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By Radiya Jamari (14A03B)
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the school campus, adjacent to the basketball court, lies the shooting range. I, along with a few friends, was recently given the opportunity to experience the training that our school’s shooters have to go through every week. Perhaps some of us have preconceived notions about the sport, and may question the physical intensity of the shooters’ training. Stand, aim, fire – what can be so difficult about standing still and using only a finger to pull the trigger, right? I assure you that there is more to shooting than meets the (bulls)eye.
Shooting is categorised into two events: the air pistol and the air rifle. Both are fired, using pellets, from a distance of ten metres. The air pistol has to be controlled using only one hand, in a standing position perpendicular to the target. For better balance and stability, my air pistol mentor instructed me to put my free hand in my pocket. I asked her for a demonstration on how to hold and fire the air pistol – and it looked easy enough. So I got into position, composed myself, aligned my pistol to the target, and fired a shot. It missed the target. Looks can be deceiving: while my mentor had a good grip and control of the pistol because she had been trained, I, on the other hand, had great difficulty stabilising my hand. Being the inexperienced shooter and naturally clumsy person I was, my hands were trembling quite a fair bit due to the weight of the pistol. I believe many of us may underestimate the physical endurance and stamina it takes to simply stay put and control our actions. In a sense, shooting is a sport that is unique from others because it does not involve the same motor skills; however, it requires the same amount of physical strength and exertion, and even greater hand-eye coordination.
I ended up having to sit down and hold the pistol with both hands first, before eventually having the confidence and stability to stand and fire single-handedly. Next, I moved on to the air rifle. Naturally, due to its size and weight, it is handled using both hands. The standing position was trickier to get used to: feet apart, the base of the rifle resting on my left knuckle, and my left elbow resting on my hip, such that my left forearm, hip, and left leg would form a vertical frame to support the rifle. Sounds tough? In the Olympics, the male competitors have to fire 60 shots within 105 minutes; for females, 40 shots have to be fired within 75 minutes. I could barely maintain my position for two minutes.
Yet what struck me was how my air rifle mentor stressed the importance of relaxing myself and gaining composure before taking a shot (he even taught me a few breathing exercises). While physical strength was also necessary to carry and support the air rifle, what was even more essential was the mental strength it took to maintain that position, and to concentrate instead on the aim and accuracy of the shot. I believe this was the first time that I had taken part in a sport where I was not gasping for breath, but I was instead learning to control my breath to gain stability, composure, and focus.
Beyond the muscular strength and almost superhuman balance needed to be a shooter, what really struck me were the psychological demands of the sport. It was truly a game of marginal fractions and slim percentages – as much as I celebrated every successful shot, I grew to appreciate the unerringly mechanical precision required of competitive shooters. While we are often confronted by tragic stories of mass shootings that seem to take place far too frequently, I think many of us forget that what matters is ultimately the will of the person behind the trigger. In the hands of a trained athlete, elegance comes from the barrel of a gun.