By Dan McGehee, March 8, 2014
This last February, I was lucky enough to be one of the people to attend the Chinese Archery Seminar held in Odum Georgia at the home of Jaap and Kay Koppedrayer. Two more gracious and entertaining hosts could not have been found; they offered their home and their knowledge to us all, as well as their kitchen, with Kay and Hsin Hsin Hu preparing most of our meals onsite. Coming from Chicago myself, I found the weather in Georgia in March to be everything we could ask for. Any cabin fever quickly disappeared under the warm pines and budding spring as we got know each other that morning at Jaap's bamboo farm.
Each day began with meditation in Jaap's workshop before we headed out to the 28 yd target set amongst the pine trees, where we warmed up and divided into groups under the guidance of Justin Ma, proprietor of Cinnabar Bow and teacher of Gao Ying's method of Ming Dynasty Chinese archery. Justin emphasized the importance of clean and well aligned shooting form at the makiwara, a tightly packed straw bale shot from an arrow's length away. The orientation of the arrow in the bale, in relation to the shooter, will expose any errors in the release or form of the archer (some readers will undoubtedly see the similarity to paper and bare shaft testing done by most traditional archers). "The arrow never lies" Justin is fond of telling his students, and quickly proves it by diagnosing any problems with your release after observing a only few shots.
When ready, individuals moved to the target amongst the trees, where we practiced keeping our shots in the center of FITA target backed by a sand pile, in front of which we placed foam wands and small balls for targets. Later in the event Peter Dekker, of Mandarin Mansion antiquities and the leading (one might say the only!) practitioner of traditional Manchu archery brought out his tunken target". Consisting of five layers, loosely set within each other, the goal is to shoot out the center without disturbing the others. Not only aim but an excellent release are required to pluck out the center separately of the rest, but none of us proved equal of it that day, with the middle two rings being achieved by several of our shooters, but never just the one. Throughout all this, Jaap often occupied a chair near the shooting line, calling advice and encouragement to archers.
Except for a trip to a local restaurant on the first day, all our meals were at the farm, prepared by Kay and Hsin Hsin, and were followed by lectures given by Justin and Peter on the topics of fitness in archery and the methods they both practice (Ming and Manchu Qing archery respectively), as well as a talk on reconstruction and perception of Asian archery in the modern world by Devon Brinner and Reed Peck Kriss. After the evening meal, we often sat around the table late into the night, with Jaap sharing his boundless knowledge as we told our stories and discussed the past and future of our mutual passion for archery.
The group was a cross section of skill levels, and many attendees who had learned to shoot at last years inaugural seminar returned this year with visibly improved skills to impress their teachers. Justin Ma provided a selection of bows to learn with, as well as thumb rings and arrows of every conceivable size to fit all shooters and interest people in the ever growing revival of Asian archery.
Such a concentration of knowledge as is found in Jaap, Justin and Peter is not often assembled in the U.S. and I would recommend anyone with an interest in beginning or refining their understanding of Asian archery to plan attending future events, both at Odum at any other location to be organized by these gentleman.
The founders of this event plan to continue holding them every year around the same time, and I am told Friday February 27 to Sunday, March 1 are reserved for next year's weekend. I hope to see familiar faces again next year, as well as meet many new shooters!
The 28 meter target after a round of shooting, check the size of those Manchu arrows.
The 2014 group. History in the making!