Aug 03, 2012
By Raimundo Ortiz
Inside a small martial arts studio on Peninsula Boulevard, where ancient-styled canes, nun-chucks, and long staffs adorn the walls and edge weapons are hidden away, Master Eli Chaikin takes a small bow in front of his archery students, before their lesson begins.
“I salute anytime I enter or exit the mat,” said Chaikin. “It’s a pause to separate training from other things, a mental and physical separation. It’s like clearing your desk before beginning a task.”
Chaikin began practicing Pa-Kua when he was a small child, and has been teaching the many aspects of the art full-time for 20 years. On Tuesdays, he welcomes archery students into his studio, where they start the class by saluting and running laps around the mat to get their blood flowing.
The archery class is about far more than simply picking up a bow and nailing targets across a room. Like the other styles of Pa-Kua, archery equally values mental strength and physical prowess. “Each weapon has its own characteristics,” explains Chaikin. “It expands your reach but is also very meditative. There can be up to 40 pounds of pressure that you are pulling and releasing. Yes, you are using your body but shooting is very instinctual.”
One of Chaikin’s more advanced students, Master Dominique R. Jenkins, a fourth-degree black belt in martial arts herself, and a gray belt in archery, echoed the importance Chaikin places on the mental facets of shooting. “I love the ritual of shooting,” said Jenkins. “In movies people see characters loading up arrows and it’s all about killing, killing, killing. I use it to relax. I tap into this pool of Zen.”
After the students finish their laps, they participate in stretching and breathing exercises. Some of the exercises entail holding their bows and practicing kicks or, for the lower-level students doing the movements while pantomiming the bow in their hands. The purpose of stretching and moving with the bow in tow is to develop familiarity and oneness with the weapon. “A great basketball player does everything with the basketball, he immerses himself in it. He knows the weight of it, how it smells, and he can shoot it in the hoop sometimes without even seeing the basket,” said Chaikin. “It is the same with the bow, it helps to be more comfortable with it and then everything becomes second nature.”
After this, the students are told to fetch their bows, and get in position to practice stringing them. After several minutes of stepping over their bows, and perfecting stringing them, one of the more advanced students, Master Jacob Rosenbaum of Brooklyn, a second-degree black belt in martial arts and a gray belt in edge weapons, steps to the front and leads his fellow students in more stretches, poses, and kicks.
“Pa-Kua is essentially a teaching art,” said Chaikin, who compared his students leading movement to instructing someone on the proper way to throw a rock. “If you throw a rock with the aim of stopping at a certain point there’s going to be X amount of power, but if you throw the rock with the intention of it going much further, through the object, it’s going to hit that object with a much stronger impact,” he expounded.
After about 30 minutes of activity without firing a single arrow, Chaikin’s class saluted then retrieved a large pad riddled with small holes. The students begin unloading arrows one at a time at the target. One by one, they notch the arrows, raise their arms high over their head and pull back on the string, all the while keeping their eyes fixed on the target. They bring their arms down and release simultaneously, all of them hitting the pad.
There are other types of shots they practice as well, such as releasing the arrow while transferring their weight to their back leg, or shooting from greater distance. Master Rosenbaum and Master Dominique even fire from one knee and practice unleashing multiple shots while walking towards and away from the target.
Regardless of skill, Chaikin quietly corrects small mistakes his students make and encourages them to challenge themselves and attempt more difficult positions. He also drums up friendly competition, having groups of students try to unload multiple shots in short periods of time, and granting bonuses for accuracy.
When class is over, all the students assume their original positions and salute before carefully stepping over their bows and slowly unstringing them. They salute again and class is over.
“This is a very basic class, one that emphasizes breathing and the right mechanics,” said Chaikin. “The moving shots, or transferring weight look difficult but if you practice enough none of the shots are harder than the others.”
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