Taekwondo is concerned with unarmed
While Taekwondo itself seems to be essentually "weaponless" (as in sword, stick, knife etc) we should remember that in Korea the first generations of taekwondo students would more often than not crosstrain in styles that had weapons in them. Geomdo/Gumdo (Korean way of saying Kendo and yes, its the same art) was very popular in the 1930s until even today. In fact in Chosun University in 2007 (dont know today because they said they would build a new building for sports) the Gumdo Dojang was located right next to the Taekwondo Dojang. I saw them practising many times over the year I spendt there, and on my subsequent travels when I revisited the University. Since the pioneers of Taekwondo studied The way of the Sword along with Taekwondo it is safe to assume that it influenced them as teachers. Chang Mu Kwan and their sister Kwan also included some weapons in their syllabus, as did certain Mu Duk Kwan Dojang. The root arts of Taekwondo (most often but not limited to Shuri Te Karate) had most of their most influential masters trained in the art of sword. Bushi Matusmura, and Azato (both teachers to Funakoshi) had even gained a Menkyo Kaiden in Jigen Ryu which meant that they were good enough to teach the Jigen Ryu. Jigen Ryu was the Satsuma Samurai clan`s Martial art and it of course had the sword in it. Azato was acording to Funakoshi great with the sword. Motobu who does not show up in Taekwondo lineage but he did teach Karate at the same time in Japan that Funakoshi did said that as he got older he too started studying the sword and Kobudo (weapons of Karate), while when he was younger he did not have any interest in weapons training.
I went out on a tangent there to demonstrate that eventhough Taekwondo has not had weapons in its system(s) for a long time, there is a continual influence in that Taekwondo masters studied seperate weapons arts (focusing on the sword) from the root arts long before the name Taekwondo until very recently in Korea. So should we adopt weapons study into our studies?
Why study weapons? (I have the sword in mind while writing this)
There are many reasons to pick up one or more weapons to include in your studies. Although Norway has strict weapons laws and especially so in self defense, learning the ways of one or more weapons will in my mind make you more prepared to defend against it if you ever have to face it. On the other side of the coin learning to use weapons also translates well into learning how to make use of improvised weapons or weapons of oppertunity. Learning short stick, long stick and or even the Mok Geom (Bokken or wooden sword) will teach you rudimentary techniques you can use if you get a hold of several day to day objects. Chances are you will not be carrying a weapon on you, but if you are attacked would it not be to your advantage to be able to grab any hard object of some lenght and instinctly be able to use it well? An umbrella, a stick, a board (plank), a broken chair, a billiard cue, a bottle, a rolled up magazine etc can all be translated into weapons training with the short stick, long stick or even the sword. The weapons might be made for a different time period and some will be weapon specific (an umbrella can be swung and strike like a sword to great effect, but it will not actually cut like a sword would for instance), but they all have a lot to give a modern day practisioner even with pragmatic mind set toward modern day self defense.
Practising unarmed techniques is great and all, but sometimes it is fun to be able to vary your training. Variance in training is not only good for motivation, it is also good for the training itself, it teaches you transferrable skills, trains muscles you can put to use in the unarmed portion of your martial art and it even excersises and alters your brain. Everytime you learn a new skill to the point of being competent in it your brain has made a new neurological link, so training makes you smarter ;-) Training with weapons is a lot of fun, and that should not be overlooked.
You get to train muscles you do not normally do, but which you can use and relate back to your unarmed martial studies. The sword for instance can work just as well as an "Indian Club" in many ways (Google Indian Club and see the benifits) so it can be seen as part of your extratraining. You are practising the sword, but you are practising it to practising your body for normal taekwondo training if that makes sense. For me I had problems with my wrists, they were weak and stiff (still is but not as much). Practising twirling with the sword (as I do as part of my warm up) and some other excersises with the sword loosened them and strengthened them to the point that I no longer have an issue with them. Its also great training for your core and upper body. If you train Taekwondo and most often use it as sport training and train your lower body, doing a lot of sword work will even the training out on your body so your whole body is developed in unison.
This will be subjective and up to the individual plus which system you practise. It is safe to say that in the old days the Warrior would be most concerned with weapons training. Unarmed training would be for basic training to learn coordination and to move the body before advancing into weapons training. A lot had gone wrong if the Warrior found himself fighting without a weapon. This holds true for most of history and most of the world. In modern times the focus has shifted to unarmed training because of modern society has laws and police to govern them, but you dont have to go back far in history to see that this was not the case and People would wear swords, knifes, pistols etc depending on the timeperiod to defend themselves. Training with weapons of any sort therefore provides with a general historical link back to this mind set. Training in historical weapons systems will provide more historical link than modern day ones. Yoon Kwae Byung (founder of Ji Do Kwan, or reopener of Yoon Mu Kwan With the new name Ji Do Kwan) made a stick form in Japan that he taught to Yoon Byung In. Master Kim Pyung Soo with the Chayon Ryu in the USA still teaches this form. For people coming from a Yoon Kwae Byung lineage learning this particular form will provide a historic link directly back to him as you will be doing the same form he did. Learning Geomdo/Gumdo/Kendo will make you join the scores of masters of Taekwondo who went before you and learned Taekwondo+Kendo.
I will write more about the weaponstraining I have done later in this post, but I will mention that Korea has a rich tradition in the martial arts, and one of the greatest historical gems is the military manual Muyedobotongji. There are several systems based on this material today, and all of these are historicaly linked back to the martial arts practiced in Korea long before the Japanese occupation, and the martial arts depicted in the muyedobotongji was trained by the Korean army around the end of the 1700s.
Weapons somehow change my mindset while training, and it also influences the mindset I have when I practise unnarmed skills. Lately I have been freshening up my sword skills because of two demonstrations the Dojang I practise with had. This meant that I have been practising more with the sword than without for the last 2 months, and it really showed yesterday when I practised Gibon Dongjak (basic techniques) at the Dojang. Traditional Taekwondo had a saying "Il kyok pilsal!" translating roughly to "one move, one kill!"( I have written specifically about it here). Something deep inside me awakes when practising with the sword, something almost primal. The odds are raised when working with a weapon, both solo and with a partner. Once a weapon is involved there is a slightly higher chance of injury and the type of injury is also often more severe when a weapon is involved than when it it is unnarmed. It is known (at least written) that Mushashi fought most of his last duels not with a real sword but with a bokken/Mok Geom (wooden sword). I dont know if that is historical fact, but I do know that I do not want my head to be hit with a wooden sword. I felt this change of mindset yesterday while training basic techniques during practise. During each and every technique it was Natural for me to do it full power and speed to an "il kyok pilsal attitude" which again gave me more training benifit. Eventhough it was unnarmed training, the weaponstraining that I had done so much of the last two months gave me a direct positive impact on it. There is a saying in Karate circles that "Karate and Kobudo goes hand in hand, like a sister and Brother or as two wheels on a cart". I think that this applies here too eventhough the sword are not among the "normal" kobudo weapons.
So what do I do for weapons training? I primarely practise sword skills which I just label "Geomsul" (geom = sword and "sul" = skills). The forms and skills are from the Gyungdang system eventhough I do not have any ranking in that system. I can not stress the fact enough that I am writing about sword and weapons training but my focus is on Taekwondo (unnarmed skills) and always has been. My sword training has always been a second training and priority. It is a fun, interesting and positive one, but it is Taekwondo which is my primary study. Below is a short description on the Gyungdang system for those who have never heard of it.
Gyungdang has is as far as I know a fairly new martial art system in that it was formalized by Master Lim Dong Gyu in the 1980s. I do not know much about him, but the story I was told is that in the 1970s-80s he was imprisioned for speaking out against the dictator who ruled South Korea at the time. While in prison he got hold of a copy of the Muyedobotongji which is a military martial arts manual published in 1790, but which relies on sources a lot older than that too. Master Lim interpreted and recreated the content of the Muyedobotongji using a broomstick, and formalized his findings in a system he called "Gyungdang". He named it Gyungdang in honor of an ancient military camp in old Korea. When he got out of prison he started teaching this system openly to others. The system is primarely based on weapons which is to be expected as it is based on a military manual. It does not only consist of swords though. It consists also of several types of spears, sticks, and other types of weapons and it is meant to contain everything that is in the Muyedobotongji. It should be noted though that "Gyungdang" is not the only group working with the material in the Muyedobotongji, there are others such as Sipalki who have their own take on it. The reason I say this is that I plan to release some of the forms I known on the blog, but if you compare them to the Sipalki versions they will be a little to very different depending on the form. The Muyedobotongji is not easy to read, nor is it illustrated the way we think of when we hear illustrations today, so it is not strange to see different people coming up with different interpretations.
Gyungdang in Scandinavia:
In the early 2000s a group consisting of a few Norwegians and one Dane (if I am not mistaken) traveled to Korea to learn from Master Lim. They spendt some time there with a lot of intensive training and brought with them a lot of the Gyungdang forms when they got back to Norway. The next few years they worked on spreading them on the Traditional Taekwondo Union summerfestivals, they conducted weekend seminars, hosted special training sessions etc. At one time Traditional Taekwondo Union (which is the organisation I belong to) even adopted some of the forms into its syllabus but this was short lived and (sadly) discontinued. It was during this time that I gradually picked up the Wae Geom forms (4 forms said to be Japanese in origin) and the Yedo Ishipsa Se (24 postures of the Short Sword). I have training notes on the Jedok Geom and Bon Kuk Geom too but I never formally learned them completly so they remained in my notes, but not in my training. The Wae Geom forms are good training and are 4 forms around 30 movements each (some more and some less) where you get a lot of different combinations of the basic cuts. There is also deep squats and high jumping in them so you do in effect train the whole body while doing them. I would learn a little in one seminar, go home and practise until I got a chance to pick up some new material and so on. As I only use this as variation training for my own benifit I have never taught this on to anyone, and my knowledge is a little "shallow". Especially when compared to someone who have dedicated study and practise in the system of Gyungdang or other sword arts. What matters to me is that it works for me though.
Gyungdang in Scandinavia today:
These days Gyungdang is in some kind of slumber. The Traditional Taekwondo Union which implementer some of the forms in their syllabus dropped them out again after a very short while. I have a phamplet proving it was in the syllabus, but I do not know if anyone actually had to perform Gyungdang forms for rank exams for their Taekwondo. As the TTU syllabus is pretty comprehensive I think it was a fear that the material would be to much to incorporate so it was dropped. After the TTU dropped it from the syllabus Gyungdang in Scandinavia went into a decline. Today there are no seminars being held that I know of in Norway, and there is only one man actively teaching the art at a School in eastern Norway. In Denmark on the other hand there is an active group which I happened to come across in the last few weeks who practise and study. Its not a large group but I am very exited to see it, and it even hosts seminars. I will defintly go and train with them in the future, and if you are Danish (or live around Denmark and want to participate in a seminar let me know and I`ll let you know where to look out for them). I am guessing that I am not the only "amateur" who still practises the sword in Norway but I do know we are few and far between (when it comes to Gyungdang, other sword arts such as Kendo, Kenjutsu and Iaido are practised in Norway).
For more information on the Muyedobotongji which is a very exiting book for People interested in Korean Martial arts before the Japanese occupation you can read an article I wrote back in 2008 I think, which appeared in Totally Taekwondo Magazine issue number 2. I have learned much more since then, but it still is a great background writeup for the manual. It is not the oldest Korean martial arts manual as the headline says though :-P But the whole background and its Sources plus Development can be read in that article. Note that it has two parts ;-)