Short but elegant video from the KCultureChannel depicting the making of traditional bamboo arrows for use with gakgung. The bamboo used is actually referred to as ‘arrow bamboo‘, and the maker has to be careful to select wood of exactly the same age and knot spacing in order that the arrows will spine correctly.
The KCultureChannel also have brief videos on bowmaking and the Bucheon Bow Museum, amongst much else. Although, if you are interested in this kind of thing, you really must watch the 20 minute doc The Bow And Arrow Of Korea, made in the 1980s and narrated in cut-glass English. Apparently there’s not that many of these guys left still making bows.
For the first part of ‘Archery in Seoul’: click here.
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 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.
“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:
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.
The hardest archery tournament in the world. The Korea Archery Association have finished their yearly recurve selection tournament in Donghae City, a brutal week involving six 70m rounds and three days of head to head shooting – and apparently in miserably cold and rainy conditions, too. The top eight, in order, in each gender are:
1. Kim Woojin (2011 world champion), who absolutely dominated the men’s division.
2. Lee Woo Seok (2014 Youth Olympics champion)
3. Shin Jae Hun (promising Korean cadet in 2008, fallen off the international radar for a few years)
8. Park Mi Kyung (last seen on the international stage in 2003!)
Archers who didn’t make the cut include veterans Yun Ok Hee and Joo Hyun Jung (who has apparently retired), and perhaps most surprisingly, Jung Dasomi, last year’s Asian Games individual champion. There are further warmup tournaments next month which narrow down the eight to a front-line four that will likely contest the big events.
The biggest story of all is the triumphant return of Ki Bo Bae, after failing to make the 2014 squad due to a shoulder injury. She had maintained considerable form, managing to shoot a 1391 FITA last year for her pro team – even though a TV news piece at the end of last year hinted she might be retiring from international archery. Also, Im Dong Hyun, who was slightly in the wilderness in 2014, has achieved a truly staggering 13th consecutive selection for the national team.
Lee Woo Seok. Photo: Xinhua
It’s an interesting mix of familiar faces, veterans and youngsters; the real ones to watch might be the young wunderkindsChoi Mi Seon, who was leading the ranking round for two days,and Youth Olympic champion Lee Woo Seok (who, rumour has it, scored 710 for a 70m round earlier this year). If they deliver this season, who would actually bet against an Olympic medal next year?
What what what?! Apparently Korean archery team-building exercises involve the podium-level squad hauling charcoal briquettes up a hill in some anonymous, not-particularly-salubrious part of town somewhere – and for charity, by the looks of things. In winter (temperature today around 3°C / 38°F). You see, that’s clearly what’s missing from a lot of elite sporting training programmes. Tedious, exhausting exercises where you get filthy and help other people. Wanna win? Go somewhere cold and depressing. I mean, it worked for this guy, right?