Saturday, June 04, 2016


There was once a general of war who was tired of fighting. He had spent his whole life perfecting his skills in all the arts of war with one exception: archery. Now he was weary and wished to end his career as a fighter. And in doing so, he decided that he would spend the rest of his days studying archery. He began to search far and wide for a master for he had heard that there monks who did nothing but practice and perfect their craft of archery.

After much journeying he found a monastery where they taught archery - he entered the monastery and asked if he could live there and study. He thought that his life was now over and the remainder of his days would be spent in study and meditation behind these monastery walls.

One day, after he had been studying for ten years, the abbot of the monastery came to him and told the former-general of war that he must leave. “You are now a Master Archer,” said the abbot. The former-general protested saying that his life in the world outside the monastery was over and that all he wished was to spend the rest of his days here. But the abbot insisted, saying that the Master Archer must now leave and go into the world and teach what he had learned.

The Master Archer had to do as he was told. Having nowhere to go when he left the monastery he decided to return to the village of his birth. It was a long journey and as he neared the village he noticed a target on a tree with an arrow dead-centre – right in the bulls-eye He was surprised by this only to notice more targets on trees and, in the centre of each, an arrow. Then, on the barns and the buildings of the town he saw dozens, hundreds of targets with arrows in the bulls-eye of each one.

The peace he had attained in ten years of monastic life had left him and he approached the elders of the town, indignant that after ten years of devoted study he should return to his own home and find an archer more skilled than he. He demanded of the elders that the master archer meet him by the edge of town in one hour and he turned and strode away without looking back, expecting, like the general of war he had once been, to be obeyed. Waiting by the mill the Master Archer saw no one coming to meet him but he noticed a young girl skipping along the road. The girl noticed him and came over.

"Are you waiting for someone," asked the girl looking up at the Master Archer.

"Go away," he said.

"No, no," said the girl, "you look like you're waiting for someone and I was told to come and meet someone here."

The Master Archer looked unbelievingly at the little girl and said, "I'm waiting for the master archer responsible for the hundreds of perfect shots I see around here."

The girl looked pleased and said, "Then it is you I was sent to meet. I made all those shots.”

The Master Archer looked even more skeptical, convinced that this girl was trying to humiliate him. But he said to the girl, "If you're telling the truth, then explain to me how you can get a perfect shot every single time you shoot your arrow."

"That's easy," said the girl. "I take my arrow and I draw it back in the bow and point it very, very straight. Then I let it go and wherever it lands I draw a bulls-eye."

This is an old favourite. I first learned it from dian marino who would, like the trickster she was, use it to introduce the Plan of Study to the new class of students in the Master of Environmental Studies program at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. Given the self-directed nature of the program and the primary task being the crafting and writing of one's own curriculum, this story had pointed fairly obvious relevance. I've come across other versions and, while they are all good, this is the only version i know in which the child is a girl. I honestly have no recall if that was dian's doing or mine. But as many young girls are can be found in folk tales who are active agents, we could use more. I have a particular interest in stories in which there is bow-and-arrow and attention paid to hitting a target. And old and powerful metaphor, of course. There is a quote from the Sufi teacher Saadi of Shiraz (13 C) which for me has been somewhat of a mantra in my popular education work: " None learned the art of archery from me who, in the end, did not make me the target." There is a very complex pedagogical ethic in these words that i reflect on all the time.  Finally, for nerd points: for some time now, i've seen the girl in this story as a version of the girl who goes to bat in the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who, having felt fear for a moment, finds her resolve and grins with the confidence with which she is about to swing that bat. This image has meant a lot to me as a parent of a daughter.

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