|Kim Shin-gon (left) and Park Jae-woong practice sparring with bamboo swords in full-body armor at Taekyeol Kumdogwan in Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)|
Standing in the “jung-dan” stance with their swords criss-crossing, Kim Shin-gon and Park Jae-woong wait for the opportune moment to land a strike on their opponent.
In unison, both spring into the air, letting out loud roars. Stomping their right foot forward, each one swings his “jukdo,” a wooden bamboo sword, toward the other’s head.
Sounds of bamboo reverberating off the body armor, stomping feet on the weathered wooden floor, and their “warrior spirit” demonstrated through loud cries fill the “dojang,” or training center.
With perspiration dripping down his brow, Kim Shin-gon said, “Even though it’s hard work, I always feel a sense of achievement when I land a perfect blow.”
“Kumdo is a very dynamic sport. You have to move around vigorously and find the right moment to spring forward to gain a point when sparring,” said Kim Tae-hyun, 35, head instructor and owner of Taekyeol Kumdogwan.
Kumdo has its roots in kendo, which was first developed during the Shotoku era (1711-1715) in Japan for warriors to practice sword techniques safely by using bamboo practice swords and armor. The practice was developed into a sport, which is now widely popular throughout the world.
Kumdo is unique because one can adjust the intensity of training, making it a martial art that one can practice at any age.
Kim Tae-hyun has been going to a dojang since he was 17 years old. He began kumdo as a hobby after finishing high school, and soon became more interested in the martial art, studying it in depth and eventually teaching it at several schools.
“My mother was the one who actually recommended I start kumdo. I was thinking of doing judo or hapkido, but my mother said that if I wanted to do something for a long time until I was older, kumdo was the best choice.”
Kumdo, meaning “the way of the sword,” is considered by many as a discipline that trains not only the body, but more importantly, the mind.
“By training in kumdo you can learn to control your body as well as your emotions. You learn how to respect one another as well as yourself. You also have to respect the sword itself,” Kim said.
Each training session begins with meditation, where every member must get down to “jungjwa,” or kneeling position, put their hands together on their lap, and close their eyes. Especially for younger children, kumdo is a great way to develop mental concentration.
As a matter of fact, younger children make up the majority of members in many dojang. The members of Taekyeol Kumdogwan range in age from 6 to 60.
Lee Sung-joon, 13, was one of the youngest members to start training there. He began at the tender age of 6 ― when he couldn’t even properly dress himself in “dobok,” the two-piece garment worn while training. Lee started kumdo for fun, but soon began to take the martial arts more seriously. He is training to enter a middle school known for its kumdo team next year so that he can prepare to be an athlete.
“I like kumdo because even though I’m just an elementary student, I can train together with the adults and spar with them,” Lee said.
Unlike many other sports, where women and men often cannot train together because of the gaps in skill levels, male and female, young and old alike participate in training sessions together.
“Many women come to our dojang looking for a sport that can be used as exercise but one that is interesting and different,” said Lee Myeong-jae, an instructor at Taekyul Kumdogwan.
After meditation, members go through basic stretching exercises and sword techniques. After the body is completely warmed up, the members once again sit in the jungjwa position to put on the “hogu,” or body armor.
|Kim Shin-gon tightens the cord of his “homyeon,” a helmet with a wire grill. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)|
Once everyone has put on the four-piece armor set ― which consists of “gapsang,” a canvas leather covering; gap, a chest protector; “howan,” mitts to protect the hand and wrist; and “homyeon,” a helmet with wire grills to protect the face ― members stand in two rows facing each other with the more experienced members taking position toward the right, and start basic sparring practice.
“There are standards in kumdo, a code of honor that you must learn before you even start holding a sword,” head instructor Kim said.
When starting kumdo for the first time, beginners must go through a period of training with a wooden sword, “mokgum,” before being able to use a bamboo practice sword and wear the full body armor.
Usually, after a month or so depending on the person’s aptitude, they are allowed to move on to using a bamboo sword. After training with the practice sword for a period of time, which can span anywhere from two months to more than 10 months, the trainee is finally able to put on a “hogu.”
When you progress from a mokgum to a juk-do, and then start wearing hogu, you can also take tests to advance in “geup” and “dan,” which is similar to the level of advancement in taekwondo or other martial arts. Beginners start from obtaining a ninth geup, up to first geup, and then move from first dan to ninth dan. The highest ninth dan cannot be obtained through tests, but is a title given to one person from the small group of eighth dan members through deliberation.
“There really is a sense of fulfillment when you move up geup, and especially dan when you are more advanced,” said Lee Myung-jae, an instructor at Taekyeol Kumdogwan. Korea’s unique sword techniques
|Kim Tae-hyun, head instructor of Taekyeol Kumdogwan, demonstrates a movement in Joseon Sebeop.|
(Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Samurai and sword techniques are often associated with Japanese culture, but Korean kumdo has its own special history beyond its origins from Japanese kendo. Namely, kumdo includes uniquely Korean sword techniques Bonguk Geombeop and Joseon Sebeop.
In 57 A.D., the three ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla ruled the Korean Peninsula and parts of Manchuria. It was during this time that Bonguk Geombeop, made up of 33 movements, was developed by Shilla’s Hwarang warriors as a method of defense.
Joseon Sebeop, on the other hand, is mentioned in a Chinese book written in 1621 that compiles Asian military tactics. The book notes that sword techniques were underdeveloped in China, but the Joseon Sebeop of Joseon Kingdom was a well-developed sword technique.
Unlike Bonguk Geombeop, a real sword is used even during Joseon Sebeop practice.
Both Bonguk Geombeop and Joseon Sebeop are needed to advance in geup and dan in kumdo, differentiating it from kendo.
By Cha Yo-rim (email@example.com)Dojang in Seoul