Korean History, Life & Culture

The 과거 National Examinations: The Joseon 무과 Military Examination

In the first installment of the Yi Sun-sin series, I mentioned the 과거 -more specifically known as the 신녕무과 military examination, that Yi Sun-sin had to take twice because of a mishap during the third portion of the test, in which he had to demonstrate his horsemanship. I imagine the actual examination was a little less colourful and theatrical than what you will see in the video below, but you get the idea. For those of you unfamiliar with the challenges Yi Sun-sin faced both before and after he broke his leg, here is a short sample of a re-enactment from a present day traditional village:

Korean Horsemanship – Third Stage



  1. Billy Gabrel

    I like the valuable info you supply to your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and take a look at again right here regularly. I am somewhat certain I will be informed plenty of new stuff proper right here! Good luck for the following!

  2. malleusjl

    You are absolutely right Soon-Im. I actually asked about which term to use between the two and my Korean friends, as well as Google told me, 과거 was okay, so I went with that!
    It is my understanding that technically the regularly scheduled 무과 was known as “신녕무과” and they were held every four years. However, the first military exam that Yi Sun-sin took (and failed because of his accident) was a “별과,” which was an extra military exam held for a special occasion. I have no idea what the special occasion was at the time, but the one he failed in August, 1572 was that type of “무과” a 별과, and the one he passed in February, 1576 was the normal 신녕무과, the military exam you refer to. For my blog post I didn’t want to scare my audience away being to technical, whether they were Korean or English speakers, but you are on the ball! Feel free to comment or clarify like you did any time. I’m no expert at 한글, just a big fan of Yi Sun-sin, culture and history in general.
    Thank you for posting your response and for listening to the podcast!

  3. Soon-Im Cho

    I didn’t know that to pass the examamination such a high level of the acrobatic technic was required to the participants. So I thought that Yi might not be distinguished. Because when Yi Sun-sin was 28 year-old, he dropped down from the horse while applying for an exam. Eventually 4 years later he barely could go through.
    Now I’m convinced of his situation at that time.
    From september in 2013, the millitary service examination under the dynasty was revived as an traditional event at 전주 to applaud his achievements.
    Anyway, this kind of opportunity that we can look back on korean history in english is very uncommon for me.
    And also I’m very surprised that your contents is almost a professional.
    Let me add one thing that perhaps you may know.
    The term ‘과거’ include the civil service examination(문과) and the millitary service examination(무과) also.
    So we commonly use ‘무과’ in this case.
    You gave me something different pleasure so far I’ve never in contact.
    I will expcet the following, thank you for your effort!

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