No trip to Bhutan is complete without having a go at archery. 2008 was the last time I came in contact with the sport. It has been far too long and I was rusty. I was nevertheless excited especially since my lovely Victoria is also a fan.
“Time for archery!”
We became obsessed. Archery was part of our daily activity and I found myself at a great disadvantage since Victoria is quite the archer.
Archery མདའ་ was declared as Bhutan’s national sport in 1971. That was the year when the country became a member of the UN. The 70’s was a period of change for Bhutan ( HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck sure had vision!). Greatly promoted by the government, there is an Olympic Archery Team and tournaments are treated very seriously. Unfortunately, we did not see a live archery tournament nor did we see female archers. I was told that there is a whole ritual involved with archery and it is played during religious festivals and public holidays. During the fierce competition, opposing teams would throw poetic insults at one another to intimidate the other opponent. Since Victoria and I had a real strong “womance” going on, we just encouraged each other in our matches.
Despite being a traditionally male-dominated sport, some of the archers who represented Bhutan in the Olympics are women.
It’s a fun sport and takes a lot of discipline and focus. I tried my best but failed since archery in Bhutan is very different from the ones in Australia. I was not focused enough and too easily affected by the wind. In Bhutan, they say that archery requires intelligence. Clearly, this is what I lack (haha).
Unlike modern archery where there is a stabiliser, sights, arm guard and arrow rest, the local Bhutanese bow only has a recurve bow and bowstring. Both the bow and arrows are made from bamboo. The diameter of the target in modern archery is 1.22 m in diameter. The local targets are small, brightly painted and ~100 m away (WHAT!!!)
The steps involved are also different. I was told by my high school coach to take a firm stance, load the arrow, hold, focus, breathe, draw bow, hold then release.
On the first day, I became carried away when the arrow hit the wooden board (I love that sound). I was so excited. There is a price to pay for pride. I did not do well in the next few days.
On the other hand, Victoria took it slow and adopted the traditional steps of stance, load, aim, pull and release.
Day two: We found a local park and we had a mini-competition. Whoever hits the tree trunk gets a point. Victoria barely missed.
I gave it my best shot and was defeated. I can’t help but laugh at each of my attempts. On the last day, I was told to simply follow the more simpler traditional steps. Stance, pull, aim then release. Practice makes perfect. I got the hang of it.
Bows and arrows are found in art, legends and the history of the country so it is an integral part of the Bhutanese identity…not to mention that it was the main way to defend oneself from intruders and upheavals back in the olden days.
Archery in Bhutan is more than just a sport and there is much fun in defeat. I look forward to my next match with Victoria and the locals and may I lose with my sportsmanship, grace and dignity intact.
[Bhutan trip: 14th to 20th December 2015]