Haidong Gumdo is a Korean sword art that traces its roots to the 3rd century when Genreal Yu Yu of the Koguryo Kingdom founded the Jangbaekryu sword art. For centuries, sword fighting was practiced by Korean soldiers as a primary means of defense. As time passed, the sword was no longer practical from combat and its practice became structured as an art for mental and physical development.
Modern haidong gumdo practice is structured in a variety of ways including fundamentals, forms, combat drills and cutting of objects like bamboo and straw bundles. Beginners practice with the wooden training sword to develop fundamentals. Advanced practitioners train with both the wooden training sword and the forged steel sword.
The most basic elements of haidong gumdo practice are the cutting techniques which include the straight cut, angular cut, lateral cut and diagonal cut. Once the basic cutting motions are mastered, footwork is added and combinations are practiced to simulate combat applications against single or multiple opponents.
Most cuts are practiced first from the basic training stance called gima gyunjukse which resembles horse riding stance. From this stance, the student aims the sword at the opponent directly in front of him and practices stationary cutting. The other fundamental stance is called daedo gyunjukse, which resembles front stance. This is an aggressive stance used in attacking and retreating maneuvers. More advanced stances are practiced in the forms of haidong gumdo.
Drawing the Sword
In haidong gumdo, the sword is drawn by turning the scabbard clockwise so that the sword is horizontal, parallel to the ground. It is then brought up above the head and then down in front of the body, finishing with the tip aiming just below the eyes. The lower hand should be gripping the sword at the end, with the bottom 3 fingers firmly holding it while the thumb and index finger gently encircle it. The other hand should be placed about one fist distance above the bottom hand, with a similar grip.
In addition to practicing the actual movements required for sword combat, haidong gumdo practitioners engage in danjun hohup practice to channel their energy into techniques. The danjun is located about two inches below the navel and is believed to be the center of bodily energy. Through the practice of danjun hohup, practitioners attempt to center their energy in the danjun to increase power and focus.
Danjun hohup is practiced by breathing in through the nose as slowly as possible while expanding the danjun area then breathing out through the mouth at the same pace while contracting the danjun area. It is practiced in a very deep stance, with the knees bent, arms raised and hips tucked backwards to aid in breathing. At first, it is difficult to practice for even one minute correctly, however, experienced practitioners build up to several minutes at a time. Although this does not sound like a long time, maintaining the deep squatting stance required for danjun hohup can challenge even the most fit martial artist.
While it does not seem necessary to generate a great deal of power for cutting with a sword, focused power is one of the most important attributes to develop at the advanced levels of haidong gumdo. After the fundamentals have been mastered, practitioners test their cutting prowess on a wide variety of materials including bamboo poles, bundles of straw, suspended pieces of bamboo and wide sheets of paper. To accurately and cleanly cut each object requires a tremendous amount of power focused at the instant of cutting. A lack of focus will cause the object to simply tip over or fly away when the sword strikes it.
As both a mental and physical practice, haidong gumdo has a great deal of depth to offer the serious practitioner. However, the serious nature of practicing with a sword is not for everyone. There is a great risk that someone could be accidentally or even intentionally injured if the sword practitioner does not understand the inherent danger of the art. As the practice of haidong gumdo spreads around the world, it offers a new frontier for a select group of serious practitioners in the arts.