Art TED Conferences

The art of bow-making: Dong Woo Jang at TED2013

Posted by: Thu-Huong Ha
Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

The Korean education system is famed for its high levels of scholastic achievement, but as 15-year-old Seoul native Dong Woo Jang professes, not everyone responds to this kind of “pressure cooking” in the same way. His response to the high-pressure environment was an unusual one: to make wooden bows. Why? He’s not sure. Perhaps all that stress brought out his caveman instincts.

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At age 12, Jang’s bow obsession began. He would wander around the woods next to the highway that ran past his apartment, collecting mulberry wood with saws, knives, sickles and axes that he kept in his backpack. He then wrapped the wood in a towel and brought it home. He spent late nights bending and polishing the wood until a bow took shape. One day he even set a fire … on his rooftop. His mother had to convince the police he hadn’t committed a premeditated arson.

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After two years of trial-and-error work, Jang managed to complete his ideal bow. It has:

1. Curved tips to maximize springiness
2. A belly drawn inward for higher draw weight, for more power
3. Sinew used in the outer layer of the limb for maximum tension storage
4. Horn, used to store energy in compression

It turns out that Jang’s ideal bow resembles the traditional Korean bow, which he never expected. Through bow-making Jang was, without even knowing it, brought back in touch with his heritage. Jang concludes by describing his ideal world: a “bowtopia,” in which every person is needed exactly where they are, just like the fibers in a bow.

Dong Woo Jang’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it on TED.com »