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The Gyongdang: Ancient Martial Arts Disciplines

Gyogdang (also spelled Gyeongdang) refers to the twenty-four techniques or martial arts disciplines used in Korea according to a work entitled “comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts” which was published in the year 1795. Many of the Eastern martial art forms were first developed during a dynasty known as the Goguryo Dynasty. During this time period, martial arts were created as a means to create a military mind-set and disciplined lifestyle in the individuals partaking in the art form. In its most ancient form, this form of martial arts was designed to promote a general well-being and peace toward all of mankind - essentially, Gyongdang was designed to make the world a happier place. Emphasizing an independent spirit, self sufficient living, and continual self-growth, Gyongdang was intented to hone the ability of young people in order to eventually lead to the reunification of the war-divided Korean territory, lead to the building of a better society, and encourage the concept of a healthy mind and body relationship.

There are many similarities between it and Japanese martial arts which covet the katana.


More About Gyongdang History

As mentioned before, Gyongdang was focused around 24 military techniques that were brought into existence based on Korean culture, Korean spirit, and Korean history. These 24 military arts originated somewhere around the year of 1592 during the invasion of Korea by the Japanese. Prior to the military invasion by Japan, Korea had been a consistently peaceful place for more than 200 long years. Obviously, such a peaceful country was unprepared for the well trained and highly experienced Japanese soldiers who so easily defeated them. Korea quickly learned that all was not well with the world and began to develop different systems of martial arts. After learning a hard lesson following the Japanese invasion, they were now intentionally implementing self-defense and military tactics as a means to protect themselves and their beautiful country.


Two scholars during this time period began working on a project to compile the best and most well-known Korean martial arts techniques to be used as a military manual. This manual became known as Mu Ye Do Bo Tong, and documented the 24 military techniques that became central to Korean martial arts. The military manual quickly gained popularity with the Korean government and Mu Ye Do Bo Tong rapidly became a requirement for any military soldier in a Korean army troop.


Gyongdang was the proverbial offspring from this military technique manual, becoming one of the most popular martial arts educational systems in use during the aforementioned Goguryo period. Young people in just about every Korean village, large or small, were familiar with military martial arts. In fact, young people often gathered together for a type of “school” in which large groups of individuals studied and practiced martial arts. You can only imagine the somber feel of these martial arts meetings, which were designed to prepare young people for the possibility of war time.


Although Gyongdang is no longer considered a military martial art form, it is still used widely during present day as a practical means for self defense and a path to a healthy mind and body. Thus, those who practice Gyongdang experience a transformation that affects every aspect of their everyday lives. One of the main Gyongdang schools is located in Gwang-Ju, Korea. Even more schools are located throughout the Korea region, with 15 different school branches located in cities like Seoul, Busan, and Daegu. Plans are being made to expand the Gyongdang tradition overseas, but right now it remains as a mostly Korean martial art form.


About Mu Ye Do Bo Tong

The Mu Ye Do Bo Tong is a complex and historically-rich book that can be difficult to understand, especially if you are new to the world of martial arts. The book was inspired by a similar martial arts manual written by a martial arts expert from China during the Ming Dynasty. The King in Korea during this time period began to investigate martial arts due to his personal interest in traditional art forms; however, his research soon influenced the entire country. After inviting many of his military officers to perform demonstrations of their martial arts techniques and combat fighting styles, he chose one named Han Kyo to put together a list of the best martial arts styles to be further studied. The martial art forms listed included the use of the long stick, the art of the shield, the tipped bamboo spear, the long spear, and the use of the long sword. This literary work evolved over time until it morphed into the martial arts methodology that is present today.


About The Techniques

Gyongdang is comprised of 24 overarching martial arts techniques, which are comprised of over 1,000 individual techniques. Plain techniques that are simple can become extremely diverse, challenging, and complex when combined with other techniques. After years of corrections and several different attempts at refining the military arts, the tactics within the military manual were finally put into practical use during the Japanese invasion of 1592, and in the following invasion by Manchu in 1636. The techniques proved to be more than efficient and were further honed during actual military warfare. In the year of 1789, a King by the name of Jeongjo who ruled during the Yi dynasty ordered his chief General to create an authoritative manual covering every martial art form in an effort to preserve traditional Korean martial art forms for the generations to come. The result of these efforts culminated in the Mu-Ye-Do-Bo-Tong-Ji, a revised text that contained in-depth information about Korean martial arts, especially those used during combat.


The 24 military tactics are listed in four volumes. The first three volumes deal primarily with swordsmanship; however, the fourth volume addresses weaponless forms of combat, which includes Gwonbeop, which is a form of boxing.


      Volume one consists of martial arts techniques utilizing the lance and elongated spear. There are many different kinds of spears comprised of a wide variety of different materials. Some of the most popular materials include soft wood and bamboo. Many spears were dipped in poison to ensure that any blows dealt to the enemy would result in nearly instant death.

      Volume two consists of martial arts techniques utilizing the long sword, or a two-handed sword. You may be familiar with the image of a knight carrying a very long, straight, sharpened sword. You may not have guessed, however, that the same style of long swords were used by warriors in Asia. Asian long swords were often referred to as jangdo, yonggum, or pyunggum. These swords were extremely intimidating to opponents due to their enormous size and weight. These swords were probably introduced to Asia by Japanese pirates, who frequently raided coastal areas near Korea. You can only imagine the fearful sight of a pirate wielding a large long sword. Supposedly, these vicious pirates were known for cutting enemies in half with a single blow. As a result, long swords were introduced in Korea in order to prepare Korean citizens to fend for themselves against Japanese pirates and other unwelcome raiders.

      Volume three consists of martial arts involving other swords. Common swords used by Korean martial artists included the Jedok Geom (translated as “commander sword”), the Bonguk Geom (translated as “Korean sword”), and the Ssang Geom (translated as “double sword”), Masang Ssang Geom (translated as “double sword on horseback”), Woldo (translated as “moon knife”), and Deungpae (translated as “shield”).  The double sword was perhaps the most frightening of these to behold. Warriors went through intense training in order to be able to wield two swords at the same time, one for attack and one for defense. Most warriors learned to use their swords while on horseback, which increased their lethality even further. Interestingly, both swords were often kept in the same sword scabbard (for a rapid draw) and were differentiated by the title “male” and “female.”

      Volume four consists of martial arts that center around weaponless fighting methods and the use of simple weapons. Gwonbeop is the most well known form of unarmed fighting. Simple weapons mentioned include the stick, the flail, and various equestrian skills. The chapter that addresses the stick describes how to use a long stick as a weapon in war. There are various stick techniques listed, including strikes, blocks, parries, thrusts, and stabs. The stick was often used to teach new warriors the techniques needed to master more complex techniques. The flail resembles the stick, but often includes a rope, chain, or steel blade. This weapon became even more dangerous to opponents when an attacker used the flail while riding horseback. Various Equestrian skills covered included six main topics: doing a handstand on one’s horse, using the horse as a shield by leaping from one side of the flank to the other, clinging to the underside of the horse, and riding on two horses at the same time. As you read the information found in volume four, you cannot help but imagine the incredible dexterity and might of the Korean warriors who practiced these techniques.


To learn more about the Gyongdang, you may want to read the text in its entirety. A main part of the text’s charm is its ability to clearly inform martial artists during present day even though it was written during ancient times. Martial artists at the beginner, moderate, or advanced level may greatly benefit from reading this ancient martial arts manual and learning more about the 24 techniques listed.