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Posted : 2013-12-31 17:40
Updated : 2013-12-31 17:40

Welcome to Year of the Horse

The harmony between rider and horse is central to horseback martial arts. This harmony is one commodity that we all may wish for on the first day of 2014, the Year of the Horse, after the eventual 2013. If we engage in our tasks with the vigor of a galloping horse combined with equine aplomb, we may get our wishes for the happy and fruitful year granted. In the photo, Kim Woo-seong, left, and Ju Geon, two Korean traditional horseback martial artists, draw bows on horseback at the Oeongchi beach in Sokcho, Gangwon Province, Friday. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Korean horseback martial arts revived


By Yoon Sung-won

This is the Year of the Horse.

The high spirit of this animal is well captured by an event in Youngrang-ho Lake Hwarangdo Tourism Complex in Sokcho, Gangwon Province.

The event reenacts Korea's traditional horseback martial arts.

Mounting on a fierce racing horse at the practice range of the complex, Ju Geon, a 22-year-old horseback martial arts athlete, instantly left his grip on the reins and reached his right hand for an arrow dangling behind him; and the very next moment the arrow hit the middle of the practice target with the whizzing sound penetrating the air. It all happened within a split second.

On the other side of the practice ground, another horse galloped, gasping for air. On top of him was Kim Woo-seong, 21, swinging and brandishing a spear around him. The below-zero temperature did not deter Ju and Kim from practicing for the day.

"Horses are vigorous and brave and that's what we riders admire. But at the same time, they are very cautious and sensitive to their surroundings," Ju said. "That's why the horse handlers must concentrate on communing with their rides."

At the complex, riders study and train in the traditional way of horseback riding for Korea's traditional breed of horses.

Park Chun-sik, director of Korean Traditional Equestrian Martial Arts and Gyeokgu Association; and the master of young riders at the complex, told The Korea Times that Korea's native species of horses are better fit for the geographical characteristics of the Korean peninsula.

"Korean native horses have better endurance and immune system against diseases than those from other countries. They also exceed many others in climbing rocky slopes of mountains," Park said. "Though they are smaller in size, I can say they are perfect for Korean soil."

The association has hosted World Horseback Archery Championships at the complex every year for the last nine years. The Championship, which is co-hosted by World Horseback Archery Federation and World Martial Arts Union and under the patronage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is the first and only one of its kind in the world.

Park said the competition provides Korea an occasion to promote its cultural heritage of traditional horseback riding and martial arts, while learning from excellent skills of foreign riders.

"Masters of horseback riding and archery from all over the world visit Korea to participate in the competition that adopts rules based on Korea's traditional horseback archery, which is the global standard," Park said. "The competition provides an important opportunity to show the world the excellence of Korea's traditional horseback riding and archery which has thousands of years of history."

Admitting that many Korean horseback riders nowadays adopt riding skills that are of western cultural origins, Park emphasized that Korea has its own traditional way of horseback riding which reflects the spirits of our ancestors by focusing on discipline of the body and mind, as well as sharing feelings with horses.

As the traditional horseback riding emphasizes the importance of treating horses as true companions, riders at the complex invest as much effort in taking care of the horses.

Riders typically start their days by feeding the horses early in the morning. After that, they bathe and brush the horses, trim their hoofs which are crucial for a horse's life, and clean the stable. The work continues in between 50 minutes of training sessions.

"When we begin training horseback riding and horseback martial arts, we are taught that understanding horses, the way they feel when they run with riders, must come ahead of learning riding itself," Ju said. "Though the routine here is sometimes not easy and comfortable, I learned a lot about horses, my companions, from it and could build a strong bond and trust with them. I really appreciate it."

With the 10th anniversary of the competition scheduled for 2014, director Park is looking forward to more public awareness on Korea's traditional horseback riding and martial arts in 2014.

"We have run several training programs so far for ordinary citizens thanks to the support from the agricultural ministry, the Korean Horse Affairs Association and the Sokcho city administration," he said. "I expect both people and the authorities will have more interest on what we do as it has great potential to become an interesting content to promote Korean culture, just like K-Pop and other hallyu contents."


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