Most of us have grown up with the romantic escapades of Robin Hood, awed by his skill at archery. Who can forget the image of Robin’s arrow spiraling through the air, only to split an already lodged arrow in half?
At a young age, Thom Chamberlain fell in love with the sport.
Chamberlain, now the owner of TLC Archery in Buellton, grew up on an orange grove and spent his youth shooting BB guns and sling shots, aiming at anything and everything.
He shot his first bow and arrow, a toy with suction cups on the arrows’ tips, at the age of 5. It didn’t take long for him to remove the suction cups.
“When I ran out of BBs I made my own bow and arrow, because you could make them out of sticks and stuff. Bows were always cool to me,” he said.
Chamberlain reacquainted himself with archery in the late 1980s and began shooting competitively in 1993, winning many state titles throughout the years.
“I’m 60 years old and I’m still beating the kids,” he joked.
An advanced-level archery instructor, Chamberlain is a member of the Brotherhood of the Arrow, also called the Robin Hood Society. He displays eight “Robin Hoods” — the perfect shot with the second arrow splitting the first one — on the wall of his shop.
For the past nine years he has taught archery classes through the Parks and Recreation departments in Solvang, Lompoc and Santa Maria and has introduced the art form to more than 700 local children. A new class will be starting in April.
He also teaches archery classes to groups of children at Santa Ynez Valley Charter School and gives private instruction to groups and individuals from age 7 to 80-plus. Middle schools in Vandenberg and Orcutt have archery programs as part of their regular school curriculum.
“Archery is a spiritual sport. It has been part of Zen martial arts for more than 3,500 years,” said Chamberlain. “It’s a 90-percent mental sport. Once you teach your body to interface with the machine, which is the bow, the arrow goes where you aim it. Archery was part of the first Olympics.”
Chamberlain spoke of a moving experience he had at a competition in Las Vegas — seeing a blind woman who was a competitive archer.
“The room became silent when she went up to collect her arrow,” Chamberlain said. “With the help of her husband, who gave her direction, she did an excellent job. She shot 275 out of 300. Some sighted people can’t even do that. It still moves me to think about it.”
Archery is also one of the largest growing and safest family sports in the nation. People of any age or physical fitness can enjoy it.
More than anything, Chamberlain enjoys mentoring kids. Many of his former students still keep in touch with him and many have progressed to win state championships.
“I have several students with ADHD and multiple sclerosis. Parents have seen dramatically positive changes in children who are physically challenged or dealing with learning disabilities,” said Chamberlain. “Archery always has a positive impact on a child. It promotes focus and self-discipline in a fun environment. It instills confidence and self-esteem, one of the things we try to do as instructors.”
Chamberlain’s archery friends include many people with physical disabilities, including a young man, Jeff Fabre, who is missing one leg and one arm and who has won numerous championships including two Olympic medals. He uses a mouth strap.
Archery also promotes strong friendships between competitors, he said. Thousands attend sanctioned tournaments held throughout the state each year.
Chamberlain’s students inevitably ask him about killing animals with a bow and arrow.
“I always tell my students, if you don’t eat it or wear it, then you don’t shoot it. Animals are living beings and should be respected,” he said.
TLC stands for Thom and Lori Chamberlain, but it also compliments their motto — “for the love of archery” — which is their approach to anything related to the sport.
They moved to their new location at 518 Avenue of Flags three and a half months ago. They carry several major lines of bows, arrows and accessories and offer classes from beginning to professional level.