On the Korean holiday of Ch’u-seok, one of the most important festivals in the lunar calendar, I travelled with Master Kwon Yong-guk and his family to the Ulsan area of Korea. On the Ch’u-seok holidays, families gather and on the day of the full moon, assemble at the ancestral graves to pay their respects. However, as Master Kwon’s father-in-law lives in the countryside, and right next to a bamboo forest, we also planned some bamboo cutting (대나무 베기).
I’m always intrigued by the individuals on Youtube or on the internet in general who are critical of the skills of cutting bamboo, paper, or straw or in the case of karate or taekwon-do, board breaking. Trapped in the belief that skill is simply force, they often miss the more subtle aspects of such practice. On Youtube, there is an army of critics waiting to lambast the artist who breaks a single board of wood or slices a piece of paper with a sword. There is a significant amount of skill needed to deliver a reverse spinning kick onto a small target area, at chest height, before it is even broken and a comparable amount of skill is needed to slice a simple piece of paper with a sword.
My first introduction to cutting, was by way of paper and a blunt sword (ga-keom, 가검). The angle of the blade only has to be marginally out and the paper is simply smashed. However, if the angle is correct, you don’t even need a blunt metal blade, a wooden one will suffice. On my first go at paper cutting, I smashed my way through several newspapers clocking up only a couple of decent slices.
The fact that bamboo shears on the opposite side from which it is struck, means that the horizontal slash (su-pyong be-gi, 수평 베기), is not a very practical stroke.
And then the Master at work…
©Zen Sword – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.