Topic 4 - Drawing the bow, without an arrow

There are many individual techniques an archer needs to learn and control in Korean Traditional Archery. From the first lesson, it would somewhat bad practice and even irresponsible to allow a student to attempt to loose an arrow. Without proper technique, a student could easily hurt themselves as well as harming others nearby. Instead, a student should first practice drawing the bow without any arrow. In this way, an archer can become familiar with the power stored in the bow, as well as focusing on one's own form, breathing and bow grip. Over time, a beginning archer can quickly train his or her muscles to draw the bow in a safe, efficient and elegant manner.

Drawing an empty bow is not just for beginners either! Veteran archers often begin their daily practice by drawing the bow without an arrow, choosing instead to concentrate on the feeling of their muscles and paying special attention to their stance. In this type of warm-up, the thumb ring is often not worn, since the archer will not be releasing any arrows. Instead, an archer might simply hold the bowstring by the typical 'western' archery grip; three fingers, pulling the bow to full draw. After holding the bowstring for around 5 seconds at full draw, the archer must then slowly release the stored tension in the bowstring. The most important thing at this point is that the archer NOT suddenly release the string ('dry fire' the bow), since this may break the bow, or at the very least cause serious damage and/or injury.

Students need to be reminded that the foundations of good technique are rooted in their stance, bow grip and breathing. All three of these techniques may be exercised and mastered by drawing the bow without and arrow.

The process of drawing the bow can be broken down and understood as a series of individual steps.

1. Preparing to draw the bow - With a proper stance (rigid lower body) the archer holds the bow with both hands. The bow hand should be gripping with the proper technique, and the drawing hand lightly pulling on the bowstring. When drawing the bow for practice - without an arrow - the archer may use three or four fingers on the bowstring, wrapping them around the bowstring at the nocking point. The archer then can raise the bow in preparation to draw. Usually, this means raising both hands slightly above his or her head level, and in front of his or her body. Because of the stance used in Korean archery, the archer will not be facing the target 100%. Instead, his or her lower body is facing off-center, at around the 1 or 2 o'clock position. The upper body will also be facing slightly off-center. The twisting of the upper body can happen during the actual draw phase. As both arms raise the bow up, it is important that both arms and elbows are relaxed and bent; The bow arm in particular must NOT be fully extended yet.

2. Expanding BOTH arms - drawing the bow in Korean Traditional Archery means using both arms, and both sets of muscles, to stretch the bow out to its fullest draw. From step one, this means the archer should simultaneously be pulling back the bowstring with the drawing hand AND pushing out the bow with the bow hand. At first, this can be difficult to accomplish gracefully, or even imagine properly. Often, it is easier to visualize the drawing hand as doing most or all of the work. In reality however, both hands and arms are responsible for the same amount of tension and stress, and they should both play an equal and balanced role in supporting the draw weight of the bow. The bow arm's ultimate destination will be fully locked, fully extended, and pushing straight toward the target. The final full draw position for the drawing arm will be parallel to the bow arm, although probably not inline with it. The drawing arm can lock into place behind the archer's head, at the natural point where one's shoulders and arms form their strongest alignment. This depends case by case upon the physiology of every archer. Because everyone has a different physical makeup, individual draw lengths can vary dramatically, reflecting the varying lengths of arrows present in Korean archery. Like the topics of stance and breathing, students should make sure they are focusing on the performance of their own bodies, and only drawing the bow in safe and efficient manner.

A beginning archer should pull the bowstring to full draw, and should aspire to hold the position of full draw for around 5 seconds each and every time. At first, this will be challenging, and the archer's arm and bow may wobble and shake. This is completely normal, and indicates what I mentioned earlier; That an archer should be using this practice to improve his or her muscle memory and overall strength. In time - sometimes very short time - an archer can learn to use his or her muscles effectively and in balance to draw the bow with relatively little effort, while preserving an equally effortless form. When this can be done - drawing the bow to full draw, with a balanced stance, diaphramatic breathing and correct grip - an archer will have earned the opportunity to begin practicing with an arrow.

At this point, I feel it necessary to expand upon what this level of ability really looks and feels like. With the typical eagerness of any student, a new archer may want to rush through this early training and get to loosing arrows as soon as possible. I think that this quality is also very normal and understandable. What I am advocating on this webpage considers both the safety of the beginner, but also their long-term development. Bad habits formed early are extremely difficult to change. Students can likewise become frustrated when told that technique and behaviors that they have practiced for weeks or months are no longer acceptable at a 'higher' level. Instead, what I am suggesting here is that students are held to the highest standard from the beginning, and that it is important they understand the expectations of these standards.

With that said, there are several ways in which an archer can quickly begin mastering these basic skills.