Monday, April 17, 2017

7th Korean Archery Competition by Jongno-gu Office

The Royal Asiatic Society (and friends) were given a personal invitation to attend the 7th Traditional Korean Archery Competition sponsored by the Jongno-gu office. The competition was to be held at the Hwanghak-jeong, literally "archery" plus "club" or "pavilion", which was the king's archery range in former times. Hwanghakjeong is, by reputation, the strictest among the ranges, which means rules of etiquette and silence while shooting and the ethics of shooting are rather formally conducted here. Its reputation is high and the respect given and received is also high. So attending this competition has a bit more impetus than attending others.

As I understand it, almost every archery range in Seoul (there are 7 or 8, and about 360 overall in Korea) hold annual competitions. I don't know about the other competitions, but this one lasted all day. Koreans love ceremony, and because this range has the perhaps the richest history, its ceremony is also a big deal. High-statused very elderly men who were instrumental in building the Korean society gave well-wishing remarks, read ceremonial lines, introduced key players. The initial ceremony of course began in the pavilion, the Hwanghakjeong from which the range derives its name and which was built by King Kojong near the end of the Joseon Dynasty and transferred to this site in 1923.

The prize was visually presented to the participants at the beginning of the ceremony. No gold cup here. Just a large heavy acrylic placard that read of achieving success and was presented by the mayor of Jongro-gu and head of the 39th steering committee of Hwanghakjeong Korean Archery Range in Seoul. 

All players, after having been properly greeted, welcomed, heard explanations of the rules, and seen the ultimate prize, lined up in the field whereupon everyone in the compound stood and sang (listened to a broadcast, actually) the national anthem while facing the Korean flag. 

Pictures were taken. And the deep mahogany velvet-like flag that had been presented to the winning guild last year was returned to await the competition outcome of this year to see who would take the trophy flag home. [The mahogany flag is in the foreground of the picture below.]

The preliminaries ... coming to a close. Notice the distance to the target! More than twice that of a western archery range, which averages 70 meters!

The weather was perfect, one of the best days we've had to far! About 21C with cherry blossoms occasionally fluttering along the far edge of the field, warm rays touching cheeks, and the grass greening beneath the archers' feet. Just glorious!

All archers know their own arrows. They are never notched but might have markers or fingernail polish painted on them to give them distinguishing marks.

Fiberglass arrows. Traditional arrows tend to be of one length and a bit shorter than these. Since traditional arrows are handmade and are pricey (to the tune of W30,000 or more each), synthetic arrows are the preferred. I was told, however, that when someone reaches 4th-dan (or level), it's kind of expected that the person use the traditional arrows. The drawback of that is traditional arrows tend to be of one size (bamboo of the ideal diameter is typically short), while the arrows below fluctuate in length as these arrows were chosen based on one's personal arm-reach. Someone who's quite tall and learns on the arrow that suits his/her arm-reach but then tries to use the shorter traditional arrows would feel a bit cramped as he/she would have to adjust to a different range of pull.

Cho In-souk, RAS member and the new 부사두 or rather the "vice-president + archery + ?" of the archery range, swept all non-Koreans to the prized archery gallery for a special guided tour -- the Norwegian ambassador and his wife, two Japanese and one of whom is a kendo master and who also enjoys archery, and then myself and another RAS member. Cho In-souk was assisted by the director of the archery range Mr. Shin Dong-sul and an equestrian-nursing professor of Seoul National University. Quite the interesting mix of people all coming together to talk about archery!

The equestrian-nursing professor of Seoul National University gracefully posing beside the Korean-made battle devise for discharging 100 arrows at one time. Ah the irony (grace mixed with martial arts) of this picture!

Back at the archery range the competition was picking up speed. Archery participants were grouped in groups of 7, and the announcer via the microphone would set the pace of the archers shooting. He would announce the groups, and then each archer with 5 arrows to shoot, would take his/her turn to shoot the five arrows. No calling, congratulating, exulting, etc was to be done doing this time (Hwanghakjeong is, remember, very strict on proper rules of sportsmanship conduct). The archers would pull back their bowstrings, hold the position while confirming in their minds (remember, traditional archery is a meditation sport) that their minds and bodies were in harmony with their intention to hit the target, and, whiiiiiish, the arrow was shot. For those striking the target board, a flag was waved. No signal was given if the arrow missed the target.

Turn by turn, the archers shot. There are three groups simultaneously shooting, so potentially three people could be shooting at one time. The pace was still slow and unhurried. Traditional archery is, remember, a meditation sport.

While western archery aims for targets of about 70 meters, Korean traditional archers aim for targets at more than 140 meters away ... and they hit them!

Another RAS member and I left at 3pm as the individual competition was coming to a close but the group/guild competition had yet to be fought out. We didn't see the prize distribution or ceremony, but we did network with other guild members and I am sure we will both be back!

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