Archery at the European Games 2015

29 June, 2015


As the 1st European Games drew to a close yesterday in Baku, Azerbaijan, it’s difficult to know what to make of them. Despite the long-tail afterglow of London 2012, here in the UK they barely impacted on the public consciousness and have been largely ignored by the media – despite Team GB coming home with a haul of 47 medals and taking third place on the medal table. The games were troubled from the start, with athletes injured in the opening days and the more questioning media outlets banned from attending, amongst many other controversies.  In a significant move, just days before the opening ceremony the Netherlands pulled out of hosting the 2019 Games despite having won the bid, citing financial concerns. Azerbaijan certainly put on a great show, but the very future of a European Games is, at this writing, in serious doubt.

As for the archery: I managed to watch some of the all-recurve competition whenever they deigned to show a stream. All the finals were streamed in high-definition, although the grating commentator was way out of his depth, mixing up athletes and adding little. The competitions in the Tofiq Bahramov stadium were woefully under-attended, despite tickets only costing the equivalent of £2 ($3) – but that was a pattern repeated across the Games. I was hoping the full competition was going to be made available on YouTube, but so far it’s mostly highlights. [EDIT – there are some full comps up  – thanks Rommel!]

Italy had a great meet, taking two golds, but the real standout competition was the men’s team event, featuring a final four of Ukraine, France, Spain and the Netherlands. Ukraine took the honours on a finals day of the highest quality which would have tested the best Asian teams.

The women’s individual final (well worth watching) featuring Karina Winter and still-World-Champion-for-a-while-longer Maja Jager is here. No spoilers… oh…

In the men’s individual a few days later, Miguel Alvariño Garcia bested Sjef Van Den Berg in a final that saw Sjef falter just a little from a staggering run of form that had seen him pound the ten ring all week. Miguel’s gold medal has been the high point in an great year for Spanish archery and their recurve coach Choi Jae Kyun.

Finally, Team GB’s three women and one man didn’t have the greatest meet, although Kieran Slater put in a gutsy H2H run to make it to the last sixteen. As for Rio: GB Olympic archery qualification, for many decades something close to a formality, is beginning to look like a sterner test. The World Championships next month will (probably) decide.

The rest of the official videos and results are here.

WA news round up is here

Deano was there taking photos as usual



The Battle Of The Bows

10 June, 2015

Brief video from the Smithsonian channel exploring the differences between a yumi and a longbow, briefly explaining why recurves are more efficient than simpler self-bow designs.

Amongst the many things it doesn’t explain or gets wrong include why the longbow became popular despite more efficient composite designs existing contemporaneously. The reason is that it was a mass-produced weapon, much cheaper and quicker to manufacture and requiring less maintenance and care than composite Eastern bows – the Kalashnikov of its day. The classic English yew longbow of historical battles also used much higher draw weights than the 50lb weapon shown here, usually 100lb and up for long range, heavy war arrows on European battlefields, very different to short-range (and often mounted) samurai combat.

It ends with a slo-mo illustration of archer’s paradox on the longbow, without explaining why the yumi doesn’t suffer from it as much (it’s to do with twisting the bow on release, as I understand), and without explaining why it’s not an issue.

Unfortunately, archery is complicated, and traditional archery even more so – but the conventions of TV mean that things get reduced to ‘which one is better’. That’s OK. If you want more, there’s a big deep pool to dive into which you can swim in for life. ;-)

(Via Archery Scrolls).


archery golf (and an idea)

8 June, 2015



Another treat from the British Pathe archive, with some archery golf from back in 1929. Apparently they used to only play this in winter in order not to damage the turf.

There’s plenty more BP archery films in the YouTube archive, and I put several of the best ones up last year.  Enjoy.

I’m going to think out loud here: I’ve often thought a form of archery played on golf courses would be a great idea and could even provide the mainstream TV breakthrough the sport is looking for – and the infrastructure and TV technical experience is already in place. Think how good the Masters at Augusta looks on a sunny late afternoon. Imagine the same thing, but with archers. People would lap that up. Wouldn’t they? :-)

The thing in my brain would be somewhere between target, field and clout archery. I’ve watched field comps on TV, and unfortunately, because so much takes place under tree cover, it makes for a murky, what’s-going-on viewer experience. If you could make the arrows glowing bright yellow or bee-striped or whatever shows up best on the cameras, that would help. There’s technology like this which, combined with excellent commentary, would make for an informed viewer experience.

The scoring could basically be the same as golf, with a par number of ‘strokes’ per hole, with an actual ringed target as the hole providing a way to score and break ties. You could split things into ‘tee’ and ‘hole’ shots, too. One thing that target archery could badly do with as a spectator sport is an element of strategy.

Also, all archers could use a standard bow weight, or maybe a small range of weights (which would also add a strategic element). Maybe a completely standardised ‘class’, all bows set up exactly the same, you are only allowed to change the grip. Or maybe you get to choose the bow and poundage, but you can only use one bow for all ‘strokes’ – you don’t get a caddy with a rack of them. Barebows only, even? That would be something very special.

Anyway, there’s a bunch of ideas. Now all I need is a billionaire or two to get behind it, and we’re away… :-)


Archery in Seoul pt. 2

2 June, 2015

 For the first part of ‘Archery in Seoul': click here

Mount Ingsawan.

There are a total of eight traditional Korean archery ranges in and around the capital. On an overcast, muggy day I climb up from Gyeongbokgung station, near Seoul’s greatest palace, up a winding road past a school, to HwangHakJeong (‘Yellow Crane Pavilion’) on the lower slopes of Mount Ingsawan. This commands a rocky elevation facing south over the city, looking down onto government buildings and the US Embassy. Unlike Surakjeong, here there is a clear downward slope to the targets which are, again, 145m away.


Here, the archers save on shoe leather and maximize their range time by employing a trustee to collect arrows; these are then returned in a basket via a motorized cable pulley which stretches back to the shooting line. The range is also home to a brand-new small museum-cum-gallery which contains several exhibits on the history of the range and gungdo – although there’s not a great deal of information in English up yet, either on display or on the internet. They are also planning courses in traditional bowmaking.


HwangHakJeong gallery


HwangHakJeong gallery


HwangHakJeong gallery

HwangHakJeong has royal patronage; it was built by the Emperor Gojong in 1898 in order to revive what he saw as a national tradition, to “let people enjoy archery to develop their physical strength.” The bow has been known on the Han Peninsula since prehistory, but its full flowering as a national totem came during the Joseon Dynasty: a Confucian kingdom lasting an impressive five centuries until 1897. The bow was a military weapon, and proficiency in it became a key part of the military service examination, part of a complex national series of testing and advancement which still resonates throughout the country today.

Martin Sadlon’s site explains more:

“The Joseon Dynasty adopted Neo-Confucianism as a ruling ideology to manage Korean society and maintained a political system in which the hegemony of political power was tightly grasped by the scholar officials. Archery was considered one of the basic skills (music, archery, chariot driving, writing, and arithmetic) even for scholars… it was not simply regarded as a physical skill in warfare or hunting, but as… a spiritual instrument to cultivate Confucian morality and to make people familiar with courtesy.

 There is also a famous concept to view archery as a means of “assessing an archer ‘s virtuous conduct”… gradually in Korea this term appeared to be a representative view of archery as a means of cultivating and assessing virtue and courtesy of the archer himself. This is why archery, basically a martial art, is exceptionally recommended even for the literati.”

The Confucian traditions and precepts established over the various empires are still maintained in the complex hierarchies and etiquette at each range. Similar to the Hunger Games effect in the West, gungdo has experienced a national bump in interest due to a Korean fashion for historical epics such as War Of The Arrows.



The range is in action when I visit, and I meet a couple of chaps including Kim Taesung who taught the Hairy Bikers for BBC TV last year: you can watch the segment here, starting at about 27m.
HwangHakJeong was also where the Korean Olympic archery machine began in the 1960s. The founders of the team such as Park Kyung Rae came to study the best traditional archers, whose approach to alignment and training were hugely influential on the nascent systems of coaching and biomechanics that finally bore fruit in the 1980s with the influx of corporate money that fuelled, then as now, the Korean recurve machine. It turns out that the international Olympic success draws from deeply historical roots.


Seokhojeong range, showing part of the cable pulley system

I manage to visit one more range: Seokhojeong, high on the slopes at Namsan Park, the mountain capped by the iconic Seoul Tower. This range is higher, more rugged and overgrown than the others, but has a proud history stretching back to the 17th century, and offers a chance to try archery for both Korean citizens and foreigners – there appears to be both public and private money intent on maintaining the tradition here. As well as the archery range, Namsan is crisscrossed by well-used padded hiking trails and enlivened with free outdoor gyms, part of a very public national commitment to fitness.





The long tradition and deep psychological roots of archery in Korea is expressed in Seoul public history; from artwork on the walls on the Cheonggyecheon stream, an extraordinary public waterway running through the centre of the city:




Cheonggyecheon stream

to the hanbok-clad actors in the guard-changing ceremony at the royal palaces:


There are also bow-and-arrow treasures from the past at the National Museum, from the Paleolithic to the Joseon.  I didn’t get to see some other museums a little further afield,  but there were a thousand other things to recommend this extraordinary city and country, and I hope to be back soon.

For more on the history of Korean traditional archery, you could read this essay by Thomas Duvernay and Moon-ok Lee.