The Iaido Journal  July 2004
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A Rose by any other Name - HaiDong Gumdo

by Michael Castellani copyright © 2004 all rights reserved

 In recent years, a phenomenon has been growing, mainly a concern about the supremacy of one art or school or style over another. People judge other arts based on clips they have seen of short demonstrations, forgetting that there exist demos of their own art being done by beginners that look just as bad. One such art that is frequently criticized is HaiDong Gumdo.

 Before you continue reading, please note that this article is based on practising with 1 instructor, during 1 class and may not be representative of all HaiDong Gumdo. Also note that generally, I approach each chance to learn something new with an open mind and look for the positive, the chance to actually learn something and possibly gain new perspective (if you're not going to approach something new with an open mind, then you are going to dislike it [or fail at it] as you expect to).

Haidong Gumdo 1

 Onions, Ogres and Swordsmen all have layers, but in the art of swordsmanship, when you peel away the layers you're left with the basics. If the basics are what make up a good style of sword, then HaiDong Gumdo has been greatly over looked. Each style tends to have their little nuances and adjustments and Haidong Gumdo is no exception, but if you have studied Kendo or Iai (or a related art), the variations are minor (stance, grip).

 It was quite clear to me that for the first 2 months, possibly longer, students learn how to correctly strike (big cuts and angles) and the more the student progresses the greater the expectation (naming all parts of the sword, cut names, etiquette and adding more cuts and angles). The class very much mirrored a Kendo class, with warm ups and basics being emphasised. What followed next was a break down of the school's curriculum, with students demonstrating (working through) what they know and stopping when they get to the level they will soon be learning.

 Then the class breaks off into sections and each section works on what they need to fix before moving on (individually or in groups). Each section gets time with the instructor, who personally sees to it that each student displays some growth. I was surprised that even I was given plenty of personal attention and shown exactly what it is that is expected.

 First, I was given a short introduction to the basics and reminded that given my background, I could either progress quickly or very slowly based on how my body could make these subtle, yet key changes. For the remainder of the class (after my lesson) I spent time working on the basics. Believe me when I say it was good, I did plenty of hard work and at the end of the class I was tired.

 As for Kata, I saw it demonstrated by both the students and the instructor. If the first kata in any school contains the most important elements, then again Haidong Gumdo is an art worth spending some time on. The first kata demonstrates a few of the basic cuts and movements and by comparison it looks very similar to Seitei Iai # 11 Ė Sogiri or to Kendoís Kirikaeshi (done slowly to accentuate each cut). And like many schools, the second kata seems to be a variation on the first.

 I only witnessed the other kata and havenít really spent time understanding what actions really are being executed. What I can say is that it resembled techniques that I have seen in Katori Shinto Ryu, some styles of Jigen Ryu Kenjitsu, Kembu and even a splash of some Chinese circular styles of sword. Does that make it good or bad? I really couldnít judge it unless I studied it and broke it down, trying to understand each movement.

Haidong Gumdo 2

 While I didnít get the opportunity to watch any cutting, I was pointed in the direction of several quality videos. Most of the cutting comes from the basic swings that are practiced, which is probably the reason why the cutting looks good. Such good basic skills, means a good ability with the sword.

 Lastly, please try to remember, there are good instructors and bad, effective techniques and not so effective techniques, donít judge a school based on 1 of either. For more information on HaiDong Gumdo  visit :

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TIN July 2004