Birth of a shooter

Finally in May 1998, I began my journey as a shooter and started the formal training.For five months all I did was develop the skills to shoot. Developing the skills is an ongoing process which ends only when the shooter retires, but I would like to specifically mention here that most new shooters who take up the sport, keep shooting mindlessly just because its fun to shoot and doing the exercises for developing skills are boring. But this kind of shooting without training exercises is what separates a ‘one match wonder’ from a ‘champion over decades’. Like everyone else, even I wanted to start shooting on the first day itself and have lots of fun. But my father explained to me, how shooting without preparing to shoot could hamper my growth as a shooter. It is as simple as a baby wanting to run before he can learn to stand. My father taught me the importance of learning things step by step. If the foundation is strong, the structure will endure calamities and will resist collapsing. First learn to stand, then learn to walk, then learn to jog, and then comes running. As kids all we want to do is to run without even learning how to stand. True, some talented youngsters manage skipping the few important steps and achieving success. But my question is, for how long can you sustain this success? I think for one or two years at most. And then you become history.

How it all began
For five months I trained myself by sitting on a chair, working on every part of the technique required to execute a correct shot. In competitions we are supposed to stand and shoot but to begin, I shot with sitting on the chair and taking support of the table to minimise the movement of the gun, so that I could focus on the intricacies of a good shot and not get distracted by the large movements of my untrained arm.

I was in the 8th standard then, in SSC board, and as most would know, 8th standard is where the academic circus begins - the circus of preparing for the SSC board exams. 8th, 9th and 10th standard! I had school from 7am – 1pm, then lunch and a nap, then tuitions from 3pm – 5pm. By the time I could come home and grab something to eat it would be 6pm. Then homework!! So that meant another hour atleast and the time was 7-7.30pm. And then at 8pm I would start my training. We had made a make-shift shooting range at home and I would train upto 2hours. Nobody could disturb me then. No friend, no movie, no show on TV, and thankfully there were no cell phones then so life was a lot simpler and we had more time to ourselves. Then at 10pm I would have dinner and hit the bed by 11pm. And the next day would begin at 6am. Life was good. I had no time to think ‘now what to do’, and that is how I like it. I could sense the progress in training and the motivation was only increasing.

The First Step to success – Pre Nationals
Then came December 1998, and I had to participate in the All India G.V. Mavalankar Shooting Championship, which is a qualifying competition for the national championships. Only if my result was higher than the required qualification score, would I gain entry to the national championships. And this was the second competition of my life, and straight at the national level. I was prepared. After two days of a tiring train journey, I reached the venue of the competition - Asansol, a small industrial town in West Bengal. Usually in all competitions whether national or international, the shooters are given one day of open training to get used to the range conditions, and matches begin from the second day. This was a one week competition and I had three events to shoot. The first match was centre fire. This match did not have a junior category back then so I was competing in an open field. What result would you expect from someone who was competing for only the second time in his life and that too at the national stage in an open event? Well, I won a silver medal and equalled the previous record of the Competition. The next event was standard pistol and there was a junior category in this event. Junior category means competitors below the age of 21 years. And I was 13 years old. I won the bronze medal in this event and now the last event was the air pistol event. The air pistol is the most common and basic shooting event as it does not require any license or permits to own an air pistol and it is easier as compared to the other events. It is considered to be the base for all other events. This event has an open, junior and sub junior category and being a 13 year old, I could participate in the sub junior category which is under 15 years of age. The result: a gold medal. So I was back from my first national level competition with a sample of all the medals on offer, gold, silver and a bronze. Again, I took the medal to the school and there was more celebration. And not to forget, more motivation.

Journey to the Next Level
Now comes January 1999. One month after the qualifying competition and this was the national championships. It doesn’t get bigger than the national championships in India for this is the true festival of shooting. A national championship is the most important competition for any sport where national champions are born. And unlike the qualifying match where there were three events, here in the national championships there were five events in pistol shooting category. The rule was that if you qualify in all the three matches then you could participate in all five competitions at the national championships. So I was training for all the events, but like I have said earlier, the air pistol is the easiest and it is also considered to be the base of every other event, so I trained 50% air pistol and 50% remaining events. I was particularly fascinated by the rapid fire event. Rapidfire is the only event in shooting where the shooter is shooting on more than one target and that too under very limited time. In rapidfire, we are supposed to shoot five shots, one shot each on five different targets in four seconds...that means five shots in less than four seconds on five different targets!! Exciting, isn’t it?

My father was against my participation in the Rapidfire event because I was still a beginner and Rapidfire was way too complex at that stage. Also, it was scheduled for the last two days of the national championships and shooting this event meant missing the school for two more days. Anyways what was the point of shooting an event you are not capable of and also miss attendance in the school? So, no rapidfire. But I definitely wanted to shoot such an exciting event.

Overcoming the Rapidfire complex...
For almost two weeks I spent an hour every night at home, training my reflexes to manage five shots on the target in less than four seconds. On weekends I would go to the shooting range and shoot for 2-3 hours and I was determined to get the better of it. Finally after two weeks of training this event, with one week to go before the national championships, I showed my targets to my father and he reluctantly agreed. He knew that for the long run this may not be a great decision but curbing my confidence and enthusiasm would have worse effect so I was given the go ahead for all five events.

National Championship – true test of character!
The national championships were held at Bangalore. It was a beautiful place. The shooting range is located at the SAI centre (Sports Authority of India) in Bangalore in the outskirts of the city on the Mysore road. There was lush greenery all around with a golf course, swimming pool, football field, cricket field, basket ball court, etc. It was a great sports complex and I loved the feel of that place. The competition was spread over 10 days and I knew I was going to have a great time. After all I was in a different place, doing something I had started loving, and no books, no studying....just shooting and then eating great food in the hotel!

Surprisingly on the first day of the competition itself, I ended winning an individual bronze medal and the team gold medal. Yes, I was in the Maharashtra state junior team in my first national championships itself. The competition went on, my performance was great, medals flowed everyday and then came the final day for which I had been waiting...the day of the competition of Rapidfire.

I was supremely confident of myself and was sure that not many can manage shooting five shots on five different targets in less than four seconds. Call it innocence, call it arrogance, call it ignorance, doesn’t matter. It gave me the confidence that I am better than others and confidence is what a sportsman needs to perform, and I was also aware of the efforts I had put in. I didn’t know any other shooter or how much effort they put in, I was just under this belief that nobody has put in efforts like me and they will not be able to handle this match. This gave me confidence and instead of succumbing to the match pressure and nervousness, I was raring to go and to show everyone what I had prepared myself for. After the match was over, the biggest surprise was out. Ronak Pandit became the national junior champion in the rapidfire event with a new national record! My performance there was even better than my performance in the training at Mumbai. But even then I knew what mistakes I made that day and what I should do the next time to get even better results.

Result – Medals. Record. Confidence.
I came back home after my first national championships with 11 medals... six gold, three silver, and two bronze the age of 13 years, playing in the category of under 21! And oh I forgot, also a new national record! The credit for this performance goes only to one thing: my training the basic fundamentals required for shooting. Thankfully my competitors preferred shooting more than training to shoot and that is why I won more medals than anyone. I am sure there were shooters far more talented than me, but they did not end up winning because either they didn’t have the discipline to train first and then shoot or nobody told them what to train and how to train. This is the story of my initial training of just seven months. From June 1998 – Jan 1999. If I could achieve this in seven months, without any formal supervision or guidance....I see no reason why you should not be able to achieve this and more with my experience and expertise... Hope to see you at the shooting centre...soon..