There should be no arguments that the Korean archery system is the most famous and successful in Olympic history. It is often romanticised and debated amongst archers and coaches as the pinnacle of archery success.
It has also been used as the blue-print for many countries high-performance programs, and you can find Korean coaches scattered around the globe working with many top teams.
At the risk of oversimplifying the Korean archery system, it works based on the following principles:
Start with a large pool of prospective archers
Teach a proven, consistent technique to all archers from a young age
Train a lot
Provide a structured development program and pathways for athletes
Train a lot
Create a highly competitive elite environment through a professional league with corporate sponsored teams.
Install generous incentive schemes for elite athletes who perform well at international events (including cash bonuses, pension schemes and even exemptions from military service).
This system facilitates highly experienced and professional archers and coaches, some of which I have had the pleasure of training with. I am extremely grateful for the tutelage that I received in 2015 and 2016 when I visited Korea, I look forward to returning to learn even more!
The thing about the Korean system is that it weeds out a lot of archers along the way (by design).
The Korean approach to technique is famously rigid. So rigid in fact, that archers aren’t even allowed to shoot left handed. Under this regime, if you can’t achieve the prescribed technique, or if you fail to achieve results using this technique, you will be unapologetically booted out of the program somewhere along the way, and someone else will take your spot.
The Korean training system is like Cinderella's glass slipper. Admirable and beautiful, but not the right fit if you're the ugly step sister...
Other countries like Australia, where archery is a minority sport, aren’t blessed with a large talent pool. We have a relatively small pool of archers, and an even smaller number of competitive athletes. Furthermore, many of our best archers haven’t gone through a consistent development program and therefore often have quite different shooting styles.
A rigid structure doesn’t accommodate every archer, so we should be mindful of applying a strict, 'cookie-cutter' approach to technique systems, which may only serve to reduce the talent pool, or perhaps limit some archers full potential.
There are many variations of effective shooting style.
If you take a walk down the shooting line at a world cup event, you could see every variation in technique from Viktor Ruban’s ‘thumb-behind-the-ear’ anchor, Michele Frangilli’s ‘flamboyant’ drawing style, Brady Ellison’s rock solid ‘angular-drawing’ technique, to the famously flawless ‘textbook’ technique of the Korean womens team.
All different, all very effective with proven results.
Rather than dive down the rabbit hole of looking at what all of these archers do differently, let’s have a look at what they do the same:
Rock solid expansion
Excellent clicker control and timing
Clean, consistent release and follow-through
Which is the best style?
Korea's success proves one thing. Korea has the best approach to archery technique... for Korea.
The more people I coach, the more I see that each person has their own peculiarities. Sometimes these are physiological, psychological, neurological or learning related.
Each coach may have preferences towards one technique ‘system’ but ultimately we need to be able to work with each archer as an individual to identify their ability, flaws and unique traits.
To be good at archery, there is definitely an element of having good technique, but there is also an element at being good at YOUR technique.
If we try to teach the same technique... in the same way... to every student, you will get a mixed bag of results. When working with a limited talent pool, coaches must work with each individual athlete to implement the fundamental principles of archery technique, but also be prepared to mould those principles to best fit the individual archer.
Good luck, and happy moulding!