A shooting sport is a competitive sport involving tests of proficiency (accuracy and speed) using various types of guns such as firearms and airguns (see archery & kyudo for shooting sports that make use of bows and arrows). The shooting sports are categorized by the type of firearm or target used. Shooting sports with events with rifles and pistols have been contested at every Summer Olympic Games since the birth of the modern Olympic movement at the 1896 Summer Olympics except at the 1904 & 1928 editions.
The Buddha was a member of the warrior caste in the Sakyan tribe. As such, he certainly would have been taught the skills of archery, which is a shooting sport (arrows being shot). It is reported that the Buddha-to-be (prior to the going forth and enlightenment) was actually very good at archery and won contests. Thus, the two sports or exercises that the Buddha participated in were shooting (archery) and later as a teacher; walking and stairclimbing (he regularly climbed Vulture Peak to meditate and teach). But it is only archery (that we know of) that he participated at a competitive level and was successful.
Some Buddhists might find it odd that shooting sport would be even considered as an activity or sport for a Buddhist, but this article is referring to sport shooting at paper targets, not hunting or using weapons for killing humans or animals. And the Buddha most certainly participated in the shooting of arrows with archery.
Although shooting with guns is certainly different from archery, it involves the same basic skills of concentrating, aiming and hitting the target. The Buddha did not participate in shooting with guns because they were not invented yet, but if they had been invented at that time, he most certainly would have been proficient in their use, as a member of the warrior caste (born into that caste).
The Zen of shooting sport
There are numerous books in the market with titles such as Zen in the Art of Archery, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Zen of Painting, The Zen of Success, Zen in the Martial Arts, etc., etc. All of these books show or attempt to show how these activities can be absorbed into an all-inclusive facet of life where your whole mind and body and spirit is put into the activity; in a successful way. For the purposes of this article, 'Zen' here refers to this use of this activity of shooting targets for sport and fitness in a Buddhist way with the whole mind, body, and spirit and not necessarily just to the 'school' of Zen Buddhism. Using sport or another activity in this way may actually have its origin in the Theravada Pali Canon; see Sedaka Sutta.
There are many sports that require intense concentration, including golf, archery, chess and many others. But in all of these other sports, there is also a major factor of skill. However, in shooting sport, the concentration required may be the highest of any other sport. The skill needed in obtaining goods scores at shooting sport is very minimal, such as holding the gun correctly and knowing how to maintain "line of sight." The mind and body must be completely still and relaxed to hold the gun still and hit the center of the small target. The best performers are those that have the highest concentration, the most calm breathing, and very low resting heart rates. Other sports and meditation can be used to help train the body so that it is more calm and relaxed and so that the breathing and heart rate will not be rough.
For aiming, most guns have open sights. Open sights are the kind found on most pistols and some rifles. The rear of the pistol has a sight with a U-shaped groove and the front of the firearm has some type of post. To properly aim the gun, the front sight post needs to be level with the rear sights and also have the same amount of space showing through the U on each side. A proper squeeze should put the shot exactly where it is aimed. The process for aiming a rifle with open sights is identical.
The primary way of scoring well is by having the hand and entire body very still with virtually no movement and proper, slow breathing with a relaxed body and mind and low heart rate. A good cross training regimen for shooting sport is:
- Meditation, especially on the breath so that the body and mind and breath will be very calm and relaxed.
- Aerobic sports, for example, stairclimbing, cycling, running, swimming, etc. so that the body will be fit and the resting heart rate fairly low.
- Stretching exercises, yoga
For those Buddhists who do participate in the Zen Way of Shooting Sport, most tend to prefer the pistol / handgun target shooting events and competitions. This could be due to the fact that although assault weapons and machine guns are not typically shooting sport events, their shape is similar to rifles and shotguns, which are shooting sport competitions. Assault weapons and machine guns are typically designed strictly for killing humans or animals, which does not fit with the First Buddhist Precept of not killing. Rifles and shotguns were traditionally designed for killing humans or animals too, but in recent decades there have been some models designed strictly for target shooting.
Pistols were primarily developed for self-defense and for target shooting. Due to the fact that the barrel lengths are shorter, typically there is a greater emphasis on body control, for which meditation is a great aid for better performances. Therefore, most Buddhists who participate in shooting sport tend to focus on the pistol events. Athletes from China have been performing very well in pistol events recently (see the tables below).
Egalitarianism in shooting sport
There is an element of egalitarianism in shooting sport since there is no specific body type that is best suited for this sport, other than being physically fit. Additionally, women often perform as well as men and sometimes defeat them in competition. Events marked as "Men's" were actually open events before the inclusion of separate women's events in shooting competitions at the Olympics. Two women won medals in such mixed events: Margaret Murdock, silver in 50 m Rifle Three positions (1976) and Zhan Shan, gold medal (champion) in Skeet (1992). Murdock actually tied with Lanny Bassham, the U.S. team captain for the gold medal. Olympic rules forbade a shoot-off, which Bassham had requested. During the national anthem, Bassham pulled Murdock up to stand with him on the gold medal spot at the podium. Thus, effectively there have been two women who have won gold medals while competing directly with men in the Olympics and also numerous other times in other non-Olympic competitions.
One of the greatest sharp shooters of all time, perhaps even the best was a woman, Annie Oakley (1860-1926) of the U.S. She was an exhibition shooter and from a distance of 90 feet (27.4 m) could repeatedly split a playing card edge-on and put five or six more holes in it before it touched the ground. Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. Oakley believed strongly that it was crucial for women to learn how to use a gun, as not only a form of physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves.
All-time best teams (nations) at Shooting sport
The following teams / nations have the best records in combined men's and women's shooting events at the Olympics:
|Team||Gold medals||Silver medals||Bronze medals||Total|
At the first Games of the Modern Olympics in 1896 only nine sports were contested and shooting sport was one of the original nine. There were five different shooting sport events at these Games.
All-time best teams and athletes at Pistol events at the Olympics
Most Gold medals by nation in the Pistol Events at the Olympics
The following teams / nations have the best records in combined men's and women's pistol shooting events at the Olympics in the current events held of 50m, 25m, and 10m:
|Team||Gold medals||Silver medals||Bronze medals||Total|
Most Gold medals in Individual Pistol Events at the Olympics
The following are the most successful athletes in the Individual pistol events at the Olympics (10m, 25m, 50m):
|Athlete||Gold medals||Silver medals||Bronze medals||Total||Country|