Article by Nick Poppell
Iwalked to Bo Yi Archery Club in the pouring rain—my draw hand frozen to an umbrella hilt—to meet Bo Li, the owner and operator.
The archery range is on the third floor of a shopping mall, Jinsha Guoji (金莎国际), situated between a twenty-four-hour cyber café and a gym. The room is well lit, the sofas are clean, and the staff offers refreshments such as hot tea or water (there’s liquor on the shelf, but, unsurprisingly,, no one’s allowed to drink and shoot). The music is always relaxing. While practicing there, I’ve heard some of my favorite artists: Leonard Cohen, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kath Bloom.
Upon arriving, I signed in and ordered a cup of hot tea. Li was busy, but greeted me with a smile. I strapped on a wrist guard and hooked a quiver to my belt loop. I stood as instructed: one foot beyond and one foot behind the line. My arrows flew inaccurately; I hadn’t practiced for a month.
I nocked another arrow, and drew it back. “Archery’s not about killing,” Li said, “It’s about accuracy.” I released the arrow. Then, an eighth of a second pause between the whip of the draw string and the thud of the arrow stopping. Nocked another. If the draw string touches my nose, I can stop pulling back. If I close my left eye, I can line up the arrow head with where I want it to go.
Other archers’ arrows catapulted against the targets, which undulated on each impact. The arrows embedded themselves like needle fish and sometimes fought their way through to the other side. The hot tea—grapefruit and honey—left an aromatic trace, which I was just able to smell on my own exhale. I released another inaccurate shot. If a photographer captures an arrow’s flight with a high-speed camera, the arrow appears to swim through the sky. Upon firing, the arrow first warps around the bow itself, then, by the grace of feathers or other fletching, the arrow returns to the archer’s intended trajectory.
It all seems quite daunting when stepping up to your first shot, but at Bo Yi, there are coaches who can help guests through the beginning steps. They’re there to ensure people don’t make the common mistakes that novices typically do.
Aside from form, a common mistake many make is assuming that a more expensive a bow will lead to more accurate shots.
“Most people don’t know what a professional process archery is,” explained Li. “They don’t know what to look for when choosing equipment. They only compare the prices: which bow is more expensive?”
The company of archers also makes use of an outdoor range. They share that range with the city team of Xi’an and they regularly hold competitive events (along with barbeques) out there. Foreigners are made to feel welcome at Bo Yi. Li, an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh, is fluent in English. Many regulars are English speakers, and often quite friendly.
“Everyone has a chance to have a go in a club in an opening section. If you like it, you’ll find the resources to try and learn,” Li said. “Then, after you learn, you can go to competitions and compare your skill sets to others’. These are the steps to advance or enhance your skills.”Even in competition, Li asserts that you’re only competing with yourself. Aside from the wind, the only thing responsible for how an archer may shoot is themselves. “If you don’t hit the target, it’s only about you. Your skills and what’s in your mind,” Li said. “And maybe this is part of why archery is popular with young people… because they can leave everything else behind .”“When you’re doing archery, there’s no one else—nothing else,” Li said. “The whole rest of the universe vanishes. Then it’s only you, the arrow and the target.”
I can’t say I’m quite there yet, because at Bo Yi there’s Leonard Cohen’s voice over the speakers, a minimalist depiction of the Great Wall, painted in long black strokes, and the space between myself and the target.