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The Archer, Page 2

Paulo Coelho

  You were the one who chose the target and you are responsible for it.

  The target can be larger, smaller, to the right or the left, but you always have to stand before it, respect it, and bring it closer mentally. Only when it is at the very end of your arrow should you release the bowstring.

  If you view the target as the enemy, you might well hit the target, but you will not improve anything inside yourself. You will go through life trying only to place an arrow in the center of a piece of paper or wood, which is absolutely pointless. And when you are with other people, you will spend your time complaining that you never do anything interesting.

  That is why you must choose your target, do your best to hit it, and always regard it with respect and dignity; you need to know what it means and how much effort, training, and intuition were required on your part.

  When you look at the target, do not concentrate on that alone, but on everything going on around it, because the arrow, when it is shot, will encounter factors you failed to take into account, like wind, weight, and distance.

  You must understand the target. You need to be constantly asking yourself: “If I am the target, where am I? How would it like to be hit, so as to give the archer the honor he deserves?”

  The target exists only if the archer exists. What justifies its existence is the desire of the archer to hit it; otherwise it would be a mere inanimate object, an insignificant piece of paper or wood.

  Just as the arrow seeks the target, so the target also seeks the arrow, because it is the arrow that gives meaning to its existence; it is no longer just a piece of paper; for an archer, it is the center of the world.


  Once you have understood the bow, the arrow, and the target, you must have the serenity and elegance necessary to learn how to shoot.

  Serenity comes from the heart. Although the heart is often tormented by thoughts of insecurity, it knows that—through correct posture—it will be able to do its best.

  Elegance is not something superficial, but the way in which a man can do honor to his life and his work. If you occasionally find the posture uncomfortable, do not think of it as false or artificial; it is real because it is difficult. It allows the target to feel honored by the dignity of the archer.

  Elegance is not the most comfortable of postures, but it is the best posture if the shot is to be perfect.

  Elegance is achieved when everything superfluous has been discarded, and the archer discovers simplicity and concentration; the simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful.

  The snow is lovely because it has only one color, the sea is lovely because it appears to be a completely flat surface, but both sea and snow are deep and know their own qualities.

  How to Hold the Arrow

  To hold the arrow is to be in touch with your own intention.

  You must look along the whole length of the arrow, check that the feathers guiding its flight are well placed, and make sure that the point is sharp.

  Ensure that it is straight and that it has not been bent or damaged by a previous shot.

  In its simplicity and lightness, the arrow can appear fragile, but the strength of the archer means that it can carry the energy of his body and mind a long way. Legend has it that a single arrow once sank a ship, because the man who shot it knew where the wood was weakest and so made a hole that allowed the water to seep silently into the hold, thus putting an end to the threat of those would-be invaders of his village.

  The arrow is the intention that leaves the archer’s hand and sets off toward the target; that is, it is free in its flight and will follow the path chosen for it when it was released.

  It will be affected by the wind and by gravity, but that is part of its trajectory; a leaf does not cease to be a leaf merely because a storm tore it from the tree.

  A man’s intention should be perfect, straight, sharp, firm, precise. No one can stop it as it crosses the space separating it from its destiny.

  How to Hold the Bow

  Keep calm and breathe deeply.

  Every movement will be noticed by your allies, who will help you if necessary.

  But do not forget that your opponent is watching you too, and he knows the difference between a steady hand and an unsteady one: therefore, if you are tense, breathe deeply, because that will help you to concentrate at every stage.

  At the moment when you take up your bow and place it—elegantly—in front of your body, try to go over in your mind every stage that led up to the preparation of that shot.

  But do this without tension, because it is impossible to hold all the rules in your head; and with a tranquil mind, as you review each stage, you will see again all the most difficult moments and how you overcame them.

  This will give you confidence, and your hand will stop shaking.

  How to Draw the Bowstring

  The bow is a musical instrument, and its sound is made manifest in the string.

  The bowstring is a big thing, but the arrow touches only one point on it, and all the archer’s knowledge and experience should be concentrated on that one small point.

  If he leans slightly to the right or to the left, if that point is above or below the line of fire, he will never hit the target.

  Therefore, when you draw the bowstring, be like a musician playing an instrument. In music, time is more important than space; a group of notes on a line means nothing, but the person who can read what is written there can transform that line into sounds and rhythms.

  Just as the archer justifies the existence of the target, so the arrow justifies the existence of the bow: you can throw an arrow with your hand, but a bow without an arrow is no use at all.

  Therefore, when you open your arms, do not think of yourself as stretching the bow. Think of the arrow as the still center and that you are trying to bring the ends of the bow and bowstring closer together; touch the string delicately; ask for its cooperation.

  How to Look at the Target

  Many archers complain that, despite having practiced the art of archery for many years, they still feel their heart beating anxiously, their hands shaking, their aim failing. They need to understand that a bow or an arrow can change nothing, but that the art of archery makes our mistakes more obvious.

  On a day when you are out of love with life, your aim will be confused, difficult. You will find that you lack the strength to draw the string back fully, that you cannot get the bow to bend as it should.

  And when you see that your aim is poor that morning, you will try to find out what could have caused such imprecision; this will mean confronting the problem that is troubling you but that, up until then, has remained hidden.

  The opposite can happen too: your aim is true; the string hums like a musical instrument; the birds are singing all around. Then you realize that you are giving of your best.

  Nevertheless, do not allow yourself to be carried away by how you shoot in the morning, whether well or badly. There are many more days ahead, and each arrow is a life in itself.

  Use your bad moments to discover what makes you tremble. Use your good moments to find your road to inner peace.

  But do not stop either out of fear or out of joy: the way of the bow has no end.

  The Moment of Release

  There are two types of shot.

  The first is the shot made with great precision, but without any soul. In this case, although the archer may have a great mastery of technique, he has concentrated solely on the target, and because of this he has not evolved, he has become stale, he has not managed to grow, and, one day, he will abandon the way of the bow because he finds that everything has become mere routine.

  The second type of shot is the one made with the soul. When the intention of the archer is transformed into the flight of the arrow, hi
s hand opens at the right moment, the sound of the string makes the birds sing, and the gesture of shooting something over a distance provokes—paradoxically enough—a return to and an encounter with oneself.

  You know the effort it took to draw the bow, to breathe correctly, to concentrate on the target, to be clear about your intention, to maintain elegance of posture, to respect the target, but you need to understand too that nothing in this world stays with us for very long: at a given moment, your hand will have to open and allow your intention to follow its destiny.

  Therefore, the arrow must leave, however much you love all the steps that led to the elegant posture and the correct intention, and however much you admire its feathers, its point, its shape.

  However, it cannot leave before the archer is ready to shoot, because its flight would be too brief.

  It cannot leave after the exact posture and concentration have been achieved, because the body would be unable to withstand the effort and the hand would begin to shake.

  It must leave at the moment when bow, archer, and target are at the same point in the universe: this is called inspiration.


  The gesture is the incarnation of the verb; that is, an action is a thought made manifest.

  A small gesture betrays us, so we must polish everything, think about details, learn the technique in such a way that it becomes intuitive. Intuition has nothing to do with routine, but with a state of mind that is beyond technique.

  So, after much practicing, we no longer think about the necessary movements; they become part of our own existence. But for this to happen, you must practice and repeat.

  And if that isn’t enough, you must repeat and practice.

  Look at the skilled farrier working steel. To the untrained eye, he is merely repeating the same hammer blows.

  But anyone who knows the way of the bow knows that each time he lifts the hammer and brings it down, the intensity of the blow is different. The hand repeats the same gesture, but as it approaches the metal, it understands that it must touch it with more or less force.

  So it is with repetition; although it may appear to be the same thing, it is always different.

  Look at the windmill. To someone who glances at its sails only once, they seem to be moving at the same speed, repeating the same movement.

  But those familiar with windmills know that they are controlled by the wind and change direction as necessary.

  The hand of the farrier was trained by repeating the gesture of hammering thousands of times. The sails of the windmill can move fast when the wind blows hard and thus ensure that its gears run smoothly.

  The archer allows many arrows to go far beyond the target, because he knows that he will learn the importance of bow, posture, string, and target only by repeating his gestures thousands of times and by not being afraid of making mistakes.

  And his true allies will never criticize him, because they know that practice is necessary, that it is the only way in which he can perfect his instinct, his hammer blow.

  And then comes the moment when he no longer has to think about what he is doing. From then on, the archer becomes his bow, his arrow, and his target.

  How to Observe the Flight of the Arrow

  Once the arrow has been shot, there is nothing more the archer can do, except follow its path to the target. From that moment on, the tension required to shoot the arrow has no further reason to exist.

  Therefore, the archer keeps his eyes fixed on the flight of the arrow, but his heart rests, and he smiles.

  The hand that released the bowstring is thrust back; the hand holding the bow moves forward; the archer is forced to open wide his arms and confront, chest exposed and with a sincere heart, the gaze of both allies and opponents.

  If he has practiced enough, if he has managed to develop his instinct, if he has maintained elegance and concentration throughout the whole process of shooting the arrow, he will, at that moment, feel the presence of the universe and will see that his action was just and deserved.

  Technique allows both hands to be ready, breathing to be precise, the eyes to be trained on the target. Instinct allows the moment of release to be perfect.

  Anyone passing nearby and seeing the archer with his arms open, his eyes following the arrow, will think that nothing is happening. But his allies know that the mind of the person who made the shot has changed dimensions; it is now in touch with the whole universe.

  The mind continues to work, learning all the positive things about that shot, correcting possible errors, accepting its good qualities, and waiting to see how the target reacts when it is hit.

  When the archer draws the bowstring, he can see the whole world in his bow.

  When he follows the flight of the arrow, that world grows closer to him, caresses him, and gives him a perfect sense of duty fulfilled.

  Each arrow flies differently. You can shoot a thousand arrows and each one will follow a different trajectory: that is the way of the bow.

  The Archer Without Bow, Without Arrow, Without Target

  The archer learns when he forgets all about the rules of the way of the bow and goes on to act entirely on instinct. In order, though, to be able to forget the rules, it is necessary to respect them and to know them.

  When he reaches this state, he no longer needs the instruments that helped him to learn. He no longer needs the bow or the arrows or the target, because the path is more important than the thing that first set him on that path.

  In the same way, the student learning to read reaches a point when he frees himself from the individual letters and begins to make words out of them.

  However, if the words were all run together, they would make no sense at all or would make understanding extremely hard; there have to be spaces between the words.

  Between one action and the next, the archer remembers everything he has done; he talks with his allies; he rests and is content with the fact of being alive.

  The way of the bow is the way of joy and enthusiasm, of perfection and error, of technique and instinct.

  “But you will only learn this if you keep shooting your arrows.”


  By the time Tetsuya stopped talking, they had reached the carpentry workshop.

  “Thank you for your company,” he said to the boy.

  But the boy did not leave.

  “How can I know if I’m doing the right thing? How can I be sure that my eyes are concentrating, that my posture is elegant, that I’m holding the bow correctly?”

  “Visualize the perfect master always by your side, and do everything to revere him and to honor his teachings. This master, whom many people call God, although some call him ‘the thing’ and others ‘talent,’ is always watching us.

  “He deserves the best.

  “Remember your allies too: you must support them, because they will help you at those moments when you need help. Try to develop the gift of kindness: this gift will allow you to be always at peace with your heart. But, above all, never forget that what I have told you might perhaps be words of inspiration, but they will make sense only if you experience them yourself.”

  Tetsuya held out his hand to say goodbye, but the boy said:

  “One other thing: How did you learn to shoot a bow?”

  Tetsuya thought for a moment: Was it worth telling the story? Since this had been a special day, he opened the door to his workshop and said:

  “I’m going to make some tea, and I’m going to tell you the story, but you have to promise the same thing I made the stranger promise—never tell anyone about my skill as an archer.”

  He went in, put on the light, wrapped his bow up again in the long strip of leather and placed it out of sight. If anyone stumbled upon it, they would think it was just a piece of warped bambo
o. He went into the kitchen, made the tea, sat down with the boy, and began his story.

  “I was working for a great nobleman who lived in the region; I was in charge of looking after his stables. But since my master was always traveling, I had a great deal of free time, and so I decided to devote myself to what I considered to be the real reason for living: drink and women.

  “One day, after several nights without sleep, I felt dizzy and collapsed in the middle of the countryside, far from anywhere. I thought I was going to die and gave up all hope. However, a man I had never seen before happened to pass along that road; he helped me and took me to his house—a place far from here—and nursed me back to health during the months that followed. While I was recovering, I used to see him set out every morning with his bow and arrows.