Gela: Communal Isolation
Archery is defined as the sport or skill of shooting with a bow and arrows, especially at a target. Historically known for hunting and combat, archery is now mainly a recreational activity. In the Philippines, archery is more known as an activity for the elite: what with equipment being expensive and archery ranges in the country aren’t easily accessible. Despite this, archery is slowly gaining more attention: what with archery being a competitive sport in the country as well as worldwide.
Last Friday, I got to know more about archery with my blockmates, LA and Sebbie, at the Kodanda Archery Range in Eastwood! The archery range takes its name after Sanskrit literature: since Rama, the Lord of Virtue in Hinduism, adhered to dharma by battling evil beings with his powerful bow, Kodanda. The term ‘kodanda’ meaning “he who has a bow.”
We got to the archery range at 11:00 AM: just as the mall it was located in started to open. The archery range was secluded: a bright spot in an otherwise shadowy corner. The range itself felt rather welcoming: well-lit, quiet, and peaceful.
I didn’t really know what to expect for my first time: after all, the closest I’ve ever been to witnessing archery were through movies, TV shows and video games. It didn’t help that most representations of archery in movies and TV shows focused on combat: ones that were violent and ended in either death or immense injury… but the archery range seemed like a welcomed contrast. Surely, nothing could go wrong, right?
The targets were prepared, and we were handed our equipment: bows and arrows and all. The apprehension must have shown as our guide reassured us, “Don’t worry! We’ll run you through the basics first.”
“Has anyone ever been injured here?” Sebbie asks as our guide helped us prepare for archery. Our guide thinks for a moment, but eventually shakes her head and answers, “Not yet, no.”
Nervous laughter fills the room as Sebbie voices out the thought that must’ve been in all of our heads: “I feel like we’re about to break that record.”
She talks us through the basics: showing us how to hold our bows properly, where our hands are supposed to go and how to prepare the arrows. She teaches us the proper form for archery, where to look and what to aim for. It didn’t take us very long to get the basics down and start shooting arrows, but she stayed and watched over us and occasionally giving us tips and reminding us of steps we’d forget to do.
Like most first attempts, my first attempt at archery wasn’t easy: I had a hard time either keeping my arms straight or keeping them steady when I have to aim. It also didn’t help that my arms had a hard time holding up the bow, or pulling the string back.
It didn’t go very well at times either: I’d miss the target multiple times, which wasn’t surprising. What did surprise me was taking aim and firing at the target… but having it bounce off the board and land near my feet instead. Our guide reassured me that that wasn’t an unusual occurrence: the part of the board I was aiming for was pretty hard.
I’d learned a lot about archery within the hour provided: how the tension of your arms can affect how the arrow lands on the board, how your stance can affect your aim and everything else. After the hour had finished, we decided to go out for lunch and come back later.
We went back for another round in the archery range, a little more rested and a bit more prepared, in a way. It was 2:00 PM and the mall had become a bit livelier, and noisier. We walked back to the archery range, where it remained quiet despite the fact that more people had started to trickle in.
When we started another round of archery, we were accompanied by a girl who had been in the range long before we got back from our break. After shooting a few targets, we’d asked if we could have our targets pushed a little further back, like we had in our first round. As we had our targets pushed back, we overheard the girl asking for her target to be pushed back as well.
After having our targets pushed back, we carried on shooting arrows. Much like our first round, our guide was watching us, gently reminding us to “stretch our arms a bit more,” or helping us fix our form before shooting. This carried on until the hour allotted for us had run out again, and we’d stuck around to ask a few questions before we left.
There is a difference between archery on your own and archery with different people: archery on your own meant that you could go at your own pace and not feel self-conscious about it— you didn’t have to worry about competing with anyone, or keeping track of how many times you hit the target right in the middle, or worry about far you want your target to be.
Archery with different people didn’t really change the fact that you could go on your own pace, but you can’t deny that there is a different feel in the air: an odd need to impress, faint competitiveness in the air. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing: in a way, it challenged you to do better and try harder.
I used to think of archery as an isolated sport: mainly because there only ever seemed to be so few characters on screen who knew archery, and the sport itself was individualistic. I’d come to see it less that way after this experience.
Archery still remained an individual sport—after all, it still takes only person to use a bow and arrow to shoot arrows and hit targets, but in a way it felt communal as well. You could be in an archery range with a few other people and it would still feel like you’re all alone: moving at your own pace, focused on nothing but the target like everyone else around you.
It could feel like you’re in a competition as well: silently measuring yourself against other people’s distances, adjusting your pace to match theirs.
LA: Shots Fired
When we decided to go to an archery range instead of sticking to our plan of going to the ROTC training, I was so excited. Archery has been a very big part of my gaming life, since I usually choose between being a mage or an archer whenever I created a character for an MMORPG or RPG. And to actually be given the chance to do it in real life, I was just exhilarated!
When we got to the place, in Kodanda Archery Range in Eastwood, it wasn’t even open yet. Heck, the other stores weren’t even open, and the janitors were still cleaning about. The people inside the range were also still cleaning and getting ready to open. Well, we were also preparing ourselves, since we did not know what to do since there wasn’t anyone else inside apart from the instructors. Sebbie started to ask, “So ano na yung gagawin natin? Wala pang ibang tao? Sino kakausapin natin maliban dun sa staff?”
We were all unsure of what to do – if we just interviewed the staff, then the answers we might get would be towards building the image they want to be seen in – and, as Sebbie said, “It would not be a strong ethnographic essay”. But we decided to just get on with the experience, and just do a second round when there are more people inside. When we entered, the staff at the counter asked us, “Magshoo-shoot kayo?” “Opo”, we answered. Then we signed on their log sheet, she asked us if we were right handed, and we all answered “yes, po” and then, she and her colleague, Kuya Samson, helped us put on our gear. While doing so, Sebbie asked them a question: “Has anyone ever been injured here?” Then the instructor answered, “Not yet, no” and as we finished preparing we started to fall in line to begin our session.
As we readied ourselves, they showed us how to hold and use the bow, “Stretch your left arm, then the right hand pulling the string should be under the chin, elbow up, left eye closed, then 1, 2, 3 and shoot”. After demonstrating the proper form to us, they let us try it out for ourselves.
As we took our stances, they would come close to correct us, “Put your hand closer to your chin” “Pull the string more” “Don’t bend your left arm” “Close your left eye” and other small notes. Well, this went on for the quite a while, and even if the mistakes we made were the same things every time, they did not get irritated or showed any sort of negative attitude towards us who kept on joking in the middle of our session.
But one thing that I did notice, was that Ate (do forgive me for forgetting your name even though you helped us a lot) was proactively pointing out our mistakes, while Kuya Samson gave his advice only when we constantly did something wrong.
Well, each person has a different level of affinity towards something like this, but nevertheless, both of their approaches were actually very helpful – Ate with her constant reminders and Kuya Samson with his timely inputs about our mistakes – really helped us to do better. I personally found it very helpful, especially since I actually hit the bullseye after they pointed out my mistake. The bullseye (*insert fist pumping and internal celebration*)! Something I never thought I would actually hit! Well, we all did an okay performance, although we really had a hard time adjusting to the weight and the tension of the bow. Nevertheless, it was smooth sailing, except for a few incidents of an arrow rebounding (kudos to Gela) and an arrow going over the target (it’s fine Sebbie), which we all laughed at.
Then in the middle of our session, a middle aged guy entered. He was carrying a big bag, and he appeared to have made a reservation beforehand. After talking at the counter, he quickly put his bag down, and pulled out a maroon metal bow and his own set of arrows – I was amazed – He had his own bow and set of arrows! Then, he started to walk towards the starting line, but then his phone rang and someone was calling (by the way, this was all happening while we, ourselves, were shooting arrows and constantly doing good and bad at shooting), then after the call, as if no one else was in the range, he took his stance, shot his arrows, and all 6 of his arrows hit the yellow part – the part where the bullseye is located – and he did it fluidly! His arms were not shaking like us, and his stance was solid. Then it struck me – this man could probably be a professional archer – someone who actually does archery as a sport rather than a hobby.
We asked Ate earlier who the usual customers were, and she told us that most of their customers come from the team building activities by the call centers within the vicinity, the people living in the condos in Eastwood, and some who reserves slots for practice or recreation. This further solidified my idea: the man could possibly be the latter – someone who comes to practice his shooting – which made it more awesome to actually shoot alongside him. But we never talked to him, since it was part of the rules not to disturb other patrons, unless they did not mind – and it did seem like he minded our presence, or rather, the noise that we made, because I caught him looking annoyed while sneaking a glance at us who were making a racket with constant ‘dilawan’ jokes. Well, he never actually voiced his complaint so there weren’t any problem, and we ended our session at around 12:00. Afterwards, we went to eat and have our break before returning when there were people aside from us.
And that was when the very interesting things begin.
When we returned for our second session around 2:00 pm, there was a family having a go at the archery range. Well, it was just the daughter shooting while the father was super supportive at the back, cheering for her.
We entered as we did earlier in the day, and I noticed the father looked at us before going back to cheering for his daughter. ‘Hmmm…’ I said in my mind, but I just put it at the back of my mind. There was another instructor present there, Ate Gerrylyn. She had her whistle and she looked like your disciplinarian P.E. teacher, which she kind of was or rather that’s how I perceived her to be. Well, we took our bows from earlier, took our places alongside the daughter and we began our shooting session. And for some odd reason, there was tension in the air. And I am not being dramatic here, it really was tense! For some reason or another, it suddenly became a competition between the three of us (Sebbie, Gela and me) against the daughter. And it did not help that Ate Gerrylyn’s disciplinarian-like behavior fueled that competitive atmosphere. Another thing that did not help to soothe such an atmosphere was the father, who by the way was more competitive that his daughter!
So to further explain what is currently happening during this second round in the archery range, I need to explain the reason why it actually started. So, we started our session on the first level, which consisted of placing the target 2-3 meters away from us. This was relatively easy, and the most basic part of the course. And because we already had a go earlier, the instructor who handled us earlier suggested we do the second level, which was placing the target 5-6 meters away from us. And we accepted.
And that is how the competition started, or rather how the father’s competitive spirit went ballistic because he was the one who was telling, demanding mostly, Kuya Samson to put the target on the second level as well. Talk about ‘range dad’ *pun intended*. Well, the daughter did not refute her father’s decision and just continued with her session. And for some odd reason, even the three of us got into the competitive streak!
Rather than the earlier jokes on being ‘dilawan’ and ‘Atenista’ (because the target consisted of yellow, red, blue, black and white, starting from the center going outward), it became a talk about who shot more on a certain color. Well, the usual jokes were still there, and the mishaps also continued: all three of us had at least one of our arrows to rebound, although Gela still held the crown for most rebounds (Sorry Gela!), and despite the father constantly jeering and whispering at the side, the disciplinarian instructor by our side, and us actually treating it as a competition of sorts, there wasn’t much change from our earlier casual session.
The competitive atmosphere continued – the father cheering and whispering to his daughter; us three, who in the middle of joking around, also treated it as a competition; the instructors who stood at the side, watching the three of us ‘compete’ – until their session ended and they left.
Again, another possible informant we missed, because we got too caught up in the atmosphere. Well, we did get a lot of information from the instructors, especially from the disciplinarian-looking Ate Gerrylyn. She told us about the history of the place – how it started with the owner (who by the way was actually there, and we never got the chance to talk to him because he was busy with business matter), who got into archery and wanted to share that experience with others; the inspiration for the name, which is Kodanda, which means ‘he who has the bow’, that was used by Rama, the Lord of Virtue in Hinduism – and with that last piece of information, something clicked inside my fanboy head, something that I got from a Japanese light novels, and generally from anime – archery was also used as a form of meditation and self-inspection. The discipline of archery allows its practitioner to learn how to become part of his surroundings: to let his breathing become attuned to the wind, his will imbued to his arrow and his thoughts emptied, containing absolutely nothing other than the target or the image of hitting the target. This allows the practitioner to become free from their inhibitions, to think beyond what is in front of them, for them to remove their filters and be able to see what truly is.
Well, this is all from the things I’ve read, as well as my own personal experience, because the breathing exercise actually works, and when I did it, my hands would begin to become steady, and I can’t say it works for everyone.
Well, after all of this all I can say is that archery is an art, whose true purpose lies beyond what is visible to the naked eye.
Sebbie: Channeling your inner Rama
It starts like this, with your heart in your throat and the excitement rippling under your skin, dancing and churning. Anxious excitement flows through your body, reaching the tips of your fingers, dancing like electricity. You arrive at the place early enough that the staff (the coaches, as you will later learn) have yet to flip their sign to open. Regardless, the place is awash with white light that sheds light to the otherwise dark hallway you’re standing in. The glass panes that separate the archery range from the rest of the mall gives you a clear view of where you will potentially shed the rest of your remaining dignity (the excitement fluctuates for a second, turns into pure anxiousness, and you shake it off).
The group takes a detour towards the bathroom, when you come back the sign has been flipped to open, beckoning whoever’s in front of it (at the moment, you and your groupmates) to come right in. You push the door open and let your groupmates walk in before you follow them inside. The first thing you notice is the scent pervading the air because the moment you opened the door and walked in you’re greeted by the scent of leather and wood so strong you can almost taste it. The glass door swings shut behind you. You breathe in deeply, then deeper. The leather is intoxicating, calming (unlike the pop music playing in the back ground).
Before you, right beside the desk, is a rendition of the epic hero Rama drawing his bow Kodanda. You eyes go over the words written beneath the picture but you otherwise ignore it. You greet the coaches at the desk and ask permission to interview them after the one-hour session; they readily agree to your request. The conversation carries on for a bit, and you make a nervous, albeit sarcastic remark about how you’ll be the first group to break the “no accidents” record.
Despite the easy conversation that’s going on, the coaches present are efficient and you’re geared up in a matter of seconds— the quiver is filled with five purple arrows and strapped around your waist; a brace/arm guard is placed on the inside of your stabilizing arm (the arm that holds the bow) to protect your arm from injury should the string scrape against it upon release, and; a finger tab is set in place to prevent callouses on your drawing fingers (for drawing the string, not sketching it).
The bow that they hand you, white and made out of wood, is nearly taller than you. It’s heavy but the weight is welcome and it fits in your hand perfectly. They remind you to remember the your bow number (Number 4) because you will have to leave it in the stand to retrieve the arrows. Your excitement doesn’t dissipate, only builds, when you follow your groupmates and the coaches to the shooting area.
You are their first costumer of the day. The atmosphere, when they begin instruction, is very easy, very friendly despite the technicality. It is evident from how well-rehearsed the lines come, that the coaches have given the same set of instructions plenty of times.
Stand perpendicular to the targets, straddling the shooting line that’s been painted white on the wooden floor. Stand so that your feet are a shoulder’s breadth apart and not parallel to each other. Always have three fingers on the string (the proper area is highlighted with yellow). Index finger above the where the arrow will be placed, and the middle finger and ring finger together beneath it. Draw the string. Keep your left arm straight and as steady as possible. Chin up. Shoulders square. Back straight. The string must touch your nose. Your drawing fingers must be beneath your chin. Left eye closed. Look through the targeting reticle with your right eye.
With those basic instructions set, they let you nock your first arrow. Place the arrow securely between the yellow markers (if you don’t secure it properly, the arrow will not fly true, much less fly. You will see one instance of this on your third visit to the place, two days later, when a girl lets an arrow fly. Instead of following a path towards the target, it lands dangerously close to her feet. The metal arrow clangs noisily against wood, jarring against the silence and the pop music playing in the background. One of the coaches approaches and reminds her of nocking her arrow properly. Her next arrow flies true.) There are three plastic fletches on the arrow. Red, yellow, yellow. Make sure the red fletch is always pointing to the left.
You nock an arrow. You pull back the string (pull it back farther, fingers beneath your chin, chin up po). You close your left eye and look through the targeting reticle. You pretend the colors don’t blur before your sight. You struggle against the tension, but somehow you keep your left arm straight. Open lang po yung fingers pag release, one, two, three— you open your fingers and the arrow flies, traveling all of five meters in a matter of seconds before embedding itself into the target with a satisfying thwack.
Your first shot (which isn’t so terrible as first shots go) almost misses the yellow circle completely. It’s very anticlimactic. The excitement doesn’t exactly vanish, it just becomes more subdued, burrowing just a little deeper in your gut. For a moment you’re terrified that this isn’t going to be as amazing as you imagined it would be. Movies, books, and video games have sort of built up this badass imagery of archery in your head, and gods, you want this experience to live up to even a smidgen of what your imagination has constructed. It did, but until your second and third session.
During your first session, there were, maybe six or seven people there. But because it’s early in the morning, the atmosphere is still very casual. The coaches don’t really hover around too much except to occasionally adjust the reticle, they were otherwise chatting. Over to one side, a trained archer (who brought arrows and a bow of his own, metal and fitted for outdoors shooting), is unsurprisingly shooting one arrow after another in a close bunch inside the yellow circle. You try, and without much success, to emulate the way he moves.
His stance (they say your stance is one of the most important thing in archery), the flow of his movement when he nocks an arrow, lifts his bow, draws the string, and releases. It doesn’t do you any good. Some of your shots miss the circle completely. Most of them scattered in the outer circles, most shots landing heavily on the left.
It doesn’t help that your competitive nature is driving you to shoot better than the guy beside you (who, by the way, just managed a dead-on bullseye). You let yourself be distracted by the music. You talk to your groupmates, make quips and comments, and ask questions. You try to make the anxiousness and frustration that’s been building in your chest for the past hour to disappear. It doesn’t. Still, you try to keep your casualness front and center and you ignore the familiarly biting ebb of self-criticality to remain buried.
The session ends. You go to your target to grab the last set of arrows that you shot. Left hand on the board. Right hand around the arrow. Palagi pong sa left side ng arrow kapag kukunin sila. Kapag may nahulog sa floor, yun po yung mauunang ire-retrieve. You pull. The feel of the arrow sliding against leather and straw is, at least, very satisfying. For a flash of a moment, you entertain the notion that you’re pulling it out of someone, rather than something. You wonder if other people have imagined it too.
You retrieve the target paper. Disappointment rides the wave of excitement that’s building in your chest. You sigh. Your shoulders ache. The bone on the base of your thumb aches worse. You don’t let these things get to you. It’s your first time. You’ll do better next time.
You pay for the hour and thank them for their time. You make idle chitchat about things you think might be relevant to the essay. You tell them that you’ll be back later for another session, and for more questions. You reach for sanitizer on the corner. You push down three times. You rub your hands together, thankful for the coolness of the sanitizer against your skin. It doesn’t smell like anything in particular; it’s simply sweet yet sharp. You go out and have lunch (if a donut can be considered lunch), and for the most part just hang around in Krispy Kreme.
The moment you sat down, you look for “Ways to improve quickly in archery for beginners,” and “Beginners, archery, how to be better fast,” on Google. You open a bunch of lists, but you get distracted by other things instead. For the hours that you were there, you were chatting with your groupmates, or reading some other non-archery related thing online. The ache in your shoulder is barely noticeable now, and the bone on the base of your thumb has completely stopped aching. The next thing you know, you’re walking back towards Kodanda archery range. You grin as you enter, Hi po. Ui, ma’am, andito ulit kayo. Opo, magiisang round pa po kami, tsaka more questions pa rin po.
This time, you let the rest of the world fade away. You don’t focus as much on LA aka Mr. I-Hit-A-Lot-Of-Yellow (because now after pushing the targets back to eight meters, you’re hitting a lot of yellows too) or Gela aka Ms. The-Arrow-Comes-Back-To-Me (because, really, the arrow did ricochet back to you once, and on another instance, reached farther than it should have gone). You don’t pay attention to the other girl either, despite the competitive feeling welling inside you from having another person there. Due to having more people as an audience (the girl’s father, her brother, two more coaches, the occasional passers-by and the mall staff cleaning outside, and another man whom you’ll come to find out as the founder of Kodanda), the side of you that enjoys showing off comes out.
Maybe it’s the audience, or maybe the unread links you opened earlier has some sort of “magic” to them. Maybe it’s because you’ve been trying to channel your inner-Rama. Or, maybe you developed a knack for archery over the past few hours you spent lounging around in Krispy Kreme. Or, really, maybe it’s because the nods of approval and “very good” comments from the coaches are doing miracles to your ego. But your second session goes well.
LA mentioned earlier that archery is meditative. You agree because you’ve come across texts that mention archery as a form of meditation. You don’t realize how true it is until the moment you lift an arrow from your quiver and the sound of metal scraping against metal is amplified to your ears. You nock the arrow smoothly, you draw and lift your bow in almost the same time, and the world goes quiet. You can hear yourself breathe. You can feel the heart in your chest. Your right eye is fixed on the smudge of color before you. You open your fingers and release, and for a moment the world slows down and you could almost imagine the movement of the string as it launches the arrow. In a split second, you could almost feel the arrow cutting through the wind. Then time resumes and the arrows buries itself in the target, kissing the innermost circle more often than not.
You take enough time to always be the last. An expletive escapes your lips every time you’re left to be the last shooter, but it doesn’t matter. You feel terrific. You feel great enough that Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You begins to start sounding meditative. The hour ends with you feeling smug. You retrieve your paper filled with barely contained enthusiasm. You watch the presumably Korean boy as he shoots his set of arrows. Ang angas niya tumira. I quipped to my groupmates. And it’s true. There’s something about the way he shoots that’s somehow has a lot of oopmph embedded into his movement.
Your last round of questions reveal to you the interesting history of Kodanda, and considering what it has done for you and your friends, considering what it has done for the people you’ve encountered (especially, the group of four friends you encountered the third time you went. They had one of the coaches take videos and photos of them), considering what it has done for the people they’ve accommodated, proof of which can be found on their Facebook page, considering the fact that people come back for more and seek them out (the “at least 300 po every month” of team-building events and sponsored events, they’ve hosted)—the history is very fitting.
The owner of the place, a man you only come to know as Sir Bob, had apparently tried out archery in a place called Gandiva. He wasn’t a experienced archer, or even a casual one. He was, like most people coming to Kodanda, a man who wanted to experience archery. It was his first time, and he felt so exhilarated that he decided he wanted to share with other people the experience of joy that he felt.
Gandiva is the name of Arjuna’s bow, one of two heroes in the epic Mahabharata. Sir Bob had felt it fitting, as a tribute to his experience in the Gandiva archery range, to name his chain of archery ranges (four so far, in the last four years: Eastwood, BF Homes, Makati, and MOA) after another weapon from the epics. And so he chooses Kodanda, the bow of the hero Rama, from the epic Ramayana, and the rest is of it is history.
And so, it ends like this. With the realization that Sir Bob achieved what he had intended. The joy in your chest is palpable. The elation is enough for you to drag your cousin to Eastwood under the guise of needing to take more pictures, not that it was completely a lie, you did need more pictures. It was one session, but you left the house past seen in the evening and so the session ended right before the range officially closed, with you singing happily to Boys Like Girls’s The Great Escape. Coach Gerrylyn smile approvingly at your target paper. Besides the three holes on the black area of the target, the shots remain within the blue, red, and yellow circles. The bunching of the shots isn’t as scattered as it was the previous day (even at the distance of 8 meters).
The thrill that was dancing under your skin at the start of this whole escapade remains now, even as you type these words. It’s palpable, almost as if there’s a spark between your fingers and the keyboard. And you grin like an idiot as you stare at the three target papers adorning your wall. You’ll probably come back for more.
Here are some more pictures!