Haidong Gumdo is a soft art, for all that it involves a sharpened sword that can cut through bamboo and people, it is not Kendo or its Korean analogue, Gumdo, but much more closely related to Ki Gong, the Korean internal art of moving meditation.
I’m a medieval Christian, so I have a much different definition of meditation, but there are principles of soft style that have nothing to do with metaphysical philosophy, and those are well worth retaining and honoring as we train to master our swords and ourselves.
Our current rank challenge includes Ssangsu Gumbeob O-Beon, the fifth of the twelve-form series. It’s a beautiful, flowing form, but it has its own unique challenges.
I discovered in training today that SSGB O-Beon uses the right leg for about 80% of its thrust and breaking power. I had a beautiful fifteen minutes of training in an anime setting, with big puffy snowflakes under the winter stars, silent night around as the tiny town slept, and white-outlined trees as my companions.
Then my right knee was tired of doing all the work and promptly quit. A sharp pain, a throb, and a sudden increase in protest whenever I tried to do more than walking stance on that leg.
The hard-style approach would be to grit my teeth, pretend the pain wasn’t real, and just keep hammering away. “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” the asinine military aphorism says. I and the surgeon who put my leg back together the last time can testify that this is a bald-faced lie.
What then, do we do when we encounter sudden resistance, sudden obstacles in our path? I spent one summer working as a canoe guide on the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, and I can tell you exactly what water does when it hits sudden resistance. It doesn’t stop and hammer away at what it cannot move. It simply flows around it.
So, too, when we hit a bump in training, we can flow around and continue to train. For me, that meant going to the exercise bike and pedaling away for forty minutes instead of continuing stance work. Perhaps next time work in the factory will leave my hands too tired or injured to hold a sword, and I will put my hands on my hips and focus on my stances. Or, if I don’t have time to train because I have to run to practice, I have spent countless hours in the past year driving to the Iron Range rehearsing techniques and sequences in my head. Whatever the obstacle, so long as our will maintains the flow downstream, we can train.
So when frustrations or barriers of mind, body, or time pop up, don’t hammer at them like a hard-stylist until you break or it does. (Nature’s rule, Daniel-san…) Humans tend to be the people who break in the long run. Accept that the barrier is there and find a way to flow around it.
No room to stand and swing a sword? Sit or kneel and work on Junmeung Baegi. Sitting in your desk? Spend 45 seconds to put your hands in the right places for Defense 1.
It is not always smooth, and rivers are not smooth. It is not always exciting, and rivers are typically not exciting. But if I had to use one word for rivers (yes, Logic Monkey, other than wet) I would use inexorable.
That is a pretty good soft-style notion to go on with.