By Mark V. Lonsdale

Nishioka-sensei, whom I respect immensely, likes it when I begin my Judo classes and ruminations with a story, so here goes…. The front lawn at my house has one of those ornamental rock rivers flowing around it, made from smooth river rocks. There is no water, it came with the house and is not something I would’ve taken the time to put in, but visitors seem to like it. I have never had the time or inclination to become much of a gardener, but I have always liked Japanese Zen gardens – the ones where the sand is raked to flow around a large rock or center piece. I find them very peaceful and contemplative. I have also associated martial arts with gardening ever since I first saw Mister Miyagi trimming his bonsai trees in the Karate Kid movie. I had also trained under a Japanese sensei that owned a landscape gardening business – but I digress, so back to my front lawn.

Mark Lonsdale (standing) coaching a Judo class at University Judo Club

Since work and competitive sports require that I travel a lot, it did not take long before weeds began creeping into my ornamental rock river. At first I attacked them with enthusiasm, pulling, picking and plucking and then resorting to weed killer. But as weeds are genetically apt to do, they kept coming back, and there always seemed to be other engagements that were more pressing than weeding – gym, training, judo, shooting, writing, coaching, travel, etc. So eventually, because of neglect, the lovely river of rocks was lost to the weeds.

Bonsai In A Zen Garden Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image  42068285.

So what does this have to do with archery? As an instructor and coach in several disciplines, including Judo, rifle and pistol shooting, and archery, I often have the opportunity to observe individuals who have allowed their skills to deteriorate. In some cases these are adults who were competitive in their teens or college years but then drifted away from training only to return as adults. Others were once proficient practitioners who simply failed to maintain their skills through regular training – and by regular I mean more than once a month. As with any precision sport that requires repetition to master, archery is a perishable skill that also requires frequent practice.

Launching into my Mister Miyagi spiel, I explained that, “weeds” had crept into their garden of skills to various levels, dependent on how much they had neglected their training. At first the weeds may have been small and insignificant, but left unaddressed the weeds had run rampant.

Be assured that, I was not telling them anything they had not just learned in the previous ten minutes. They were astute enough to self-analyze and recognize that their form and technique were lacking at best. But the nodding heads told me that the analogy was sinking in, so for the next hour we worked on “picking weeds.” The four key elements were:

1. Break form and technique down to component parts to help identify weaknesses. For target archers, this usually means referencing the National Training System (NTS) 11-step process.   

2. Understanding that function follows form, before one can hope to score 10s, it is important to build a foundation of good form.

3. To progress, one must be willing to commit to regular training – ideally two to three times a week, and then daily or twice daily prior to a match or event.  

4. Finally, it is critical to develop the mental toughness to be able to function effectively under match pressures. There is no better way to develop the right mindset for competition than to participate in competitions.       

Following one of these Mister Miyagi sessions it is not unusual to receive emails from the participants indicating how much they had enjoyed the program and, more importantly, that they intended to institute regular technical development and “weeding” as part of their training program. In one case, some weeks after training, I ran into one Masters athlete where I asked how he was doing. His answer was, “still weeding the garden.” This made me smile and let me know that the analogy had resonated with the group.

To conclude, knowing that all physical skills are perishable, we all need to be constant gardeners in our own sports gardens. As instructors and coaches in particular, we must diligently seek to achieve and maintain demonstration quality skills through constant self-analysis and practice (“weeding”), particularly when demonstrating to our students. If for some reason an instructor cannot physically demonstrate a technique correctly, then he or she must ensure that there is an assistant instructor capable of filling that need.           


Author: Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator

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