By Chung Ah-young
When it comes to Korean martial arts, taekwondo might be the most well-known both at home and abroad. However, there are numerous traditional martial arts that have been handed down over thousands of years throughout Korean history that still exist today.
Korean martial arts develop the character and personality of an individual through physical and spiritual discipline, more than focusing on physical fighting skills.
Since the Traditional Martial Arts Promotion Law was enacted in March, a slew of practitioners have been gearing up to promote them not only in Korea but also in other countries.
In fact, the traditional martial arts are more popular in other countries than at home. According to the Korea Martial Arts Association, there are some 30,000 practice rooms in Korea, compared to 50,000 in other countries.
In a recent martial arts festival organized by the association, about 200 to 300 foreigners participated. ``They have more passion for Korean martial arts than Koreans,'' said Park Jung-eel, secretary general of the association.
He said Korean martial arts are very important to enhance the national image as part of its culture.
``Look at China and Japan. They are promoting their martial arts as national brands. But in Korea, many practitioners are suffering from a lack of training halls in decent places,'' Park said.
China calls their martial arts ``musul,'' which emphasizes techniques of fighting with flamboyant, expressive and dynamic movements, while Japan uses the term, ``mudo,'' which shows a more metaphysical interpretation with short breathing and beautiful movements.
However, Park said Korea uses the term ``muye,'' which focuses on its artistic aspects and mental discipline.
``Korean martial arts should be reinterpreted in a modern context because they are relieving stress through spiritual training, which is an integral part of them,'' he said.
There are some 300 traditional martial arts groups but they are interconnected by a similar goal ― mental discipline and self-control. ``They look similar and actually they are. They are practiced differently in accordance with the needs of practitioners,'' he said.
|American Couple Falls in Love With Korean Martial Arts|
Mark Edward Palandri has been living in Korea with his wife for 15 months because the Korean martial art ``sookbahkdo'' attracted him to the country.
The 47-year-old American developed an interest in martial arts after watching movies such as ``Enter the Dragon,'' starring Bruce Lee, and the television show ``Kung Fu,'' with David Carradine playing the Buddhist monk Kwai Chang Caine.
``I admired these types of martial artists and wanted to become someone like Bruce Lee and Kwai Chang Caine. So in 1981, while still in High School, I started training in taekwondo at a dojang (training house) near my house. I trained in taekwondo for many years, but after getting my black belt, I felt that there was something missing in my martial arts training,'' he said in an email interview with The Korea Times.
So he decided to visit a nearby soobahkdo training house to see what their training was like. ``I sat down and watched a class and was so impressed by the students and the instructor that I quit taekwondo and started my soobahkdo training as a white belt the very next day,'' he said.
That was in 1997 and he has since trained continuously in soobahkdo and eventually persuaded his wife to start training in the art as well.
Mudeokgwan, the organization that teaches soobahkdo, was founded in Korea by Grandmaster Hwang Kee in 1945. The art was originally known as ``tangsoodo,'' but the name was later changed to soobahkdo.
In the early 1960s, many Korean martial arts organizations joined together to form a unified taekwondo. Grandmaster Hwang Kee did not join the taekwondo movement and soobahkdo remained a separate martial art. With the support of the Korean government, taekwondo became very popular.
Soobahkdo slowly faded away in Korea as the popularity of taekwondo increased. Today there are only a small number of training houses for it in Korea and very few people here even know the art exists.
During the 1950s and 1960s, there were many soobahkdo training rooms on American military bases and many soldiers trained in the art while stationed in Korea. When these soldiers returned to the United States, some of them opened soobahkdo training houses in their hometowns. Also, Grandmaster Hwang Kee always planned for the art to be taught worldwide and sent many of his senior Korean instructors to countries around the world to open training houses. While soobahkdo faded in Korea, it grew in popularity around the world, especially in America.
``Today, there are nearly 150 soobahkdo dojangs all over America with many thousands of students training in the art. You will also find many dojangs and many more students in countries throughout Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia,'' said Palandri.
``Soobahkdo has been standardized across the world and all commands are in the original Korean. ``It is therefore very easy for students from one country to train in other countries, and many of them do so. Soobahkdo is like a large family scattered all over the world. My wife and I love to travel and we regularly visit dojangs in other countries. Whenever we visit a new dojang, we are welcomed with open arms and warm hearts,'' he said.
Soobahkdo also has many international events throughout the year that bring together students from around the world. Just recently, Palandri and his wife attended a week-long master-level soobahkdo examination in Korea. ``We were joined by practitioners from Belgium, France, Malaysia, Australia, and England, and of course Korea. All language difficulties disappeared as soon as we stepped into the dojang and started training in soobahkdo together," he said.
Modern taekwondo has become more of a sport than a true traditional martial art. For the most part, it is only interested in training students to spar effectively in Olympic-style tournaments. It is a very physical activity and the students tend to be mostly young, male and athletic.
But soobahkdo is a traditional martial art that is not only interested in training the physical body, but also the practitioner's mind.
``The physical training is not the main goal of soobahkdo; it is merely one method that we use to train the whole person, both inside and out. The goal of soobahkdo is to make its practitioners into better all-around human beings and by doing so, make the world a better place to live in,'' Palandri said.
``Soobahkdo is something that people of all ages and physical abilities can participate in. My wife and I have trained in classes with male and female students in their 90s, as well as many that are physically disabled. All persons regardless of their physical abilities can receive the benefits of training in soobahkdo,'' he said.
Physical training in soobahkdo improves your fitness and general health. Its breathing training also generates many important health benefits. Nevertheless, the maximum benefits of the training cannot be achieved unless the mind is also trained. It teaches a person how to increase their self-discipline. With strong self-discipline, the practitioner learns to avoid activities that will damage the body's health. ``For example, they are able to resist the temptations to eat unhealthy foods or drink excessively, and, because they have more control over their emotions, they are able to drive more safely and with increased awareness of the people around them,'' he said.
Another important aspect of soobahkdo training is to make practitioners more respectful of other people. This is important in the physical training so as to avoid injuring others, but is also important outside the training houses in improving relationships between human beings.
``Haedonggeomdo'' is a term used to describe a couple of slightly differing styles of Korean sword martial arts. It derives from a standard style of Korean ``geomdo'' (the Korean equivalent to Japanese ``kendo'') fighting. The term was coined in 1982, and since then has grown into a rather large fighting technique, with a couple of major organizations that practice their own styles and have their own regulations for combat.
This is a martial art that has been restored from old documents, paintings and other relics for the mental and physical discipline, consisting of 24 techniques recreated from Joseon Kingdom (139 martial arts.
Buddhist taekwondo martial arts and Buddhism have a long relationship, and this particular form of taekwondo is based on the use of the Buddhist form of meditation, Zen, to obtain the calmness that is required for effective motions and strikes. Buddhist taekwondo is contributing to the expansion of taekwondo's forms and technique, and also providing a wider channel for exchange between practitioners around the world.
``Gukseondo'' is a martial art consisting of a set of postures based on the techniques of danjeong hoheup, a meditational breathing method aimed at reaching physical and mental balance.
``Teukgong musul'' is a martial art that isspecifically designed to meet the demands of combat. Teukgong musul is widely used for training soldiers and police officers here.
``Kunwon Hapkido'' teaches practical self-defense and personal growth with a strong emphasis on non-physical techniques. It modifies the traditional hapkido techniques for the practical uses that can be easily learned and trained by anyone.
Konbangdo reproduces the old Korean techniques using a stick, which have been handed down from ancient times. ``Kon'' means a stick. A practitioner wields a stick like a part of the body with deep inhalations, and slow and fast movements.