Interview with David Wilson - March 2004

Age: 23
Born: Irvine, Scotland
Live: Clapham, London
University of Strathclyde, BEng Chemical and Process Engineering, 1997-2001
Imperial College London, PHD Chemical Engineering, 2002-present

David, first of all thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.

Thanks for asking, it's very flattering.

You began archery aged 9. How did you get into the sport?

My dad was an archer before me, he was quite good just under MB status, he got me started in archery, I liked it, I sucked big time at football as I was extremely clumsy, and living where I lived football was the only other sport you could play. So I chose archery.

By the time you arrived at Strathclyde you had already been shooting for several years. How good was the club when you arrived and how did things progress.

The club was okay when I arrived, they had a few experienced archers floating around (Andy Pirre, Iain Husbands, Oliver Ho and Sam Ng) who all new what they were doing. Unfortunately the club lacked numbers and depth. Their practice time was also somewhat restricted to two sessions a week, one quite far away from campus. As time went on the team got stronger with me and (spewing) Euan [McGill] helping out with the scores, although we never really got any great numbers of novices, we had some success, in particular a few of our novices shot over 525 within their first year, but lack of numbers crippled the club. In our last year the situation was greatly improved, we had an influx of about 30 novices all of whom stayed, unfortunately a lot of them were foreign students only staying for a year but a few guys have stuck around, although there's no one really experienced there to do some coaching.

1999 and 2000 were great years for your archery. You won both SUSF and BUSA Outdoor individual titles, Strathclyde were third at BUSA Outdoors and very nearly pipped Edinburgh to the SUSF league. Coaching from Joe Cowan enable you to pick up a 1200 FITA star, narrowly miss an 1100 York and rank 3rd in Scotland all of which whilst still at uni. Talk us through these achievements.

These were big years for my archery, I first meet Joe when I was 17 (1997) he started coaching me (before this I had never really been coached), I made big improvements in a very short time, getting my 1200 star in 99, this was very rewarding for me as I felt all the months of hard work were finally paying off, I also won BUSA outdoors this year, this was fun. In 2000 I really felt like I was shooting well and the scores reflected this, although I'm still pissed about not getting the 1100 york (1098, with my second last arrow in the red and 3 blacks at 100 yards).

After you and Euan McGill left Strathclyde's scores went into decline. Indeed apart from Edinburgh, no Scottish university has broken 2000 (team of 4 Portsmouth) this year. This is a sharp decline when set against the achievements of Strathclyde in your time and St Andrews and particularly Heriot-Watt more recently. Is there any one reason why this has happened?

During the years 1997-1998 the entire Scottish Junior archery team went to University, in the years 2001-2002 they left, I think this is the main reason. Perhaps not enough attention was paid to the Novices that started during these years, hence there was no one available to keep up with the coaching after they left. It's a shame really.

What can the other SUSF universities do to improve?

You need two things to improve your archery, time spent alone shooting lots and lots and lots of arrows. And time spent either studying about archery or being coached about archery. But firstly the clubs must decide if they want to get better, if they do the need firstly more time in the range and secondly access to information. If they have these things they will improve. Edinburgh is an example of what happens if you have these things. Firstly they got their range (this is the main contribution to their success) and secondly they have always had at least one archer around who really knows their stuff (Angus Duggan, John Dickson, Isla Lille, ASW, Tim Mundon...etc apologise to anyone I have missed out), so they have lots of shooting time coupled with a good source of information. One breeds the other, if all the universities had access to facilities like this I'm sure what Edinburgh does would not seem so special (please note, I'm not saying that Edinburgh archers are not working hard, because they are)....

After graduating from Strathclyde you went to Japan for a year. Why were you out there? Is it anything like "Lost in Translation" and can you speak any Japanese?

After graduating I needed a job! It has always been my intention to do a PHD, and at the time I was looking to stay on at Strathclyde, or actually for a while I considered moving to Edinburgh. But I felt I needed to do something a bit different. I was wondering around a recruitment fair, and saw some information about teaching English in Japan, as I had never been to Japan I decided I should go, the next thing I new I was sitting on a plane. If you go to Japan for a short time, it would be exactly like lost in translation, living there for a while is different, reverse culture shock was much harder than the original culture shock. My Japanese is poor, but I can speak Esperanto like a native.

You met Heroshi Kajikawa in Japan. Who is he and how did he influence you in terms of your passion for archery form?

Heroshi is a good friend of mine; he runs an archery shop in Juso, Osaka. He is an ex-Olympian (Munich games) and an ex-90meter world record holder (311). He sort of adopted me and helped me find my way around Japan. He taught me lots of things and made me realise a few more. We are still very good friends.

What do you think is the correct balance of equipment, style and practice for archers as they develop?

I feel an archer must structure what and when they do things. By this I mean, they need to decide what's important to them. For example lets take BUSA indoors, usually held around February, if an archer decides that this is important to them and they want to shoot well in it then they should (in my opinion) go about preparing in the following way. As early as possible they should be refining their style, trying new things deciding if something’s got some worth, deciding if it doesn't, paying attention to the feel etc. Then for a period of at least 2 months (3 is better) they should be practicing and only practicing (no competitions) these form changes, initially on blank boss and then progressing to a target for many many hundreds of arrows during this time they should also be mentally preparing themselves imaging shooting at competitions shooting arrow after arrow into the ten. They should look to finish this period at least 2 months before their target competition. After this it's time for competition practice, they go to lots of competitions before the event, trying out their new form, making sure they stick with their changes, building up their confidence and scores, if all is going well, they have maximised their chances of picking up a medal. Equipment is important, but you do not need to have good equipment to score well, I shot my first 1200 with a gold medallist and stabilisers that were partially home made. Also valuable practice time MUST NOT be consumed with things such as string making or fletching, in fact it's my own pet peeve to see archers at practice sessions repairing their kit this should have been done at home.

What sort of structures does Japanese university archery have and how good are they? What we can learn from them?

The general structure is somewhat similar to ours; they have leagues and championships just like we do. They are in general better than us; I was told the target for a novice on a 4 year degree course is an 1100 FITA star by the time they leave. Their weather allows outdoor shooting 9 months/year (from Tokyo southwards), so they are more geared towards outdoor archery, their standard round for league matches and championships is a short metric (36 arrows at 50 and 30 meters). It is also common to have permenate outdoor ranges at their universities and cheerleaders; it would be good to have these, the outdoor ranges I mean.

There is currently a discussion on the message boards of whether or not the regional leagues should be incorporated into BUSA. No-one has yet mentioned the possibility of BUSA wanting to use regional leagues as qualification for BUSA Champs as in other sports. What is your opinion in this matter?

I think this is a bad idea, we have been (in my opinion of course) being ripped of by BUSA for a long time, I feel like the less we have to do with them the better. The return we get from our rather hefty entrance fee is not reflected in what we receive from them. Perhaps they day will come when we decide we don't need them at all........

Is there anything in particular you would like to see changed about how British university archery is run?

I would like to see a higher standard of archers of course; also it would be good to see us adopt the FITA round instead of the stupid (and ultimately damaging) Portsmouth round. I used to think the purpose of University archery was to feed archers into the mainstream of GNAS, but now I realise that we have soooo much more going for us than that. We should set an example for them too follow; we already produce much bigger competitions than they do. I would also like to see us organising more outdoor events, because that's what target archery is really all about.

In 2003, dissatisfied with your shooting you took the decision to stop competing. How difficult was it to make that decision and has it been worth it so far?

It was not a difficult decision to make, I had shot no where near 1200 all season (with the exception of some decent 70 meter rounds) by the time I worked out what was going wrong I realised I would have to work hard in practice to try and rectify the problem, so I was quite glad to stop competing. It was worth it as I am shooting better now; however I'm still not back "in form". But hopefully with some more work I will be, the good shots are coming, it's just a matter of practice and concentration now.

Describe how you shoot your perfect shot.

It's effortless, it feels like the bow has no weight and the aiming takes no time, there is absolute concentration between me and the target, the action is smooth and controlled purely through muscle memory and the subconscious. It's a nice feeling to have.

What and for how long are you studying at Imperial?

I'm studying the vapour pressures of pharmaceutical solids, basically solid state thermodynamics. I should be here for another 16 months at least more probably 20.

How has the new regional league, SEAL, been received at Imperial?

All the guys were keen, I think they liked the idea of been able to compete locally with all the other universities, but really our main concentration was BUSA medals.

From your time in Glasgow, you might know a thing or two about derbies. How disappointed were you to lose to ULU, but remain top of SEAL? (Surrey can still win SEAL but must win their remaining two matches at an average of over 2104).

I wasn't really disappointed. At the match between ULU and Imperial, ULU had a much stronger team than us; several of our top shooters were unavailable, so really I would have been surprised if we had won. It's always nice to win, but (and I hate to say this) archery is not really a team sport, I can not aid my fellow team members in anything more than a supportive way so I don't really feel any frustration if my team doesn't perform well. Team head to heads are a bit different, but as far as regular competitions go, it's still very much an individual thing (well I think anyway).

Imperial's novices have the league sown up with four wins from four. Have you been imparting much of your wisdom?

My wisdom? Nah, we have quite a good coaching attitude at imperial, every one helps and all information is valuable. Occasionally I am useful as I have more experience than most at the club, so I can be good on specific points, but it's very much a combined coaching effort. I don't feel the need for an ego massage like some people who coach do. No one in imperial is really singled out as a guru type and that's the way it should be (unless you've got some SERIOUS credentials)

You have picked up a few team medals at Imperial (two BUSA team silvers in 2003, one bronze so far in 2004). How strong is the all round club set-up there?

We're okay really, with some depth in the team, were also improving so next year we should have even more. Also I think we will easily meet our team target of 2200.

What was you initial reaction to hearing about BUTC (i.e. a head-to-head based tournament primarily for experienced archers) being created last year and did you opinion change after shooting in it?

BUTC is an excellent idea, and was serious fun last year; it's good to do these interesting shoots.

BUTC is, of course, next weekend. Can Imperial go one step further than last year?

We have discussed it of course, and we feel like we should do okay.

What are your medium and long term archery plans?

In the short term, I want to get back to shooting 1200; I have no real specific long term goals in mind.

How do you always manage to stay so cheery at competitions? Is it a special skill and how much can it help turn around a bad day?

I realise the simple truth, archery competitions just aren't really that important, and certainly not worth getting upset about. It may not help you out on a bad day, but the next time you go to pick up your bow, it certainly will.

Finally, ISC - what does it stand for and how did you acquire this message board moniker?

It was originally an insult, but I decided I liked it; I'm quite fond of it now. I'm not going to say what it stands for, or tell the story, as I want to sound mysterious and interesting (in actual fact I'm really dull).

David, thank you very much.