This week I am pleased to use someone else’s words in my blog. I have continually confessed my ignorance about Korean kumdo, so Chris Bowden sent me this contribution offline. With his permission, here it is.
“I was reading your blog ‘PMA versus DNA’ and you mentioned that the Korean team is selected on physical prowess, but that was hearsay and that you would be interested in any insight. I began kendo in Korea and trained there up until 3rd dan, so I have a bit of insider knowledge on how things are done over there. Not that I was allowed anywhere near the national team.
I don’t think that the Korean team is picked based on physical prowess, but it is an aspect of Korean culture that runs very deep. Most Kendoka in contention for the national team will be professionals who studied kendo at university. My own kendo master studied at YongEui University, majored in Kendo and had minors in judo and taekwondo. Many martial artists in Korea take this route and then open their own dojo like an after school class. When at university they train intensively, so having a high level physical prowess is requisite to compete.
A lot of people in the UK ask me about the difference in kendo and kumdo. There is a separate kumdo association, but it is a minor group and has no influence on mainstream kendo. The word kumdo is just the Korean pronunciation of the kendo kanji. As for real difference I have to say that there isn’t a lot. Koreans tend to practice faithfully to the way the Japanese practice. I have practised several times in Japan and whenever a Japanese sensei holds a seminar I am reminded of how I used to train in Korea and Japan. I find that the UK has the bigger differences.
I think that it is the culture of the country kendo is being practised in that leads to the differences. Almost all Koreans train in taekwondo at school or in military service and it is of no wonder that this has bled into their kendo practice. Taekwondo practitioners launch flurries of attacks to create openings, so renzoku waza are practised a lot in Korea. Taekwondo is also a progressive martial art. The taekwondo headquarters has an R&D department that puts into practice what is being taught, so that it is as practical as possible. This marginal gains way of doing things is then applied to kendo too.
In the UK there we like to do things properly and this in my mind leads to more polarised styles and techniques. I was worried that when I returned to the UK that there would be hardly anyone practicing kendo and that it would be terrible. I am glad to say that I found kendo flourishing and that I have been able to continue to improve, especially with sensei being able to communicate in English. Knowledge of zen is very minimal in the UK and this I find clashes with the British desire to be correct.
One sensei will say one thing and another with offer seemingly conflicting advice. This confuses people as they don’t know which is correct. There isn’t a deeper analysis. No consideration that both are correct and that the student needs to find their own answer. Perhaps this could be a topic for one of your future blogs*.
Anyways, thank you for your insightful blogs. If you have any further questions don’t hesitate to ask.
*Actually I covered this in a number of previous posts, most relevantly http://wp.me/ptBQt-ca