Yi Seong-gye, King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty, was famous for being a great archer using a powerful bow. There was a general named Hwang Sang in late 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 outstanding skills. It is said that the Emperor even touched his arms, asking in astonishment, “How can you be so good at archery?”
In his later years, Hwang would play archery with Yi Seong-gye. The two would not miss a single shot until 50 shots but after 50, Hwang would start to miss shots as he lost his stamina. This cannot be considered Hwang’s defeat since it resulted not from his lack of skills but from lack of stamina caused by old age.
It is said that the Mongolian army conquered the world with horses and bows, but the skills of the Goryeo archers caught the Mongolian army off guard. After the development of matchlocks, Joseon gunners demonstrated excellent shooting skills as well. When Nurhaci rose to prominence in Manchuria, the Ming Dynasty requested military support from Joseon in their attempt to attack Nurhaci’s forces. Despite failed attempts by the Ming Dynasty, Joseon gunners showed great shooting skills in battles. That was why the Ming Dynasty asked specifically for gunners. In the late 17th century, border dispute erupted between Qing and Russia in Primorsky Krai. As the Qing Dynasty dispatched its troops, it requested military support from Joseon as well. Joseon dispatched a company of gunners. This is called the conquest of Russia. During that time, the Joseon army and the Qing army had shooting training and contest together, and Joseon gunners always outclassed the Qing gunners.
Today, Korea is the best in the world in archery and wins many medals in international shooting competitions. To be sure, it is the result of the athletes’ hard work, but tracing back in history, there seems to be something innate beyond training and hard work.
Despite having such excellent gunners, Joseon did not have the ability to defend itself in late 19th century. Until then, matchlocks were their main weapon. Joseon had great software but lagged generations behind in hardware. The imbalance between software and hardware can be so devastating.