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Zen in trumpet and archery

May 31, 2010

Not many people know that I was once a fairly good trumpet player. I even began my too short college career as a trumpet major. What does that have to do with an outdoor column? It's a stretch, but bear with me and I'll try to explain.

Trumpet playing requires a lot of muscles, air and brain working together, and coming back after a half century was harder that I had imagined. I was missing notes and my teacher kept telling me that I was too tense. I needed to relax. During a lesson he asked if I had ever read "Zen in the Art of Archery". I hadn't, but then it came up on a website dedicated to trumpet players. There is a website for everything these days. I decided to read the book.

Since I am a bowhunter, reading any book about archery seemed a good use of my time. I soon realized, however, that what is taught in the Japanese art of archery is much different than compound bows with sights that rival what we use on rifles. It was really about relaxing and letting "It" take control. Can you say, Luke Skywalker? I believe that was what my teacher was trying to tell me about hitting the notes I was missing.

Back when I was shooting my bow instinctively I hit the target better if I just relaxed and let my reflexes do the job. Once I tried to conscientiously aim, I missed. I need to get out my old Bear Kodiak recurve and give it a try.

When young bowhunters think about the best of the best they likely think of someone like Chuck Adams. I'm older and to me there is no better bowman than the late Howard Hill. I've seen movies of Hill hitting thrown targets while he was standing in the bed of a speeding pickup truck. He was able to hit targets from the back of a galloping horse. He hit more birds in the air than I can accomplish with a shotgun.

Howard Hill used a long bow without any accoutrements. He never aimed. He just seemed to pull the bow to full draw and release. His technique was a lot like what was taught in "Zen in the Art of Archery".

Back when I was supposed to be practicing my trumpet I was often practicing shooting. My mentor was another Hill. Dick Hill worked in my dad's pottery and he taught me to shoot a .22 rifle at moving targets without aiming. It's not something I would do today because of the lack of safety, but we spent a lot of time at the local dump where I learned to bust cans out of the air.

All of this holds true today when I shoot sporting clays. As long as I keep my head on the stock and let my reflexes take over I bust flying targets. As soon as I see that I'm getting a good score and try to hit the targets, I start to miss.

When I shoot trap I have a particularly difficult time with targets when I'm on station five. The ones that fly to my right are especially hard for me. So, what do I do? I try harder and miss more.

There may be a parallel between this and playing my trumpet. Just like the clay targets at station five there are notes that I find difficult to hit with my horn. As I approach these notes I tend to tighten up and sometimes actually overshoot the note and hit a higher note. I need to check sometime to see if I'm overshooting clay targets, but I doubt the analogy goes that far. I'm just missing them.

The lesson I am taking from all of this is that any hobby must be fun. If you are not relaxed and enjoying yourself, you will be better off at work or mowing the lawn. I need to read "Zen in the Art of Archery" again to see if I can get myself on the path to letting "It" hit the notes and the targets. I don't have a light saber like Luke, but as long as I enjoy my hobbies, I'll keep practicing. Maybe the shooting and the music will get a little better.



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