Gukgung: More than Just Bow and Arrows
At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Korean athletes stood undefeatable in one particular sport, bringing in gold medals for all four categories. It was none other than archery. This accomplishment was only a continuation of their impressive record of 39 Olympic medals in archery. The United States, the second-ranked gold-medal winning team for women’s archery, is behind Korea by whopping 10 medals. These gold medalists, it turns out, are a result of intentional education from a young age. According to the BBC, certain Korean primary schools include two hours of archery training in a typical day’s schedule. Students with the most potential receive training through high school and college, with hopes to eventually join the adult professional team or perhaps one day hold the honor of becoming an Olympic gold medalist for Korea. Korean athletes’ international record stands on the foundation of Korea’s centuries-long commitment to preserve its traditional archery, or gukgung.
Gukgung is not just one of the many martial arts in Korea. Its history traces back to over 2000 years ago in the fifth century B.C. where the bow was a main weapon of the Korean military. Since then, it’s evolved into a widespread military art, and is now a modern sport enjoyed by many Koreans. Currently, over 30,000 people are registered at over 300 archery ranges nationwide. The sport is enjoyed by many Koreans due its affordability and low level of difficulty. In only one to two months of training, students can learn basic posture and breathing while building arm strength to stretch the bow and release the arrow. Archery can be enjoyed alone, and with correctly fitted equipment for the body, it can be practiced by people of all ages, from young children to the elderly.
The sport uses the whole body, so it contains multiple health benefits. A centered mindset and controlled breathing techniques are important assets to the sport, so training and focus become crucial. By fighting with the self, the participant can train the mind and gain a sense of accomplishment. A restless mind may lead to missing the targets, so this sense of focus is necessary for precision. Enthusiasts share how a single pull of the bowstring can bring a meditative effect much like yoga. Because many of its characteristics are similar to golf, archery was even coined “golf of Joseon” by some enthusiasts. Koreans love the sense of triumph that comes from hitting the target, like the feeling of hitting a golf ball. Neither require rigorous body movement, but in comparison to golf, archery is more affordable and can often be enjoyed closer to home.
Archery is also becoming a popular program for thematic tours. The activity is being added in many tourist packages for a one of a kind experience. For the “Suwon Hwaseong Visit Year 2016,” the cultural organization of Suwon offered weekend trips and package trips of one day two nights. One of the popular activities in the package was archery. Visitors were able to try traditional archery on the training ground of Korean soldiers during the Joseon Dynasty called Dongjangdae. This area is still attracting visitors and is opened daily. Archery represents the spirit of Koreans through its value for discipline and focus— and will continue to be an agent of spreading Korean culture to outsiders.
Written by Diana Soohyun Park
Traditional Korean Archery Range
15-32, 9 Sajik-ro,Jongno-gu, Seoul
Every Tue–Fri 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Yeonmudae of Hwaseong Fortress
8, 103 Changryongdae-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon, Gyeonggi-do
March to October 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. / November to February 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Bucheon Korean Traditional Archery Field
482 Sosa-ro, Bucheon, Gyeonggi-do
Mon–Fri 09:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. / Sat 09:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.