Before I say any more, I should remind readers that my posts are not based on scholarship or academic research, but more on conversations that I have had in the pub, albeit I have had lots of conversations in lots of pubs on three continents.
I have heard various accounts of kumdo’s history, but I believe the most obvious origin goes back to the colonial period when Japan, Korea and Taiwan shared an education system that included kendo. During the early years in international kendo, these three nations were clearly ahead of the rest of the world. They were collectively in the top three at World Kendo Championships for many years until the USA made its presence felt. Japan however has held on to the number one spot except in Taipei in 2006 when Korea beat the USA to win in the final. There is however an on-going expectation that Korea could take the gold medal at any time.
Coming from Great Britain, which has been beaten at cricket at some time or the other by all of the former colonies to which we introduced the sport, I am surprised at how consistently Japan has held on to its lead position.
In terms of the physical differences between Japanese and Korean kendo, I see these as being very minor. From my experience of international refereeing, there seems to be some variation in perception of correct distance and strength of strike required for yuko datotsu, but this is hardly noticeable. The obvious changes in domestic kumdo are that Korean terminology is used, hakama with Velcro fastening are worn and sonkyo is not practised. In international tournaments the FIK rules are followed.
There is now very frequent kendo interaction between Korea and Japan, with friendly matches held at club level between the two countries and regular visits to Korea by some of the Japanese Hanshi. Many of the leading Korean competitors have also spent time training in Japan, so although the rivalry continues, it appears to do so on a very amicable basis.
One of my biggest kendo regrets is that when many years ago when I visited Seoul on business, I did not have the opportunity to practise kendo. I have however trained frequently with Korean exponents including some of the senior seventh and eight dans during World Championships and referee seminars and gained a lot from the experience.