Saturday, May 26, 2012

R & R In Korea

Korean Adventure (April 4, 2003 Chautauqua)

  The end of my contract approaches, and it will soon be time to go home. It will be a time for a little rest from the rigors of teaching, and I will have to consider how best to occupy my time.

   There are many past-times available here in Korea that may be unfamiliar to the average Man-of-the-West. One such is "Haidong Gumdo," or Korean Swordsmanship.

   This art has its origins 1,700 years ago, on Mt. Baekdu in northern Korea, where the sword-fighting techniques warriors of the Goguryeo Dynasty were learnt and passed down until they reached a man called Jang Baek-san.

   He is described as "a wanderer, moving from mountain to mountain. He was a very spiritual person." The speaker is his student, Kim Jeong-ho, who now has his own training hall in Seoul.

   "The sword technique requires complete concentration." says Kim. "There is no psychological pressure to win. It allows you to unleash your potential through practice. This confidence will extend to other areas of your life."

   Kim sees Haidong Gumdo's focus on sword law, or technique, rather than sparring, as an antidote to the social pressures of modern society, where people need a calm, meditative activity.

   Kim opened his first hall in 1982, and registered as a social organization seven years later. By July 1998, there were halls in China, Japan, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and Mexico.

   Today, there are over 400 training halls in Korea and 600 spread across 50 countries. Participants from 14 different nations recently competed in their championships.

   Haidong Gumdo's rival is Daehan Gumdo, an imported version of Japanese kendo, which is principally interested in free sparring. Instead of tapping each other with sticks, students of the haidong describe "lethal arcs and cuts with a wooden or metal sword."

   Kim likens the technique to driving a real car instead of a computerized version. Haidong Gumdo represents combat, making it too dangerous to actually fight.

   Master Kim Kyoung-don explains that the art is not featured in large game competitions like the Olympics, because it is not a sport. "It is a martial art, one in which a person overcomes his own obstacles through harsh training and has an opportunity to improve, to look back and examine himself.”

"For a competition to be held on an international level, it requires a way of scoring and concrete evaluation that Haidong Gumdo does not lend itself to."

   In their own championships, nevertheless, there were competitions that pitted two students against each other, and they were judged in terms of their technique, smoothness of performance, realism, and creativity.

   I should point out that I myself was part of an award ceremony in October of 2001, during my first year in Korea. I was teaching in the smaller city of Changwon, and I met a Gumdo master on the street. He struck up a conversation, and invited me to a demonstration.

   I was asked to sit up on the stage with the other masters, and I watched as various classes and individuals performed their lessons before a large, invited audience. There were demonstrations of drill practice, and some very artistic severing of bamboo targets by very lethal-looking swords.

   At the conclusion of the demonstrations, several awards and certificates were handed out, including one for yours truly. For what, I do not know, as the entire program was presented in Korean. Perhaps they were impressed with my attentiveness.

   So sword fighting is presented here as one option for me to occupy my time. I have some others in mind, which I hope to share with you, and which I hope you will find entertaining. Next time, I will explore the world of Barbie doll rentals.

   Some of the information in this article was found in the "Korea Herald," in a feature article by staff reporter Matt Hodges.

At the end of this contract, I returned home via Japan, Russia, and Poland. I will describe this trip on "Stig's Silly Walks." 


  1. Interesting post but leaves me with a question ... did you explore the world of barbie doll rentals? ;)