Monday, November 13, 2017

Moo Yeh Do Bok Tong Gi

By Scott Shaw

Understand Korea's Martial History
            It is essential to understand that the Japanese forces, which occupied the Korean Peninsula from 1909 until 1945, destroyed virtually all records of the actual techniques of the ancient Korean martial arts. Many modern masters of the Korean martial arts falsely claim they can trace the origins of their systems back to the dawn of Korean civilization. Unfortunately, this is historically not the case. There are only two remaining documents: the Moo Yeh Jee Bo and the Moo Yeh Do Bok Tong Gi which give us insight into Korea's martial history. These are the only two sources to trace the history of Korean martial arts.

Moo Yeh Do Bok Tong Gi
            The conflicts between Japan and Korea are not unique to the twentieth century. They have been ongoing for centuries. Between 1592 and 1598 an attempted Japanese invasion of Korea took place. The Japanese invaders were defeated. Near the end of this conflict, a Chinese military text entitled, Ki Hyu Shin Zu, authored by the Chinese military strategist and martial artist, Chuk, Kye Kwang was discovered. The text had been acquired from a slain Japanese General. This manuscript was presented to Korean King Sun Jo (1567 - 1608). Within its pages was a system of Chinese weapons and hand-to-hand combat. King Sun Jo was so impressed by the methods presented in this text that he invited Chinese Generals and Chinese martial art masters who employed this system to visit his capital. From this contact, he ordered one of his Generals, Han Kyo, to take what he had learned from both the text and the demonstrations and design a new system of battlefield combat. This system was eventually written in six chapters and published as, Moo Yeh Jee Bo, “The Illustrations of the Martial Arts.”
            This text became the basis for formalized warfare for the Korean military. Within the pages of the text, the techniques of the Sang Soo Do, “Long Sword” Jang Chang, “Spear,” Dang Pa, “Triple End Spear,” Kon Bong, “Long Staff,” and Dung Pa, “Shield Defense,” are outlined.
Korean King Yong Jo (1724 - 1776) had the text revised during his reign. Twelve additional approaches to fighting were added. The manual was renamed, Moo Yeh Shin Bo, “The New Illustrations of the Martial Arts.”
            The fighting techniques added to the pages employed the Bon Kuk Kum, “Korean Straight Sword,” Wae Kum, “Japanese Sword,” Jee Dook Kum, “Admiral's Sword,” Yee Do, “Short Sword,” Sang Kum, “Twin Swords,” Wae Kum, “Crescent Sword,” Juk Jang, “Long Bamboo Spear,” Hyup Do, “Spear with a Blade,” Kee Jang, “Flag Spear,” Pyun Kon, “Long Staff with end like a nunchaka,” Kyo Jun, “Combat Engagement Strategy,” and Kwon Bop, literally, “Karate.”
            In 1790, at the direction of the next King of Korea, King Jung Jo (1776 - 1800), the Korean military strategists, Yi, Duk Moo and Park, Je Ga again revised the text and added six additional chapters to the manuscript: Ma Sang, “Combat horsemanship,” Ki Chang, “Spear fighting from horseback,” Ma Sang Wol Do, “Sword fighting from horseback,” Ma Sang Sang Kum, “Twin sword fighting from horseback,” Ma Sang Pyun Kon, “Long staff with shorter end like nunchaka, fighting from horseback,” and Kyuk Koo, “Gaming on horseback.”
            The text was retitled, Moo Yeh Do Bok Tong Gi, “The Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of the Martial Arts.” This text is the primary remaining document which modern Korean martial art practitioners turn to search out their foundational history.
The Moo Yeh Do Bok Tong Gi was first published for world consumption, in its original form, over twenty years ago by Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee in this book, Tang Soo Do. It has recently been translated into English.
            Many people hear of this book believe that it will hold all of the answers to all of their questions on combat. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The techniques presented in this manuscript are extremely limited and the drawings, which depict the maneuvers, are not exacting as they were created several hundred years ago.
            As a source point for understanding the evolution of Korean history, Moo Yeh Do Bok Tong Gi, is a great text. It was written for a different age, however. As such, it is not the holy grail of martial art manuscripts as some people believe it to be. What you take away from it will be based on your own understanding of the martial arts.

Copyright © 1989 – All Rights Reserved

For more information on the history and the evolution of the Korean Martial Arts visit The History of the Korean Martial Arts page at Scott

Kumdo: Understanding the Varying Traditions

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.

Copyright © 2017 – All Rights Reserved.

For further insight into Kumdo you can also read, Kumdo: The Korean Art of the Sword on Scott      

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Dojang Expereince

By Scott Shaw

Here is an article I wrote and published in the first collection of writings for The Scott Shaw Zen Blog in 2011. You can also find it in my first blog based book, Scribbles on the Restroom Wall. I recently was thinking about this article so I thought I would repost it. Enjoy…

            The Korean term, “Dojang,” is used to describe a martial art training facility. The Japanese term, “Dojo,” is perhaps the more commonly known word, used to describe the same training space.
            Most people have the belief that a dojang is some sort of scared space where only the higher learning of the martial arts is transacted. For me, this was amusingly not the case.
            My first martial art training began when I was six. Though, in fact, I had always possessed a rudimentary understanding of the martial and fighting arts as my father earned his black belt during World War II and my uncle had been a professional boxer prior to World War II.
            My first teacher was a Korean born Hapkido black belt. This man was probably one of the first Hapkido black belts to immigrate to the U.S. Though he never owned a formal school, he was one of the first people, I know of, to have taught Hapkido in the U.S.; though he referred to it by one of its earlier names, Ho Shin Moo Do. Me, as a six-year-old, I just thought I was studying Karate.
            This man made his living as a gardener and he trained a group of young South Korean student in his back yard. As he was a friend of my father’s, I was allowed to train with them.
            I always remember how nicely groomed his yard was. He had a couple of nicely trimmed trees and nice flowers and plants lined his fence. I mean, he was a gardener after all...
            The man would train the five or six of us, as he walked around with a bamboo staff to smack us with, if we did something wrong, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I didn’t really think that much about it as both of my parents smoked. In fact, even my dentist, who was also Asian, used to sit overlooking his dentist chair, with a cigarette burning behind him, as he examined my teeth. It was obviously a different era. :-)
            After earning my black belt, I eventually went to a couple different dojangs through my teenage years, as we moved around the L.A. area more than a little bit. All were operated by Korean born teachers. And, though they didn’t walk around the training floor smoking as they taught their classes, they all would sit at their desk or in their waiting room, smoking.
            By the time I was twenty-one, I was helping a newly arrived Korean master I had met in Seoul establish his business. I taught virtually all of the classes for him for years. Though he had a No Smoking sign behind his desk, he constantly smoked in the dojang. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that each day he would have his friends come by and they would go out to the central dojang floor, sit there smoking, drinking, and playing Ma Jak. Ma Jak is more commonly know as Mahjong. Ma Jak is a Korean gambling game that they would play all day.
            If you have ever watched Koreans playing this game, it is quite a site. They get all excited as they yell and scream as they toss down the small tiles, (which are kind of like dominos), and are used to win or lose the game.
            He was actually one of my two most influential teachers. He was already in forties when I met him but was still a great physical technician. For those non-martial artists out there who may not be aware of this, by the time you reach your forties, having practiced the martial arts for your entire life, your body is most commonly rapidly breaking down, maybe even already trashed, due to all of the harsh training that goes hand-in-hand with the martial arts. But, he could still fly through the air quite gracefully.
            We became good friends. He and I would go out and get drunk at the Korean hostess bars in Koreatown, at strips clubs, and occasionally partake of other substances. But, those are other stories…
            One thing that most people probably don’t understand is that, even though most South Korean men are avid churchgoers, they are very old school. They, like I, judge a man by how much he can drink. Though I was only twenty-one when I first began working with this man, I had already, long ago, developed the ability to be able to drink round-for-round with the best of ‘em. So, I was readily accepted into their community. Few non-Koreans are ever let inside this world.
            Eventually, he got remarried, stopped the partying, and several years later, he and I had a major falling out. I never saw him again. But, that’s fine. “Falling out,” lets you move away from one situation and chart out new territories.
            But, I always fondly remember his school and how for the years I worked with him, he and his friends would sit around the training floor, smoking and playing Ma Jak each day as they yelled while they threw down the tile pieces and screamed at each other.
            Dojangs, they are not always what they seem. :-)

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