Archers learn to read the nuances of the wind

Overcoming the hurdles of teaching marksmanship amid baseball and soccer fever


When marksman-archer Lim Han Soo arrived in Japan 3 1/2 years ago, his dream was to teach his Japanese students how to read the wind, but they were more interested in soccer and baseball.

“That’s where the money is,” says the 37-year-old Lim. “There are few career opportunities in minor sports such as archery, so most people don’t take them seriously here in Japan.”

Last August, Lim finished his third and final year coaching archery in Nagasaki City as a Sports Exchange Adviser. He remembers one of his students in his first year at Minami Shogyo High School in Nagasaki, who rocketed from a mediocre ranking in local tournaments to setting a new record at the annual national Interhai competition. “But after that, he stopped,” says Lim. “He preferred working as a newspaper delivery boy so that he could have some spending money.”

According to Lim, there are many traditional similarities between Japan and his native Korea, but when it comes to sports, the attitude is quite different.

“In Korea, sport is about developing yourself and about camaraderie with friends,” says Lim. “Everyone is like family, but that attitude is being lost here in Japan.”

However, for Lim, coaching in Nagasaki was not without its rewards. Archery is a minor sport in Japan, and although some schools teach kyudo, the Japanese way of the bow, few schools have archery programs. As a result, young archers who had no team to train with traveled long distances to learn from Lim. Some of those students went on to compete in national competitions.

Lim’s own encounter with archery began in elementary school when a teacher allowed him to try his hand at shooting a traditional Korean bow and arrow. Korean arrows are different from those used in standard world competition. They are half the length and made of bamboo. In Korea, the maximum distance from archer to target is also different, a surprising 145 meters; twice the distance of most international competitions. To the young Lim’s deep satisfaction, one of his arrows hit the mark at a distance of 10 meters.

Later, when Lim entered junior high school, he joined the archery team. “I thought archery was really cool and enjoyed the challenge it offered,” says Lim. In Korea, archery is a sport people take pride in, as shown by the fact that six of the eight world records in archery are held by Koreans. By Lim’s third year of junior high school, he was the national champion in his age group.

Lim was one of 80 young Korean athletes chosen to enter the National Sports High School, an elite public boarding school where potential Olympic champions are nurtured. It was there that Lim underwent an intensive training regimen that enabled him to master proper shooting form and develop the deep concentration necessary for world-class competition.

“My teachers taught us that archery is about the wind and the natural elements,” explains Lim. “Our training was focused to enable us to read their subtle changes.”

Lim recalls one teacher at Korea Sports University who deeply influenced his life: “He’d call us all together in the morning before a competition and look deeply into our faces. He’d then tell us how many points each of us was going to score that day.”

After failing to qualify for one of the eight preliminary positions on the Korean Olympic team, Lim started thinking about a coaching career. It was just such experiences that fascinated Lim and inspired his interest in sports training and psychology.

After university, Lim was hired to coach an elite group of junior high school archers. With the knowledge gained from his own experience, Lim led his students to a series of national titles. One of them, Jang Yong Ho, went on to win silver and gold medals at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics. But Lim, after three years of trying to support himself on a meager coach’s salary, was ready for a change.

A friend offered him a managerial job in a sports center, where he worked in planning for a few years. That experience enabled him to later start a Nike store franchise that he managed for another four years. But with the Korean economy struggling through the late ’90s, Lim’s business also suffered.

“I started thinking about going to the United States to continue my studies,” says Lim. “That was when I got a call from my university coach. He asked me if I wanted to go to Japan.”

Lim was told about a job in Nagasaki, teaching archery in the public schools. Nagasaki has a very active sports education program, and through the auspices of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, young coaches from around the world are invited every year to work in the athletic programs of local schools.

For Lim, his three years in Nagasaki were an opportunity to broaden his coaching experience and to pick up Japanese language skills. He now works for a Japanese trading company in Fukuoka and offers his coaching services to those prepared to read the wind.