by Thomas Duvernay - Reprinted with permission by author; originally published in Instinctive Archery Magazine. Last modified: June 26, 1996


Probably the most logical way for me to present the material would be as though you, the reader, just joined a club. I will show what would happen from first signing up to the end of your first competition.

First, you should learn some terminology. I will romanize Korean terms and explain them briefly. I will not go into detail or list terms that are not important to this discussion. For romanization, there are some conventions I will make and generally follow.

VOWEL              SOUND

Ae                           Ae
A(h)                         Ah
E                            Ay
I(Ee)                        Ee
O(h)                         Oh
Oo                           Oo
U                            Uh
Eu                           Eu

For consonants, I will use the letter sounds that are closest in romanization, with the exception of names that are already well-established (with some exceptions to that, also). I think you should be able to catch on.









There are so many more terms, but these are the most basic.

Now that you have joined and learned some basic terms, it is time for you to start your training. As a beginning archer, a shin sa, you will not start shooting yet. First, you must learn how to hold the bow. We will use a modern bow for training.

The bow is gripped firmly, but not tightly.[Grab an arrow as you would grab an egg.] The middle, ring, and little finger are held together around the bow grip. The index finger is held a little higher and is crooked downward. The thumb is held near the top of the grip and is crooked in a little. There should be no gap between the thumb and index finger.

Next, you should learn how to properly draw the bowstring. For beginning training, you will draw with a three finger style, as it is easier than the Mongolian style. Pull straight back and hold for five seconds. After that, slowly let up on the string. Check the bow nocks to be sure the string is still centered. If not, keep trying. This practice should continue for a couple of days, preferably under the auspices of a trained archer. [The hand with which you hold the bow should be like pushing a high mountain; the hand with the thumb ring should be like pulling a tiger's tail.] The bow should be pushed using the ball of the palm of the hand, with power being shared equally with the arm holding the bow from wrist to shoulder. If the bow is grasped so that the hand is bent back, power will not be distributed equally in the bow. This incorrect arm position will often make the arrow go wide of its mark. In this case, the bow should be regrasped. The knuckle of the middle finger grasping the bow should be pushed toward the target. The bow arm elbow should be straight, with the inside of the elbow perpendicular to the ground.

After you are able to consistently draw and relax the string, you are now ready to shoot a tethered arrow. The tether pole is usually made from a tall (~20ft.) bamboo shaft. A long line is attached to it and an old arrow is attached to the line, through a hole drilled in the point. Before shooting, you need the correct stance and the correct way to hold the string. Your feet should be positioned at a two o'clock position (ten o'clock if left handed)The standing position, when shooting, should neither be a Tshape, nor a ^ shape. The weight of the entire body should be evenly divided between the forward and backward feet. The abdomen should be tight. If the abdomen isn't stretched to its fullest, it'll cause a loss of balance due to the haunches being pushed backward. The abdomen is naturally strained by standing with power in the legs. Correct breathing is essential. Take a deep breath, then release it slowly, emptying your lungs. The chin should be positioned by the left shoulder (right handed). The neck should be held as straight as possible.

Now you should put on your thumb ring. Fit your thumb through the outer side of the ring and twist it so the pointed end is toward the end of your thumb. Draw back on the string with it resting against the ring. Wrap your index finger around the end of your thumb, as though you are going to flip a coin. Be careful not to rest your finger over your thumb nail. Raise up the bow hand to the height of your forehead, straightening out the bow arm's elbow. Your eyes should steadily gaze at the target, even with the lower bow noch. The jaw should be close to your bow shoulder armpit.

When you draw the string, you shouldn't give power to the hand holding the bow first. The string should be drawn first, then power can be applied to the bow. This should be practiced until it becomes a steady, fluid motion.

The string should be drawn back slowly to your thumb ring shoulder. When at full draw, hold that position for about three seconds before releasing.

The angle at which the bow should be held will depend upon the cast of the bow. Some archers will shoot at a forty-five degree angle, while others will have a more flat trajectory. The angle can be adjusted individually.

Release is made simply by relaxing the thumb ring hand. Don't jerk it. The follow-through should be a slow back and downward motion. Now you are ready to shoot the tethered arrow. Practice this for several days.

Now that you've practiced shooting the tethered arrow, it is time for you to shoot a live' arrow at the target, positioned 145 meters (158 yards) away. Remember a few basic rules:

1. Check the wind.
2. Stand straight.
3. Breathe from your lower abdomen.
4. Draw slowly.
5. Hold at anchor for three seconds.
6. Release smoothly.

When you first arrive at your jung, you will stand in front of a sign with the Chinese characters Jung Gahn' carved into it. The meaning of the characters is literally Righteous Space.' The meaning is varied, depending on location. Generally, it is understood to mean you should be upright in both mind and body. Next, you will give a slight bow.

As for clothing, Korean archers will dress nicely. It is a widely held belief in Korea that the clothes make the person. In competitions, archers are required to wear white shirts, pants and shoes.

You should now prepare to shoot. First, brace your bow. As you are using a modern bow at this time, bracing is not a problem. It can be braced in a similar fashion to a western recurve. The horn bow will come later.

Next, your bow cover should be tied around your waist. The tie should be made on your thumb ring side. Start by tying it as though you were tying your shoe. Then loop the long end, bringing up the middle of the loop around the other side (ending up with half a bow, as though you tied your shoe and pulled too far).

After you have accomplished the last feat, it is time to tie your arrows in the bow cover. Take five arrows and slide them under your bow cover on the thumb ring side, points in, arrows out. Twist them in the cover once, so they are firmly in place.

The arrows should routinely be tested for straightness and soundness. The former is done first simply by sighting down the shaft; another way is to balance the shaft on your thumb nail and middle finger nail pressed together--spin the point in a manner like you were snapping your fingers. If it spins easily, it is probably straight and balanced. Soundness is tested by either bouncing the arrow on its point or dropping it flat on the ground, listening for a crisp, sharp sound. If the sound is flat, don't use it.

Before releasing your first arrow of the day, a Korean archer will say, "Hwal bae oom ni da,"which means, "I'm learning the bow." If other archers are present, they would reply, "Mani ma chu sayo," which means "Have many hits." Whether others are present or not, you should still say this phrase, which is a reminder that, no matter how good an archer you are, you are always a student.

After you've practiced this for a time, you will eventually reach certain milestones in Korean archery. The first one is the first hit.

When an archer hits the target for the first time, it is a special occasion (A hit is defined as an arrow hitting the target without breaking the plane of the target). First, you should bow towards the target (a practice that all novice archers must follow after making the first hit of the day). The next time you visit the jung, you should bring refreshments for the other members. For the second, third and fourth hits, congratulations are in order, nothing else. However...

When you have a perfect score of five arrows hitting the target in a row, you have reached a very special level. This event is known as a molgi. The date and time should be noted. There should be witnesses.

You will now be given a nickname, known as a muho. Usually, this name is given by the director of the jung. The name will usually describe something out of nature. When I reached this level, my director gave me the muho of Chung Ho, which means Blue Lake. This was thought to be appropriate, as my hometown is in Michigan, the Great Lake State. Other members will call you by this name from now on.

You will also be given an elaborate ceremony by the other members. During the ceremony, many rituals are performed and you will receive a certificate and trophy commemorating your achievement.


Korean traditional archery has ranking similar to other martial arts, such as taekwondo. The dahn level system is used. At special ranking competitions, archers try to advance in rank. The first dahn level is reached when you hit the target twenty five out of forty five tries. The next levels (second through ninth) are 28, 29,30,31,33,35,37, and 39, respectively. Only two level advancements are allowed per year. Rank is signified by moogoonghwa (Rose of Sharon) flowers embroidered on the archer's bow cover.

When an archer reaches fifth dahn, another milestone is reached. This level is known as Myong Goong, or Famous-name Archer. At this level, the archer will be given another ceremony and the archer's name will be registered nationally.


The archery competition is divided into team and individual events. At some competitions, only dahn holders are allowed; at others, the competition is open to all.

The competitions are further divided between city, province and jung matches. In the city match, seven members will represent a city; teams from other cities will send their representatives. In the provincial match, the top five archers from the province will compete against the other provinces. In the jung matches, the top five from the jung will compete. We will concentrate on the jung match. Only in the jung match are modern glass fiber bows and carbon arrows allowed; in city and provincial meets, only the horn bow and bamboo arrows can be used.

We should, at this point, talk about the opening ceremony. Usually, several ends (soon) will be shot beforehand. At the ceremony, a moment of bowed silence is given to the national flag. Next, the precepts of Korean traditional archery are read aloud by an emcee, a pledge is made by a chosen representative and short speeches are given by VIP's. The whole thing takes fifteen or twenty minutes (members will be standing in front of the sa dae in rank and file. Now, we can begin the competition in earnest.

First, there is the individual event. All members of all participating jungs can compete. The individual event is divided between the Men's Division and Women's Division. There is no difference in the rules between divisions.

In individual competition, archers will be arranged in shooting groups called dae. Each dae will shoot three soon (ends) of five arrows, for a total of fifteen arrows. The archer with the best score out of fifteen wins. In the case of a tie, there will be a playoff. In team competition, the top five archers from each jung will shoot one soon of five arrows. This is the quarterfinal event, usually involving eight jungs. The semifinal event will be between the top four and the finals between the two winners of the semifinals (Is there any other way?).

After the competition is finished (most will take several hours), it is time for the closing ceremony. Many awards will be given, from grand prizes (usually large trophies and pennants) to honorable mentions. Certificates seem to be everywhere. When it comes to traditional events, Koreans tend to be more geared to honors than to cash.

Now would be a good time to explain Korean manners, both archery specific and general. Korea is a country with a very ordered society. This attitude comes from ancient Confucian teachings. You will find that many attitudes that are held in Western countries don't hold up in Asia. The opposite is also true. Let's look at some customs in Korea.

Never beckon someone with your index finger; use your hand, palm down, similar to a wave.

Don't drink directly from a bottle; use a glass.

Don't lick your fingers while eating.

Never give or receive anything with one hand; use two hands.

Stand when elders or superiors enter a room.

Pour drinks for others and let others pour for you (two hands).

When entertaining out, pick up the tab, if possible (Usually, everyone will vie for the bill).

The above-mentioned customs are just a few of the many.  They are representative of those you will find in Korean archery.


Korean traditional archery was founded upon traditional values, much like that of the Hwarang of the Silla Dynasty. There are nine major precepts in Korean traditional archery that mirror those values.

1. In Ae Duk Haeng "Be seen as a model of love and virtue."
2. Sung Shil Gyum Sohn "Act with humbleness and honesty."
3. Ja Joong Jul Jo "You should solidly protect your integrity through discreet behavior."
4. Ye Eui Um Soo "Be courteous."
5. Yum Jik Gwa Gahm "When in a position of power, act with integrity and bravery."
6. Sub Sa Moo Un "Don't speak while there is shooting."
7. Jung Shim Jung Gi "Have a straight mind and straight body."
8. Bool Won Seung Ja "Don't resent someone who wins."
9. Mahk Mahn Tah Goong "Don't touch another person's bow."


Now that we've looked a little at what Korean archery is like, let's have a talk with a true Korean archery master. His name is Mr. Bak Dong Sub (His muho is Duk Sahn). He passed Myong Goong level a couple of years ago. I'm very lucky to have him both as a friend and as my mentor.

Thomas Duvernay: What type of equipment do you prefer to use in Korean traditional archery?

Duk Sahn: I will only use the traditional gahk goong (horn bow) and jook shi (bamboo arrows).

TD: Is there any particular reason you like this type of equipment?

DS: Yes. Nothing can beat the performance or feel of the gahk goong and jook shi. When you shoot this type of bow, you don't get hand shock and the feeling upon release is fantastic. Another reason is I love traditionalism. Anything else just wouldn't be the same.

TD: When did you first try Korean traditional archery?

DS: I first started in 1987, after a friend of mine introduced it to me. Shortly thereafter, I was hooked. I've been practicing this art ever since.

TD: Do you have any special methods of training?

DS: Practice, practice, practice. Nothing can replace practice. However, you have to practice correct form, not mistakes. To do this, whenever I'm at a national competition, I spend any free time I have studying the forms of other Myong Goong. I have learned many new techniques that way.

TD: What do you like most about Korean traditional archery?

DS: The tradition involved. Tradition is everything.


One thing about Korean traditional archery I have found appealing, besides the sport itself, is the comaraderie. Korean archers are like family members. It seems that everybody from one jung to another knows each other. They always show a genuine interest in you. Although archery is a competitive sport, Korean archers will go out of their way to help another archer improve. Even when one archer passes another in rank, the only words you will hear are those of congratulations.

Go on--give it a try. Anyone who would like to start a sa jung is welcome to contact me. You can also contact me regarding obtaining traditional equipment. I am presently working on a book and video. Stay tuned.

[This is what appeared in Instinctive Archer Magazine's premier issue]

Contact IA at:
Tel (208) 465-9893
Fax (208) 465-9897