Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Opening of First Archery Gallery in Seoul

The first archery gallery in Korea just opened at Hwanghakjeong, near Sajik Park and walking distance from the great imperial palace Kyoungbokgung. It's about time that a gallery was established to laud one of Korea's oldest sports and ways of life. Currently there are 8 archery ranges in Seoul and 360 within the country but this is the first gallery that looks at the history of the great sport, the sport that almost literally defines the spirit and essence of the righteous Korean man. The establishment and opening of the gallery is due to the sponsorship of the Korean government, the Seoul city government and the district office and the cost for its construction was about W700,000,000 (US645,000). 

Kyoungju has a Hwarang Educational Center where young people are taught public speaking, poetry, archery and martial arts (taekwondo). This center is modeled after the concept of the Hwarang ("Flower Youth") of the Silla Dynasty. The original Hwarang were elite bands of aristocratic youth who trained in martial arts and military maneuvers as well as philosophy, poetry and even dance. But it is at this educational center where the modern-day elitist in archery goes for more training. And it will be at the Hwanghakjeong in Seoul where archers and visitors may now come to get a broader glimpse of the rich history or archery in Korea.

On the outskirts of Kyoungju is a statue of Yoo Shin Kim, a Hwarang captured in silent motion portraying the eternal stance of the Korean archer "pushing against the mountain" just after simultaneously "pulling the tiger's tail".  (source)
A glimpse at the rich history of archery in Korea

Archery has been a male sport and tool of war since early times. A few stories in which archery has played a significant role in history are as follows:

After the Three Kingdoms period, the Silla dynasty rose to power but was attacked by their allies, the Chinese Tang army, who had helped Silla overthrow the two armies of the Three Kingdoms. For years they battled with both armies suffering successes and losses until finally in 735 AD, the Tang army finally retreated.

Another critical battle in which Korean archers played a vital nation-saving role was when the Japanese under Hideyoshi invaded Korea in the late sixteenth century (1592-1598). After devastating battles fought on both sides, the Japanese were finally thrust back. One reason for their loss is the Japanese were disadvantaged by the lesser range of their bows. The Korean bows were far superior in distance shooting and lighter in weight and therefore easier to maneuver and transport, especially in war. 

One much more recent attack on Korea where bows and arrows were vital for repulsion of the enemy was in the nineteenth century when invaders (mainly from France and the United States) tried to forcefully open a port in Korea. In 1866, the United States sent the ship "General Sherman" to forcibly establish a port; however, Koreans strongly resented and rejected the "invasion", raining the ship with arrows and setting the ship ablaze. Soon afterwards, Catholics in Korea were massacred so   France sent a squadron to Ganghwado, where like the Americans they were repulsed by Korean units. However, it was only inevitable that the doors of Korea would and did open, especially as the archers could not compete against the superior firing power of the west.

Pictures of arrow development (Hwanghakjeong Gallery display)
(top) arrows for horse-riders during the Goguryeo dynasty
typical arrow during the Goguryeo dynasty
during the Baekjae dynasty
during the Silla dynasty
Now in times of peace, Korea focuses on archery as a form of meditation and sport, and indeed Koreans excel at the sport in the Olympics. A notable percentage of top-ranking archers herald from Korea. They not only gain monetary benefit and world prestige but they also disseminate Korean traditional philosophy and training related to the martial art.

Philosophy of Korean Archery: "Movement of Tranquility"

In defining the essence of Korean archery as a martial art, balance and concentration are the two key elements as they encompass the entire act of meditation. But what are the underlying motivations for practicing "the movement of tranquility"?
  • a means to improve one's self
  • Emperor Kojong gave a command for encouraging archery for the cultivation of the mind and body of the people
  • the uniting of movement and tranquility to help the mind to relax and focus

Korean traditional archery was founded upon traditional values, much like those of the Hwarang of the Silla Dynasty.  

The Nine major PRECEPTS of Korean archery: 

The precepts read vertically from right to left and below they are transcribed and their concepts translated into English.  (source) 
  1. In Ae Duk Haeng
    Be seen as a model of love and virtue
  2. Sung Shil Gyum Sohn
    Act with humbleness and honesty.
  3. Ja Joong Jul Jo
    You should solidly protect your integrity through discreet behavior.
  4. Ye Eui Um Soo
    Be courteous.
  5. Yum Jik Gwa Gahm
    When in a position of power, act with integrity and bravery.
  6. Sub Sa Moo Un
    Don't speak while there is shooting.
  7. Jung Shim Jung Gi
    Have a straight mind and straight body.
  8. Bool Won Seung JaDon't resent someone who wins.
  9. Mahk Mahn Tah Goong
    Don't touch another person's bow.
Eight principles of Korean traditionary archery:
1 and 2:  To observe the topographical situations carefully and then the force of winds
3 and 4:  To make the firm stance, and concentrating a strong force upon the stomach while the chest is relaxed
5 and 6:  To push the jumson, the pushing hand, as you push the mountain and to pull the gahkjison, the pulling hand, as you pull a tiger's tail. (Both hands must maintain the perfect balance of the force.)
7 and 8:  To look into your own mistakes when you fail rather than out at external rhythms.
An archer shoots over the black stone with Chinese characters that basically translate  "Right mind, right body" and which means to be silent while shooting in order to have the right mind to be right in body.
The Korean archer does not shoot alone but waits till others gather to take turns and be right in mind and right in body collectively. This archer waited until he was joined by four other archers before stepping down in the range shooting area restricted only to archers.
Gallery paintings and folklore with archery:

The famous picture 동래부 순정도 (dongraebu sunejoldo) painted in 1760 is a depiction of a battle in the Imjin War (1592) when Korea was sadly defeated by the Japanese. The picture shows the Japanese attacking and breaking down the fortress wall around a fortified town in Pusan. The Japanese had archers as well as western guns. They also far out-numbered the Koreans with their 14,700 invaders against the 4000 Koreans armed with only bows and arrows. 

original   (source)
a section copy of the original -- the section shows the both the Japanese and the Korean with their weapons
(displayed in the Hwanghakjeong gallery)

The  famous 복새선은도 picture shows the means and method of testing generals in the remote testing ground. Of interest, generals had to be even more skilled than other archers and so their tests were more rigorous. Following is the famous picture as well as the type of arrows generals were supposed to shoot during their exam.

복새선은도 (1664)   (source)
depiction of an archery field (1621-1691)
Boksaek is the name of an old forest village now in North Korea (renamed 함경도)
Boksaek literally means in the far northern part
Different style of arrows for different types of archers (Joseon dynasty)
(top) for learners
typical arrow for archers - 112.5 grams
arrows for the exam for generals - 225 grams
And of course folklore painter Kim Hong Do (1745 - 1806) is represented in the new gallery -- his famous pen and ink sketches of an archer. Actually the whole picture is a composition of three sketches depicting the carrying of arrows in an arrow case, the bending and forming of a gakgung (Korean traditional bow), and the shooting of the bow and arrow under scholarly instruction.

Hwanghakjeong under King Kojong (1852 - 1919)

In 1876 the Japanese forced entry into the ports of Korea and demanded trade relations. The Americans, French and other countries soon followed. With westernization suddenly upon the formerly "hermit nation" reforms were suggested to "get the Koreans up to speed" on trade and interacting in a more open-minded manner. And like the Japanese had established the Meiji Reforms (started in 1866 with new and on-going changes through 1912) which radically altered Japan's political and social structure and helped them to emerge as a modernized nation in the early 20th century, Korea was expected to adopt similar reformation measures. Thus, the Gabo Reforms. The Gabo Reforms (1894 - 1896) were not as well accepted in Korea and were cut short before the initial five-year program was to be completed. Yet, in that time measures had been enacted to reduce the bow as an out-dated weapon, and thus began the quick decline of Korean archery. By the late 19th century the use of the Korean bow was a virtually obsolete martial art and the Gabo Reforms of 1894 removed archery from the gwageo (Military Service Exam), and until Emperor Kojong patronized it a few short years later, archery saw a rapid decline on the peninsula.

In 1899 Prince Heinrich of Prussia, who had a fascination with the Korean archery style, suggested that Emperor Kojong make a sport of it. Impressed that a foreigner was charmed by a previously treasured art, Emperor Kojong decreed the establishment of an archery range for the cultivation of the mind and body of the people. Of course in the Confucian society, hierarchy was very important, so as to still maintain class structure, different targets were to be used on the range by the different classed people. (I think Emperor Kojong borrowed the target image concepts from China.)
boar - non-statused commoners
deer - high-ranking officers
bear - king
tiger - emperor, so only Emperor Kojong and his son Emperor Sunjong (Korea proclaimed itself an empire in 1897)  

I thank Shin Dong-Sul, the Director of the Archery Gallery, for giving Stephen Wunrow, photographer for the American-based Korean Quarterly, and myself a guided tour, and I give a special thanks to Cho In-Souk, PhD in Architectural History for being such an interesting and patient translator. Cho In-Souk is also a member of the Hwanghakjeong guild.

The art of constructing traditional Korean bows was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1971.  Director Shin Dong-Sul says he doesn't know well about the craftsmanship, but he is certainly very good at bending bows for members to shoot. (Traditional bows are stored unstrung and so they curl back into a relaxed position. To leave a bow taut at all times would be to weaken its springiness.

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