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Signal Arrow, 1990s
Grayson Archery Collection, MAC2000-0230
Korea has a long archery tradition that has endured virtually uninterrupted to the present day. The bow was a major weapon used in defense from ancient times through the 19th century. During the Choson period (1392-1910), Korea adopted a military-service examination system from China that included a focus on archery skills and that contributed to the development of Korean archery as a practical martial art. The Choson period also saw the creation of a personal dimension in Korean archery, with archery seen as a way of cultivating Confucian values of social order and morality. Civilian shooting ranges were established after the Japanese Hideyoshi Invasion of the late 16th century, and archery clubs were created that acted as a mechanism for maintaining the traditions of Korean martial and ritual archery. A brief decline of interest in archery occurred with the transition of the Korean military to modern firearms in the early 19th century; however, it was given new direction by King Kojong in the early 20th century as a way to support physical activities while retaining the cultural emphasis on ritual and courtesy. Today there are over 300 traditional archery clubs in Korea; additionally, the philosophy and training of traditional archery have been transferred to modern Olympic-style archery, at which Korean athletes have gained international recognition in recent years.
Traditional Korean bows are a type of composite bow, made with a bamboo core, horn belly, sinew backing (often covered with birch bark), and wooden ears and handle, and are noted for their extreme reflex. Heavier bows used in hunting and warfare are often of wood and sinew only but with the same reflexed form. Arrows are typically of bamboo with pheasant-feather fletching and iron points; those used in modern traditional archery usually carry blunt target points of machined brass. Several kinds of specialty arrows, such as signal arrows, fire arrows, and training arrows, were also common in the Choson period and earlier. Arrow cases are usually cylindrical and made of paper, bamboo, or wood, and bow covers usually consist of a simple cloth tube that is tied around an archer’s waist when shooting and twisted to hold arrows. More elaborate, Western Asian-style leather quivers and bow cases were also used, particularly as part of military ceremonial attire.
This online exhibit presents traditional Korean archery equipment from the Museum’s Grayson Archery Collection. Included are late Choson-period military training, combat, and ceremonial equipment, as well as items used in traditional sport archery from the early 20th century to the present.
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References and Related Links
Duvernay, Thomas. "Korean Archery: The Way of the Bow." Instinctive Archer, Spring 1996, pp. 14-19.
Duvernay, Thomas. "Traditional Korean Archery Equipment." Instinctive Archer, Summer/Fall 1996, pp. 9-13.
Kim, Ki-hoon. "The Archery Tradition of Korea." Paper presented at Archery Traditions of Asia Seminar, Hong Kong, 25 October 2003.
A Special Exhibition of Bows and Arrows of Korea. Korea Military Museum/Seoul Arts Council
Text prepared by Charles E. Grayson and Mary French, fall 2004.
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