Friday, November 07, 2014

A Visit to Gotham Archery

Note before you launch in - Wow, this got very in-depth, I got extremely analytical about Ken's teaching style. I think I got some extra fun out of the class because I was comparing Gotham Archery owner Ken's teaching style (which I thought was very good) to what I've been taught over the years about teaching people how to kayak. Fun picking up the parallels, of which there were plenty, and I guess I just couldn't resist rummaging through every single comparison here. 

I thought about calling this post "And Now For Something Completely Different", since it features something I've never done in NYC before, but the topic HAS come up on this blog once before. Remember Tallinn? 
Even then it wasn't something new and different - more something old and different. Way way way way way back in the mists of the past (otherwise known as the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year in college), I spent the summer as a counselor at Camp Niwana, a very nice Camp Fire Girls camp near Port Orchard, Washington. They had an archery range that the counselors were allowed to use on our free time, and I did, and although I never got to be a particularly good shot I did enjoy it.

Fast forward to Estonia - Capt. Kat (the friend from my schooner days who put together the Estonian adventure) and I were walking around Talinn on my first night there when we passed this archery range. The city prides itself on its medieval character and this was just set up as a thing tourists could do to get in the spirit of things. I hadn't touched a bow since Camp Niwana but I was sort of looking at the targets as we passed & Kat noticed and said "You want to do that, don't you. Why not?" Well, my only reason not to had been because I didn't want to make her stand around waiting for me and since she clearly didn't mind, I did, and guess what? I still wasn't a particularly good shot, but I still enjoyed it.

Fast forward again to slightly earlier this fall, when out of the blue one day Iris, one of my paddling friends, posted on Facebook that she was going to an archery lesson. Somehow the thought of doing that here in NYC had never so much as crossed my mind (although I did notice the archery range at Floyd Bennett Field, that looked set up for people with their own stuff), but I told her that I'd actually love to come sometime. Monday, she asked me if I wanted to go. First week of the month is close week which means long work days, but that was still on the first business day of the month and I can't start running my stuff until the second day, so I jumped at the chance. There was a little back and forth with another paddler who was going to come about the time, but in the end I signed up for an 8:00 class at Gotham Archery and ended up having a very good time.

The range is in an area of warehouses not too far from Atlantic Center - right on my way home, nice. I got there a good bit early; they ask you to be 15 minutes early for the class, I added a 15 minute cushion for getting lost and then didn't get lost, so got there shortly after 7:30. Paid up, signed the waiver, and then sat down on a bench to watch the 3 people who were practicing. Two of them were sleek young blonds wearing flattering yoga-type exercise garb. The other was an older guy who much to my relief was wearing Office Casual - khakis and an Oxford shirt. Actually my relief wasn't THAT great, but it happened that I hadn't expected to go a-shooting that night when I left for work, I didn't quite have time to go home for a change of clothes so I also happened to be wearing Office Casual khakis and an Oxford shirt. I wasn't all that worried about it, figured I couldn't possibly be the first person to come to an unplanned post-work archery session and my office clothes are pretty functional (I have some suits in my closet but I haven't worn them in years and I couldn't now if I wanted to - they are slated for donation), but at the same time I had a feeling the place was going to be hipster central and I was going to feel like a bit of a dweeb. So it was sort of nice to see Office Casual Guy shooting. The other thing I noticed after watching for a while was that one of the sleek blonds was quite good, while the other one was clearly learning, and nobody seemed too concerned about that, either. Also nice.

This turned out to reflect one of the house rules, which our instructor, Ken (also one of the owners) ran through once the other folks in my class arrived. No coming to the range drunk or high, no running, follow all instructions given by staff (including a certain set of commands that keep practice running safely by making sure that everyone is in the same phase of the exercises, which means no chance of one person shooting while someone else is in a bad location), no dry-firing bows (if there's no arrow in the bow, all of that energy goes back into the bow, which can actually shatter), and a few other items. The last rule was one that Ken said they'd originally just given for kids' classes, but then he and his partner in the business realized it was a good rule for everyone -- "Don't be a jerk". The gentlemen who are running Gotham Archery want everyone who comes there to have as good time as they can (obviously this isn't going to be everyone's thing, but there's a difference between just finding that you don't enjoy an activity and being actively made to feel small while finding that out); apparently a lot of archery ranges can feel very cliquish to a newcomer, so "Don't be a jerk" cuts down on that. I think they also get a lot of friends and couples coming together, and sometimes people can get into teasing mode without realizing that maybe the other person is actually feeling awkward doing this thing for the first time -- getting that "Don't be a jerk" hint probably does a lot to make a person think before they razz.

Once the code of conduct was laid down, Ken took the six of us into the 2nd range (they have 2, one for novices, one for advanced - this is part of trying to make this a comfortable experience for everyone, novices don't get discouraged comparing themselves to experts while the experts don't get distracted by arrows bouncing off the backboards and such) and introduced us all to the proper form. This was actually pretty interesting because although we had an archery instructor at Camp Niwana, either they were only teaching the kids, or I wasn't paying proper attention, or maybe it was just a really really long time ago and I'd just clean forgotten it all (quite possible, sigh). Funny thing was, I don't think anybody else in my class had done any archery at all, but I think I was the slowest student. My first challenge was to let go of the way I thought I was supposed to do it in favor of doing it the way Ken was actually telling us to do it (we see that in kayaking classes - sometimes the person who's done a lot of paddling without training is the hardest to teach because they have more to unlearn). He did a good job on that, I really liked his instruction style, I could actually see a lot of similarities between how he approached the class and how a paddling class is run, ideally (I do ok but I never feel like my classes are nearly as clean as some of the instructors I really admire). He was  clear, he gave us some simple physical markers to use to keep our shots consistent (like a basic setup involving first spreading out your arms into a T and then moving on from there that I found myself going back to when I felt like I was losing track of things during practice, plus there was a really key thing about hand placement that was one of the things I don't remember ever learning and had to FORCE myself to do - simple enough motion but had to really think about it to get it). He was very patient and encouraging, did a great job on combining positive comments with corrections, and one other thing I noticed that I really liked was that he was very respectful about touching; generally when he was correcting a student it was easier for him to physically move them into the correct posture, but he basically asked permission of the class to do so before he started (he specifically mentioned religious reasons but some people just aren't comfortable being touched and I liked that he respected that). He also had a good sense of humor and there was a lot of laughter.

Once we'd done some exercises without any gear in our hands, it was time to pick bows and begin actually trying some target practice. We could choose a compound bow or a recurved; I went for the recurved because that's what we had at Camp Niwana (although we didn't have sights - that was another big thing to adjust to) and hopefully that's part of why my target looks so totally random - but again, there was the business of thinking I was doing it the way Ken had told us to when I really wasn't. Fortunately Ken stuck with us, taking turns giving each of us pointers and by the end of the basic target practice I was feeling like I was getting it somewhat.

And then the end of the class was TONS of fun - Ken had a couple of games and challenges for us. Reminded me very much of how my Ocean Currents class went from everyone concentrating on crossing the eddy line Just So, doing fine but sort of wrapped up in stylistic minutiae, to everybody just cutting loose and playing when I introduced some Nerf footballs to the scene. I'd been so wrapped up thinking about everything I was supposed to be doing and trying to figure out what I'd done wrong when one of my shots went particularly astray - when Ken added a game to the picture, I relaxed and got to having fun again.

I didn't win a shirt, and I'm still not a particularly good shot, but I enjoyed it again - and now I feel like if I can just get back for some practice before too long, there's a chance I might actually get to be a somewhat better shot. Think this will be a fun project to pursue now that it's dark by the time I leave work. More to come, I hope!

Care to try it yourself? Visit the Gotham Archery website at Oh, and if you are a Hunger Games fan? You might want to go on November 15th, when they're running a Mockingjay promo with prizes from Lionsgate. More games, should be fun!


my2fish said...

Wow, sounds like a great place to learn! My boys always like trying the archery (w/ recurve bows) at the camp we vacation at.

bonnie said...

I was properly impressed!

I'm thinking I should go back and practice tonight - if I had a dime for every person I've told "You need to come back and practice soon, ideally within a week, to hang onto what you learned today" after a class, I think I'd have a few cheeseburgers covered. And not Mickey D's cheeseburgers either, I'm talking fancy-schmancy NYC cheeseburgers.