Monday, June 4, 2012

The Way of the Bow

Korean Adventure (May 16, 2003 Chautauqua)

   In the past few weeks, I have been trying to find something to do with my spare time. I thought that this week, I would examine the possibility of emulating Robin Hood.

    Korean archery is called "Gungdo," or the "way of the bow." It has its roots in the Hwarang Knights of the Silla Kingdom (57 AD - 935 AD) and was an art practiced by aristocrats to cultivate mental and physical discipline.

    The martial art is governed by nine precepts that emphasize Korean Confucian philosophy and proper decorum, such as having a mind and body as straight as an arrow. This kind of clear mental focus is required to hit a target positioned 145 meters away.

    Before firing an arrow, a student is required to learn how to brace the bow and to hold it with the proper grip. The correct procedure is to draw the bow as if "pushing a high mountain and pulling a tiger's tail."

    Two types of bows are used: the modern laminated bow and the traditional Korean composite horn bow.

Two kinds of arrows are used: carbon and bamboo.

A teardrop shaped thumb ring is used in the technique of the "Mongolian draw." 

A bow cover is used to protect the bow while in storage, and it doubles as a waist sash/quiver.

    Before firing the first arrow of the day, tradition dictates the archer bow to the target and say, "I am learning the bow." The other archers reply, "Have many hits." The first hit is of special importance. The archer receives congratulations from the other archers, and is required to provide refreshments and drinks for all.

    A perfect score is to hit the target with five consecutive shots. The achievement is recorded as to time and date, and the archer receives his "muho," or archer's pen name during a ritual ceremony.

    The process of making a bow is very involved, and can take up to a year. Traditional materials include water buffalo horn, bamboo, mulberry, oak, sinew, birch bark, and fish bladder glue. Each procedure has "a season."

    Like other martial arts in Korea, the "dan" system of ranking is used. Competitions are held several times a year, so that rankings, or "dan" levels, can be determined. The first dan level that a person can reach is when he hits the target 25 out of 45 tries, and only two levels of advancement are allowed each year.

    The competitions are held in a pavilion hall decorated with a sign (of Chinese characters) that means "righteous room." The shooting positions are in a covered area. The plywood targets are covered with hard rubber and are 2.67 metres high and 2 metres wide, tilted back 15 degrees.

    It is possible to compete in both team and individual events. If you hit the target, and your arrow doesn't go past the target, it's a hit. Judges determine just what kind of score you receive, and trophies and certificates are awarded.

   So, to recap, I can spend my spare time learning to fight with a sword, I can play with dolls, I can watch movies all day, or I can pretend to be William Tell. Next time, I will discuss the option of getting married.

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