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Taking Aim at Archery : The sport is described as a great discipline for children or adults. Free classes are offered at Van Nuys' Woodley Avenue Park.

September 03, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster is a regular contributor to The Times

"One shot--one life!" --from "Zen in the Art of Archery"

Cesar Coneta steadies his bow, pulls an arrow from his quiver and notches it securely. He aims, pulls and launches the arrow, sending it clattering to the cement in front of him.

Cesar, 8, has perhaps years of shooting ahead of him before he will grapple with the "one shot--one life!" motto applied to the sport of archery. But Cesar's first attempt, recently executed at the Junior Olympic Archery Development program in Van Nuys' Woodley Avenue Park, is considered the most important by the program's teachers.

"As with any endeavor, unless you launch the first shot, you have nothing," said Tracy Locker, director of the program, sponsored by Van Nuys-based Easton Inc. "Archery requires a natural state of balance and sense of quietude--it's a great discipline for kids or adults."

Easton, a sponsor of the 1984 Olympic Games, manufactures aluminum arrows, baseball bats, golf clubs and hockey sticks, among other sports equipment. The company began the Olympic archery program a decade ago in hopes of drawing attention and talent to archery and possibly sending its most promising students to the Olympics. The free program, also held in Cheviot Hills and Long Beach, is for anyone who would like to take aim at the sport.

So far, one student, Chris Clohessy, has edged close to qualifying for the 1996 Olympic Games. Clohessy is training at the U. S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and comes from a pool of 10 students at the Woodley program. Dozens of others--from novices to bow hunters--attend classes or practice at the range.

Archery has grown in popularity since last year's Olympics. "There's more spectator appeal to archery now because it's become a faster game at the Olympic level," said Christine McCartney, spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs-based National Archery Assn., which has 400 archery clubs in the United States with 4,000 members. "The scoring has gotten faster."

At Easton's program, 10 instructors teach nine basic steps of shooting, which include the stance, notching the arrow, sighting, drawing and release. Beginners use a small gated area hung with 10 targets placed at a distance of about five yards. More advanced archers use a large field with a dozen targets affixed to hay bales, shooting from a distance of either 20 or 100 yards.

"Hey! This is not a double-barrel shotgun--load your arrows one at a time," instructor Daryl Salangron told Cesar as he helped with technique.

Cesar's mother, Connie Coneta, said she introduced archery to Cesar and her 9-year-old son, Paul, "to experience something new. Being kids, they're always interested in something different. Doing this along with them makes it a family adventure for us."

Cesar said he was eager to hear the distinctive whump of hitting the target. Before the night was over, he got his wish.

Should they stick with the program, instructors eventually will introduce them to the esoteric concepts applied to the sport--as found in Eugen Herrigel's book, "Zen in the Art of Archery."

"Tension is archery's worst enemy, so relaxation, breathing, stretching and practicing the art of letting go--with the mind more so than the body--is crucial," said coach Jack Bornoff, who also is proficient in the Japanese martial art of akido. "The goal is to have the mind do it all--from making corrections in muscles to the release of the arrow."

When applying zen concepts to archery, archers often speak of "drawing the bow spiritually" and focusing on an "inner target" rather than an outer one. Such disciplines, Locker and Bornoff said, often help children excel in other areas of their life as well.

"Parents and teachers tell me that children who are archers tend to do well in school," said Bornoff, whose son, David, 13, joined the program three years ago. "Archery teaches kids good focusing, centering and relaxation skills."

David Bornoff said he enjoys the competition aspects when he participates in tournaments, held the second Wednesday of each month.

"It really helps my coordination and it's good for upper back muscles," said David, whose goal is to shoot in the 2000 Olympic Games. "It's a great feeling when I hit the target dead on. It helps me in school, too. It's easier to concentrate now, like when I take a test and other people are talking."

Where and When What: Beginning archery lessons for adults and children 7 and older at Woodley Avenue Park, Van Nuys. Lessons include extensive safety instruction. Hours: 7:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Price: Free, including use of equipment. What: Archery tournaments for anyone who has taken beginning lessons are held the second Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. Price: $2 entry fee. Call: (818) 782-6445, Ext. 274.

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