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The Koreans have recognised horseback archery as an element of national heritage on the level of government, the latter now making efforts to promote and grow the sport. The horseback archers in Korea have had as rich a history as the Hungarian ones in Europe. Korea of ancient times extended further than the peninsula into what is now mainland China, which is why there are many records of the Chinese region also having a horseback archery heritage. It is even believed that the early conflicts between the Korean and Japanese forces were how horses were introduced to the island of Japan, albeit there is no consensus on this among historians.

Since the early 2000s, archery competitions are being heavily promoted in South Korea, with the competitions having its unique set of disciplines. While the Japanese are true to their stereotype of taking one thing and practicing it to perfection – that one thing being a short range perpendicular shot, the Koreans have much more variety. The competition usually involves three or four kinds of challenges. First, there is the single shot, where a 90 meter track has only one target at the halfway point of the track, at a distance of about ten meters and is angled for a sideways shot. The second is the double shot. The track of the same 90 meter length and has two targets at the 40 and 50 meter marks along the track, and are angled for a 45 degree shot forwards, and then a 45 degree backwards shots.

Exploring Horseback Archery
Exploring Horseback Archery

The 45 degree angle is ideal for aim and is achieved when the archer is at about 25 meter distance from each respective target. Timing the target is important therefore but is slightly easier than the lightning speed response required in the Japanese discipline. However, the Korean horseback archery has a curious rule – the arrows cannot be held by the archer while they are riding up to target – they must be stowed in a quiver. That means when the shot is taken the archer must complete the entire sequence of motion, from taking arrow out, drawing the bow string, aiming and releasing it as a single action. The exception to that rule is found in the serial shot discipline of either three or five targets, in which case the first arrow can be nocked as the rider sets off, with all subsequent ones stowed. The triple shot is done on the very same 90 meter track angled for the sideways shot. With targets being thirty meters apart, the archer must be quick to draw and shoot accurately. They can’t afford to slow down either, as all of the 90 meter track disciplines must be completed under 14 seconds.

The five shot track extend 150 meters, with five targets at the same 30 meter intervals between them. The challenge is in being able to consecutively hit all five targets, which will give extra points. This discipline puts all of the archer’s skills to the maximum test. Finally, a rather unique discipline is the “Mogu”, where archers must hit a moving target – a large white ball which extends on a rope tied to the back of another rider. The arrows are soft-tipped and dipped in inc, which is how hits are recorded. The goal of Mogu is simple – is to have as many hits as possible.