What does Haidong Gumdo mean?

‘Haidong’ means ‘east of sea’, refering to the ancient Korea. ‘Gumdo’ means the way of the sword. Today, Haidong Gumdo refers to the swordsmanship training system administered by The World Haidong Gumdo Federation. Canadian Haidong Gumdo Association is the licensed governing body for the art in Canada.

I have never heard of this martial art. Is it new to North America?

While Haidong Gumdo has been a very popular martial art in Korea, it was only introduced in Canada in mid-90s. There are about 10 schools in Canada. In the USA and Europe, more than a few hundred martial art schools have adapted the system.

Does Haidong Gumdo involve the teaching of just sword techniques?

The main focus of the instruction is on the use of the sword. Although unarmed combat techniques are sometimes taught, they are not the main part of the curriculum. The purpose of learning Haidong Gumdo is self improvements through sword training, not to learn to use all medieval weaponries.

What type of swords do you learn to use?

The basic sword used in Haidong Gumdo is the traditional Korean long sword, which looks quite similar to a Japanese katana. The blade is slightly curved and only one side is sharp. Most training is done with a hard wood sword (mokgum). After black belt the student regularly receives training with a real sword (jingum) for cutting and forms. For safety reasons the mokgum or kagum (blunt metal sword) are used in group classes.

How is Gumdo different from Kendo? Do you use armour and bamboo swords?

The biggest difference from Kendo is that Haidong Gumdo is non-sparring based. Unlike to Kendo, which focused on sparring that employs point system, most of Haidong Gumdo practices are performed in absence of opponents.

Haidong Gumdo primarily focuses with the practice of sword patterns (Gumbup) with wooden sword or real swords (Jingum). There are also target cutting practices, such as bamboo pole or jipdan (stacks of straw) cutting practices employing real sword. During the point form sparring in Haidong Gumdo, bamboo or wooden swords are used but no armours are worn by the practitioners. Haidong Gumdo emphasizes the cultivation of the body and the mind through sword training rather than competition aspect of the martial art.

When students develop sufficient control (judged on an individual basis) they can begin to develop combat drills with a partner to illuminate the actual dynamics of weapons use with living, moving targets. This practice prepares a student for the rigors and responsibility of safe and effective free-style combat without training away realistic combat behavior such as is required in the sport of Kendo. However, without combat practice it is almost impossible to fully grasp the meaning of certain lessons. For example, the psychological impact of conflict cannot be appreciated without experiencing it first hand.

Advanced level practitioners spar but Gumdo sparring does not employ the point system found in the competitive sparring of Kendo. Most people do not buy or use armour during their study of Haidong Gumdo, but most have a bamboo sword (called a jukdo). The root of the difference lies in that Kendo revolves around personal combat with one opponent while Haidong Gumdo practices battlefield techniques – everything with an eye to multiple attacks.

Is there any practical reason for studying forms? Isn’t it better to practice sparring all the time?

The forms studied in Haidong Gumdo are very dynamic and grow more physically challenging with each rise in rank. The gradual progression of the patterns teaches understanding of how to combine various offensive and defensive postures with movement to create effective tactics. In one sense, forms are the historical version of multimedia presentations. They catalog techniques and stances, reveal body mechanics and strategies as well as fluidity of motion all in one easy-to-access location. The lessons taught must be learned well, both at speed and at a more meditative pace, for once real combat begins everything you thought you knew flies out the window – only what you truly know remains.

What is the course emphasis?

Haidong Gumdo is a martial art for self-cultivation and improvement. The main focus is on practical sword techniques. The curriculum, however, covers a broad range of martial art training including unarmed combat, breakfalls, muscle conditioning, meditation(danjun hohup) and energy training (ki gong).

What is a normal class like?

A normal class runs anywhere from 60 minute to 90 minutes depending on the level of practitioners and the size of the class. All classes begin and end formally with respect being paid to the flag, the instructor and one’s fellow students. At the beginning, the instructor leads stretching and warming up exercises.

The second stage of a class involves executing basic cuts and stances. These basics are used as part of the warm-up drill in every class to develop the students’ understanding, fitness, endurance and technique. Practice of the basic techniques can become a meditative aid for some students.

The third stage of class is divided by rank. Students are asked to perform their patterns and key-point drills in an order of rank determined by the needs of the class on each day. When the students finish their patterns they receive instruction. While the floor is occupied by other ranks, students work on their meditative breathing, watch the lesson or do candle exercises. Decorum is to be maintained at all times.

The fourth stage of class is free practice which ranges from performing patterns and forms to limited types of free sparring.
At the final stage, students line up according to their rank and the instructor leads round-up exercises.

What level of fitness should I be at to practice Haidong Gumdo?

Usually the class tries to determine a comfortable median between the lowest and highest levels of fitness, working hard those who are most fit while not draining those who are the least fit. Other times a sliding scale is applied to the class by rank. This lets members of each rank know precisely where they should be in terms of fitness and where they actually are.

Is there any self-defense value in Haidong Gumdo? I mean when would I ever have a sword on street?

Too many people equate the term ‘martial art’ to ‘self-defense’ and it is this misconception which can cause people to doubt the value of weapons arts. The theory and practice of armed and unarmed engagement seems to be a constant across the spectrum of options. Learning to fight or defend yourself in one style or mode can translate directly to another mode if you understand the basic principles. Likewise, any technique taught in Haidong Gumdo can be easily performed unarmed once the student understands underlying principles.

Hai Dong Gumdo has developed an advanced approach using traditional and modern techniques. It calls this set of unarmed combat skills ‘Haidong Kwonbup’. ‘Kwon’ refers to the fist and ‘bup’ means method or rule. This style of fighting is as brutal and direct as the sword techniques and also rests on a foundation of a one strike philosophy. Some skills are introduced to students at early stage of the training but most of the skills are taught as upper dan (black belt) curriculum. The skills themselves flow from the basic skills gleaned from the sword techniques, ki gong exercises and standard martial theory. The skill set includes tumbling and falling, throws, locks, nerve strikes and effective kicking.

Who can study Haidong Gumdo?

Haidong Gumdo is called a martial art of three generations. That means grandparents, parents and children can learn this martial art at same time without barriers. Regardless of your gender or age, you will be able to learn Haidong Gumdo. However, one should know that learning a martial art is different from participating in a recreational sports. Beside learning how to defend yourself, you are learning the culture and history that comes along the training.

However, that does not mean anyone can study the art: there are certain basic requirements. You must have a sound body. You must have the ability to think. You must be responsible. You must be able to separate your studies from your ego. You must be capable of appreciating the power and beauty of the skills you will learn. You must be able to respect these skills and learn all the lessons they can teach you. You cannot be too old or too young to study Haidong Gumdo. Haidong Gumdo attracts students of both genders in equal number from all age categories.

Haidong Gumdo does not require great flexibility. However, It does require that you be willing to develop a level of endurance over the course of your studies which can often exceed the demands of other martial art styles. All you have to be willing to do is learn and grow!

When do I get my black belt?

If you attend the class 2 times a week and spend some extra time at home to practice on your own, you should expect to get tested for chodan (1st degree black belt) in about 12~18 months. The time may vary for each student as not everyone has same ability for learning martial art.

How often do I need to practice?

It is typical that students attend 2~3 classes a week. Some students attend more and some attend less.

Source: Canada Haidong Gumdo Association