses to “Swords, Arrows and Age”

  1. Robert L. Read says:

    Great post—though I might add that even in strength and endurance, old people do better than we used to believe. Runners in particular degrade very slowly—by 90 you’re going to be slow but at 55 you barely have a disadvantage (which means that I have few excuses!)

    I competed int a charity Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament and got owned—mostly because I couldn’t stay calm and collected and size up my opponents as you are suggesting.

    Fencing doesn’t get enough respect—it’s wonder that you can learn from an Olympian!

    I love the archetype of the ancient sage who can kick your ass with chi waves from his little finger or something.

  2. Helena says:

    Robert – Years ago I saw a PBS documentary about life in China, and I’m not making this up: Bill Moyers interviewed a young American studying under a very elderly chi master, and the American demonstrated how this master seemed to have force field around him that you could literally press against. Wish I could remember the name of the documentary and see it again.

  3. As I was reading this I was thinking about the martial arts. Control of oneself is something a lot of people need.

  4. Helena says:

    Alex — And in fencing, that’s my weakness because I can be too impulsive.

  5. But could the old man take Katniss? That’s the real question. I need to get more active with sports now that I’m 40. It’ll help me stay in shape.

  6. Helena says:

    Michael — I’ve gotta concede that Katniss could beat anyone, she’s so good. And you’re 40? You really look so young in your photo.

  7. Hart says:

    Oh, excellent! That’s a great skill to learn–one of them that I think you can start late and still master, unlike many athletic ones. I had archery in PE in Jr. High and always sort of liked it, though I think it would be better after getting some calluses on the finger tips.

  8. Helena says:

    Hart – There are archery gloves you can get to prevent the calluses. Right now I’m not using one but that could change if I start shooting more often.

  9. Old Kitty says:

    Blimey. What else can I say? Blimey!! I am beyond super duper awe and am staying very firmly by your side when venturing in dark alleyways!

    I am so not worthy! Take care

  10. Helena says:

    Old Kitty — But you’re the worthy published author! But yes, I can be well-armed when in a dark alley.