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Farang Kung Sul - the Art Sport and Science of Archery
By Grand Master Michael De Alba

The history of the bow and arrow is as old as man himself. Man, with his innate ingenuity to develop and utilize weapons for self-protection, hunting and warfare was not well equipped with the natural weapons of other animals. He had no fangs or claws, so he created knives. He did not have thick skin nor scales, so he invented armor. Up until the introduction of firearms, the single most powerful weapon developed by man was the bow and arrow. At once he became deftly lethal from much longer distances than any spear. The invention of projectile weapons was the manifestation of man's greatest attribute that separated him as the supreme animal on earth, the intelligence of his mind.

The bow and arrow was used by just about all cultures of man. With the influence of trade, wars and invasions, various modifications and improvements were made as far as design, construction and technique by the people of the various lands. From the Native Indians of the American plains to the English and their famed long bow, skill with the bow and arrow was truly admired, esteemed and much sought after. In Asia, the practice of archery was a highly developed art with many spiritual connections. The bow widely used in Asia was a medium sized, composite reflex bow, ( with the exception of Japan, which used a uniquely styled long bow ). These bows were comprised of a main core frame of spliced bamboo and wood with glued pieces of horn and sinew ( animal tendons ). Very compact in size (approx.48in.), these bows were able to shoot arrows well over 200 yds.

In Korea the art of archery is called Kung Sul. The most renowned archers in Korean history were the famed Farang warriors from the kingdom of Shilla (B.C.57-935 AD). In fact, in ancient Chinese scriptures the composite character used to refer to the people of Korea. When broken down showed the admiration they felt at this time. It was comprised of two parts, the first part of the character could translate as meaning "great", and the second as "bow". In other words, great archers. It is also true that this same character was later used to refer to all foreigners by meaning barbarian.

The Korean bow was especially powerful, sometimes referred to as a "two-man bow", because sometimes it took 2 men to string. In the unstrung state, the bow would curve back almost 180° in the opposite direction from the strung position. It was said that the bow of Shilla was capable of shooting arrows 1,000 Po (5,000ft.). The secret of this bow was never to be revealed to foreigners. According to records, even when the emperor of the neighboring Tang dynasty ( China ) having heard of these bows, sent to Shilla in 669 AD for a royal bow maker to teach these secrets. Yet after lengthy productions the best bow he made could shoot only 60 Po (300ft.), this because he would not reveal the true bow making technique.

Indeed, in the Shilla hierarchy, of the seventeen officials in the king's army, the bow maker was number eight and highly respected. Kung Sul was practiced both on foot and on horseback (Sung Ma Kung Sul). For centuries, the people of Korea continued the development of this weapon, holding it above all others. It's use was perpetuated even during peacetime, as a sport and as an endeavor of personal accomplishment. It was the one military practice the all Korean boys longed to be proficient at.

Presently, Kung Sul has a great following in Korea. Many archers have achieved success in the Olympics (especially women). Interestingly, contemporary Korean archers shoot accurately in fields starting at 160 yds. in contrast to American, 20-100 yds. and Japanese 30 yds. In reverence to Korea's glorious past, standing at the main entrance into the city of Kyung Ju ( the capitol of ancient Shilla ) is a majestic statue of a young Farang warrior, mounted on horseback shooting a bow.

The ancient art of Kung Sul - Korean archery, has survived for centuries. Currently in the Korean based art of De Alba System - Modern Farang Mu Sul®, there are two distinct methods and two styles of archery practiced. The methods are traditional "bare bow", and modern "aided archery". The two styles are Chinese / Asian drawing, and European / Western drawing. Traditional bare bow refers to shooting arrows from a plain straight or recurved bow (see photos), without the use of aids, such as aiming sights, cables & pulleys, stabilizer-balance rods etc. This is a more difficult, challenging and sometimes frustrating method of archery relying heavily on the shooters instinct. Yet once mastered, this method also can prove to be very satisfying.

Modern "aided archery" is more scientific in it's approach. The archer takes advantage of aligning front and rear "peep" sights, much like the technique of aiming a rifle. There are also many other modern advancements made in the last 40 - 50 years utilized that make for lighter, faster and stronger yet easier to handle bow and arrows. Advancements such as the use of fiberglass, pulleys, cams and cables in the bows, also contemporary arrows are no longer made from wood or bamboo in favor of materials such as graphite and aluminum. Some other modern equipment known as "triggers" are attached to the string then used to pull and release which allows for more consistent, smooth and accurate shots. Purist ofcourse will only use fingers.

For some distinguishing aspects in styles, take the example the basic shooting of the arrow. In reference to Asian / Chinese style of drawing, for the basic right handed shooter, the arrow rests on the right side of the bow before being shot, as opposed to European / Western style which places the arrow on the left side of the bow (see photos). Also, the draw on the bow string is done with three fingers (index, middle and ring fingers) and pulled back and held (anchored) usually to the chin of corner of the jaw of the archer using the European / Western style. In contrast, Asian / Chinese styled archers draw with the thumb and will anchor around the neck, ear or shoulder area.

Regardless of the style or method practiced, all archers share one common goal: To hit their mark (bulls eye, kill zone etc.), both accurately and consistently. The single most encouraging fact about archery is that with every shot fired, there is the possibility of hitting the bulls eye (intended mark). For this all archers need three things.

First: Proper equipment
Second: Proper aiming
Third: Proper technique

Proper equipment means that the bow must match with the arrows, in that the arrows should be the proper length for the draw and should be strong enough to withstand the cast of the bow, etc. The bow conversely, needs to be of the correct draw weight (resistance measured in pounds) of the archer. A common problem is that of archers pulling too weight, which leads to fatigue, poor shooting and possible injury to the shoulders or back. The equipment should also meet the desired purpose of the archer, target arrows, tips and bow for target shooting and hunting arrows (usually set at least at 40 lbs. and up, also camouflage colored). Accessories such as protective arm guards, finger tabs or gloves are also a must. Other useful items are a quiver of sorts for the arrows, sights, trigger release, kisser buttons (a device on the string that contacts the lips to insure a consistent anchor) etc.

As noted previously, the main objective in archery is to intentionally and consistently hit ones' mark. This is difficult if not impossible with out proper aiming technique. There are three basic aiming techniques:

First we have what is known as instinctive aiming. This is the same technique used for throwing a baseball. The eyes and hands coordinate with the calculations made by the brain to direct the arrow to the target.

Secondly we have the point of reference technique. here a designated marker is used to align with the arrow tip or the bow window ( area above the arrow rest ). An arrow is shot at that point, if it misses, the archer then makes adjustments and then shoots again until the range is found. The drawback to this technique is that at times, it takes more than one arrow for success, and is therefore unsuitable for hunting or tournaments. But it is never the less, a great learning tool.

Lastly, by far the easiest and most accurate form of aiming is with the use of a bow sight. This is a calibrated, mechanical instrument that is attached to the bow, and assists in aiming at the target. Sight designs vary from a simple pin protruding from a knotched sliding scale or a similar scale holding a circle with a post or cross hairs and even incorporating magnifying glasses. Hunting sights will have a device housing a number of sight pins pre-set at various distances. For the high tech archer, red dot laser sights are also available.

There is much to be said about proper technique. Lucky hits to ones' mark are great, but the satisfaction of intentional, consistent shooting is much greater and more desirable. Every archer, whether he be a martial artist, hunter, target shooter or whatever, has their own personal method and opinion of proper technique. In Modern Farang Mu Sul® - Kung Sul, proper technique is broken down into four distinct stages. They are:

1st - PREPARE THE SHOT. Which entails, calmly focusing the mind on the target, relaxed, controlled breathing. Take your stance (either square stance, with the hips and shoulders aligned and 90° perpendicular to the target-or open stance, with the hips and shoulders at approximately 45° with the target. Place the arrow on the bow (arrow rest), secure it to the knocking point (specific point on the string, usually marked, this point forms a 90° angle to the bow). Grabbing the string, in the first joint of the fingers, the mind and body become one with the bow. Focus shifts to form and technique, have confidence, truly believe that you are going to hit your mark.

2nd - LIFT, DRAW & ANCHOR. Raise the bow straight up, perpendicular to the floor, the hands come to approximately eye or forehead level. Both arms are bent, the right elbow stays high and aligned with the arrow. Simultaneously push and pull the hands spreading the bow, focus on the back muscles doing the work (imagine the shoulder blades squeezing a tennis ball). Slowly pull to the anchor point. Remember that the more contact points with your body and the string, the better the anchor point (ie: nose, lips, cheek, jaw, fingers etc.) Hold the position no more than a few seconds. Wrist straight, grip places the bow naturally down the "life line" of the palm. Avoid pressure with the heel of the palm or the web between the thumb and index finger, as this will send the arrow too high or low. Respectively keep elbow straight (do not lock and bow elbow into string line).

3rd - AIM, TIGHTEN & HOLD. Utilizing your aiming method focus on the target, envision sending the arrow there as easily as pointing your finger at it. Some archers might release a small ki-hap when the feeling is right.

4th - RELEASE, FOLLOW THRU & AFTER HOLD. As the back muscles continue to tighten, the draw hand relaxes completely, allowing the string to "escape". Do not let the string roll down the finger pads or pluck the string as this will cause a jerky release and poor arrow flight. Allow the back muscles to naturally pull the hand straight back as you release, the thumb makes contact with the rear shoulder. Hold this position until the arrow hits the target. Keep the sight on the bull's eye, or if using stabilizers, allow the bow to dip forward. Feel, think, and analyze the shot. That is how you learn. That's it.

Now this might seem like a lot of information at first. This is natural. Just relax the mind, control your breathing, and with practice, the entire physical motions become automatic. Farang - Kung Sul, like all archery is 90% mental, there in lies the real challenge. Unlike other arts or sports, with a little practice, success begins to show relatively soon. Correct form and technique should be developed at 10 through 30 yds, where mistakes can be easily detected and corrected. Once proper form is achieved, one moves back to longer distances.

There are numerous ways to practice your archery skills, for either competition or leisure. Here are a few examples:

-Target Shooting: Static shooting at a target from various distances. Probably the best practice to develop shooting skills, and the best way to calibrate your bow sight.

- Field Archery: A very fun and challenging combination of target and hunting practice while hiking along a forest trail.

- Clout Shooting: The practice of long distance, high trajectory shots at a 48 ft. Target on the ground with a flag marked bulls eye.

- Archery Golf: Similar to traditional golf, the object being to shoot a number of "holes" (targets) with the least amount of arrows.
- "Bird" Shooting: Using special arrows (flu-flu arrows), from a shielded area (tree, small wall etc.). A person throws circular cardboard disks (approx. 12-16 in.) up and across about 10 yds. In front of the archers. A variation would be on a breezy day, to release balloons along the ground for "rabbit" shooting.

- Bow Hunting: For those who enjoy the hunting experience, try it with only a bow and arrow. Many types of game are sought. From deer to mountain lion to grizzly bear.

Not withstanding the sophistication of equipment, there will always be the human factor. For it is the person who must draw his bow, hold the weight, aim and shoot with accuracy. True success, essentially remains commensurate with the talents of the archer as he searches for that special moment when he harmonizes with all the elements and releases the perfect arrow. As with all aspects of martial arts training, the ultimate purpose is not that of reaching perfection but rather the process of trying to reach perfection. This is the real reward, as it is here where we all will discover our strengths and frailties. The true martial artist will develop character, humility, compassion and find his common link with all mankind, nature and the universe.

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