As most NAA members are aware by now, Kisik Lee is our new National Coach, having come to the USA from Australia and nearly ten very successful years of steering the Aussies to new heights in international competition. Of course, this followed his highly successful stint as a Korean National Team Coach from 1991 through 1996.
It was back in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics when I first met Coach Lee. He was the calm, cool guy behind the sunglasses, quietly guiding individual champion Cho Yeon- Jeon and her teammates Kim Soo-Nyung and Lee Eun-Kyung to the top of the medal stands under that hot Barcelona sun, and it was my first stint as FITA Olympic commentator. My primary impression of Coach Lee at that time was of a detached professional, the archetypical take-no-quarters; make no small talk; tough Korean coach.
Around 1995, I had completed work on development of the X10 arrow shaft for Easton, and Coach Lee paid a visit to us to see what the buzz was about. We spent a lot of time talking about
and I learned this tough, stoic Korean coach was actually a very nice guy. Coach Lee went back to Korea, and by the time we met again a few weeks later at the Atlanta Olympics, his Korean team was utterly dominating the competition once again, setting new World and Olympic records with the new arrow shafts.
On the other hand, the Aussie shooters did not perform too well at the 1996 games. With Coach Lee still working for Korea, and with the Australian archers relying on their older (American style) coaching system, the Aussies managed a 4th place men's team round finish, but the individual performances were not very good at all.
But, not long after the Games, Coach Lee made a groundbreaking transition, being the first Korean coach to seek greener pastures and take his knowledge and skills to a new place- in this case, Australia.
Australia, as a whole, can be said to take sports very seriously. With a population of only 24 million at the time, they put a large effort into ensuring they would have good performances when the Olympic Games returned to their homeland. The Aussies took what at the time was an amazing step, luring Coach Lee- one of Korea's best archery teachers- to their shores to revitalize and redevelop their best archers while developing new ones as well. It's hard to realize today when it seems every archery country worth its salt is hiring Korean coaches, but back then this was a shocking move. It was probably a difficult choice for Coach Lee, with the practically guaranteed success of his post in Korea, but it was also a great opportunity.
We all know what happened four years later in Sydney, with the amazing victory of a physically transformed Simon Fairweather, and a great run by other members of the Aussie team in front of a crazed home crowd and before millions of Aussies on live TV. By this time, the name Kisik Lee was a household word in high level archery circles, and the man was practically an Australian hero. What people tend to forget is the tremendous progress made by the Aussie women at that event, with finishes of 11th, 19th and 22nd, miles ahead of previous Games appearances for the individual women.
Fast forward to 2003 and the World Championships in New York. I was working the event as FITA commentator and practicing a bit on the side during a break with my prototype Hoyt G3 limbs, when I turned around and noticed Coach Lee watching me with a sort of half-smile. I shot a few more arrows and probably looked back with a hopeful and stupid "what do you think?" look on my face and Coach Lee rather kindly and carefully said something along the lines of. "Do you plan on competing with that form?"
He went on to explain that my form was "okay," being pretty typical of an American archer, and would be fine if I wanted to shoot. recreationally. Now I am definitely not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but what he said made me sit up and take notice. Recreational shooter? Who, me?! I was a USAT veteran, still finishing in the top 10 in most events and winning once every blue moon, and at that point my main motivation in shooting as well as I could was to facilitate my day job of designing archery stuff. I might not have been a professional shooter or a top shooter, but I sure as heck didn't think of myself as recreational. Too bad I didn't listen to what was really behind those words at the time. At least he liked the limbs.
In the spring of 2004 I sustained a rather severe ski injury which trashed my left shoulder and I didn't know if I would be able to compete that season, but with help from the U.S. Ski Team clinic in Salt Lake and a bunch of physical therapy, that spring I managed to make the U.S. World Field Team, which was great motivation for me. I started to work harder on my form and mental game. I shot reasonably well at the Worlds, had a decent overall season, shot in the World Games in 2005 and finished that season with a reasonably decent performance at the November 2005 Face to Face tournament in Amsterdam. Shooting wise, life was okay. Or so it seemed.
George Tekmitchov is the Senior Recurve Engineer and International Staff Manager for Hoyt Archery Co. Previously a senior product development engineer for Easton, where he developed products such as the X10 arrow shaft, George began shooting competitively in 1983. He has been on USAT, U.S. World Field and U.S. World Games Teams, and has been FITA's Olympic venue commentator in every summer games since 1992.)
I then flew from Nimes to Tokyo to do a bunch of seminars and shoot the Tokyo Indoor, a tournament of about 900 participants. I really like Japan and the archers there, I am always happy shooting there and this was no exception. I actually shot pretty well, at least compared to Nimes, and won my division (which for all I know was the "gaijin in blue shirt with USA on the back division, but I digress.). But in the back of my mind, I was still pained by the awful experience in France. I began to brood about the inconsistency.
While in Tokyo, I found that Coach Lee was also doing seminars at the same event, promoting his book "Total Archery" which had just been published in Japanese. As happens when acquaintances find themselves in strange places, Coach Lee and I found ourselves spending a lot of time together, going around Tokyo with our mutual friends including Hiroshi Tanebe of Shibuya Archery Co., and we began to develop a real friendship, enjoying the company of the Shibuya crew which hosted us.
One bright crisp day, Hiroshi took us to his old university so I could shoot a few arrows. It was a bit chilly, but the small outdoor school range was in the sun and it was comfortable enough. About ten students were working on blank bales, repeating their shot sequence with typical Japanese form, which happens to be pretty much the same as typical American form.
As we walked in, some of the students looked around, and suddenly the "buzz" started- they instantly recognized Coach Lee. It was as if a popular rock star had strolled into their midst.
After the pandemonium died back a bit, Coach Lee settled back to watch the students shoot. At this point the club bucho (president) asked Coach Lee to give the members some pointers, so he quickly picked a student to demonstrate on. (I realized later that Coach Lee had deliberately picked a fairly good shooter that the other students looked up to, a clever technique that would ensure that what he taught the student would be passed on to his club mates). After some hands-on time with the student, Coach Lee called me over to demonstrate a specific aspect of follow through.
Without going into a lot of detail, let me say that was a humbling experience. It turns out I provided a good example of the WRONG way to do it. Coach Lee then spent a few minutes teaching the students by fixing what I was doing wrong. Ego strike one!
It was around this time that I came to the slightly unpleasant realization that in order to do what I needed to, I would need to make a commitment to fundamentally changing my form and shot sequence.
Over breakfast a couple of days later, Coach Lee and I agreed to meet in San Diego the following month, and that is where my transition began.
When I arrived in San Diego late on an early March afternoon, the resident athletes (RA's) of Coach Lee's program were just finishing up their SPT's (Specific Physical Training, though by week's end I learned it really meant "severe physical torture.").
I spent a couple of days helping dial in
setups for the RA's. And then, the fun began. I was shooting with the RA's and dropped something like a 58 on the target at 70M in a good stiff San Diego breeze. Coach Lee looked at me (and my no-doubt smug face) and said, with a smile on his face, "Okay, now do it again!" Naturally, right on cue, like a big moron, I followed with a 52. Oops. Ego strike two!
Unknown to me, the entire time going all the way back to Tokyo, Coach Lee had been taking photos and carefully documenting and analyzing my form. At this point he broke out a rigid Formmaster and had me execute a shot. The cacophony of giggles behind me revealed the entire group of RA's standing there expectantly waiting to see the predictable shot reaction. I knew then, my now curbed and bleeding ego was about to get cut down to size. Sure enough, the Formaster didn't lie and I didn't let the RA's down. Big collapse. Ego strike three! I was in my arms, big time. That was the last straw. Time to fix this!
Three weeks training in three days.
After a discussion of what I wanted to accomplish, Coach Lee and Assistant RA Coach Larry Skinner immediately started me on a highly accelerated program- a three day version of the three week indoctrination the RA's had experienced- starting with motion and SPT's with no bow at all, then with a large rubber band, then a lightweight bow followed by a stiff nylon strap and finally a real bow with a rigid Formaster. All the way through I learned the separate elements of the "KSL shot sequence"- stance, gripping/hooking, mindset, setup, drawing, anchoring, loading/transfer, holding, expansion, release and follow through- spending lots of time and repetition on each element- and gradually put all of these together into a single sequence of events- what the RA's like to call "The Process" (which is why you hear things like "Kate, follow the process !!" at tournaments these days).
The Process is really the key to the KSL shot method. As Coach Lee puts it, archery is a sport of execution, not aiming. By following the execution process, things become vastly simpler and most importantly in this era of 12 arrow Olympic Round (OR) matches, vastly more resistant to the effects of match pressure. Coach Lee is careful to point out that this is NOT a "Korean method," in that it draws from many different sources and is not the same as the methods being used by the current Korean team. But, fundamental elements of the KSL shot method can be found in Korean traditional archery writings dating back 1500 years.
By the time I finished my accelerated course of study, I had my draw length increased about an inch, bow weight down by about four pounds and a much more consistent shot reaction. I also was handed a CD filled with dozens of photos and movies Coach Lee had taken, which served as "before and after" images of the transformation of my form (when I realized the photos went all the way back to Tokyo, I knew we had a coach who knows how to plan ahead).
As Coach Lee's "secret photos" showed me, my form was completely changed from what he calls a "hollow back" shooter (describing a good 90% of current U.S. shooters) with some alignment and posture issues, to a fairly close approximation of what Coach Lee is looking for.
Looking back, I wish I had made a decision to change back in 2003 when Coach Lee first broadly hinted that not all was right in my shooting world. Going forward, I know it will be a while before my scores fully reflect my new form. However, I am already experiencing great improvements in consistency and timing, and most importantly, by following "The Process," the mental game is far, far easier than it used to be and physically, shooting is a lot easier too. No more bow jam, no kung-fu snatch the arrow back out of the air follow-throughs, no finger pain, no back pain, a lot less stress. It's a lot more enjoyable!
At the time I was in San Diego for my week of retraining, there were a total of 10 resident athletes in the High Performance Program. These resident athletes range in age from 16 to 26, and many are well-accomplished. The current 10 (six men, four women) RAs include: Josh Anderson (College Station, Texas), Brian Brodine (Rochester, N.Y.), Tyler Domenech (Airville, Pa.), Brady Ellison (Glendale, Ariz.), Guy Krueger (Blessing, Texas), Tyler Martin (Montville, N.J.), Kate Anderson (Los Angeles, Calif.), Rachel Caldwell (Fort Collins, Colo.), Joy Fahrenkrog (Castle Rock, Colo.) and Tiffany Hirano (Irvine, Calif.). Larry Skinner is assisting Coach Lee. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is closely watching the program and supporting USA Archery's efforts through their direct support of Coach Lee.
I have been shooting at the Easton Archery Complex in Chula Vista since 1994, before there was even grass on the field, and have participated in or been part of most of the RA programs there over the years.
With all due respect to their predecessors, I have never seen such a dedicated, organized and hard working group as we have today. The shooting facility is in top shape, clean and organized, reflecting the discipline which each RA is bringing to their training. The archers are punctual, dedicated, are working very hard and there is a real sense of cohesion tied to the high respect each shooter has for Coach Lee. This combination of disciplined training, enthusiasm and clear expectations combined with a good pool of shooter talent means this program has an excellent chance of success.
Learning the KSL shot process isn't an overnight thing. It takes weeks of extra effort, sticking to sometimes unpleasant SPT training and close attention to every element of the shot. Personally I do not believe you can just read about how to execute the KSL sequence to truly learn it, even from Coach Lee's book. I believe it must be shown to an archer by a qualified instructor for full comprehension. But I believe one thing is certain- those shooters willing to take the time and make the effort to learn the KSL shot method will eventually reap great benefits. One can look to Australia for proof.
Right now there are at least 20 of our top male and female archers making a serious effort in this direction. And for that reason, I believe the future is very bright indeed for our archers and potential future performance.