By Scott Shaw
Kumdo is the Korean art of the sword. Like many of the other modern Korean martial arts, Kumdo arose at the end of World War II when the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula was lifted. Historically, there is an essential fact about Kumdo that many practitioners and non-practitioners alike do not understand. That fact is, there is not one overriding style of Kumdo that has arisen from Korea. There are a number of traditions that practice very different techniques, yet they each exist under the banner of Kumdo.
With the lifting of Japanese occupation, there arose a number of martial art practitioners who had studied the Japanese martial arts, mostly in Japan, and had then returned to their native Korea and began teaching these arts, generally under a new name. This is what gave birth to the styles that eventually became the predominate martial arts associated with Korea; namely: Taekwondo and Hapkido. Within the realms of Taekwondo and Hapkido, yes, there are variants in style and technique but there is also a great commonality. This, however, is not absolutely the case with Kumdo. As the is no supreme governing body for Kumdo, like The World Taekwondo Federation or the Korea Hapkido Federation, the various styles of Kumdo have existed in their own right for decades.
Currently, there is a style of Kumdo which holds very tightly to an origin based in Japanese Kendo. This is the branch where you will witness the practitioners putting on the long flowing pants that are mostly commonly known by the Japanese term, Hakama. They also wear the face protection and have fighting competitions using the bamboo sword or, Juk do, in Korean. But, there are other variants of Kumdo that are just a prominent. Perhaps the most prominent of these are the styles of Kumdo that have arisen within schools of Taekwondo where the Kumdo practitioner uses a standardized set of forms to enhance their swordplay skillset. Within this realm of Kumdo, you will witness the practitioner wearing the standard martial art uniform and performing a prescribed set of stances, sword strikes, and kicks defined by the specific form. Commonly, there are a set of ten distinct form patterns that are taught to the students who practice this brand of Kumdo.
Of course, some of the other modern Korean martial arts systems such as Kuk Sul Won and Hwa Rang Do employ sword training in their curriculum, as well. But, as they are closed martial art organizations, the only people who are taught these techniques are their direct students. Thus, their brand of Kumdo is not as wide spanning as the previously described examples.
The key point to understand, regarding Korean Kumdo, is that though there is a commonality in title, Kumdo, this is not an overriding description of this style of martial arts. This is based upon the fact that there are numerous schools and organizations that practice vastly different techniques while all proclaiming that what they do is, Kumdo.
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For further insight into Kumdo you can also read, Kumdo: The Korean Art of the Sword on Scott Shaw.com.