The sequence of strokes and their order becomes progrssively more difficult.
1. Ki-Bon Be-gi (기본베기)
2. Han-to-mak-begi 1 (한토막베기. 1 )
The sequence of strokes and their order becomes progrssively more difficult.
1. Ki-Bon Be-gi (기본베기)
2. Han-to-mak-begi 1 (한토막베기. 1 )
On Saturday July 14th, three of us traveled with Master Kwon to the rural spa town of Bugok (부곡) where in an outlying farm, we cut ‘bales’ with jin-keom (진검). Unlike the session in June, despite the monsoon rain, it was surprisingly cool. However, the humidity was still in the air and at the end of the session my suit was soaked.
My focus on this session was to cut from both the left and right side. On my previous visit I found myself getting in a muddle over how you arrive at the target to cut from a specific side. As a result my first cut was almost exclusively to the right (우내려베기). I’ve since learnt that the first step you take after drawing (발도) matches the same side of the target you will strike. My second focus was in placing the heel of my lead foot on the floor at the same time as launching the strike and the ball of my foot following on contact with the bale. I also wanted to focus on reducing my power and trying to relax more. If you miss the bale, as I did on two upward slashes, it’s quite amazing the exertion you dispense and most of it isn’t required. The bales will slice quite easily with correct sword angle and trajectory and no amount of power will cut them in their absence.
Each bale, which this time consisted of three cuts: oblique downward slash (naer-yeo begi – 내려베기), oblique upward slash (ol-lyeo begi – 올려베기) and a parallel slash (su-pyeong begi – 수평베기), was initially practiced under speed followed by the actually cutting. In all, I cut twenty bales at 2000 Won (£1) a-piece. On two occasions, towards the end of the session, I cut two bales with successful and clean cuts on each stroke. To finish, we collected all the larger cut segments and stacking them, cut these.
LC, the American serviceman who has joined the school, owns his own impressive katana which is quite different to the Korean jin-keom. It was his first experience cutting bales and he was a little frustrated at his initial attempts but by the end of the session he was beginning to cut successfully.
LC making some nice cuts:
Our destination was a farm in Bugok (부곡), some forty minutes drive from Daegu. Saturday afternoon and with the monsoon season (장마) having started, it was hot and humid. Bugok is a tiny village close to the famous Bugok Hawaii Water Park. The farm has a cutting barn used by numerous schools in the area and they provide ‘bales’ of bound straw, soaked in water for a week, at 2ooo Won (£1) a-piece. Gruesome as it is, the ‘bales’ apparently requite the same force to cut through as does the human neck.
I was a little nervous at the prospect of cutting with a real jin-keom (진검). I worry about the blade flying out of my grip and about ‘sheathing’ it the way I am used to and slicing off a finger in the process.
It takes a little while getting used to holding a ‘live’ blade in as much as it does holding a gun; one is initially very cautious of how it is handled, passed from one person to another and generally where the actually blade (칼날) is in relation to your own body and that of others. And then there is a different feel in weight and balance to that of a blunt practice sword (가검)
Like all beginners, I was too tense and put far more power into a each cut than necessary. There is much to think about in addition to worrying about holding a ‘live blade;’ I’m still uncertain which foot to step forward with in order to cut to a specific side of the target, then there is the raising of the sword, correct alignment with the target, inhaling at the right time, positioning the arms correctly, being the appropriate distance from the target, angling the blade. Indeed, there is so much to think about that actually performing the cut is the easiest part. And as you’re powering the blade towards the target you’re thinking about moving into the next position for the following 3 cuts.
I know exactly the ‘feel’ of the technique for which I’m searching, and naturally it’s a long way off, but I’m reminded of some of the simplest techniques in taekwon-do, a basic low section block, stepping forward, for example, and how complex it is for a beginner because there are just as many considerations. And once you’ve mastered the physical elements, you begin focusing on the mental aspects. There are landmarks along the way and with patience the moment arrives when you ‘feel’ the technique and then it becomes a process of recalling the appropriate mental and physical configurations in an attempt to replicate the action on subsequent occasions.
My first cut slightly shocked me because you’d think a ‘live blade’ swung with power would have some effect but all it did was knock into the soggy straw with a thud, like hitting a wet carpet with a stick. With bad technique, wet straw simply absorbs all your power and the bale buckles and falls sidewards. Sometimes it does this dragging your sword to a standstill, the straw creased around the blade like an anchor.
The other two students, both more experienced than I, had exactly the same experience. My teacher however, cut through the straw with a bright, crisp, clicking sound and did so effortlessly.
We cut through about ten bales a-piece and out of the 40 cuts in total, I did manage clean cuts on at least one of each of the three techniques – downward slash (내려베기), upwards slash (올려베기) and the horizontal slash (수평베기). But even then however, I was aware I was exerting too much power.
On Saturday 9th of June, I’m due to go straw cutting (짚단 베기) with a ‘real’ sword, known in Korean as a ‘jin-keom’ (진검). I have to admit I am a little nervous; jin-keom, like Japanese katana, are incredibly sharp and whenever I’ve been in the presence of one I’ve been very respectful. This week, in training, I’ve been focusing on my downward slashes (내려 베기 – naeryo-begi) as I’m finding angling the sword for a good cut, as well as making a straight trajectory, difficult.
Straw bundles (짚단 – jip-dan) are about the thickness of a human neck, and apparently require the same force to cut through. They are soaked in water for a week prior to cutting. Bamboo, depending on the thickness, is supposed to approximate cutting through human limbs. Successful straw cutting is dependent on speed, angle and trajectory while bamboo cutting primarily requires power. I should also add, different type blades are used for each material.
My teacher is constantly telling me to ‘power down’ and focus on the angle of the blade and a straight trajectory. You’d think making a sword cut in a straight line would be a simple task but it is actually quite difficult and often, what appears straight, isn’t. It took me almost two months to actually begin to make a ‘swish’ with a blunt blade and then I discovered the trajectory was curved. Using a mirror and cutting from your shoulder down to the opposing hip, is a help. With a mirror you can also focus on the position of the arms and on good form.
This week, in practice, my teacher handed me jin-keom to practice with. It was actually quite scary. The difference in weight and the fact it is balanced are noticeable and it felt quite strange to wield. Most worrying however, is that straw is cut without wearing a kkal-jip (칼집 – scabbard). Straw bales are water logged and the moisture in the scabbard is detrimental to health of the blade. For this reason, drawing (발도) and sheathing (납도) with a live blade, use a different procedure. The ‘worry’ is that I might sheath the sword using the method often used when no scabbard is worn and where the fingers are used to form the opening of an imaginary scabbard.
Rather than describe the procedure – your’re best to watch the video.
It is helpful to remember that the foot you lead with corresponds to the side of the target, as you face it, that you will initially strike. Hence the downward slash to the left side of the target, leads with the left leg. The movements forward are gauged to bring you into range. The downward and upward slashes should strike closer towards the point of the blade (칼끝날) while the horizontal slashes should contact at the blade’s centre. The blade is lifted over the head on the second step and it is at this point you inhale. Exhalation varies depending on the speed of the subsequent three cuts.
More useful pointers:
When one is proficient at moving into striking position, the first downward slash (정면내려 베기) begins as the heel of the lead foot contacts with the ground with the actual strike contacting as the sole of the foot hits the floor.
Make sure the blade contacts at the right point. For the horizontal slash (수평베기), this needs to be at about midpoint on the blade.
Make sure the left wrist angles the blade slightly in the opposite direction to which the blade is due to travel, just prior to delivering the slash.
The Ssang-Su-Do-Keom-Beop (쌍수도검법) series contains four forms (검법 – keom-beop). Basically, ‘ssang-su-do’ means ‘way of the double-handed sword.’ The series is often performed as one pattern.
Here, my teacher, Kwon Yong-Guk (5th dan) demonstrates the form at normal speed with just a short pause between each part – basically to introduce it. I have included parts that need ‘chanting’ in the subtitles.
Ssang-Su-Do-Keom-Beop 4 (쌍수도검법 四장) is the fourth form of the Ssang-So series. Basically, ‘ssang-su-do’ means ‘way of the double-handed sword.’ The series, containing four forms, are often performed as one pattern.
The form consists of 25 movements including drawing (발도) and sheathing (납도). There are 12 cuts and one thrust. Kihaps (6) are given on the usual draw (대각), on three central downward slashes to the waist (정면 내려 베기), on a piercing thrust (찌르기) and on the head stroke (정면머리치기) following the ‘half moon arc.’ Following this technique, ‘shin’ (신), ‘keom’ (검). ‘hap’ (합) and ‘il’ (일) are chanted with each stroke.
The form introduces some defensive positions in the opposite stance to former forms, a ‘half moon arc’ slash ( 반월베기 – ban wol begi) and at the very end of the form, high and low ‘cross legged stances’ are transitioned into and out of, by corkscrew movements. Personally, because of a problem with one knee, I don’t sink low and find initiating the corkscrew from the arms, easier. More on these techniques in a later post.
Ssang-Su-Do-Keom-Beop 3 (쌍수도검법 三장) is the third form of the Ssang-So series. Basically, ‘ssang-su-do’ means ‘way of the double-handed sword.’ The series, containing four forms, are often performed as one pattern.
The form consists of 23 movements including drawing (발도) and sheathing (납도). There are 14 cuts and two thrusts. Kihaps (5) are given on the usual draw (대각), on the second headstroke (정면 머리 치기), on a central downward slash to the waist (정면 내려 베기) and on the two piercing thrusts (찌르기). It seems a general rule that kihaps are made on all downward slashes to the waist (정면 네려 베기) except if they are part of a sequence and where a kihap is better suited to the final move of that sequence. For, example, a downward slash to the waist followed by a piercing thrust, as in this form, will see the kihap shifted to the thrust.
The Ssang-Su series basically take the mija begi sequence (미 (米) 베기) and incorporate it with footwork – a turn is introduced with both a headstroke (정면 머리 치기) and the final slash, a right downward slash (우내려 베기).
This is the second form (검법 – geom-beop) of four forms collectively known as Ssang Su Do Geom Beop (쌍수도검법). It is often referred to as ‘Do Geom Beop.’ As mentioned in the notes for the first form, the four forms are often strung together making one long pattern.
‘E chang’ (이장 – 2nd form) consists of 22 movements, including drawing and sheathing. There are 12 cuts and 1 thrust (찌르기). All the downward cuts or slashes, whether centre or to the left or right, cut through to the waist. There are five kihaps, the first, as usual, on drawing the sword, and then on all center line downward cuts (정면내려베기 – cheong-myeon naeryeo begi) and on the single thrust (jirugi – 찌르기).
This form introduces a turn with a defensive position which appears again in the third form but on the opposing side. This is a difficult technique and requires much practice to perform with ‘good form.’ Like forms in other martial arts, there are nuances and subtleties which go beyond the positions themselves and which vary from school to school and from individual to individual. Such subtleties and nuances mark a mediocre performance from an advanced one and are something I wish to return to in later posts when I have a better grasp of the fundamentals and have developed a ‘feel’ for individual patterns.
I often find myself watching my teacher’s performances repeatedly and perceive much in common between his performances of a sword pattern and a piece of music performed by an accomplished musician; cadence, speed, timing, posture, focus, power, precision, balance, tension and relaxation, and more, are all aspects to be considered and nurtured in bringing a performance ‘to life’ and investing it with emotional qualities.
Ssang Su Do Geom Bop (쌍수도검법) translates as ‘the way, or method of the two handed sword.’ There are four ‘keom beop’ (forms) in this series and though they are independent, once learnt they are often strung together and performed in an unbroken sequence.
The form consists of 22 movements, including drawing and sheathing. There are 13 ‘cuts,’ and a few defensive moves or transitional positions. ‘Kihaps,’ of which there are five, are called on the initial draw, this is a standard procedure on drawing the sword, and on all subsequent thrusts (찌르기) and the one center cut which follows through to waist height (전명내려베기).
The upwards cut (올라 베기) performed almost as if playing cricket, need special attention as the leg moves forward when in line with the sword. At some stage in the future I will devote a post to olla begi (the upwards cut). The piercing thrust performed after the second upwards cut, also needs extra practice as initially it is weak, lacks focus, and the blade is apt to wobble. I remember finding the ‘olla begi’ sequence quite awkward when I was first introduced to it.
Another technique I found problematic was performing the horizontal cuts without the sword wavering as it traverses from one side to the other.
Here is my teacher performing Ssang-su-do-keom-beop:
I videoed my attempt at Ssang su do keom beop 1, in my fourth week of lessons. Naturally, every ‘move’ contains flaws, including incorrect footwork. However, I was surprised how ‘good’ the upwards cut (올라 베기) and piercing thrust look considering how uncomfortable they feel to perform.
This is a basic sequence (사방전한법 – sa-bang cheon han beop) of downwards slashes (naeryo-bagi – 내려 베기), either to the left or right. The direction of the slash is denoted by the point to which it moves and not from which it originates. Hence a ‘right slash’ begins above your left shoulder and traverses down to the right-hand side.
Most important in this sequence, is precision of stepping. The sequence should begin and end on the same spot. The stepping sequence is more difficult to master than similar karate and taekwondo basic sequences because the movements do not straddle a center-line. In such sequences variations tends to occur more in terms being in front of, or behind the starting point. In Sa-bang Cheon Han Beop, variation to the side of the starting point also causes initial problems. It is important not to step up, foot to foot, into a position where both feet are parallel, but into a position where the toes of the moving foot come to rest midway between the toes and heel of the stationary foot. An inch out of position, over several steps, will result in finishing the sequence significantly away from the starting position.
It is well worth practicing the sequence without a sword and with a point of reference marked on the floor in order to gauge precision.
Even after several months, my naeryo-begi is poor as the angle of the cut is wrong and the blade’s trajectory often curves. Over-practice causes tennis elbow and wrist ache. These ailments, plus the technical problems seem to be fairly standard for beginners.
However, using a blunt sword in practice, known as a ga-keom (가검), which has a grove down the blade close the the back of the blade (칼등 – kal-deung), makes you more aware of the importance of angle. When the angle is correct the grove (known in Japanese as ‘bo-hi and in Korean as ‘home’ – 홈), and sometimes called a ‘blood grove,’ produces an audible ‘swish.’ However it is possible to create a ‘swish’ with a curving cut so the presence of the grove doesn’t solve all problems.
And once you begin to demonstrate more success with the downwards slash, initially in a stationary stance, it is difficult to maintain performed in a sequence where one is in effect multi-tasking. These problems should be regarded as stepping stones to guide one towards better technique. I will be writing more about the problems of naeryo-begi in future posts.
Usually, in my school at least, each move is accompanied with a shout from the Haidong Gumdo’s motto. As yet, I’m not sure of either the significance of the ‘motto,’ or indeed, if it is a motto at all. Translating the ‘motto’ is problematic because my knowledge of hanja, on which it is based, is limited – though better than that of many Koreans. Once again, I will write more about this later. On the accompanying video, I’ve put the hanja character at the start of each technique. There are 8 shouted characters with a kihaps at the start and conclusion of the sequence, and one midway dividing the sequence equally. The ‘shouts’ are:
神 – 신 – shin
劍 – 검 – keom
合 – 합 – hap
一 – 일 – il
快 – 쾌 – kwe
刀 – 도 – do
如 – 여 -yeo
神 – 신 – shin
If anyone can shed any further information on this topic, or correct any errors, I’d be grateful.