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TED2013

Dong Woo Jang: The art of bow-making

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Views 2,299,370

Dong Woo Jang has an unusual after school hobby. Jang, who was 15 when he gave the talk, tells the story of how living in the concrete jungle of Seoul inspired him to build the perfect bow. Watch him demo one of his beautiful hand-crafted archer's bows.

- Bow designer
Dong Woo Jang turns an unusual stick of bamboo into an archer’s bow, an exploration of his cultural heritage and a metaphor for his perfect world. Full bio

It is said that the grass is always greener
00:12
on the other side of the fence,
00:16
and I believe this is true,
00:19
especially when I hear President Obama
00:22
often talk about the Korean education system
00:25
as a benchmark of success.
00:27
Well, I can tell you that,
00:31
in the rigid structure and highly competitive nature
00:33
of the Korean school system,
00:37
also known as pressure cooker,
00:39
not everyone can do well in that environment.
00:41
While many people responded in different ways
00:47
about our education system,
00:50
my response to the high-pressure environment
00:53
was making bows with pieces of wood
00:56
found near my apartment building.
00:59
Why bows?
01:02
I'm not quite sure.
01:04
Perhaps, in the face of constant pressure,
01:07
my caveman instinct of survival
01:11
has connected with the bows.
01:13
If you think about it,
01:18
the bow has really helped drive human survival
01:19
since prehistoric times.
01:23
The area within three kilometers of my home
01:25
used to be a mulberry forest
01:29
during the Joseon dynasty,
01:31
where silkworms were fed with mulberry leaves.
01:33
In order to raise the historical awareness of this fact,
01:38
the government has planted mulberry trees.
01:42
The seeds from these trees
01:47
also have spread by birds here and there
01:48
nearby the soundproof walls of the city expressway
01:51
that has been built around the 1988 Olympics.
01:55
The area near these walls,
01:59
which nobody bothers to pay attention to,
02:02
had been left free from major intervention,
02:05
and this is where I first found my treasures.
02:08
As I fell deeper into bow making,
02:14
I began to search far and beyond my neighborhood.
02:17
When I went on school field trips,
02:21
family vacations, or simply on my way home
02:23
from extracurricular classes,
02:26
I wandered around wooded areas
02:29
and gathered tree branches
02:31
with the tools that I sneaked inside my school bag.
02:33
And they would be somethings like saws, knives,
02:37
sickles and axes
02:41
that I covered up with a piece of towel.
02:43
I would bring the branches home,
02:48
riding buses and subways,
02:50
barely holding them in my hands.
02:52
And I did not bring the tools here to Long Beach.
02:55
Airport security.
02:59
(Laughter)
03:00
In the privacy of my room, covered in sawdust,
03:02
I would saw, trim and polish wood all night long
03:06
until a bow took shape.
03:10
One day, I was changing the shape of a bamboo piece
03:13
and ended up setting the place on fire.
03:17
Where? The rooftop of my apartment building,
03:22
a place where 96 families call home.
03:27
A customer from a department store across from my building
03:30
called 911,
03:33
and I ran downstairs to tell my mom
03:34
with half of my hair burned.
03:37
I want to take this opportunity
03:42
to tell my mom, in the audience today:
03:44
Mom, I was really sorry,
03:48
and I will be more careful with open fire from now on.
03:50
My mother had to do a lot of explaining,
03:54
telling people that her son did not commit
03:56
a premeditated arson.
03:59
I also researched extensively on bows around the world.
04:05
In that process, I tried to combine
04:09
the different bows from across time and places
04:11
to create the most effective bow.
04:13
I also worked with many different types of wood,
04:17
such as maple, yew and mulberry,
04:20
and did many shooting experiments
04:23
in the wooded area near the urban expressway
04:25
that I mentioned before.
04:27
The most effective bow for me
04:30
would be like this.
04:32
One: Curved tips can maximize the springiness
04:35
when you draw and shoot the arrow.
04:39
Two: Belly is drawn inward for higher draw weight,
04:43
which means more power.
04:47
Three: Sinew used in the outer layer of the limb
04:51
for maximum tension storage.
04:55
And four: Horn used to store energy in compression.
04:58
After fixing, breaking, redesigning,
05:07
mending, bending and amending,
05:10
my ideal bow began to take shape,
05:12
and when it was finally done,
05:16
it looked like this.
05:20
I was so proud of myself
05:24
for inventing a perfect bow on my own.
05:26
This is a picture of Korean traditional bows
05:32
taken from a museum,
05:36
and see how my bow resembles them.
05:38
Thanks to my ancestors
05:43
for robbing me of my invention. (Laughter)
05:45
Through bowmaking,
05:51
I came in contact with part of my heritage.
05:53
Learning the information that has accumulated over time
05:56
and reading the message left by my ancestors
06:00
were better than any consolation therapy
06:02
or piece of advice any living adults could give me.
06:05
You see, I searched far and wide,
06:10
but never bothered to look close and near.
06:13
From this realization,
06:16
I began to take interest in Korean history,
06:19
which had never inspired me before.
06:21
In the end, the grass is often greener
06:25
on my side of the fence,
06:28
although we don't realize it.
06:30
Now, I am going to show you how my bow works.
06:33
And let's see how this one works.
06:38
This is a bamboo bow,
06:43
with 45-pound draw weights.
06:45
(Noise of shooting arrow)
06:49
(Applause)
06:51
A bow may function in a simple mechanism,
07:00
but in order to make a good bow,
07:04
a great amount of sensitivity is required.
07:07
You need to console and communicate
07:11
with the wood material.
07:13
Each fiber in the wood
07:16
has its own reason and function for being,
07:18
and only through cooperation and harmony among them
07:21
comes a great bow.
07:24
I may be an [odd] student
07:28
with unconventional interests,
07:29
but I hope I am making a contribution
07:32
by sharing my story with all of you.
07:34
My ideal world is a place
07:38
where no one is left behind,
07:41
where everyone is needed exactly where they are,
07:43
like the fibers and the tendons in a bow,
07:46
a place where the strong is flexible
07:50
and the vulnerable is resilient.
07:53
The bow resembles me,
07:57
and I resemble the bow.
07:58
Now, I am shooting a part of myself to you.
08:01
No, better yet, a part of my mind
08:06
has just been shot over to your mind.
08:09
Did it strike you?
08:12
Thank you.
08:14
(Applause)
08:16

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About the speaker:

Dong Woo Jang - Bow designer
Dong Woo Jang turns an unusual stick of bamboo into an archer’s bow, an exploration of his cultural heritage and a metaphor for his perfect world.

Why you should listen

His parents wouldn’t let him play video games, so Dong Woo Jang had to invent other ways to entertain himself in and around his Seoul apartment. First, he studied spider anatomy and hunting skills for three years, creating their habitat in his room. Next, Dong headed outside, where he picked up fallen tree branches and turned them into archery bows.

Later, while researching the age-old craft, he discovered that his optimal design was strikingly similar to that of his ancestors. Though he concedes that, during his process of “fixing, breaking, redesigning, mending, bending, and amending” bows, he accidently set his building on fire. The 15-year-old says that working with wood -- and traveling back and forth in time -- makes him feel free.

More profile about the speaker
Dong Woo Jang | Speaker | TED.com