Master Kwon is able to ‘shave’ the bale a few centimeters at a time
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)
a blunt practice sword (가검) on the left, and jin-keom (진검), ‘live’ blades to the right
a jin-keom (진검) without a hand-guard (코등이)
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.
approaching the target
too much power and despite the successful cut, bad trajectory
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.
Jin-yong practicing an upward slash (올려베기)
‘Energizer’ delivering a downward slash (우내려베기)
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.
effortless – although it’s difficult to see, the top segment of the bale has been cut
about to upward slash (좌올려베기)
horizontal slash (수평베기)
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.
multiple bale cutting requires more power
the cutting barn
the surrounding countryside
Originally written on June 9th 2012.