Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hwanghakjeong Archery Tour

On the lower slopes of Inwangsan and looking off to the east is Hwanghakjeong, the royal archery range founded by King Gojong. It is slightly higher on the mountain than Sajik Park in Chongno-gu and within easy walking distance of Kyoungbokgung, one of the five royal palaces of Korea. This archery range is considered the royal range, easily recognizable since the range colors are red and gold, and only a king could use such colors. Though Korea does not have a royal family anymore, the colors for the king's range remain.

Opened by King Kojong in 1898 and originally located at Gyeonghuigung, another of the royal palaces, Hwanghakjeong was moved to its current location in 1922 during a restructuring period in the Japanese colonial period. It is the only Daehan Empire-period archery range still in existence and remains a functioning range to this day. The tour in and around the Inwangsan area was led by Robert Koehler, writer-photographer for both a Seoul-based culture magazine and a freelancer who also writes the popular blog The Marmot's Hole. Cho In-souk, holding a PhD in architecture as well as being an avid Korean historian and member of Hwanghakjeong, gave "tour" information while at the range. She presented particularly fascinating information about Korean archery as a meditative martial art, the principles behind the mind control for being a good archer, and then explained to us English speakers the practice requirements before being inducted as an amateur archer. 

Learners must practice in the room designed for shooting. On the walls of the room are various styles of traditional handmade bows and their natural materials. 
After an explanatory video on the principles of archery, the making of the bows and arrows, and an attempt to practice shooting a bow in the practice room, Cho In-souk then guided us to the archery range above the practice room. Only learners who have taken lessons and practiced for a minimum of three months are allowed to shoot in the archery range above. Until that time one must practice-practice-practice in the practice room to perfect one's breathing, strength and form all while meditating. One reason amateur archers are not allowed to practice in the range further up the mountain is respect for others as the arrows, if not pulled back strongly enough for them to hit the distant range, would rain down on others walking the trail up to the range. The other reason is strength as only those who have trained regularly can have the strength to pull the bow back enough to hit the distant range. With the three targets 145 meters away, a lot of strength is needed. 

On this particular day we were given the rare privilege of witnessing a jipgungnye, an induction ceremony for novice archers. Several men and a couple of women, having practiced a minimum of three months for attaining the sufficient strength and for being considered proficient in their meditative form, were being inducted as amateur archers. 

Officiator standing by the "court" musicians.
The officiating judges are now arriving. Most if not all of the judges have played a huge role in the development of Korea, e.g. a former mayor, a famous bridge architect, a high-ranking officer from the Korean war, to list a few.
The officiating judges have arrived and been seated seated. The bows for the ceremony have been prepared in advance, as well as the covers for the bows which are in the royal colors of the guild - red and gold.
Now the archers for being inducted file in. Notice they aren't wearing any color as yet.
They represent the peasant who has yet to obtain any kind of guild status.
The archers to be inducted line up as "attendance and participation" is called. Once the registered number is verified, archers are asked to sit in unison.
The archers then respectfully seat themselves.
Many other of the guild archers were in attendance, and one particular fellow wearing his thumb and forefinger guards was taking video of the performance. The guards are important to prevent the bow string from causing too much friction. Of note is the fact that Korean archers do not pull the bow string back with the fingers but rather with the thumb. With this method the Koreans are said to easily attain 145 meters instead of the more typical 70 meters with the western bow.  
The respectful bow, performed by each newly inducted member to show heart-felt thanks and appreciation to the older "Confucian" man.
For some odd reasons all the new archers went down to the range prior to taking any shots.
The new archers line up to demonstrate their strength. Before they shoot, three of the officiating judges or officials took representative shots at the distant targets to start off the more practical side of the ceremony.
A comment on the usage of space here. Two of the reporters in black were actually rude and incorrect as only a qualified archer is to go down the stairs to the shooting platform. Visitors and non-participants MUST stay silent and must NOT position themselves any where near the shooting platform. This rule applies at all times.
No matter how well or how poorly anyone shoots, the archer whether experienced or an amateur must remain reflectively silent and not be visibly proud or disappointed. These are fundamental rules of Korean archery - reflection and meditation.
Once the experienced archers have shot, the amateurs one-by-one take their shots. I believe each member shot either three or 5 arrows. Another rule in Korean archery:  No one is to shoot simultaneously with another, but rather to lend one's patience and non-verbal encouragement on doing one's best to each archer in turn.
Manufactured arrows. Handmade arrows are W30,000 each or more! 
Two of the officiators (forefront) among several "court" musicians.
As recognized archers the newly inducted can now go to the range for shooting their arrows, but one of the many rules when shooting is to never shoot alone. Therefore, archers must wait until at least two or three others have arrived before using the archery range space. Though a meditative sport, it is to be done with a collective spirit.

The archery range, Hwanghakjeong, gets its name from the large wooden arbor-building where the ceremony was held. The arbor-building was originally built in 1898 (2nd year of Gwangmu) to the north of Hoesangjeon of Gyeonghuigung Palace. Hwanghakjeong was relocated to its current site of Sajik-dong in 1922. This was because the official resident of the Monopoly Bureau of the Japanese Government General in Korea was built on its original site after the demolition of Gyeonghuigung. The current place where the building now stands is the site of Deunggwajeong, one of the five bow arbors in Seochon. Following the Gabo Gyeongjang Reform in 1894, bows were excluded from the weaponry of the military and almost all of the bow arbors disappeared from across the country. However, Emperor Gojong gave an emperor's command to encourage archery for the cultivation of the mind and body of the people. Following this command, Hwanghakjeong was built in the royal palace, and it was opened to the public. It is said that Emperor Gojong often visited Hwanghakjeong and personally enjoyed archery. Homi, the bow used by Emperor Gojong, and his quiver were kept at Hwanghakjeong (the range) before they were transferred to  Korean Army Museum at Korea Military Academy. As an example of bow-shooting arbors, Hwanghakjeong is a historical site, and archery events continue to be performed in continuance of Korea's long tradition of archery.

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