The Gakji (thumb ring) of Korean Traditional Archery

The gakji is the thumbring worn by Korean Traditional Archers. It is perhaps one of the most interesting material differences between what could broadly described as Eastern and Western archery traditions. This ring is worn on the drawing hand of the archer, and fits tightly over the thumb. It also is elongated to protect the archer's thumb and provide a smooth and rapid release of the bowstring.

The gakji is typically made from the horn of a water buffalo, although in recent years, archers have experimented with nearly every conceivable alternative. (Thumb rings have been made from different metals, plastics or every colour, horn or antler from different animals, as well as ivory!) In some photos you can see the two different styles of gakji, described in Korean as the male or female gakjis. The photo on this page shows gakji that are all female gakji. At KTA Canada, gakji can be made by the students, using the horn of various North American animals, due to the abundance of such material. Should an archer wish to buy a water buffalo gakji, a teacher from the school will gladly provide assistance.

The function of the gakji is to provide a simple one point of restraint for the bowstring while an archer draws his or her bow. In western archery, the bowstring is held back three or so fingers, with the aid or a specially padded glove or finger tab. While both systems no doubt have benefits and drawbacks, the gakji method of supporting the weight of a bow's draw does rely on a gakji that is custom built for the archer. This reality sums up both the benefit and detriment of the system. A well-fit gakji will allow an archer the opportunity to loose dozens of arrows with relative comfort and ease. A single point of contact is a rather pure and elegant system for deciding the moment of release. However, the archer is to a large extent dependant on the fit and function of his or her gakji. Should a gakji become damaged, or the archers thumb undergo too much change of shape, a lot of time needs to be spent to reshape or rebuild the thumb ring. If a gakji irritates the archer's hand, or should it become painful to use, the archer will have difficulty focusing and his or her form and accuracy may suffer. Having said that, it is not uncommon for an archer to build and use the same gakji for years, even decades of practice without incident.