Korea Horseback Archery

1. The horseback archery in the time of the Three States

The human power has become strong in hunting and war after humans began to use bows and after the horses were bred, the wars became to have the aspects of cavalry battles, information wars and conquest wars in the fighting with other races.  The horse-riding race that had wide continent obtained food through hunting by horseback archery that means shooting on the horseback and executed wars also with horseback archery.

Beginning with the Muyongchong, an ancient tomb with wall paintings of the times of Goguryeo in Jian, Jilin, China, through the paintings in the ancient tombs such as Ssangyongchong, an ancient tomb with wall paintings of the times of Goguryeo in Anseong-ri, Yonggang-gun, Pyeongannam-do, the Anak number 1 ancient tomb in Sangsan-ri, Anak-gun, Hwanghae-do, the ancient tomb with wall painting in Dukheung-ri, Daean city, Pyeongannam-do, Number 1 ancient tomb in Jangcheon-ri, the ancient tomb with wall painting in Yaksoo-ri, Gangseo-gu, Pyeongannam-do, we can see the aspects that our predecessors were hunting deer and tigers running on horsebacks. Especially, there is a scene of horseback archery competition being held in the wall painting of the ancient tomb in Dukheung-ri which tells us that the horseback archery already positioned in the daily life in the times of the Three States. Also, the chapter of main record of Baeje in the chronicles of the Three States reads 'good at horseback archery' in indicating the bravery of king, Gye telling that horseback archery was an important criterion to evaluate feats of arms of individuals and that many warriors including kings practiced horseback archery.

In Goguryeo, hunting competitions were held in every spring and fall and the ones with excellent skill to shoot arrows on horseback who hunted many animals were advanced to the position of 勇士(brave warrior) and in Shilla, government officials participated in a horseback archery competition for the prize from king. The record of the customs in Gongju (孔州風土記) in summary of north fort (北塞記略) reports the customs of horseback archery that peoples generally liked shooting arrows on horsebacks and boys shot arrows running on horsebacks when they became 10 plus years old. Gongju is the old name of Gyeongheung, Hambuk.

Especially, the drawing of hunting in the wall painting of Muyongchong, an ancient tomb of Goguryeo shows the scene in that three warriors are chasing tigers and deer forcibly pulling the strings of bows.

The drawing of hunting in the wall painting of Muyongchong, an ancient tomb

This drawing of hunting depicted a scene of typical horseback archery with horses running forward, a fleeing tiger and a powerful dynamic posture of a bowyer with forcibly pulled bowstring that seems like to be about to shoot the arrow and catch the tiger. Also a posture of a warrior who shot left handed with his body turned backward aiming at a deer running over a mountain appears there. This posture is not a posture of a normal horseback archery but a posture that a left handed warrior pulled a bowstring with his body turned by 180degree to the right hand direction to the side of his back aiming at a deer which passed him in the hunting. As such, the drawings in the wall paintings only show our ancestors' robust spirit and posture in the typical posture of horseback archery revealing dynamic nature. Like this, the motion paths of horseback archery include the direct line of 90 degrees angle to the front and 180degrees rotating radius of body for bowstring's aiming at the objects. That is, the line of sight of the warrior following the target can be found and the posture may be considered as showing an awfully excellent horse riding skill that enables shooting on horseback in any circumstance along with the dignified appearance of the warrior. That is, the sense of speed or power created when a horse with the weight of 250kg~400kg is running at full speed may have served a great pressure not only in hunting but also in wartime to the enemies. As such, it is considered that the horseback archery in the hunting in normal times was utilized a lot for live education of warriors.

Also, unlike the drawing of hunting, the drawing of horse-riding shooting game(騎馬射戱圖) in the west wall in the black room of the ancient tomb in Dukheung-ri displays the scene of competition on horseback.

The drawing of horse-riding shooting game(騎馬射戱圖) in the wall painting  in the ancient tomb in Dukheung-ri


This drawing shows 4 players, 2 umpires and 1 recorder. As for the aspects of the competition, there is a scene of a player taking the lead who turned his body to left hand direction to make a right handed shooting. This posture is an action shooting to a passed target turning the body to the back side and shows a posture of very excellent horseback archery. Also a following player is shown with the posture of shooting left handed to his front. This drawing depicted the postures of excellent horseback archery that can freely use right handed shooting or left handed shooting presenting very excellent postures of horseback archery of our ancestors at that time. Also one of the players is shown as coming into the starting point of the competition and another one is depicted as practicing before the competition. As for the targets, there are 5 poles and among them, 3 poles on the left side have targets in the shape of a square box on the top. The targets are laid ahead of the player on horseback and thus it is indicated that the player who shot and successfully hit the target earned point to determine a winner.

As shown above, the warriors raised the quality and power as warriors by and body and spirit discipline through hunting and horseback archery competitions.


2. Horseback archery in the time of Goryeo


Succeeding the times of the Three States, horseback archery was widely done in the times of Goryeo too.

Horseback archery was a criterion to determine the excellence of feats of arms of individuals in normal times and an important pivot of national defense ability exerting great power in battles in wartimes. Also, from the work of king Gongmin of Goryeo, the drawing of going for hunting(出獵圖) and the work of a scholar at the end of the times of Goryeo, Lee, Je-Hyun (李齊賢), the drawing of a big hunting affair(大獵圖), we can see that the nobles in the times of Goryeo primarily executed horseback archery in hunting. Horseback archery is found to have positioned as a culture of nobles already in the times of Goryeo.

Horseback archery was also a criterion to determine the excellence of feats of arms of military officers. The series of biographies in the history of Goryeo expressed the evaluation of the feats of arms of individuals with the abbreviated phrase 'good at horseback archery'. This means that horseback archery was the foremost among the feats of arms in the times of Goryeo and was perceived as an essence of general feats of arms and that being good at horseback archery meant excellence on feats of arms.


            [History of Goryeo] Seo Hee/Seo Gong


Seo Gong(徐恭)was a great-great grand son of Seo Hee(徐熙)and he was courageous and resourceful and good at horseback archery thus became the general commander of the soldiers & cavalry corps of two borders (兩界兵馬使) six times and the soldiers willingly respected him.


            [History of Goryeo ] The series of biographies/Lee, Ja-Eui


Lee, Ja-Eui (李資義) greedily gathered fortune and raised scoundrels and regularly practiced horseback archery always saying ‘The king has become sick and may die at any moment and there are ones who watch for chances from outside so you should duly support  marquis Hansan (漢山侯) at your best so that the god's cavalry(神器) should not be transferred to another one's command.’ and he gathered soldiers although it was prohibited(禁中) with the intention to revolt at which time Sukjong knew this unnoticed while he was in Myeongbook palace after he became the duke Gyerim…..


The section of Lee, Ja-Eui considered cavalry as the most important part of military corps and as a powerful corps like tank corps of these days, a phrase is shown in that Lee, Ja-Eui wanted to prevent the command of the corps from being transferred to other person.

3. Horseback archery in the times of Joseon

The horseback archery in the times of Joseon is evaluated in diverse ways.

As a means of appointing men of talent, it was one of most important means to determine success or failure of examinees(擧人) in the military service examination(武科).

In wartimes, with the fast movements using horses, they went deep into enemy's camp and killed enemy's general and horseback archery proved the power in chasing war.

In normal times, as the criterion to evaluate continuous discipline of military officers, the feats of arms of military officers and palace guards were evaluated through horseback archery. The archery in the times of Joseon was as popular as the sports of today and competitions were often held and the military officers who were good at horseback archery were awarded sometimes. Also, archery competions were held on Sasin or Dano and this shows that archery took the position of a culture of feats of arms in the times of Joseon.


1) Horseback archery in military officer examination in the king's palace (武科殿試儀) and warrior appointment test(試取)


[True record of Joseon dynasty] dated August 15 of 26th year of king Youngjo reads ‘As for men of talent(人才), there are ones who have a lot of knowledge about the Classics and are excellent in literature among scholars and there are ones who are excellent in horseback archery and have a lot of knowledge about tactics among warriors'.


In the times of Joseon, all of the tests to appoint warriors ranging from Gabsa(甲士) to palace guards(內禁衛) included horseback archery and it was an important subject in military officer examination in the king's palace (武科殿試儀) too. As such horseback archery was one of the feats of arms that was essential for warriors. Gyeonggukdaejeon, Daejeonhoetong and military officer examination in king's palace in Sejong's five decorum in true record of Joseon dynasty contains detailed description of test of horseback archery.

 In [Military officer examination in king's palace in Sejong's five decorum in true record of Joseon dynasty], there is a record reading ‘Because of poor control of horse, if a examinee shoot to right side holding the bow in left hand or shoot to left side holding the bow in right hand, he will get the point if the arrows hit the target. It means that an examinee in a horseback archery test could not control the horse well i. e. had poor horse-riding skill and he drove the horse to the right side although he should go to left side and shoot red target thus the red target was not in the way of the horse so he shot the white target in front of him. This shows that right handed shooting and left handed shooting were given of the same points, Based on these example, good control of horse was very important in horseback archery and shooting arrows left handed or right handed as needed were accepted.


2) Horseback archery in wartimes


Horseback archery in wartimes (戰時) uses the mobility utilizing horses and bows and in close battles, the cavalry corps may execute pincer attacks harmonizing with foot soldiers from the sides of foot soldiers and in making battle arrays, individual cavalry soldiers are distributed first around the battle array.

[True record of Joseon dynasty on July 9 of the 3rd year of king Sejong] reads  ‘In making a battle array, if a whistle makes a sound in the center, the cavalry soldiers will come out from 4 positions in the back of the corps and will be distributed to 4 directions. Foot soldiers will stand with the interval of 6 cheoks from each other and the cavalry soldiers will have the interval  of 2 times of it.….' Thus the cavalry soldiers could kill enemy's general in a moment with the fast mobility and demonstrated the power in chasing war.

The role of horseback archery in wartimes can be analyzed through the battle positions.

[True record of Joseon dynasty] On July 4 of the 15th year of king Sejong, Ha, Gyeong-Bok et. el submitted a book of battle arrays(陣書) pursuant to the order of the king. The content is as follows.

'When the foot soldiers go out of camps to fight against enemies, they are to go ahead altogether and stand with the distance of 10 steps from the enemies and the cavalry soldiers are to support them within the distance of 50 steps. If the enemies are defeated and flee, the drums and whistles are to make sound together and the cavalry soldiers are to go ahead and chase the enemies and the foot soldiers are to save the cavalry soldiers….

In making battle arrays, shields are to be arranged successively on the out side of each arrays and then spears and long swords, fire guns and archers, and then the cavalry soldiers with spears and cavalry soldiers with bows are to be arranged in the order of precedence….’

Considering the positions of cavalry soldiers in battle positions and the fact that the distance from enemies in fighting was 50 steps, the horseback archers seem to have used the tactic of killing enemies utilizing fast mobility and retreat to the back of colleague troops in actual fighting although they had bows to be used in long distance. The position of cavalry soldiers in the back was to utilize the fast mobility of horses and also was to block the colleague foot soldiers fleeing in fear. In [true record of Joseon dynasty] dated July 18 of the 4th year of king Sejong, there is a record saying that with the cavalry soldiers with spears and with bows arranged in the back, even the soldiers who are weak and timid will not turn around and flee.


3) Horseback archery in normal times(平時)


Because the horseback archery demonstrated significant power in wartimes, it was prepared thoroughly in normal times. Horseback archery was a feats of arms that any warrior had to learn without fail so much as civil officials were evaluated by five words rhythmical poems(五言律詩) and military officials were evaluated by horseback archery.(True record of Joseon dynasty dated September 25 of the 29th year of king Jungjong)

As the phrase in [True record of Joseon dynasty] dated March 4 of the 17th year of king Sukjong saying ‘horseback archery is a special skill of warriors’ tells, all warriors ranging from low grade warriors to military officials had to continually practice horseback archery even in normal times as a means to evaluate the feats of arms.

In true record of Joseon dynasty dated September 8 of the 29th year of king Sejo, the king ordered like this-’from now, one of each of the court nobles in ministry of war and the nobles in duty(都鎭撫) shall bring palace guards and 100 soldiers into back garden and execute horseback archery.’

Such horseback archery was often evaluated of warriors through Gwanmujae(觀武才) and Yeolmujae(閱武才) and excellent ones were awarded and the ones under criterion were appointed for services making the criterion of prize and punishment clear to encourage steady practice.

From the times of Three States and to the times of Joseon, the cavalry was considered as a powerful corps dominating the military power and the power lost the value after powerful western countries came into this country as all of the weapons were advanced. Also, the difficulties in breeding horses and the corresponding development of cavalry soldiers seems to have presented many unnecessary factors in modernizing means of military corps. Therefore, bringing the so far buried subject of horseback archery back to a modern competition may be deemed to be a very significant work. If restored to be suitable to the present times now when the traditions were lost, it will give us the opportunity to widely report our excellent traditional culture of feats of arms that has been thought as not existing and will have infinite educational value in the context of succeeding the spirit of our ancestor in this modern times and huge potential as a sport contributing a lot to creation of new culture in 21st century. Also, the potential energy of horse-riding culture is infinite.

Photo) Korean race's traditional horseback feats of arms-gyeokgu association is attempting to develop horseback archery competition into modern competition and activate it to become a competition in that all people cheer. Also they are attempting to activate it as an international competition including international horseback archery competition in that the peoples of the world can participate and thereby revive the spirit of our ancestors in present times taking it as a foundation of the opportunity to widely publish the excellent spirit of our Korean race.


The scene of the ground of horseback archery competition

Korean race's traditional horseback feats of arms & gyeokgu association demonstrated horseback feats of arms including horseback archery in many places and stood in the spot light and horseback feats of arms revived as a culture containing history. Also through a lot of efforts in attempt to make horseback archery as a modern competition, it organized the 1st Hwarang horseback archery competition on October 10, 2004 in Hwarangdo experience tour complex in Youngrang lake, Sokcho and the 2nd competition on April 16, 2005 and the 1st international horseback archery competition & the 3rd Korea horseback archery competition held between October 1 through 3 attracted a lot of interest and praises and thereby the horseback archery competition implying our history and root was restored as a culture recreated into modern times passing over 2,000years time and space.

Now horseback archery competition will be developed to a competition in which world's people can participate altogether and will shine in the world as an excellent horse riding culture with live root of Korean race.


 The competition items are one shoot(單射), fast shoot(速射) and successive shoot(連射).

Scene of one shoot competition


One shoot(單射): One target is installed and the point earned is compared. The point of 120m in competition ground becomes finish line and a target is installed on a midway point, at 90m point. The time to pass the finish line, the 120m point after start is set as 18 seconds for children and youth and adults should pass within 15 seconds and every 1 second of the over time will be deducted of 1 point.

Scene of fast shoot competition

(Targets are installed to be shot going ahead.)

Fast shoot(速射) : Two targets are installed in 120m competition line and the points earned are compared. One of the two targets is installed on 60m point facing starting point and 2nd one is installed to be shot in the posture turned around to the back side in competition. The time to pass the finish line, 120m point after start is set as 18 seconds for children and youth and adults should pass within 15 seconds and every 1 second of over time will be deducted of 1 point.

Scene of successive shoot competition
(A player is loading an arrow on the bow.)


Successive shoot(連速射) : Total distance is set to be 160m and 1st target is installed at 30m point from start line  and 4 more targets are installed with 30m interval in a row and the points earned are compared. The time to pass finish line, 160m point after start is set as 25 seconds for children and youth and adults should pass within 20seconds and every 1 second of over time will be deducted of 1 point.

In 21st century, the competitiveness of culture is considered as showing the criterion of countries. That is, the intention of Korean race's traditional horseback feats of arms & gyeokgu association is to bring up excellent cultural human resource based on country's cultural heritages as well as to develop a proud racial cultural heritage with live excellent history and the root that are not inferior to any other one in the world and to raise the valuable and great cultural heritage to become the core of the field that will be felt and revived in the field.