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Koreans' Love for Traditional Archery Updated: 2011-09-23 00:00:00 KST

"The Ultimate Weapon: Bow," a movie about a master archer in the Joseon Dynasty, is still number 1 on the Korean movie charts, six weeks after its premiere on August 10th! It was also the opening film at the London Korean Movie Festival 2011.

Upon the release of this movie, interest in gukgung [국궁], or Korean traditional archery, has been growing in Korea, which can be seen in various tournaments around the country.

[Interview : PD] "Why do you practice gukgung [Interview : An Seong-gi, Participant] "I wondered at first why I was learning something from the Joseon Dynasty, but now I find it to be fun and beneficial."

[Interview : PD] "Why do you practice gukgung [Interview : Im Deok-ho, Participant] "Learning to shoot arrows has helped me concentrate better in my activities."

Now let's see how it is done.

[Interview : ] "Stand straight and pull the string as far back toward your shoulder as possible.
You will need a lot of strength. Control your breathing, aim and release the string."

Anyone can enjoy gukgung after a two-month basic course! Thanks to gukgung's accessibility, there are many gukgung clubs for adults.

According Korean Olympic Committee, gukgung has the second most followers as of 2011, right after soccer.

[Interview : Kim Tae-hun, Director
Korea National Archery Association] "There are about 13,000 registered archers in the Korean Olympic Committee nationwide. If you include those who practice but aren't registered, it's estimated that there are about 30,000 archers altogether. There are also about 360 registered archery ranges nationwide."

Artworks made during the Three Kingdoms period show that the Korean people were very proficient with the bow. In particular, archery was seen as a means to promote etiquette and harmony between a king and his vassals during the Joseon Dynasty.

[Interview : Na Yeong-il, Professor of physical education
Seoul National University] "People of the Joseon Dynasty practiced gukgung as a means to improve themselves."

In every archery range, there is a pavilion called a "sajeong" [사정]. It is the equivalent to a clubhouse, and archers gather here to rest. Each sajeong in different parts of Korea has its own history and tradition.

[Interview : Lee Pil-shin, Participant] "It only costs US$10 a month to rent an archery range, so people can exercise without spending a lot of money. Also, we have gatherings at the pavilion
and eat together. It's great to exercise and meet up with other people. It's really fun."

Western archery is visible proof of Korea's prowess with the bow and arrow!

[Interview : Kim Tae-hun, Director
Korea National Archery Association] "The Korea National Archery Association used to cover both gukgung and Western archery. When Seoul was selected to be the host city for the 1988 Summer Olympics, and Western archery became a competition category, the division for Western archery was split off so that Korea could nurture potential gold medalists."

Korea's illustrious Western archery campaign took off from this very archery field. This is Seokhojeong [석호정], where in 1958, a lieutenant-colonel from the US Army and a Korean physical education teacher gave lessons of Western archery. However, Seokhojeong's history goes even farther back, well into the Joseon Dynasty.

[Interview : PD] "How does Seokhojeong play an important role in the history of gukgung[Interview : Na Yeong-il, Professor of physical education
Seoul National University] "Seokhojeong is an archery range created by the government of the Joseon Dynasty, and it was the site for military service examinations. However, it was also open to the public for archery practice. Hence, many famous poets and writers of that time went to Seokhojeong often."

A group of children visited Seokhojeong. They were excited to be able to hold a real bow and arrow. Gukgung is becoming the ideal sport for young children.

[Interview : PD] "Why are the children practicing gukgung[Interview : Yeon Ik-mo, President
Korea "Whal" Culture Association] "Learning gukgung helps with concentration and teaches breathing, which is good for the digestive system. Hence, gukgung is used not only to teach about culture, but also to improve one's mental and physical health."

[Interview : ] "Bend your thumb and wrap it around the bowstring."

[Interview : ] "Now! Let it go!"

[Interview : ] "Good shot! That's 3 points."

[Interview : ] "We are out on a field trip. It's really fun to learn how to use a bow and arrow."

[Interview : ] "I am six years old this year. I began practicing when I was four."

[Interview : ] "I'm six years old, too!"

[Interview : PD] "Why did you bring the children to learn gukgung[Interview : Lim Mi-hui, Kindergarten principal] "When the children fire an arrow towards a target and it hits the target, they can gain confidence. They learn that concentration is needed in order to gain that confidence, so the experience is good for their emotional growth."

Gukgung was designated as the "important Local Resource" in one of Seoul's district offices." Now gukgung is being promoted through more experience programs and exhibitions in order to transform it into a tourism resource.

[Interview : Na Yeong-il, Professor of physical education
Seoul National University] "If Seokhojeong becomes a place where people can learn history and gukgung, it can transform into a tourist destination."

Koreans both enjoy archery and are good at it. Gukgung welcomes anyone who wishes to improve one's health, while providing a relaxing but yet thrilling experience.


My dad taught be how to shoot a bow and arrow when I was younger I wasn't very good at it.
But it does feel great when you get it to shoot the target.
I thought I could hunt animals with it when I was a kid.
But it's quite a difficult sport.
It's great that people can reconnect to this past tradition.
I'd like to see people ride horses and shoot the arrows. That'd be cool.
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