Zen and the Art of Free Pistol

Morini CM80 Free PistolIt’s March 30th, 7:30 am. Spring is best at dawn as gradually the hilltops lighten. Arranged on a small bench in front of me are simple items: a couple of boxes of match ammo, a spotting scope, and an odd-looking pistol, it’s long black polished barrel looking like an iron flute with no holes. My target is 50 meters away and looks like a tiny black dot, just a touch of a calligraphy brush on an off-white rice paper.

The grip of the pistol is wrapping my hand like a glove. I open the loading gate decisively, like Miyamoto Musashi training with his bokken. I load a dummy round and dry-fire a few times. Then I load the first round and prepare for the shot. Like a Buddhist monk, I close my eyes; I concentrate on my breathing and clear my mind, trying to reach the mushin mental state. After a little while, I raise my gun and get the sights aligned. Time stands still. Gently I touch the trigger with my fingertip and hear a soft pop of a shot – no louder than a sound of one hand clapping.

Rinse and repeat 59 more times.

The 50 meter pistol, often called free pistol, is one of the oldest shooting sports, and remains practically unchanged since its inception as an Olympic discipline in 1896. Its rules, very simple and pure, somehow remind me of a Japanese haiku:

22 caliber, single shot,
open sights only, one hand –
standing, unsupported.

There are no other restrictions for the gun design. The anatomical grips are sculpted precisely, and further adjusted or molded to fit perfectly in the shooter’s hand. The trigger is extremely lightweight, usually around 30-50 grams. To adjust the gun’s balance, additional weights can be added under the barrel.

Aleksandr Melentyev, 1980 Olympics championThe course of fire is 60 shots within two hours. Sounds very simple, yet no one has been able to shoot a perfect score of 600 yet. The current world record of 581 set by Aleksander Melentyev in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow… still remains unbroken.

Since 1988, Free Pistol has a little brother, 10 meter air pistol. The game is very similar, but shot at smaller targets placed 10 meter away from a shooter. .177 caliber air pistols are used, shooting tiny lead pellets. As in free pistol, no one has shot a perfect 600 score yet, but the current world Morini CM162EI Air Pistolrecord (594) is only five years old, set by Jin Jong-oh in 2009.

Alas, my scores today were not even close to those stunning accomplishments by world-class shooters. Two hours later, a fellow shooter finishes scoring my targets and hands me my score sheet. Disappointed by my performance, I nevertheless set my mind on a positive note, reciting a famous Kobayashi Issa haiku:

O snail,
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!