This is the Translator's Preface from the English language translation of the Muye Dobo Tongji: Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts of Ancient Korea followed by selected excerpts from the original text.
This book is an ancient Korean martial arts manual, written by Yi Duk-moo, Park Je-ga and Pak Dong-soo in 1790, under the order of King Jungjo. This premiere English translation of the manual is the result of nearly a decade of planning and work.
According to historic documents, archery was the only official martial art that had been practiced by the soldiers of Chosun (ancient name of Korea used during the Yi Dynasty, 1392-1910). Considering the fact that yangban (aristocratic class) literati dominated the political, economical, and cultural life during this period, it is not surprising that practice of martial arts was looked downed upon and generally discouraged.
After the Japanese invasion (1592-1598), King Sunjo (1567-1608) acquired a Chinese martial arts manual called Kihyo Shinsu written by Chuk Kye-kwang of the Ming Dynasty. He took a personal interest in the arts and subsequently invited the Ming military officers for a demonstration of their fighting methods. The king ordered his military officer Han Kyo to compile six fighting methods for further study. Han Kyo documented the kon bang (long stick), dung pae (shield art), nang sun (multiple tip bamboo spear), jang chang (long spear), dang pa (triple tip spear), and ssang soo do (long sword) which he published collectively under the title Muye Jebo (Martial Arts Illustrations).
Following this period, the first Manchu invasion took place in 1627 (called Chungmyo Horan) and the second invasion in 1636 (called Byungja Horan). King Injo (1623-1649) surrendered to the Manchus and his two sons, including the Crown Prince Sohyun, had to accompany the Manchu army as hostages.
Compared to the war against the Japanese, the Manchu (the Ching Dynasty) invasion was of a short duration. Only a small part of the country became a battlefield, however the northwest province through which the Manchus passed was a killing field, resulting in intense hostility among Korean people toward the Ching Dynasty. King Hyojong (1649-1659) planned to launch a northern expedition and strengthened Korea’s military defenses by intensifying training and repairing fortresses atop the mountains around the capital.
During the reign of King Youngjo (1724-1776), the publication of Muye Jebo was revised and renamed Muye Shinbo (Martial Arts New Illustrations) with twelve additional fighting methods added: juk jang chang (long bamboo spear), kee chang (flag spear), ye do (short sword), wae gum (Japanese sword), kyo jun (combat engagement), wol do (crescent sword), hyup do (spear sword), ssang gum (twin swords), je dok gum (admiral’s sword), bon kuk gum (Shilla Kingdom sword), kwon bup (fist fighting method), and pyun kon (flail method).
Korean Traditional Martial Arts Weapons Videos
It was King Jungjo (1776-1800) who added six more fighting methods and completed the Muye Dobo Tongji (Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts). Those six methods are ki chang (spear fighting on horseback), masang wol do (crescent sword on horseback), masang ssang gum (twin swords on horseback), masang pyun kon (flail method on horseback), kyuk koo (ball game on horseback), and masang jae (horsemanship). He intended to strengthen the national military forces by training soldiers daily and systematically. It is interesting to note that they included not only Chinese fighting methods in the manual but also the Japanese sword methods which had been totally ignored at the beginning of the dynasty. It is obvious that they wanted to prepare for both enemies.
After enduring nearly 1,000 wars since the founding of the country, Koreans have learned the importance of Yubimuhwan: when one is prepared, there is no room to fear the unexpected.
Partial Excerpt from Kiye Jilue: Conversation on the Strategy and Art
I developed additional attacking tactics and gave them to both the teachers of the nang sun and chang. They won ten fights out of ten. Then one of the old masters kneeled and said, “The origin of the nang sun method was just like this but it was not handed down to this day.”
A guest asked the master, "Then , having mastered it, why haven’t you armed your camp with the nang sun?”
The reply goes, "How can we be satisfied with only the nang sun? The dung pae (shield art) defeats the nang sun. Every shield method has its own weakness of coarseness and stiffness in its postures. However, if one dashes in with strong force, the nang sun becomes a useless weapon, uncertain of victory.”
The guest asked, "Then, having mastered it, why haven’t you armed your camp with the dung pae?”
The reply was, "How can one only rely on the dung pae? The yuga gon (long stick of the Yu clan) defeats the dung pae. When the yuga gon is used with the alternate force of yin and yang, the dung pae loses its forces and can be overthrown.”
The guest asked, "Then, having mastered it, why haven’t you armed your camp with the long stick?”
The reply was, "How can one trust it entirely? The spear of Yang Clan defeats the long stick. Since all sticks are short and the spear is long, the long spear always wins over the short stock."
The guest asked, "Then, having mastered it, why haven’t you armed your camp with the spear?"
The reply was, "The straight spear defeats the multiple tip bamboo spear and the triple tip spear. Thus the benifit of the ohbyung (five soldiers) strategy is that the long weapon cuts off the short weapon and the short weapon saves the long weapon, allowing neither to defeat the other. However, if one uses the weapon with a shield, he can defeat any weapon. The spear is never unnecessary in battle. Based upon these strategic principles, it can be said that in formatting military camps, there is nothing to be fearful of when firearms are combined with weapons and victory is always expected when weapons are assisted by firearms. The strategy of cutting off the army’s retreat is a secret method that only a few top generals know, but others later realize for themselves."
After deliberation, I realized that all weapons—the shield, the multiple tip bamboo spear, the spear, the triple tip spear, the long stick, the firearm, and the bow—have a different usage but the same purpose, that is to kill the enemy. A short range weapon cannot be used in a long distance fight and vice versa. This is because of the principle of force. None of the weapons are lacking or outstanding. Soldiers skilled in a variety of disciplines should be mixed evenly, otherwise it is disadvantageous. How would samabup (strategy of Sama, one of the greatest Chinese military strategists) deceive me? In the art of archery, there is a specific principle for shooting; the firearm has its own method; all weapons—dung pae, nang sun, chang, dang pa, kon, and gum—have their own method of usage. Without methods, there are no masters. Accordingly, Hangwu (the legendary general of China) learned how to use the sword and General Yang spent twenty years practicing the ihwachang (pear blossom spear). If one wants to achieve mastery, one must follow the way.
Partial Excerpt from Wae Gum: Japanese Sword
(Addition) Mo Won-ui said, "The Japanese swords are made in all lengths and sizes. Every warrior carries a long sword that is called a pae do. A small knife that is attached to the long sword is used for various purposes. There is also a killing sword, one foot in length, that is called a haesoo do. A sword that is longer than one foot is called a kupbal. These three weapons are usually carried around to be used in various situations that may arise. The Japanese sword is so strong and sharp that the Chinese sword cannot equal it. Regardless of length, every sword has a name engraved on one side of the handle and a pseudonym on the other side. It has always been the case that the social status and the level of wisdom of the carrier have been judged by the engraving. During war time, the Japanese drafted all the famous craftsmen across the country and locked them in storage rooms. They made them produce swords that were the most elaborate and the highest in quality, no matter how long it might take. Swords of this period are called sanggo do. Among them, the yungu (everlasting sword) was regarded as the best."
(Note) From the early days of sword making in China, the name, reason for the production and year of creation were engraved on most tools made. Even today, the Chinese engrave the craftsman’s name on the product. It is the same with the Japanese in producing swords and spears. In Korea, the right to promote and punish craftsmen is up to the Yukkong. Every product made has the production year, name, size and weight engraved on it in order to abide by the laws and regulations of the Yukkong.
During the time of the Japanese Hoojowoowon period, famous craftsmen from various countries were invited to forge metal for swords. The resulting weapons were called young gum (spiritual sword). Those swords with the engravings of the following countries were regarded as treasure swords: jonggun kuk, ryekilkwang kuk, woo kuk, kil kuk, kang kuk, jongjung, soohang pyungkun, choongyun bangkyum, and jung kuk.
According to the Waeji, it is recorded, "The Japanese soldiers are so courageous and stoic that they don’t put importance in life and death. In every war, they march forward and dance naked, holding a three foot long sword in their hands. There is no one who can defend against them."
Partial Excerpt from Kwon Bup: Fist Fighting Method
(Addition) Chuk Kye-kwang said, "Kwon bup is not adequate for large scale combat, however it is an excellent way for beginners to start martial arts training to learn the way of the hands and feet and discipline."
Mo Won-ui said, "After mastering how to draw a dot and stroke in Chinese calligraphy, one must learn the eight brushing methods." In the Suwon, it is recorded, "There is a saying in the Sosu by Wang Il that the character yung ( ) is the basis for all eight brushing methods. All Chinese characters are composed of a combination of the segments of the character. Just as one learns to ride the horse after getting comfortable sitting in the saddle, the way of the fist follows the same path."
In the Mupyun, it is recorded, "A strong man with a soaring spirit can use the fist in a variety of ways. The ability to make cross punches, to leap to the side and lunge and fall depend upon the courage and spirit that enable one to attack or defend. Thus, spirit is important. In the fist art there is a pattern, however in practical application there is not a particular formula. There is only action. The variations do not have a predetermined form but that does not mean that they lose their power."
(Note) In the poem Soah it is recorded, "Without the fist there is no courage, thus there is no order in hierarchy. In the notes, it is recorded that the fist indicates power." In the Yiah, it is recorded, "I tied a beastly tiger. I jumped over the castle and the river with ease." In the Joajun, it is recorded, "Jin Hu tied the king of the Cho Dynasty in a dream." These records denote the existence of kwon pak, the techniques of striking with the palm heel.
In the Hansu, it is recorded, "The king watched the fist fighting (su bak) and archery contests." In the note it is recorded that su bak is a martial art contest of wrestling. In the Kamyunsu, it is recorded, "The contest of palm striking is called kee mun." (In the Hansu, it is recorded that kee mun is to grab and release a weapon. The name kee mun came from the story of the royal families of King Mu Je of the western province and Yang Ga of the northern province making a pledge at the gates of various castles. They loved contesting their talents and prowess.) Since the Tang and Song Dynasty, there have been two types of techniques: one is waega (external school) and the other naega (internal school). The external style flourished in the Shaolin Temple and the internal style in the school of Jang Song-kye. (The Shaolin Temple is located on the mountain Shoshil in the Deung Bong province. According to the Iljirok, during the early period of the Tang Dynasty thirteen monks from the temple contributed to the arrest of Wang Se-chung. His arrest was primarily credited to the Shaolin warrior monks. One of the monks, named Wol Kong, was killed in the battle against the Japanese at Song Kang.) There were thirteen old disciples of Jang Song-kye, one of whom, Jang Sam-bong, reestablished the style during the Song Dynasty. He was the Taoist master of the province of Mu Dang. He killed over 100 enemies, which made him famous for his superior skills. After him, the style was passed on to the Sa Myung region during the Myung Dynasty and became the preeminent martial art style.
In the Yungpabuji, it is recorded, "The Shaolin methods generally utilize locking, running, walking, and jumping techniques. Because the system was transmitted verbally, many skills were lost and then intermittently revived by masters."
The methods of Jang Song-kye were primarily used for self defense, which was not performed unless one encountered an unavoidable enemy or misfortune. With Jang’s techniques, one could get out of any situation with ease, no matter how difficult the situation might be. Due to its practicality, his style was regarded as a superior method of defeating an opponent.
In the system of vital death points, there were three types: hun hyul, ah hyul and sah hyul. According to the type of vital area being attacked, the degree of striking force applied to the point varies. In killing, inducing a coma or making the enemy mute, there were specific instructions available. The more mystical concepts were the five secrets of kyung, kin, khyung, kun and jul, which were not taught to anyone but the resident disciples. These secrets were not generally used, but due to their mystical applications the discipline required in their training was stricter than the conventional military family code of generosity, loyalty, wisdom and courage. In the Naega Kwon Bup, it is recorded, "In the external style, the techniques become more elaborate when one reaches the level of the Shaolin. Jang Sang-bong’s style is superior to the Shaolin style, however there are secretive methods that can defeat Jang Sang-bong. This is the naega method. Through the mastery of a few techniques of the naega style, one can easily defeat the Shaolin style. Master Wang Jung-nam learned it from master Dan Sa-nam and mastered it himself. The key to his success was in his diligent practice. His training matured to the level that he could perceive the environment without looking around, and using his fist, could strike in all directions with powerful force.