"The three envoys and the provincial governor gathered together at Choyangkwan, ordering Oh Soonbaek and Hyung Sijeong 

to practice masangjae ceremony nearby the Southern River. People rushed down to the shoreside to see this view."


- Dongsarok (東槎錄) 1682. 5. 20.

A masangjae perfomer
A masangjae perfomer

  What is masangjae (馬上才)?

Masangjae is a traditional Korean martial art that can be traced back to ancient times. Practitioners of this artform execute complicated acrobatic feats on horseback.

Before returning to the Korean peninsula the Joseon envoys would hold a farewell party in their lodging area. These events usually featured musical and dance performances as well as a masangjae demonstration. 

In fact, records indicate that the Shogun of the Bakufu, Tokugawa Iemitsu (德川家光) personally requested that masangjae practitioners accompany the embassy so that he could view the performance himself. This may account for the fact that masangjae performers are singled out within the painting of the envoy procession.

The fact that masangjae scenes appear in this Japanese record as well as a number of other extant works from the Joseon and Edo period, speaks to the popularity of these performances both at home and abroad. 

Several extant artworks reflect various record about masangjae.

Record of the ceremonial procession of the Joseon Envoy


Edo period, paper, 12.8x18.9cm, National Museum of Korea 

ⓒNational Museum of Korea 

This painting also features a masangjae performance.

In this case, the performance is referred to as gokma (曲馬), a term that was frequently used interchangeably with masangjae. The painting depicts various acrobatic feats such as standing upright or lying down on a running horse.

Painting of Korean horsemanship (韓人戱馬圖)

Ink and color on paper, 26.5x347cm, National Museum of Korea 

ⓒNational Museum of Korea 

This painting is known to be a facsimile edition (copy) of Watanabe Kazan (渡辺 崋山) 's painting Painting of Korean horsemanship, preserved in the Kyoto Museum of History in Japan. 

It represents various aspects of a masangjae performance through a set of nine scenes. In the first scene, a figure dressed in warrior garb leads a performer and horse before an audience. 

The subsequent scenes represent various aspects of the masangjae performance including: 

① Standing upright on horseback 

② Leaning sideways across the horse

③ Standing upside down on the horse

④ Lying down on horseback

⑤ Crouching to the side of the horse 

⑥ Flipping backwards on horseback

⑦ Riding two horses at once