Avi Hangshing Wins Handgun Competition
(July 15) When Avi Hangshing applied for a Degel Menashe scholarship in 2019, his ambitions were not just for himself. “As my personal hope,” he wrote in his application for funding that would help him to train to be a competitive handgun marksman, “I want to be a good model for young B’nei Menashe.” Although pistol shooting was not one of the fields Degel Menashe had in mind when it launched its scholarship program, Avi so impressed the scholarship committee with his seriousness and motivation that he was awarded a grant. This month he justified its faith in him by coming in first in the League 6 handgun competition held in Kibbutz Ginegar by the Israeli branch of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) – and in doing so, proved the role model he had hoped to be.
Fresh from his victory, Avi was interviewed this week by our Newsletter. Here is what he had to say.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in 1984 in Kangpokpi, a town in northern Manipur. Kangpokpi had many different ethnic groups, and I grew up surrounded by different religions and cultures – besides the Kuki spoken by us B’nei Menashe, there was Manipuri, Nepalese, Hindi, and all kinds of tribal languages. We kids all played together and spoke each other’s languages. You couldn’t tell a secret in any of them because everyone would understand it!
The B’nei Menashe community was too small to operate its own school and I attended a Christian elementary school and high school. It was a four-kilometer walk in each direction to get there and back, but the buses were so slow and stopped so often for passengers that we could race them and sometimes beat them.
When did your family come to Israel?
When I was 16. Although I grew up always knowing that we would make Aliyah one day, it was hard to believe it was happening when the time came. Even though it was a huge change, I felt at home from the day we arrived in Israel. I took learning Hebrew very seriously, and perhaps because I already knew so many languages, I was speaking it well in four or five months.
We lived in Kiryat Arba. After finishing high school, in 2003, I began my army service. I asked to be assigned to the Paratroopers because I wanted to be in a crack unit, and I got through the selection process. Of the 500 of us who started, only 85 made it to the end. After a year of training, including parachute jumps, we were put on front-line duty. It was a difficult time. The worst part of the Second Intifada was over, but the situation was till tense and we were constantly involved in anti-terror operations. There were times when we were given leave and then called back to our base even before we managed to reach home. The single thing that most kept us going was the sense of brotherhood that developed among us: Moroccans, Ethiopians, Russians, Indians, Yemenites, Argentinians, and others – we cared for each other and took care of each other as though we had grown up under one roof. There were good times and bad times, but it’s the good ones I remember – and if the bad ones come to mind, you joke about them and they become good ones, too.
What happened after your discharge from the army?
For 15 years, I worked as a security guard and shooting instructor in Kiryat Arba. Recently, I took a job with a company named Bul Armory in Tel Aviv and moved there.
It’s an Israeli company that makes customized guns, mainly for competitive shooters, which are sold all over the world. I work in quality control. We have to make sure that every gun meets the customer’s specifications and is tested for accuracy before being shipped.
How did you get interested in shooting?
I always loved sports – soccer, basketball, whatever. But shooting was my real passion – not just with guns, but archery too. After I finished the army I took a job as a security guard for which I had to go through additional firearms training. I loved it, and our trainer told me at the end of the course that I had good form and should become a trainer myself. I took his advice, took another course, and got my instructor’s license. One day years afterwards someone saw me giving a demo shooting class and asked if I had ever heard of the IPSC. I hadn’t, but when I looked into it I saw that competitive shooting was a whole new world. I began to take part in it and am now in my third year of competition.
How does competitive shooting different from ordinary shooting?
In ordinary shooting, the main thing is accuracy. You want to hit the target. In competitive shooting, it’s accuracy, speed, and maneuverability. You have to hit a target or multiple targets as quickly as possible, and from a variety of positions – standing, kneeling, running, turning.
Some of the targets are moving or swinging themselves. It’s important not only to be a good marksman but also to be in good physical shape, because you may have to shoot while encountering an obstacle, or crouching at a low window, or sprinting from one point to another. And you’re doing all this against the clock, so that every fraction of a second counts.
You have to be the cowboy with the fastest draw!
Not exactly. It’s possible to shoot from the hip like a cowboy and hit a target – but only if it’s close. Past a range of 10 meters or so, it’s very hard. In competitions we shoot holding the gun with two hands in front of us. In my type of event the target can be as far as 70 meters away and you get to fire two shots at each.. There’s a bullseye and you get five points for hitting the inner circle, three points for the next, and one point for the next.
Before working for Bul Armory, I didn’t have the advantage of other competitors, who had sponsors and could train three times a week or more. I would train with an empty gun in my room, pasting different-sized stickers on the wall and imagining that the bigger ones were closer targets and the smaller ones further off. Once I received my Degel Menashe grant, I was able to buy more bullets and make more use of firing ranges. In 2019, I came in fourth in the League 2 competitions at Ginegar, and I’ve been improving steadily since. There are many shooting clubs in Israel, several in each in league, and the three winners in each get to compete in the annual National Championships.
Did you think you had a chance to be one of the top three this time?
I knew the match was going to be a hard one. My rivals were good and not easy to beat. On the day of the match, I tried to feel calm. I guess I didn’t look it, though, because a former national champion came up to me and asked: “Avi, are you nervous?” I smiled and said “Yes,” and he smiled back, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Good. Then you’re one of us.”
I knew the sequence of shots I would have to take and I tried to plan them all out in advance without any unnecessary moves, pauses, or bullets. I felt that I was making a lot of five-point hits and reloading quickly. I could hear the judges complimenting me, too, and when I took my last shot and said “Whew!” and sat down to cool off, people began to congratulate me and tell me that I had won.
I didn’t believe it, though, until I saw my scorecard. I had a perfect score and had beaten several previous national champions!
The National Championships will be in September-October, and the top three places will get to represent Israel in international competitions. Who knows? If I keep working hard I might eventually, God willing, earn a slot to compete overseas on behalf of both Israel and the B’nei Menashe. One of the reasons I compete is to let people know who I am and where I’m from – that I belong to the one of the lost tribes of Israel that has come home. It’s one of the best ways we can introduce ourselves to the world. I’d like to see more B’nei Menashe youngsters take up sports and succeed. If I can do it, why can’t they? And I’d like once again to thank Degel Menashe for its support. It was definitely a factor in my winning.