Martial Art of Swordsmanship

Japanese Culture Kumdo


I recently had a couple of students in my Wing Chun class ask for training in swordsmanship. Now, Kung Fu has a lot of weapons forms, but they tend to be stylized, rather than sparring formats. I originally thought of teaching them Kendo, on the Japanese forms, but having just taken some Tae Kwon Do classes of my own, I decided to look a little further afield. I found the Korean cognate of Kendo, called kumdo.

While there are a lot of practitioners of kumdo who claim that their techniques are passed down over the centuries in secret rituals, a little bit of digging showed that it's incredibly unlikely that this is the case. When the Imperial Army of Japan occupied Chosun (now Korea) in the early 20th century, they brought kendo with them. Prior to that, because of the Confucian influences from China, and a Korean superstition about sharp objects, the art of the sword in Korea had been withering on the vine for going on three hundred years. The Koreans, like any culture that adopts guns, had relegated the sword to a secondary, and eventually tertiary weapon for military training, and Confucianism put a stronger emphasis on scholarship than martial arts.

So, kumdo sort of grew from Kendo, and it has a lot of obvious similarities. You use a split bamboo practice sword (called a shinai in Kendo, and a jukdo in kumdo), and wear rigid practice armor (called a bogu in kendo and a hogu in kumdo.) The two arts have been diverging slowly since 1945, though the basic forms are nearly identical from what I've been looking up. The Korean protective gear is a bit more modern and practical in design, being a bit less tied to tradition than the kendo gear. It is kind of nice to be able to use kendo gear for it, or mix and match. (We have some gear left over from when a prior instructor at the school tried to teach Kendo. It didn't go over well, but the gear is still here at the school.)

Kumdo and Kendo are close enough in form that Kumdo teams participate in the World Kendo Championships. While there are some differences (Kumdo focuses a bit more on point strikes than power and speed), the kumdo teams do respectably.

Overall, it looks like a good fit with what my students are asking for, which is more an overview of swordsmanship techniques, and as there's a strong Korean community in Las Vegas, I may be able to set up classes with a wider audience. Kumdo is the second most popular sport in Korea, so it may have some traction here.

About the Author:

Yoshi I Kundagawa is a freelance journalist. He covers the mixed martial arts industry. For a free report on kumdo visit his blog.

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