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Astana, Kazakhstan • 22 June 2023

Kazakh Archery Rediscovered: Gainiya Asuat's Quest for Heritage and Skill

Gainiya talks about the familial origins of her passion and how her philosophical outlook shapes her command over arrows

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Gainiya Asuat
Gainiya Asuat

Whether it's the blinding rays of sunlight or the downpour under an overcast sky, an archer must remain undeterred in their grip. Without relying on a modern levering system, a practitioner of traditional archery sadak atu, as it is called in Kazakh – must make a decision before nocking each and every arrow. Some rely on pure physical prowess to hit the bull’s eye, but others, like Gainiya Asuat, believe that the true strength lies deep within the archer.

Gainiya has honed her skills through many contests over the years. Back in 2018, her approach to archery earned her the Iremel blade – a special accolade honoring the accuracy of her shots at the Mergan ooksy international traditional archery competition.

The QazMonitor team reached out to Gainiya, who recently opened a school of archery to delve into her unique approach and uncover the sources of courage that inspired her to pursue this path and fully embrace the archer’s journey.

Gainiya Asuat
Gainiya Asuat

What was your introduction to traditional archery?

I’ve always been something of a Kazakh 'to the core' in how I am drawn to my heritage. I've been into archery since I was about fifteen, but it was my father [Murat Gabdussalimov], who initially became interested in it.

So, one time, he came across this YouTube video on making DIY bows and gave it a try. He took two bed slats, sawed and glued them together. It took literally three shots until the bow broke. He tried again, found detailed instructions on making a bowstring, where to tie it, how to stretch it and all. Slowly, this hobby of his turned into something more, and he started crafting not only bows but also leather goods, arrows, and shields.

Gainiya Asuat
Gainiya Asuat

As time went on, I became involved, and we began practicing together and attending festivals and competitions. So, this passion blossomed thanks to my father. While my entire family dabbles in it, it is my dad and I who are most deeply immersed in archery. Though, we are, without a doubt, a family of archers.

Did your friends join you in this hobby?

We have a house with a small yard, and every weekend, our friends, my classmates, and classmates of my younger siblings used to come over to practice with us. It became a hobby that took over my whole community, and this is how my teenage years went by.

Gainiya Asuat
Gainiya Asuat

At the time, there wasn't a whole lot going on with traditional archery, as only a handful of people were interested in it.

Have there been any changes over the years?

We have a federation, which is very active. It was established only three years ago and is still gaining traction. In Atyrau, for example, they recently held an international tournament that was truly wonderful. There were archers from twelve countries.

How do the tournaments usually go?

It's a joy even to only take part in them! Imagine how much color and energy there is when people from all around the world come dressed in their traditional outfits! For me, it's probably more about communication. It seems like every hobby brings together a community, and for us, it's not just archery – it's the heritage of each nation.

Usually, the tournaments coincide with some kind of a holiday, so there are artists giving performances, food by the campfire, participants sharing stories of their people and singing songs. It’s only on the next day that we get to the tournament.

Gainiya Asuat
Gainiya Asuat

However, [the tournaments] are not intense; they are rather relaxed. Or, at least that’s my impression of it. I believe it depends on the mindset you bring to such events. For some, it's purely a sport. In Kazakhstan, for instance, it is viewed more as a sport, following strict guidelines – you arrive, shoot, and depart.

I do hope that someday we can adopt a more relaxed outlook, and [regard] it more as a heritage.

Is it more than a sport to you?

For me, archery holds a deep philosophical meaning. It’s not just a sport, but it's always a journey. It's always in touch with aspects of one’s life.

Gainiya Asuat
Gainiya Asuat

I'm going to digress a bit from the question. Why did I name my archery club Erzhurek [Kazakh for valor]? It's because when we stand at any of the [archery] distances, doubts creep in. On the one hand, you are petrified, but on the other hand, you're filled with restlessness, especially during a competition. It's important to just let everything out of your head, and, in a way, delve into your inner self, as:

The arrow seeks its target, as much as the target seeks the arrow.

I'm not sure if this statement is clear or not, but to me, it holds a profound meaning. Because it is through that sense of inspired serenity that you can shoot an arrow and hit.

Speaking of the club, what motivated you to go in that direction?

I followed my heart, probably. (laughs) I knew from the beginning that I wanted to open an archery range and convey that philosophical significance.

I can teach someone how to shoot and explain the theory behind it, but teaching how to aim is much more challenging. I cannot simply impart my vision onto someone else because the way I see things and how others see them is different. This is the journey one has to take on themselves.

What kind of people come to your club?

There are a lot of different generations. People in their thirties, and fifties, and then there are also younger people. We have four groups, if I recall correctly. Some people stay, and some realize that it's not for them, or that it's not the right time.

I'd probably like to pull in people with the same values who would be really into this. In a way, I see the club as a place where you can, to put it crudely, understand who you are. It's a place where you can explore yourself and go through the process of trial and error.

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