Yi Seong-gye, King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty, was famous for being a great archer using a mighty bow. There was a general named Hwang Sang at the end of the Goryeo dynasty. The Yuan Dynasty had many great archers since it was founded by a Mongolian. Hwang Sang, who held a government post in the Yuan Dynasty, played against archers in Yuan, demonstrating exceptional skills. It is said that the Emperor even touched his arms, asking in amazement, “How can you be so good at archery?”

In his later years, Hwang played archery with Yi Seong-gye. Both wouldn’t miss a single shot up to 50 shots, but after 50 Hwang would start to miss shots as he was losing stamina. This cannot be considered as Hwang’s defeat as it was not a result of his lack of skills but of a lack of stamina caused by old age.

The Mongolian army is said to have conquered the world with horses and bows, but the skills of Goryeo archers caught the Mongolian army off guard. Following the development of the bits, the Joseon gunners also demonstrated excellent marksmanship skills. When Nurhaci rose to prominence in Manchuria, the Ming Dynasty requested military support from Joseon in their attempt to attack Nurhaci’s forces. Despite the unsuccessful attempts of the Ming Dynasty, Joseon gunners showed great marksmanship skills in battles. This is why the Ming Dynasty specifically requested gunners. At the end of the 17th century, a border dispute arose between the Qing and Russia in Primorsky Krai. When the Qing Dynasty sent its troops, it also requested military support from Joseon. Joseon sent a company of artillerymen. This is called the conquest of Russia. During this time, the Joseon Army and the Qing Army trained and competed for shooting together, and the Joseon Gunners always outclassed the Qing Gunners.

Today, Korea is the best in archery in the world, winning many medals in international shooting competitions. Of course, this is the result of the hard work of the athletes, but going back in history there seems to be something innate beyond training and hard work.

Despite his excellent gunners, Joseon lacked the ability to defend himself in the late 19th century. Until then, wicks were their main weapon. Joseon had great software, but lagged behind generations when it came to hardware. The imbalance between software and hardware can be so devastating.

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