Irish Olympic target shooting

Phase change

Last nights training was… hard to explain.

There’s this moment you often get when learning a new physical skill, whether it be learning to ride a bicycle, learning to drive a car, or learning to correctly take high ukemi from kotegaeshi:

In each case, there’s a kind of phase change that takes place between the time where you learn the basic components of what you’re trying to do and have only a rough idea of how it should go at best; and the time after you first do it properly. The before and the afterwards are utterly unalike in every respect,  everything works differently afterwards than before and there’s a seemingly impenetrable, unsurmountable barrier in between the two which is very hard to communicate across – after the change, questions from before seem utterly silly and wrong (phrases like “you’re making it too hard for yourself” come to mind quickly); whilst before the change, answers from after sound like the most stereotypical zen quotes delivered with a cartoon-like cadence. There’s a near-complete lack of shared mental context between the two sides.

And as hard as communicating across that gap is, it’s even harder to actually cross it. Sometimes it takes lots of effort; sometimes – as with kotegaeshi – it takes a conscious letting go of the idea that you can’t possibly do it, and just doing it (and if that sounds easy to you, you’ve never done it!).

Turns out, shooting is a lot like that sometimes. Last night was initially very fustrating. 7s and 8s abounded – even the dude could not abide. And then, after about thirty rounds or so, I just gave up. Walked away from the line. Drank some isotonics and took a breather. And I don’t know why, but rather than just draw a line under it and pack my kit and go home, I went back to the line and just fell into a mental state and a rythym that I’ve only ever hit a few times in the last few years. It’s a bit hard to describe, it’s like a cross between a deep zazen state of mushin and a state of mind best described by the phrase “stop faffing about and get on with it ye gobshite”. No expectation of results, just getting on with the task in hand. No pomp and circumstance about the rifle lift or mount, just my basic average position, no extremes, just what I’ve done ten thousand times before. And not so much taking my time with the shot, as being unhurried while not wasting time on the superfluous. And I shot one of the tightest, most centered groups I’ve ever shot. Deep tens to outer tens (and okay, a 9.9 as well). But it was the best shooting I’ve done in months, easily better than anything I did in Kuortane, and it all felt natural, all very “what’s all the fuss about?”. My coaches, Matt and Geoff, have been saying for years, forget the details, just aim and shoot. And that’s what it felt like.

There were definitely notes taken afterwards, true; like the timing of breathing and head drop and how I was doing the aiming, and the conscious relaxing of the left arm from wrist to shoulder during the pre-aim; but none of it was anything Matt and Geoff hadn’t been telling me to do for years, and it was all small technical details that framed the change rather than described it. None of the details caused the change; it’s just that last night for some wierd reason I don’t understand yet, in an instant, it all just started to work perfectly, like someone threw a switch in my brain and suddenly I knew how to shoot.

Here’s hoping it’s not a phase change you can go reverse! 😀

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