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Hitting the Mark

March 15, 2018 | By Anthony Muljat (SF17)

Abdullah Mirza (SF20) has been supplementing his studies with archery.

For Abdullah Mirza (SF20), the road to sporting excellence started in his backyard.

There he trained with a compound bow, considered a noble skill for Muslim boys to acquire. Then, as he was researching colleges, he found that St. John’s in Santa Fe, apart from the great books Program that interested him so deeply, boasted a full-fledged archery club led by a Level 3 instructor—one who was qualified to teach individual athletes.

At the first activity fair his freshman year, he signed up for the archery club without hesitation. Since then, he has been supplementing his studies with constant practice. Now, as he nears the end of his sophomore year, he competes in state and national competitions, and even had the chance to meet Olympian Brady Ellison.

“I’m a big fan of Brady Ellison,” he says. “At the indoor nationals tournament, we got to shoot right next to him, which is a huge deal, because he’s somewhat of a celebrity in the archery world—probably the most famous archer in the world.”

Since arriving at St. John’s, Mirza learned to shoot the Olympic-style recurve bow, which he now uses in competition.

Mirza sees his striving for excellence in intramural archery as a natural extension of his work in the St. John’s Program.

“Aristotle talks about ‘hitting the mark’,” he says, “and there are a lot of different references in the Program to archery. I found that one interesting, where you’re trying to hit the mean. I suppose that idea is attractive, to have a goal to aim for.”

In ‘Poetics,’ one of Mirza’s favorite Program books, Aristotle uses the word ‘harmartia,’ or “a missing of the mark,” to denote a fatal flaw in the characters of tragic plays that ultimately leads to their downfall. The word occurs again in the New Testament, where it takes on the connotation of “sin.”

Aristotle maintained that excellence is a habit, and the virtues of an archer, Mirza says, proceed along similar lines.

Three-time Olympic medalist Brady Ellison, left, Mirza, and Pan Li (SF21) pose together at the 2018 U.S. National Indoor Championships.

“You can’t blame anyone else,” he says. “If you succeed or whether you fail, you don’t have anyone else to blame, really. And another thing is consistency—plenty of people could hit one lucky shot, but to do it over and over again, it takes discipline and practice and a lot of mental strength. It’s a very mental sport, which is something that attracts me, that idea of discipline, committing yourself to something and seeing the results manifest from your hard work.”

To reach a competitive level, patience and humility are essential, he says.

For Mirza, aiming for the goal of “authentic” liberal education has defined his work at St. John’s. He cites Robert Maynard Hutchins, who founded the great books program at the University of Chicago, a precursor to the St. John’s Program, as one of the main influences of his educational philosophy. He paraphrases Hutchins’ core teaching: “The educated person is the one that can understand everything he reads, and can articulate his every thought.”

“So far, I’m well on my way to achieving that goal,” Mirza says.