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If you know me at all, then you’ll know that earlier this year I went over to Robion in the South of France with the Great Britain 3D Team, to shoot at the 3D World Championships  I mean lets face it I hadn’t exactly been that quiet during the run up to it. What can I say, I was excited! Shooting the way I do this is probably the only way I’d ever get to represent my country, doing the thing that I love.

Now that things have calmed down and the dust has settled a little, I can sit and tell you about my experience over there. From the day that I qualified, I had this niggling worry in the back of my mind. You see, I have a very special relationship with archery. I mean I’d even go as far as to say that it saved my life at one point, or at the very least stopped me going over the edge and losing the plot completely, although that’s a story for another time perhaps…

 

So as a result, Archery to me, as I’ve said on many occasions, is anything and everything other than a sport. I’ve had a bow in my hand longer than I can remember. To me it’s a way of life, heck Archery is my life. But I digress. I was talking abut that niggling worry. And that was having to change the way I had to think about Archery and take it seriously for once. Archery is my down time from the world and obviously it’s very precious to me, but never once have I had to take it seriously. Of course I treat it with the respect it deserves, but it’s never something I’ve ever had to perform at. The result to me was almost irrelevant. The process of simply shooting arrows toward the target and being out in the woods with friends always, and I mean always, outweighed the winning of trophies. 

But then after what seemed like a life time of waiting, training and getting stressed about something that earlier that year had come so effortlessly and natural to me. I found myself sitting on a luxury air condition bus on my way to my first world championships. Because of who I am and what I do, I’d gained a hell of a lot of support, which to this day humbles me more than anything when I go back and read through all the amazing messages and emails. I’d taken on a bow sponsor in Striker bows, there was even a fellow YouTuber (Nusensei), that brought one of my bows I was selling to fund the trip (as it was a completely self funded trip) at well over the asking price. As amazing as all that was, the pressure was immense. 

One of my many character flaws is that I’m a chronic people pleaser. Just ask my wife about all the things I’ve got us in to because I didn’t want to say no and upset somebody. But seriously I was terrified about letting people down… What if I went out there being Grizzly Jim and I royally screwed up, came dead last? I’ve made a career out of sharing my passion for traditional archery. If I was to underperform, would it undermine everything I’d done with Archery Adventures? Would  people think I was a fraud? 

All this was swimming around my noggin while driving through rural French countryside on the way to the first day of official practice at the world championships.

One of the things I love about my archery, is the ability to hit what it is I’m looking at, (well not all the time, it’s traditional archery we’re talking about after all) and I guess it was this ability that got me in to this situation in the first place. I’m a decent shot, I’m not too falsely modest to admit that,  by no means am I one of the greats. But I guess if you chuck enough manure for long enough some of it is bound to stick.

So here I find myself on a bus full of some of the best archers in the world, heading to a 3D course, to compete against them! Not wander around the woods with some new friends, and drink in the experience together, like at the Gathering, but to try and beat them and win. As they were sure as hell trying to beat me and take home that sweet gold for themselves. Now I think I know how Rocky Balboa felt when he took on Apollo Creed, only I had run up significantly less steps. 

It hit me like a ten ton truck stepping up to the line on the practice range, this competitive vibe was everywhere. Luckily a few of my team mates had schooled me beforehand on the etiquette and what to look out for at these events. For example, many competitors lose their mind if you even offer to try and pull their arrows, apparently, it’s been known in the past for an archer to deliberately damage a competitors arrow. Call me naive, but this is just something I’ve never really had to deal with. Yes I know all sorts goes on in all archery organisations, but thankfully it’s a rarity. I just hadn’t expected it to even be a thing on the world stage!

The other thing that struck me was the fact I was in the minority, shooting instinctively, I’m kinda used to that. But I naively thought that shooting in the instinctive class, there would be more of us. Counting myself and my very good friend Flea from Team USA there was only probably five or six of us. The class is Instinctive in name only. I was surrounded by that bizarre creature the “gap shooter”. Of course I jest, there is nothing wrong with gap shooting, it’s just not my cup of tea, my mind just doesn’t work like that… but it’s ok some of my best friends are gap shooters.

I shoot instinctively because that’s what I love, even Fred Bear said instinctive shooters make terrible tournament archers. So straight away I was on the back foot and outgunned. I’d also made a mistake with my gear, I was the only guy that took a longbow in what is essentially a recurve class. Because at the world 3D’s in the unsighted classes you don’t shoot further than 30 meters, I’d spent the last few months slowing my bow down (from about 200fps to around 160fps if you’re interested). My thinking behind this was because of the shorter maximum distance, if I dropped some speed and went for some fatter arrows with some big old 5” feathers. To give me a forgiving bow, that would pick up a couple of extra points, with those line cutters (it’s cheap, I know). This proved to be a monumentally bad choice. It gets pretty windy on the south coast of France…

Looking at other folks equipment, speed was the order of the day. And there were soo many beautiful bows to look at, it was a traditional archers dream! People had for the most part gone for medium to long recurves, with state of the art carbon limbs, skinny carbon arrows, beautifully crafted wooden risers, some even using a basic arrow rest. You know in those movies where that country bumpkin finds himself in the big city and completely out of his element… yeah I kinda felt like that.

I’m not to proud to admit what happened next, I kind of dropped the ball as they say. To quote my good friend and team mate Milly Williams I “puddled”. I lost it. For the first time in thirty years, I felt like I’d never touched a bow before, it felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. This was somewhat vexing, because if I’m not spending time with the wife and kids or making strings, I’m chucking arrows at bloody rubber animals in the wood. I should have been in my element! But I wasn’t. 

So much so my first two targets, that is to say my first four arrows of the tournament, were complete misses, Blanks – nothing, a couple of big fat zeros! Needless to say at this point in the competition, although it was still early days, I was sitting in dead last place. I didn’t need to see a score board to know that. Moving on to target number three through the beautiful french vineyard where this course was laid with Bjorn Storoien from Norway and Pieter Puttemans from Belgium (who were two of the nicest chaps I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooing with I might add, probably because at this point I was not a threat to them). My standing was all I could think about and how I was about to embarrass myself in front of the whole archery community. Time for arrow number five – MISS! Like the others, perfect line, just high. I needed to sort myself out, seriously. I didn’t come all this way to choke, it was imperative that I stem the bleeding and quick.

I was in the midst of a terrible bout of target panic, I know, great timing right. I tried to remember everything I could, all the advice I’d given, everything Jeff Kavanah told me about not getting my knickers in a twist. I seriously needed to get it together. At this point in the competition, even this early on, realistically it was safe to say I was probably out of the running, although all I needed to do was make top sixteen over the two days. But missing with my first five arrows at this level was fatal. 

At least I had nothing to loose, I think knowing this eased some of the pressure, Arrow number six – Bang! TEN! Not an eleven but I’d take it, right in the boiler room at about 25 yards, or there about, distance judging has never been my strong point, just ask my teammates Garry Cole and Luke Wiseman.

I was back, well at least a part of me was, I wasn’t quite back in the game, but at least I was stirring at the table and thinking about rolling the dice. Things actually improved somewhat after that, despite the heavy wind (big feathers ain’t your friend in the wind) and I started to enjoy myself on what was actually a pretty interesting course despite it being pretty flat.

I managed to drag myself up from 41st place to 35th by the end of the first day. By the second day I’d got my nerves and target panic a little more in check and I’d really started to have a good time. This second course was even harder than the first, many of the targets pushed back to the limit, but it was never going to be easy at this level. I shot a heck of a lot better on the second day, but with a foul start like that at a competition like this, there really isn’t any coming back.

It was almost a relief to be out of the running after the second day to be honest. Although for the longest time I felt terrible, I thought I’d let every one down, I thought I’d let myself down. It had knocked my confidence hugely, I’m still suffering the effects of it today. 

But you know what? After some soul searching I realised I hadn’t let anyone down, I’d taken myself off to a world championships with my simple stick bow and finished 37th in the world. Yeah I didn’t shoot great and I really let the pressure get to me. I didn’t realise it at the time but that Team GB shirt weighs a lot more emotionally than I could have ever imagined. It was a life changing experience, and I’ve learned so much.

I just love 3D archery and next to stumping it’s my favourite thing to shoot. Unfortunately and rather sadly, other than the NFAS, 3D isn’t very well popularised in the UK, you can tell that by the shocking amount of coverage the World 3D’s got from our own Archery GB. Especially with one of our team the aforementioned Milly Williams (ladies Longbow), who made it to the televised final. I also had the privilege of being her coach in the finals (I definitely didn’t fall over on television). So technically I guess I did make the finals of the World Championship!

It’s almost like the Great Britain 3D team are like the Ragtag rebels of Archery GB and you know what? I quite like that! I had an amazing time in France with my team and I met some of the most amazing people as well as some of the best archers in the world.

Even as of right now I’m still struggling with my shooting and I’m still feeling the after effects of the worlds. I was out at a local tournament a couple of weeks ago and I wasn’t shooting the way I should have been. I found myself getting angry and frustrated (this was unknown to me this time last year). It’s at this time I try to remember why I picked up the bow in the first place, it’s for the love of shooting not the love of winning. Shooting for Great Britain sometimes colours that. But it’s important that I stay true to myself and do what I do. Maybe that’s the wrong attitude to have if I want to compete at an international level? It would just be so easy to walk way and get back to shooting for myself in the woods. But I’m not done with this, not by a long shot, I feel like I still have something to prove. I really want to promote 3D archery especially with a traditional bow. But more on that next time….

I recently made a video about my experiences. See that here.

5 Comments
  • Tom Couper

    read your story and just would like to say , Thank you. You were invited to represent the UK , you accepted, you competed and we thank you. Do it again next time and Im confident youll find we will all support you again. what else can be said, gaun yersel Jim. well done.

    February 25, 2018
  • colin hasler

    jim you will have to learn to loose before you can win took me years keep the faith colin hasler

    March 31, 2018
  • Jesper Kamstrup

    The most honest story about the pressure we put on ourselves come game day. It took me forever to get the hang of it even though my sport was mtb racing.
    Just recently picked up archery, one year with a Compound bow (which Got boring fairly Quick) and now on to instinctive recurve. I LOVE instinctive shooting, my problem being that when I step up to the target, and my first arrow hit the 10 ring, I start thinking about it, and f…. up my next shot – annoying as hell. So My journey now, is towards “not thinking, just doing”

    July 6, 2018
  • Jeremy Bezinque

    Thank you for sharing this great story and the video. You’ve inspired me to go for it and do tournaments.

    August 16, 2018
  • Chris Shuttleworth

    37th in the world is pretty bloody good. You made some mistakes, you’ve reflected on them, you’ve learned from them. You’re a more experienced archer than you were when you headed out there. It might not be what you hoped for, but to me that’s a decent result. And as Colin above said, you have to learn to lose before you learn to win. How many champions out there won on their first try?

    Good point about representation of 3D archery though, until reading this I didn’t even know there was a Team GB for 3D shooting! I’m currently getting into field and 3D, love Borders’ course and heading to Dalmore at the weekend. I think that reading this may have given me a new goal! Who knows if I’ll manage it, but it’ll be fun to try!

    October 4, 2018

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