Early Education in the Joseon Dynasty
The all-too-familiar screeching noise, like an alarm clock, woke me up.
It’s already been a year since I became a Joseon man named Kim Sangseung.
“Phew, time sure flies.”
My daily routine starts with offering morning greetings to the adults in the house.
Though my daily life is nothing special, I know that this routine will become incredibly precious in nine years.
But today’s routine was a bit different.
“Grandpa, did you sleep well last night?”
“Oh, yes. Seung, how old are you now?”
“I turned eleven this year.”
“Hehe, time sure flies.”
Huh? It’s like what I said when I woke up? Is it just my imagination?
“Seung, follow me.”
Usually, I would offer my greetings to Grandpa and then have breakfast.
But today, Grandpa led me to the backyard.
There was an extensive archery range there.
Wow, we had a facility like this at home? I’ve been living here for a year, but I’m still surprised when I see things like this.
“Seung, now that you’re eleven, it’s time for you to learn archery.”
Grandpa’s outfit was different than usual; he had his sleeves tightly fastened with a tosi and wore a white headscarf.
As for me, I didn’t need a tosi since I usually fastened my sleeves tightly.
“Now, this is the bow you’ll be using.”
The bow Grandpa gave me wasn’t the usual shape you’d see in historical dramas. Instead, it was a strange contraption with a string connected to a short stick.
Is this a bow?
It looks like a whip with a silk thread attached.
“Drawing the bowstring and attaching it to the end of the bow is the beginning of archery.”
Grandpa bent the black wooden stick he had been carrying on his back to make a bow.
Ah, so that’s how it’s done? I should have tried shooting a bow myself to understand!
The only weapons I had ever shot were the K2, which every South Korean man has tried, and the M16, which I tried during reserve forces training.
I followed Grandpa’s lead and tried to attach the bowstring to the bow.
“Good! Just a little, just a little more!”
Hey, Grandpa? Did you come from the future after doing PT? I think I’ll get PTSD, so could you please stop urging me from the side?
As I gritted my teeth and bent the bow, it slowly began to form an arch.
“Just a little more!”
Why does Grandpa’s voice sound like a PT instructor saying, “Just one more member!”?
I managed to attach the bowstring with great effort, and the stick-like bow transformed into the bow I’d seen in historical dramas.
“You did a great job! My grandson is exceptional. Exceptional!”
After attaching the bowstring, I came to a realization.
Why did the game creators make archers agile characters?
I didn’t realize it while playing games, but I can understand now that I’m holding an actual bow.
A bow requires strength first, not agility.
“Now that the bowstring is attached, you must learn how to shoot, right? Watch this old man shoot the bow carefully.”
Grandpa spread his legs shoulder-width apart and placed the arrow on the bowstring.
He stood with his upper body upright and held the bow slightly slanted while drawing the bowstring.
The bow bent as if it would snap, and a strange friction noise was heard.
The stance of shooting a bow I often saw in historical dramas, but the energy I felt now was incomparable to watching it on a screen.
Then, Grandpa released the bowstring.
The arrow flew like a bullet.
No, it was an actual bullet!
Grandpa’s arrow was so fast that I couldn’t see its trajectory, but it pierced the target 100 meters away.
“Wow! A direct hit!”
It’s amazing. Well, archery is known as a sport that Joseon aristocrats had to master.
Thus, Joseon aristocrats are said to have enjoyed archery a lot.
It’s probably why Grandpa’s archery looked quite impressive even to an amateur like me.
“Hehehe, my shoulder feels stiff after drawing the bowstring for the first time in a while! Now, Seung, you try to shoot the bow.”
Grandpa, in nine years, there will be a fantastic weapon called a rifle that will sweep through Joseon, making these outdated weapons hardly manageable.
Is it really necessary to spend time learning to use such weapons?
I almost asked the question, but the family elders don’t know that I am a descendant to be born in the distant future.
And in the not-so-distant future, to make Joseon stronger against the foreign invaders, I must not go against the words of the family elders.
I tried my best to pull the bowstring, but what do you know?
The bowstring didn’t pull as easily as I wanted it to.
“No matter how weak the bowstring is, you can’t pull it easily. You need to control your breath and pull it in one go!”
Ah, there it goes again.
Why does my kind grandfather’s voice keep sounding like a PT instructor saying, “One more rep! One more! Good. Just one more like that!”?
The trembling arrowhead seemed to represent my heart.
The first arrow I shot didn’t even come close to the target.
Ah, this is a bit embarrassing. I was a top marksman in the military, after all.
As I hung my head without saying anything, Grandpa patted my head.
“Hehehe, when your great-grandfather first taught me archery, I couldn’t even pull the bow. He even had to put the bowstring on for me.”
“…With a little more practice, I should be able to do well.”
“Yes, let’s take our time.”
I practiced pulling the bowstring with my grandfather until the sun was at its zenith and my hands were on the verge of blistering.
Even though I pulled the bowstring until my hands blistered, the arrows I shot never pierced the target.
My body, which was a top marksman in the military, could not hit the target even after shooting dozens of arrows; the bow is indeed a very inefficient weapon.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed learning archery from my grandfather.
Although my grandfather tested my limits like a PT instructor, I enjoyed the mere fact that I could do such activities with him.
Perhaps, later, I will miss these everyday moments.
I squeezed out my last bit of concentration and shot the bow, but the arrow barely grazed the target as it passed.
“Almost! It only slightly missed the target, so you should be able to hit it next time.”
Grandpa, I don’t think I can pull the bow any longer.
The person who saved me from the archery range was none other than our family servant, Kang Jik.
“Ah, master, big, big trouble!”
“What on earth is the matter, Kang Jik? You’re out of breath.”
“Th-the King has sent a messenger, master.”
Our grandfather is out of breath, too.
But why the sudden messenger?
“Grandpa, why the sudden messenger? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. This old man has lived for nearly 60 years, but this is a first-time experience.”
What on earth is going on?
In historical dramas, messengers often deliver the king’s messages, but as far as I know, it’s extremely rare for a messenger to deliver such a message in Joseon times.
After running, we arrived at the main gate, where a messenger dressed in a red uniform from historical dramas stood proudly.
With long arms and legs and wide shoulders, it was evident that he was no ordinary person.
“Kim Hyeonmyeong of Gimhae Kim, receive the royal message!”
The voice was full of dignity, proving that delivering the king’s message was not a job for just anyone.
His eyes were sharp, and his shoulders seemed to fill the large gate.
But with that kind of force, he seemed like a general who had been quite active during the Japanese invasions, didn’t he?
No, first, let’s find out why the message has come down.
It’s embarrassing, but our family has a decent reputation in Ulsan.
When famine struck, we distributed relief rice to the starving villagers nearby and even contributed greatly to the local economy by building Fair Wind last winter.
Surely, we wouldn’t face a sudden disaster, right?
“I, Kim Hyeonmyeong, accept the royal decree from the court.”
Fear was evident in my father’s usually confident voice.
Was it just my imagination?
“Ahem, Kim Hyeonmyeong of Ulsan has not only provided relief to the people of this country in the Year of the Imo but also made a significant contribution to agriculture by developing fertilizers to solve hunger. I particularly appreciate this effort and hereby grant him a horse and silk clothes.”
Fortunately, the messenger’s words did not bear bad news but rather positive news.
Why would the king give such a reward?
From my understanding, the king is an extremely calculating person.
Of course, developing agriculture, which is the foundation of Joseon, is a great achievement, but so far, only the results for one field have been achieved.
I thought the king would react by next year or the year after at the earliest.
However, the reaction was too quick.
I couldn’t understand what the king was thinking in making such a big move.
The reason I’m so sensitive to the king’s actions is that I don’t trust the king himself.
The king is a person who has led more massacres than the combined deaths of the four major literati of the Joseon era.
“Raise your head and receive the royal decree.”
“…Your Majesty’s grace is boundless.”
As the messenger handed the royal decree to my father, he accepted it politely.
Once the delivery was complete, the intimidating expression on the messenger’s face lightened.
“I heard that you developed fertilizer for the people of the country. That’s truly admirable.”
“Thank you. You seem tired from delivering the royal decree. Although it’s humble, would you like to stay at our home for today?”
“Ahahaha, I was curious about the place, but I am honored to be your guest.”
Now, I needed to find out why the king gave such a reward and what secret plan he had. First, my father introduced the messenger to my grandfather, and after a brief greeting, it was my turn.
“Oh, to think that the Kim family of Gimhae has such a talent! How are you? I’m Sang Hogun, also known as Singak.”
Singak? Could it be the Singak I know?
Judging by the name Sang Hogun, it seems to be the same Singak that I know.
Singak is not a well-known general.
However, I know about Singak because he is a perfect character to use in a novel.
Since he’s not a famous historical figure, it’s easy for a writer to shape his character in any way they want.
Not only that, but his end is quite dramatic.
Singak is a general who beheaded 70 Japanese soldiers in a place called Haeyuryeong, achieving the first land victory of the Imjin War, but he faced an unjust death.
A man named Kim Myeongwon framed Singak, leading the king to decide to execute him as an example.
Belatedly, the king sent a messenger to Singak after learning about his victory in the Haeyuryeong battle and the capture of Japanese soldiers. Still, Singak had already died an unjust death.
Alternative historical novels are a genre in which the protagonist, as a variable, changes history little by little.
So, Singak, who was capable but died an unfortunate death, was supposed to be a major character in my novel.
“I am Kim Sangseung.”
“Hehehe! You must be very clever, young master.”
How should I save this bear-like man?
I can’t just blurt out, “Write the report quickly!”
Sigh, my head is already complicated enough trying to figure out why the king sent this decree, and now I have to inform this grouper-like man about the future without giving away any clues.
…Work, brain cells!
 Imo = Sheep/Goat. That would be 1579.
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