About 15,000 years ago, a wave of almost synchronous inventions around the world gave birth to archery.
The accuracy and range of the bow made it the most powerful weapon for hundreds of years until the invention of gunpowder. Archery still is important, but more to cultivate the soul than to defend the land.
Archery holds an eternal place in human culture. Cupid shoots arrows through hearts of lovers, and Sagittarius is one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, as well as a constellation in the skies.
At the climax of the Odyssey, Odysseus' marksmanship with the bow defeated Penelope's suitors.
The hunter's bowstring, plucked in a rhythm to accompany storytelling, may likely be a root of the modern guitar and other stringed instruments. Shamans in several parts of the world pluck or strike bowstrings with arrows to create a trance-inducing rhythm to invoke spirits.
In Japan, the Makiwara Sharei ceremony is performed at the opening of a dogo a martial arts training center.
This Shinto rite involves an archer-priest shooting an arrow into a makiwara (ceremonial target) that stands before a Kamidana Shinto shrine. The arrow, thus, becomes a symbol of man's thoughts.
Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim faith, was an archer. Some 40 sayings in the Koran are associated with archery.
In Genesis (21:20) it says: "God was with the lad, and he grew: and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer."
When Chinese sage Confucius taught people the Six Arts propriety, music, writing, mathematics, charioteering and archery he insisted that without training in archery and charioteering, no one could learn the mental discipline of the other four arts.
There are many traditions of archery. All converge on its value as a meditative art to unite mind and body. And rightly so
More than any other weapon sport, archery requires self-discipline to perfect concentration and execution to make the arrow become an expression of perfection in mind-body unity. The arrow thus becomes a thought.
Archery first appeared in the modern Olympics is 1900, but Homer's Iliad, penned before 776 BC, describes an early Olympic archery contest where the target was a pigeon tethered on the mast of a ship anchored offshore. Whoever hit the pigeon would take home some fine double-headed axes as their prize.
Recalling the wisdom of the ages seems appropriate in the wake of the recent announcement by the Humane Society of the United States that it was merging with the Fund For Animals and that a high priority on its agenda was banning trapping and hunting, with bowhunting being the first target.
There are at 6 million bowhunters in America, and their ranks are growing.
From 1993 to 1998, the last five years for which data is available, injuries per year for the nation have never been more than 20, and fatal injuries per year range from three to six. Most of these injuries are from falling especially out of treestands.
Injuries from archery target shooting are virtually unknown at tournaments and ranges. Those accidents that are reported tend to come from unsupervised kids playing with archery equipment.
Contrast these stats with golf, tennis, baseball, touch football, ping-pong, trail biking and skateboarding, and you'll find that archery enjoys much lower accident rates.
Considering the fact that archery is one of the safest of all popular sports, and bowhunting is the safest form of hunting, what's the beef?
Unfortunately, archery is an easy target. There are no regulations about who can possess archery equipment.
Some kid shoots a goose with an arrow but does not kill it. The goose flies around with an arrow in it, making the local newspaper. Then someone with an anti-hunting agenda paints all bowhunters as poor shots who wound helpless animals. And soon we have the beginnings of an ugly-rumor campaign that can turn into laws and bans.
The negative portrayal of archers may be inaccurate and unfair, but the antis' message gets some attention among the general public because the vast majority of the public does not hunt, has no first-hand experience with hunting and doesn't know much about archery, except what they see in the movies or what they see Geena Davis or Ted Nugent doing.
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance is organizing a Bowhunters Rights Coalition that will help combat the Humane Society of the United States and other anti-archery efforts.
That's great, but what can you do?
"You should always tell the truth, because if you tell the truth you make it the other person's problem," Sean Connery once said.
Truth is what we need to defeat the anti-bowhunters. As arrows symbolize the truth, let me suggest the following four "arrows" to help you defend the sport of archery and bowhunting.
Know the facts about bowhunting effectiveness
The California Department of Fish and Game reports that when deer are shot in the chest cavity with a 60-pound compound bow, the average animal was immobilized in 30 seconds and ran less than 100 yards.
When deer were shot in the chest cavity with a 30.06, they were immobilized in an average of 22.3 seconds and ran 70 yards.
Many urban and suburban communities have successfully used bowhunting to manage local deer overpopulations. It is safe and saves considerable money.
Teaching kids archery is good for them
Tournament archer and math teacher Jennie Richardson began teaching her Kentucky schoolchildren to shoot bows and arrows, and now the National Archery in the Schools Program is active in 30 states.
Designed to teach Olympic-style target archery in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, the two-week course covers archery history, safety, technique, equipment, mental concentration and self-improvement. Students also shoot at targets placed before an arrow-resistant net in their gymnasium.
The results of the program in terms of reaching kids and improving their school attendance and self-esteem are outstanding.
Thanks to support from the archery industry, schools can purchase the state-of-the-art equipment kits for about $2,600, at a savings of some $2,200. This is a terrific project for a local sportsman's club.
Contact NASP for an outstanding 25-minute video on the program hosted and produced by Dave Watson to convince your local school to get involved.
Start out on the right foot
Traditional archery is rapidly growing in popularity.
If you feel pulled in that direction and want to hone your instinct to became a Zen archer, you will find "Beginners Guide to Traditional Archery" (Stackpole Books, 2004; $12.95) by Brian J. Sorrells an extremely well-written and practical guide that covers everything from choosing the right bow and arrow to developing good shooting habits and mental concentration prowess.
This is an invaluable book for the beginner, but the seasoned veteran also will benefit from Sorrells' good coverage of the basics.
Know the nuts and bolts of archery
If you shoot compound bows, you need to be well-versed on the technical ins and outs of the sport.
Dave Holt is the technical editor for Bowhunter magazine and one of those tech guys who knows how to explain things so that anyone can understand.
His new book, "Balanced Bowhunting II: The Modern Bowhunting Guide" (High Country Publishers, 2004; $19.95) is written in a relaxed style. It's almost like having a good conversation around a campfire with a real pro who's sharing his secrets.
This is an enjoyable and truly informative book filled with many tips on technique and tackle that will definitely improve your success afield and make you an archery sage.
James Swan who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.