Topic 2 - Gripping the bow

Gripping the bow in the correct manner is extremely important in Korean archery. Similar to having a solid and consistent stance, having a correct grip will mean reliability in an archer's overall performance. Having a solid grip means that the arrow will travel with greater power, and that the archer will be able to more accurately control its destination. An example of the corrrect grip can be seen in the photos to the left. In all the descriptions on this webpage, I will be speaking about bow assuming that it is in the left hand. Right-handed archers will usually hold the bow with their left hand, and draw the bowstring with their right hand. If you are left-handed, please reverse all of the descriptions and actions on this page.

As you can see, the bow hand holds the bow in a rather unique way. The lower three fingers - middle, ring, and little fingers - are the only three digits on the bow hand that forcably hold the bow. Said another way, the thumb and pointer fingers do NOT hold tightly onto the bow grip. The thumb and pointer fingers instead must remain relatively relaxed. The thumb, as you can also see in the photo, serves as the arrow rest, and therefore must be carefully and thoughtfully positioned near the top of the bow grip. The pointer finger should wrap around the bow handle lightly, and touch the tip of the thumb. The overall affect is that the pointer finger's knuckle will stick out from the bow's handle, and the thumb and pointer finger together will form a sort of circle or ring.

The bow itself is in actuality then gripped between the lower three fingers and the muscular part of the palm connected to the thumb. This style of grip is very powerful, and will allow a practiced archer to loose many arrows without tiring, as well as helping to avoid serious wrist or hand injuries. It also makes it relatively easy for an archer to apply the correct twist to the bow handle, which I will talk about next.

The correct grip means that there should be significant space between the bow arm and the bow string upon the arrow's release; a gap of around three fingers' width. (Click on the photo for an enlarged view.) This gap is important for several reasons. The first is that it protects an archer's wrist from being struck by the bowstring, causing pain and a memorable bruise on the archer's bow arm. In many archery traditions, this phenomenon is well known, and archers commonly wear a protective forearm guard to prevent serious injury. In Korean archery, if the bow is gripped with the proper technique, such an arm guard is not necessary. Another type of injury that this natural twisting motion prevents is that caused by the bowstring brushing past an archer's cheek upon releasing the arrow, which can cause a very painful red bruise. This type of injury is also very well known. In fact, it is so common among new students in the history of Korean archery that a special phrase embodies both its prevelence and its importance as an important moment of learn and teaching. "Only the bowstring can slap the face of the king," is a old expression from the era of Korean history when both nobility and royalty practiced traditional archery. Interpretations of this expression suggest that no one is immune from having bad form, even Korea's leadership. Additionally, it reminds students that they must focus on their grip and their stance to prevent such an injury. I will try to find this expression in the original Chinese characters, and add it to the precepts section of this website at a later date.