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.
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