A brief history of Korean Traditional Archery

The practice of Korean Traditional Archery has undergone surprisingly little change over the centuries since which written record has been kept. Its emphasis upon courtesy, ettiquite and mental focus have endured throughout the centuries, and give us an excellent representative artform original to the Korean peninsula.

After the invention of firearms and more mechanized weaponry for warfare, archery survived in Korea because of its ritualistic or symbolic importance as a tool for cultivating a civilized citizenry. The Emperors of Korea, at various points in history, are quoted as defending the purpose of archery practice; They in turn are quoting Confuscian teachings. When challenged as to why he supports his son learning archery, King Taejong replies, "Old people said archery is a way of assessing virtue." This quote is from his reign of the early 15th century. Then, as recently as the 20th century, King Kojong states that archers must "Meet the requirements of the rituals on entering, leaving, or making turning movements in any direction." He is directly alluding to the mandates of the Great Archery Ritual, which dictate the courtesy and formality applied to nobility and royalty when performing archery, but in this case, King Kojong is promoting archery to be practiced by the masses, and mandated the following of proper etiquette for everyone.
 
To be clear, it was King Kojong who made the most recent effort to promote and popularize an archery style for the general Korean population. After a visit from Prince Heinrich from Germany, during which he was impressed by a display of Korean archery, the King began actively developing the infrastructure that would lead to the current rebirth of archery. Included in this movement was the creation of the 'Yellow Crane' archery pavillion on the northern mountainside of the Kyounghee Palace. What followed was the construction of new archery pavillions and clubhouses nationwide. At the same time, the bows, arrows and targets of Korean archery were standardized to begin the traditional archery of Korea that we are all currently familiar with.
 
This most modern style of Korean archery is currently the only mode of archery practiced. It is a conduit through which students can learn about Korean culture. Both in Korea and worldwide, the guidelines and instructions to archers are preserved in several important precepts handed down directly from Confuscian principles more than 2000 years old. These teachings are written in Chinese, the language that dominated the Korean upper class until the invention of the hanguel alphabet. Students of KTA are instructed in the meaning and importance of these precepts. The teach a new archer how to behave within the archery community, but also serve as a strong moral code for everyday life.
 
The most commonly practiced distance and manner of modern day Korean Traditional Archery, i.e. the distance of 145 metres and arrows loosed in groups of five, is only one style and skill set of the larger total artform of Korean Archery. Including the standard military officer's examination and general training, as well as the ritual aspect of Korean archery there were no less than five major categories in which an archer would display skill or physical stamina. One category, (which doesn't survive in practiced form today), pits archers against one another in a competition to launch a 240 gram iron arrow to its maximum distance. This style of competition is roughly equivalent to modern day western 'flight' archery, where the winning arrow is measured simply for its overall distance. Other styles of competition put the target at various distances, not the current 145m, to test an archer's ability to gauge distance correctly.
 
Of all the categories of personal or group competition, nearly all KTA archers practice the historically most successful and most popular form of traditional archery in Korea. (145m target)
 
In this way, the practiced Korean archery of today is functional ONLY in its use of teaching etiquitte, confuscian values or respect and duty, social harmony. KTA Canada practices the same style of archery, and uses it to accomplish the same social purpose. It no longer has any military or defensive use. While this seems obvious, it is worth considering that Traditional Korean Archery  no longer has any function as a tool of hunting, a question that comes up often when discussing KTA with western archers.