Originally a Mastodon thread.
Have I ever told you about my first archery session and the Instructor Who Would Not Shut Up?
My friend Sam prefers to have days out instead of presents, so Joh and I saved up so that the three of us could have an archery session, something Sam and I had been talking about for months.
I knew I was unlikely to be any good at it (I’m someone who has to work *very hard* at *everything* before I see any progress), but my friend Sam was much the same and anyway, it would be a beginner session anyway.
I was, it turned out, wrong on many fronts.
Because I wasn’t just bad at archery. I was terrible.
Or so it first appeared, when we arrived fresh and excited at the archery range.
We were brought into the beginner’s barn, where it was all indoors to reduce the chance of accidentally impaling our fellow archers.
We were overseen by an instructor whose job it was to teach us the basics.
This he did, but he taught nobody as much as he taught me — and it was *not at all* the lesson he intended.
To Joh, he had only praise. My partner — having never touched a bow in their life — proceeded to immediately and without trial and error create perfect clusters of arrows on the distant target.
This didn’t surprise them — that’s just how things are for Joh. For those who get the reference, a fictional character he often relates to is Captain Carrot from Discworld. But they love praise, and being good at things only makes them work harder at them.
For Sam, he had mild corrections. Put your feet here, hold your shoulders here, aim like this, not like this. Sam struggled to hit the targets consistently but was having a good time regardless, and he was given space to gradually incorporate the instructions.
We took it in turns, so we each had an audience.
And the instructor had more instruction for *me* than he did for anybody. And oh … it was a useless instruction.
I was doing, I thought, about the same as my friend Sam. But rather than improving, I only got worse. My feet were in the right place. My stance was correct; I was holding the bow properly.
But the instructor never left my side and repeated, over and over and without pause, the same advice: ‘Relax.’
‘Just relax,’ he’d say, while I gritted my teeth.
‘You’ll do so much better if you relax,’ he’d tell me, never stepping back as he did for the others.
‘Relax! It’s the most natural thing in the world,’ he’d tell me. ‘Your body wants to relax.’
Behind me, Joh and Sam were giggling madly. They, like all people who know me, understand that relaxing is not and will never be my natural state. I am a spring wound tight. I am a bundle of anxiety and nerves and watchfulness on high alert.
And there is nothing I hate more than someone telling me to relax, especially when I’d been friendly and calm and uncomplaining.
My martial arts instructor (a complete sweetheart) had commented that I had ‘hard energy’ when I found myself frustrated by how different my progress was to Joh’s. He told me that it was a strength as much as a weakness. When I got hit, it *hurt*, but I could hit harder because of it.
It’s something I had accepted about myself.
But this stranger standing next to me and imploring me to ‘do what was natural’ was not doing me any favours.
Was he sexist? I suspect at least internalised. I could see no other reason why he picked on me when I was as good as Sam, except that he had read me as a woman. And he was far more patronising with me.
While I gritted my teeth and willed him a hundred miles away, I got worse. My body was telling me there was an enemy in my personal space. I didn’t need to relax, but I did need to feel safe.
The intro ended with him telling Joh they ‘had a natural gift’ and telling Sam that with practice he’d get better in no time. He told me to relax, with a simpering grin.
Then he handed over the kit and told us we were free to do the real course unsupervised.
This wasn’t in a barn. It was out in the forest. We were shooting at semi-obscured animal figures, not hay bale targets.
And there was nobody to tell us what to do.
Joh and Sam both did much worse. Joh was spooked by being outside with other archers around, and Sam preferred to have the instruction. Their shots went wide. They dropped arrows.
But I *absolutely killed it*.
I hit every target. I made mistakes, but not many. I loved the calm. I loved the quiet. I loved there being nobody standing over my shoulder. And I was every bit as tense as my body wanted to be.
When we counted up our scores, I’d won by a landslide.
I was proud. Satisfied. Thrilled, because I’d discovered something I could maybe be good at one day, if I worked really hard at it.
Joh and Sam congratulated me and were genuinely happy for me.
The instructor found us as we packed up the equipment. He assumed Joh won, but Joh told him, proudly, that I’d crushed them.
The instructor beamed at me. ‘You finally relaxed, huh?’
As I resisted the urge to strangle him, my friends replied ‘Not at all!’
Anyway, that’s the story of how I didn’t kick a man who thoroughly deserved it, and how I discovered I could one day be deadly with a bow in my hands if I wanted to.
Image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay