Chinese Archery

Sometimes things come into your life that you never saw coming.

For me this past year, that has been Chinese Archery.

I am so lucky to have found Master Kyle and his Pakua studio in Burbank.

I started out taking the Edge Weapons class, but very quickly discovered that my chronically injured shoulder (thanks, cello) wouldn’t make a regular swords practice possible.

Out of curiosity, I tried the archery class. The only time I had really arched was at Girl Scout camp and I was famously terrible.

But why not give it a try?

After only a few shots, my shoulder already began to give out. Instead of insisting I push through, or even give up, Master Kyle suggested I try shooting left-handed. It was a little bit awkward at first, but then something unexpected happened… I was pretty good.

I’m not used to being good at anything athletic. Chronic injury, asthma, and a variety of other factors have made my physical pursuits challenging.

But Chinese Archery is not about being good or bad. It is about shooting an arrow, observing what happens, and adjusting to have a better result.

It has been an incredible year of archery, and here are some of the things I have learned:

  • Have a relationship to the target. In other words, don’t shoot without intention- look at where you want the arrow to go and acknowledge it before you even aim.
  • You can aim and prepare but once you let go, the arrow will do what it is going to do. The flocking might be torn or the arrow curved. This will influence where the arrow goes and all your preparation will not stop that. In her Masterclass (which I highly recommend), Helen Mirren mentions something Bob Balaban told her on the set of Gosford Park- that you can prepare all you want, but once you loose the arrow, it is out of your control. Kind of a literal suggestion to “let go”.
  • Your mind must be calm before you can do anything (well). Much of our Pakua archery practice is about meditation and breathing. Each movement connects to an inhale or exhale. A distracted mind is an inaccurate arrow.
  • Pakua archery is about imagining, planning, and reacting to the outcome. It is a study and part of a much larger picture of existing in harmony with ourselves, others, and our environment. It is a holistic practice that goes beyond just target shooting.
  • Aim from the heart. That is where the power will come from. Not from the eye or head. Be open. Archery is offensive, not defensive.
  • Honor the ritual. It is a craft with thousands of years of history. Practice with a reverence. Honor and recognize this opportunity to practice and better ourselves.
  • To be totally Sky, you can’t be anything else. Sky thought is completely meditative and detached. You have to remove yourself from society. These people are monks. Literally. We cannot live in a constant meditative state unless we are willing to live in a monastery. This was important for me to hear, especially with our “wellness” culture.
  • While waiting your turn or after you’re done, you are silent and focused; observing and keeping your mind ready. You are never “off” in the studio.
  • You don’t have to be seen to make a difference. In fact, it’s important that you’re not seen and heard (from an offensive position).
  • When we speed shoot, you realize quickly where the problems are. Time constraints are great at showing where you need to improve. It’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging any problems, reflecting on why it’s a problem, and then thinking of a possible solution so your next round is better.
  • We are all invested in each other’s progress. For some techniques, only one person can be shooting because they need the room. Everyone else will give them the space. If someone is taking more time to finish their arrows, we all wait and allow them to finish. We all support each other and give each other the space and support needed to improve.
  • It isn’t about how long you’ve done something, but how often. Because of my work schedule/travel schedule/bouts of illness, I haven’t been able to have as consistent practice as I would like. Those who have joined the studio after me, but have come every week (sometimes more than once), have now surpassed me in skill. Commit to the practice and show up.

Obviously, these lessons can be applied to more than just archery. I’ve noticed a difference in how I approach my auditions and time on set, and in my day to day life.

I have to take a break from class for a couple months as I dive into my next creative project, and I’m realizing how much I will miss my time in the studio.

I love and value this practice because once a week I can truly have a peaceful mind, because the practice requires it.

Look to see if you have a Pakua studio in your area. If you are in LA, I highly recommend you visit Master Kyle at Burbank Pakua.


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