Issue 8.1: February/March 2005

On the Range

story by Rufus Kimura
photos by Kyle Rothenborg

I grew up in the western hills of Molokai, where my parents had a sweet gig as live-in caretakers for a local millionaire’s rarely used hunting lodge. In the mornings, crimson-throated wild turkeys would strut across the lawn. They would peck and fluster and bully each other, eventually ending huddled up under the shade of our orange-blossomed poinciana tree. Agile herds of white-spotted axis deer shifted about at the edge of the nearby koa forest, venturing out long enough to nibble our strawberry patch to shreds.

As a five-year-old boy surrounded by such animal life, I wanted what most young boys want—to kill the animals. So, on my sixth birthday, my father gave me a homemade bow and some arrows. It was my favorite present, and I carried that bow wherever I went. My sister and I freely roamed the lodge’s adjoining sixteen acres of Molokai Ranch land. I felt invincible with my little arsenal, even though the bow was just a roughly hewn branch bent by a fishing line bowstring and the arrows were semi-straight fletching-less twigs. I never did shoot anything, aside from my sister—at which point my bow mysteriously disappeared.

Some twenty years later, I found myself in the far corner of Kapiolani Park, staring in rapt fascination as a group of archers accurately lobbed arrows at targets over 100 feet away. Their bows were shiny high-tech contraptions with sights and stabilizers and all types of fancy gizmos.

Darryl, George and Craig introduced themselves as avid target shooters. Well, Darryl at least. Despite spending close to six hours a day at the range, George said that he hardly shoots anymore. Instead, he hangs out for the camaraderie and the opportunity to share his forty-four plus years of archery experience.

George was there in 1957 when the City and County of Honolulu first set aside this parcel of the bustling park for use as an archery range. Before that, the range was located on the corner of Paki and Monsarrat, which worked out fine until the invention of the compound bow. The compound uses a pulley system to store a maximum amount of energy, which creates incredible arrow velocity upon release—archers were overshooting their targets, and their arrows were landing in the street. Soon thereafter, the Kapiolani range was established, tucked in the furthest corner of the park with nothing but an old horse stable for a neighbor.

The horse stable has since given way to a grip of tennis courts and million-dollar homes, but the range itself has persevered and is open during all daylight hours. It’s maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation and is unsupervised except for a free-standing bulletin board that lists a variety of possible archery faux pas: 1) No shooting after dark. 2) No shooting with anyone in front of you. 3) Limit your search for arrows to five minutes. And so on. Despite the range’s close proximity to the tennis courts, joggers and picnic tables, there have been no reported archery-related accidents to date.

The archers I met were a quiet bunch. They took turns shooting and conferred in whispers lest they upset a colleague’s concentration. The majority of those who frequent the park shoot only to hit the target, but there are a few hunters who use the targets as a means to an end—to calibrate their sights before heading out to Molokai and Lanai, where the deer and the mouflon sheep roam.

"What is the allure of target shooting?" I asked Darryl. "Are you practicing for a hunt?"

"Not at all," he answered. "I don’t really want to trek through the bushes. I’d rather go to Costco to buy my meat."

Since I buy my meat at Costco, too, I decided to give target shooting a try. I went home that night and spent a few hours at my favorite store, EBay. For less than $100, I was the high bidder on a beautiful 55# Martin recurve bow and a dozen carbon arrows.

Perhaps the most interesting users of Kapiolani Park’s archery range are also the rarest. The members of Hawaii’s Kyodo Kai can occasionally be glimpsed on Sunday mornings, decked out in their traditional shooting garb. The style practiced by the Hawaii Kyodo Kai, or Association, which was established in 1908, can best be described as Zen archery. As one member put it, Kyodo causes the practitioner to recognize the "inner struggle of self and attachment versus restraint."

The current sensei, or teacher, for the Hawaii Kyodo Kai is attractive twenty-something Mizue Hasegawa. Hasegawa comes from a family of four generations of arrow makers. She left Japan to attend the University of Hawaii, where she is studying psychology. Mizue believes that Kyodo is a form of psychoanalysis. "I can see," she told me, "if a student is pure-minded by their form. It is in the way they draw the bow and release the arrow."

Like many other Japanese art forms, Kyodo is based on the desire to achieve truth, goodness and beauty. In Japan, students of Kyodo can spend their first few years just learning how to walk and carry the bow properly.

"I try to let my students shoot at least once during the first month," admits Mizue. "But it is not about hitting the target. If you focus on the three truths, hitting the target will come naturally."

Mizue is a joy to watch. She enters the shooting area, eyes downcast in humility. After bowing in respect to the gods, she proceeds at a measured pace to a distance twenty-eight meters from her target. Carrying only two arrows, she turns, finds her balance and deftly notches her bow. This motion itself belies years of practice. With the same easy confidence, she draws her bow halfway and pauses for a second of premeditation. Her mind clear, Hasegawa continues the pull and finishes with the arrow feathers pressed lightly against her cheek. At that moment I can see it all: truth, goodness and beauty.

Her bow releases and the arrow, with unnerving accuracy, buries itself three inches from the center.

The FedEx man delivered my EBay items a week later. I woke up early the next morning and made my way down Kapahulu Avenue to the Kapiolani archery range. The air was crisp with the slight tang of a salty onshore breeze. Aside from a few joggers and an elderly man with his cup of McDonald’s coffee and morning Advertiser, the park was deserted.

The large grassy lawn and towering shade trees reminded me of those early days spent chasing turkeys and strawberry-stealing deer. With my bow in one hand and arrows in the other, I put a good forty feet between myself and the pressed carpet targets. I raised the bow, found my balance and tuned out the noises of a Waikiki just beginning to wake up. At the proper moment and with the proper breath, I cleansed my mind from all distractions and let the arrow decide when it wanted to take flight.

As the feathered shaft sped away from me, I could hear the tiny vibrations of the dissipating energy reverberating along the now-empty bowstring. I would like to say that I heard the thud of the arrow striking home. It would be a perfect way to come full circle to my early aspirations as a childhood hunter. Alas, I didn’t hear a sound.

It was only my first time shooting at the Kapiolani archery range, and already I was forced to break rule number three. It took me half-an-hour to find my arrow. I had completely missed the target and my projectile ended up half-buried under the crabgrass—yards from where

I had aimed. I realized two things that morning: First, that the wild game of Molokai were as safe from me as they had always been, and second, that I definitely needed lessons.