I know I’ve said this before but I have always thought of the Paget de Vesey shoot as marking the start of the NFAS outdoor season. True there are shoots throughout the year now but I still think of it as the start of the shooting year. For those interested you can have a read of a past shoot report here. Surprisingly there wasn’t any rain or even snow this year, which in the past has marked Paget shoots. Actually it didn’t really turn that cold until the afternoon.
In this, the last one of the series I’m going to be talking about shooting form, physical and mental fitness. It may seem strange leaving this bit to last, but there is some logic to my madness. I think, well I hope!
Shooting technique / form
There are countless resources available offering archers advise on shooting technique or shooting form, along with proposed steps for improvements. Such resources include YouTube videos, podcasts, articles and books that explore different techniques for improvements and I have to say all are useless!
Yes you read that right, I said useless, even the stuff I write here, where I try and help you are completely useless.
Simple, they are useless unless you can apply the rights one for you. You are drawing the bow, making the decisions, executing the shot. Not the person who wrote the advice or shot the video.
So remembering this I have a question for you. Can you list all the steps you go through when preparing and executing the shot? This shot sequence might be 4 steps or 14 but the steps should be the same with every shot you take, i.e. repeatable for every shot.
If you can’t describe the steps you take, how can you know or remember what you need to do to be able to repeat it, and therefore how can you be consistent? In the last article I mentioned how having confidence in your kit helps with consistency as it reduces variables. Well confidence in your form and technique also helps.
When coaching archers, whether newbies or experienced I ask them what steps they go through, what is their shooting cycle? I then get them to write the steps down and review them after each shot in the session, adding or modifying it until it covers all the steps they perform. This gives them a base line to follow and return to when things go wrong. It may sound long winded and not very instinctive, but it works for focusing the mind. There is one lady archer I’ve had the pleasure in coaching who followed my advice and has noted her steps down. I know she revisits the list when she’s had a bad shot and I also know she has been placed at recent shoots too.
Whilst talking about coaching I would advise any archer whether a newbie or experienced to seek advice and guidance from a coach. It’s always worth getting some coaching – lots of people will offer advice but it is worth seeking out a good coach to get some guidance. I’ve been skiing for over 10 years but every time I go on a ski holiday I book session with a coach to help iron out bad habits and improve.
When focusing on form I find it beneficial to use a lighter poundage bow than I normally shoot. This allows me to focus on my form and not be “fighting” the heavier poundage competition bow.
When talking shooting techniques you have to talk about those bad habits we all pick up over time.
It is very easy to develop poor form, but it’s a lot harder to get rid of it later. Poor shooting technique can take several different forms.
You might start shooting very quickly, too quickly, before you’ve had time to settle. You are drawing up and releasing the arrow immediately, no time to aim or anything. Another example can be short drawing where the archer does not come fully back to the anchor. Maybe your shoulders are shaking so as you release you are flinching.
Why does this happen, well maybe because your muscles can’t cope with the strain of drawing and holding the bow at full draw to aim. Maybe you are over bowed? I cover this later in the physical aspect of this article.
Sadly this is not an uncommon problem and I see this time and time again whether it is with a recurve bow or a compound bow. The effect it can have on the archer is both physical and mental. Physical injury can be sustained, with muscle strains, torn muscles etc. Mentally the archer can become dejected and not want to shoot and then muscles don’t develop and it becomes hard for them to draw the bow. This then turns into a downhill spiral. So many give up when things are not going well, sadly very few seek advice or help.
It can also have a knock on effect and this can lead to bigger problems like Target panic, but that is a topic for another day I think.
So you have your shooting technique and even more importantly your own confidence added to this is your own resilience which is really important. I cover this a little latter in this article, but for now let’s look at your physical fitness.
I think most of us would agree that we could be physically fitter in one way or another than we actually are, and it is often a New Year’s resolution topic. Your physical fitness has an impact on everything that we do, so obviously it has an effect on your archery goals and progress.
Think about how you would answer these questions,
- How many arrows do you shoot in practise or throughout the week?
- How often do you shoot, weekends only or during week too?
- How do you feel physically after shooting, do any of your muscles ache?
If you only shoot once or twice a week and then only a few arrows, you are unlikely to build your physical fitness with respect to shooting to a level where shooting for two days at national competition is doable with ease.
So what can you do? Well shooting more often can help to build your stamina, but don’t rush and start shooting every day as your muscles need time to build up and strengthen. In the summer months when days are longer I shoot every other day in the week so 2 or 3 days, where I’ll be shooting between 80 to 120 arrows at distances from 3 yards to 40 yards. Practice in the wood on Saturday and at a competition on the Sunday. But I’ll build up to that level of shooting so at start of the summer I’ll shoot 40 or so arrows at practise.
During the off months you can use exercise bands like therabands that come in different strengths to build should muscles. If you are member of gym, have a chat with one of the instructors / fitness coaches there who might be able to give you advice or suitable exercises. Simple push ups also help to build the shoulder muscles.
Muscle strength is one thing but stamina is important too, it’s all well and good to be able to draw a 45lb bow but if you can’t repeat this for the whole day, then you know you need to work on stamina.
Also consider your hydration level when you are shooting, it is very easy to become dehydrated on an field archery course as you are on your feet for several hours carrying your gear all the time.
One quick point about muscle tone and fitness is that muscles work best when warm, so in cold weather make sure you are wearing suitable clothing. I’ve always found wearing several layers better than a few thick layers that can restrict movement. The other advantage of this method is you can easily remove a layer if you get too warm.
Lots of archers work on developing their shoulder and back muscles, but it is worth also working on your core too as this provides stability.
Over bowed I mentioned this earlier and it is when an archer is shooting a bow that is too heavy for them to draw and use properly. When I say heavy I mean the draw weight of the bow is too high for the archer to be able to shoot consistently.
I see this time and time again whether it is with a recurve bow or a compound bow. The effect it can have on the archer is both physical and mental. Physical injury can be sustained, with muscle strains, torn muscles. Mentally the archer can become dejected and not want to shoot and then muscles don’t develop and it becomes hard for them to draw the bow. So it can become a downhill spiral.
There are a few ways over bowing can be identified. The archer is shooting too quickly, because your muscles can’t cope with the strain of drawing and holding the bow at full draw to aim. They are drawing up and releasing the arrow immediately. Another problem can be short drawing, where the archer does not come fully back to the anchor. Maybe your shoulders are shaking so as you release you are flinching
The solutions can come in a number of forms, drop to a lighter bow and build yourself up gradually. Shoot less arrows, what I hear you say! How can I build strengthen? Well shot less, so you aren’t shooting to the point of muscle fatigue. Look at exercise routine to improve strength.
So that was physical fitness, what about your mental fitness, your resilience?
So what do I mean about resilience? I guess I am thinking about mental toughness, the willingness to keep going after a bad shot or training session that didn’t go well.
First thing to remember is that each shot you take is a fresh shot, true it is based on your experiences of the previous shots you have made, but it is a fresh shot. Hopefully the more opportunity you have to shoot the more you have the opportunity to learn, by learn I mean learning from your successful shots and learning from your misses to move on and develop. It is very important that you remember your good shots, the ones that landed exactly where you wanted. As you can use this as a trigger to remind yourself “yes you can” do this.
Of course that statement “move on” is easier said than done. A missed shot affects us in different ways. Some people can put it behind them and move on almost immediately, others get annoyed usually with themselves. Those that can put it behind them have developed coping strategies or resilience. Missing or having a bad day can be one of the hardest things to overcome in archery. How many times have you seen archers get dejected when they can’t make the shot and it’s not just beginners but us experienced archers too.
I’ve seen many archers end up on the blue peg, taking their 3rd and final chance of a scoring arrow because they have rushed their second arrow. Why, because they have been annoyed or self-conscious of their failure in front of others
So what can you do?
As I write this I recall an old military quote “A plan never survives first contact with the enemy” – this can be applied to archery too. The important thing to think about is what happens when the plan fails! Your plan is to shoot your arrow and hit the target successfully. In an ideal world this would happen every time, but it doesn’t in the real world and when it doesn’t have you got a tactic to overcome the “enemy”, whether that enemy is poor weather, target panic, or something else?
We all have good days, we all have bad days. We can rationalise these bad days based on lack of sleep, stress at work, etc. but not always, some days you can try too hard. It is those days when it is very easy to develop bad habits, but it’s a lot hard to unlearn them.
A quote from my old coach comes to mind while writing this. He would say focus on your form and the shot will come and I have to say he is very true.
For me if I’ve missed a shot or not having a good day I go back to the basics. I focus on my shooting form, your shot sequence and steps. I take a deep breath and let it out long and slow, forcing my shoulders to relax. It doesn’t always work, but it is a starting point and does work some times.
The other thing is focus on the positive, focus on the next arrow going into the gold or the spot. Have a read of this blog as there have been a few posts on the mental game and positivity. (https://archeryponderings.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/mental-training-positivity/)
This is something that I am struggling with a lot at present, as I’m not reaching the level I feel I have or are capable of, guess my resilience is being tested, sadly this archer can’t always practise what they preach. I’m fighting those internal demons at present.
I think I will close this part on a quote from Babe Ruth who said “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming up to bat.”
Last take away thought. I’ve found there are two types of people in the archery community. The ones that offer help and the ones that keep their knowledge to themselves. Most will be willing to share but you will find some like to keep their success secret. I personally believe it’s better to be someone who is willing to share and for that reason I started this blog.
I hope you have found these last few articles of interest or even possibly of use.
Thanks for reading.
If you are a fan of YouTube, reviewing archery videos or a reader of various archery magazines you will probably have heard of or encountered Jim Kent, or rather Jim “Grizzly” Kent. He has been producing videos for years, originally on his own channel Archery Adventures and more recently for Merlin Archery Adventures. I was lucky enough to have Jim agree to be the subject, or should that be victim, of this article. So here you have it, a Walk with Jim Grizzly Kent.
So on a crisp beautiful autumnal morning I met up with Jim to have a shoot around a woodland and chat.
Rob – You are pretty well known to many on the archery circuit, thanks to your videos or articles in magazines, but how would you describe yourself?
Jim – I’m not sure. I like to think of myself as a traditional archer that shoots instinctively. I know someone once described me as an ambassador for instinctive archery.
Rob – How did you first get into archery?
Jim – I was about 4 and I found an arrow in a shed at home and I was fascinated by it, I then found the bow. I couldn’t draw it but my Dad made me a simple bow and a few arrows. I was off then shooting clumps of moss or tree stumps in the woods.
Guess I was stumping before I even knew what it was.
Rob –So can you explain what your love or passion is that drives your interest in archery?
Jim – It’s special to me, Traditional archery. Archery as a whole has always be a part of my life especially the traditional side. It’s something special, it speaks to me. Whether or not I could ever put a finger on why? I don’t know.
Maybe it’s reliving running around the woods with bows and arrows, which is something we all wanted to do as a kid. Something some of us did as kids with arrows with suckers on the end and what not.
It fills you with the child like wonder that you had as a kid and so easily lost as you grow up. You always wanted to go on an adventure and I guess when I’m out in the woods I am on an adventure, that’s my little adventure
Rob – is that where the title came from for your original YouTube channel?
Jim – Yes, it’s where the original title of Archery Adventures came from. Ever since I was a kid the idea of adventure inspired me and as you get older they get less and less adventurous, as you get older and older and realise how the world works.
Rob – So why did you start the YouTube channel?
Jim – Don’t know if you’ve heard of an archer called Chris Bilingsgate, he has a YouTube channel (Billingsgate Unlimited) and we got talking on a couple of forums initially, then we had a skype chat and he suggested I could make a video.
He said I should make a video, but I didn’t think anyone would watch it, but he convinced me to give it a go. That’s how it started.
So the first was filmed on my parent’s dining room table “An introduction to instinctive archery”. The sound was awful and had me rambling on, not much changed there.
Rob – Sorry Jim, but I managed to find the first video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQrjDu1Hn2A great to see how the beard has grown over the years too.
Jim – I really enjoyed it and it got a couple of hundred views in first few months. I was working full time and doing this in my spare time.
Jim – That was the first step. Then I made one on making arrows. This is kind of ironic, as I’ve just done a new recording on how to make arrows for the Merlin channel.
Gradually the views went up and the subscribers went up and then from nowhere suddenly the subscribers went boom and up and up.
Rob – You’ve come a long way in a comparatively short space of time, since that first YouTube video. You’ve now got a following on Tumblr and YouTube of not just UK archers, but a global following. Was it hard initially?
Jim – Everything was self-funded at that early stage, with bits I had bought and then reviewed. That led to Merlin sending me a few bits and bobs to review. Then I got a job doing it with Merlin a few years later.
Rob – So if ten years ago I’d told you where you’d be today, how do you think you’d have responded, would you have believed it?
Jim – No not at all, it’s weird. I tend to let life just play out. Never forced anything, what will be, will be. I started the YouTube channel because maybe I like sharing my experiences or just the sound of my own voice.
Having shot half the course we afforded ourselves a break and continued our chat over a cup of coffee to keep ourselves warm.
Jim – I do genuinely enjoy writing, I love writing when I have the time, and though it was something I had to work it to get good at, largely due to being dyslexic which was identified in childhood, but didn’t get the support from school at the time.
I quite regularly write for Bow International magazine, and lucky to have some friends that are good photographers who produce some great pictures. I used to write for Stick and String an online magazine which sadly no longer exists, along with Archery UK magazine which you get with membership to Archery GB.
Also there is a new one Field Archers News UK.
It’s finding the time and not trying to force the creativity as that doesn’t work. I need to have the idea and inspiration; I need to come to it naturally. I can’t magic something up to write about as I feel it comes across false. If you force it, it becomes a boring read. Need to feel passionate about the subject.
One thing that was very clear when shooting round with Jim, was how much he misses shooting for fun.
The recreational shooting we all enjoy without having to worry about testing this bow, writing and producing a video etc.
Okay, so he’s in a position many of us would love to be in, with a job that allows him to try out new bows, record videos on archery events round the country and more. But I think this is at the expense of shooting for fun. The irony being this is the very reason that got him making videos in the first place.
The other thing is he loves taking photos, whether it is the light through the trees or his bow in the sun, his phone is out and he’s snapping away.
Rob – When we were wandering round the woods we were talking about the fact you’ve always been an advocate of the traditional style and the instinctive shooting technique. What do you see as being traditional archery?
Jim – No sights, and a simple bow. The simplicity of the bow is important, even if it’s got glass fibre or carbon in the limb make up. In essence a simple bow, a wooden bow, shot off the shelf, feathered arrows, no pressure button etc. Shooting off the shelf is a big part of traditional archery, I feel.
Rob – So having finished our drink, it’s time to head off and do the other half of the course. Which is a good time to ask about how competitive archery features in his thoughts.
Jim – Traditional archery to me is more of a lifestyle than a sport. Yes you can compete, but I don’t see it as a sport. I am competitive but I don’t enjoy being competitive, but when I am competing I want to win. But I don’t like competing. Doesn’t sound too opposite, does it? I hate scoring.
Rob – Guess the problem is that being known, means people expect you to shoot well, which can distract from the enjoyment.
Jim – There are different competition circuits out there with EFAA, NFAS, Archery 3D, Archery GB. World 3ds has an instinctive archery class that suites very much the way I shoot. A traditional bow shot off the shelf with carbon arrows, where you’re not penalised for using carbon arrows.
It’s more of a class than a way of shooting, but I’d want to use this as a platform if I could to raise the profile of traditional archery.
Rob – Another thing you learn very quickly about Jim is not only does he know a lot about archery and a good shot, but he also has a sense of humour and loves playing practical jokes.
So it is not unusual to see him collapsed in a corner of a wood or under a tree, trying to stop laughing, having succeeded with one such joke.
Photographic evidence of this can be seen here and yes they did eventually retrieve the arrow from the tree.
It appears Jim and I share another passion other than archery, that of being in Autumn woods. I have to agree with Jim that Autumn is one of my favourite times of year and there was more than one time we stopped to watch the “leaf shower” as the autumnal leaves fell from the tree canopy, leaving a mosaic of colours and patterns on the woodland floor.
Jim – The Gathering is why I do archery, it’s social, friendly made up of diverse group of archers and abilities. There is so much diversity in traditional archery. It’s about being in the woods with people you care about, who are your friends. It’s special.
Rob – Can I talk to you a bit about the Gathering. We’ve seen the videos of the Gathering and it does look amazing. It comes across as a group of friends and people passionate about archery, having fun.
There are facilities in Europe that can accommodate that style of event, not something that we have here in the UK sadly. But even in Europe there are limitations based on size of the accommodation, that’s why it’s remained small.
Rob – I guess if it became a bigger event some of that social interaction would be lost. You’ve said archery is a very inclusive activity, can you expand on this?
Jim – I find with the traditional side of things it’s so much more accessible. You can spend £200 on a nice little flat bow, half dozen arrows, quiver, maybe a bag target and from that moment you can enjoy archery. You can enjoy the pleasure of shooting arrows down range.
Rob – So what of the future of traditional archery in the UK?
Jim – When I’ve been to Europe and the Blackforest. You can turn up to a course. Hire a bow and arrows if you haven’t got them.
You see people with pushchairs with a bow on the back, going round, stopping taking a shot and then dropping their bows back on the push chair and carrying on. It’s a family activity or day out.
Rob – the Olympics opened up a number of sports to people like cycling, rowing athletics.
Jim – Yes we see it every 4 years, when there is a hike in interest in archery when the Olympics is on.
Most target clubs will offer Olympic style recurve but that it, but there isn’t much deviation. Don’t get me wrong there are some that offer other styles but not many. Also many see traditional archery as shooting a longbow.
There are traditional styles that aren’t just English longbow, there is recurve, hybrid or flat bow. The reason it fascinates me is there is so much diversity in field archery.
I believe if you offer people the chance to try it and they’ll love it, then traditional archery will be bigger. There’s a whole other world of archery in the woods.
Rob – It’s not just the Olympics that has triggered interest though. Films like The Avengers, Brave and the Hunger Games have all encouraged people into trying archery.
Jim – Let’s get something straight, I really like the Hunger Games. Anything that gets young people into archery is great. I shot a YouTube video about the Hunger games and a few people got the wrong idea.
Rob – So if you could reach every newbie archer out there with one single piece of advice what would it be?
Jim – Drink in all the advice you can find, search for it everywhere. There are so many people willing to give advice on YouTube and all social media, enough to last a lifetime. Never takes one person’s approach as gospel as you need to find what works for you. Then apply to you what’s relevant to you, some of it won’t appeal other bits will.
Not everything that people do is relevant to you or the way you shoot or want to shoot. Do within archery what makes you happy.
There is a polar right and a polar wrong.
Everything else in between is what you make of it. There are no hard and fast rules, though there are fundamental concerning safety. Shoot what makes you happy, if you like shooting the Olympic style bow or a longbow. If it puts a smile on your face, then do it.
Learn your own path. What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. Reason it fascinates me is there is so much diversity in field archery.
It’s been said that every journey starts with a single step, well every journey ends with a step too. So as the sun begins to go down I think that is a good time to quiver our arrows and head home after a great walk and talk. Wish my archery had been as good as the company.
Many might see Jims’ success at having a career in a hobby he loves but think about this. Careers in our hobby, like other sports are not easy. With often long days and working weekends, which must be hard with his young family? It also reduces the time he has for recreational shooting or time with his family and friends or to commit to clubs.
Work / home life split is hard for so many of us and when you are in the social media limelight, fronting a company or line of bows it must be a double edged sword. A mix of doing something you love and hit the target. But this is at the expense of shooting for fun, the very thing that got him in to making archery videos in the first place. There’s a degree of irony in that I feel. On a personal note the few hours we spent wandering round the woods shooting and chatting was very relaxing and just what the doctor ordered. I believe it is the Japanese who have a theory called “Shinrin-yoku “ or forest bathing, taking in the atmosphere of the woodland, makes a lot of sense to me.
One thing that stands out when you talk to Jim is his passion for the hobby, which is so evident as he speaks about his archery experiences. Think the description ambassador is pretty accurate.
Thanks for reading