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The History of Gwonbeop
Gwonbeop refers to weaponless methods used in Korea for a certain set of martial art forms. The art form has a long and complex history that is shrouded in a sense of vagueness. If you are interested in learning more about the complex history behind this martial art form, try taking a moment to review the information given below. You may find the information interesting, especially if you are intrigued by martial arts and how they began to develop over time.

Early History
The Korean palace and all of its vast libraries were destroyed around the year 1126 with the invasion of the Mongols. The invasion created a void in historical documentation, creating something of a mystery in early Korean history. Information about Gwonbeop was among the vast number of other Korean historical articles and cultural documents lost during the Mongol invasion; in essence, the Mongol invasion severed historical documentation and resulted in a complete lack of eyewitness information concerning the origin of Gwonbeop and early development in Korea. 

Even though no first hand accounts exist with a record of the development of Gwonbeop, a later document called “History of the Three Kingdoms” was compiled in the early 1200s. The King reigning at the time, King Injong, ordered a well-known Confucian scholar to put together a history of the kingdom in order to preserve the history of his much-loved kingdom. This work along with a compilation entitled “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms,” give present day historical scholars a general idea of how the earliest forms of Gwonbeop developed in early Korea. 

Present day historical scholars believe that a form of Gwon Beop was used during an early Korean period somewhere between the year 37 BC and the year 660 AD, a season of military unrest. Gwon Beop was, therefore, believed to have been developed as a primarily militant form of martial arts: an ultimate combat style to be used by the Korean military. The earliest historical documents that are still in existence today refer to a series of punches, kicks, blocks, strikes, and other “weaponless” or “empty hand” fighting techniques as a part of military training. A series of references within these historical documents also refer to competitions that took place during peaceful times in which competitors wearing no armor “battled” using the same series of punches, kicks, blocks, strikes, and other empty hand fighting techniques. Apparently, large audiences gathered to observe these early martial arts festivals and huge sums of money were bet in audience wagers on who would win and who would lose. These festivals seem to have occurred during special occasions and cultural holidays until Korea was dominated by the Mongols and martial arts once again developed a primarily militant purpose. 

Further Development
When the Mongol invasion and domination came to an end, Korea once again became the target for invading countries. Armies from Japan invaded somewhere around the year 1590, planning to use Korea as a springboard for the invasion and domination of the global-prize, China. Korea was once again forced to develop stronger military combat methods in what was known as a movement toward creating “armies of righteousness.” Both the King and Prime Minister of Korea began intensive efforts to reorganize Korea’s military structure by initiating a training agency and more advanced Korean army. The famed general Qui Jiguant published a military tactic manual in the 1500s that was primarily used in the training of military personnel. It outlined 32 hand-to-hand combat methods that were guaranteed to increase soldier confidence and general physical fitness. As was common at this time period in Korean culture, these fighting methods and techniques were recorded in the form of a poem set. The poetry consisted of 32 individual and succinct poems that explained how to make use of the techniques practically on a military scale.

Finally, in the year 1598, hostilities came to a much-appreciated end, and the Korean authorities began to initiate the recording of any useful martial arts information. This resulted in a book of illustrations outlining successful martial arts techniques. More works were written and illustrated until a final compilation was created in the year 1610, highlighting more than thirty unarmed methods of martial arts combat. Gwonbeop appeared heavily in this martial arts manual, which aided in the spread of this martial arts form. 

Over time, further modifications were made to the Gwonbeop techniques due to a continuing popularity in Neo-Confucian patterns of thought and ways of life. Since Neo-Confucian patterns of thought were centered on producing a chess-like “stalemate” instead of a sudden victory, many military-associated individuals rejected the martial art form in favor of more aggressive combat styles. The ideology behind Gwonbeop caused a brief period of disinterest among Koreans.

Modern Evolution: Interest Rekindled
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the world began to adopt the use of industrial combat styles that included weapons such as revolvers and a wide variety of rifles, spears, and sharp weapons such as the bow and arrow. However, over time, individuals began to realize that weapons could be somewhat temperamental. For instance, if a soldier ran out of ammo or experienced a weapon malfunction, the situation quickly became a matter of life and death. Therefore, countries began to seek out efficient methods of self-protection so that soldiers could fall back on weaponless self-protection in the case of weapon failure. 

Korea opened an entire new chapter in their martial arts system when a traditional Korean martial arts school was opened by a a certain Kim Kwang Seok in the year 1969. Traditional methods of Gwonbeop had been preserved in some of the more rural locations in smaller Korean regions, which aided Kim Kwang Seok as he researched information to write a book about traditional Korean martial art forms. He eventually published four well-known works, which included intensive studies of Gwonbeop techniques used in traditional Korean martial art forms. Kim Kwang Seok’s writings acted as a stone in a pond, producing ripples that went throughout the country and even throughout the world.

Tenets of Gwonbeop
Sometimes referred to as the ultimate martial arts training manual, the information found in the originally listed 32 techniques of Gwonbeop are still used in many martial arts schools during present day. General Qi’s training manual includes many well-known techniques: monkey boxing, the eight evasive maneuvers, eight throws by Lu Hung, Chang Po-ching striking techniques, and a large number of other famous techniques were first listed in this incredible masterpiece. General Qi’s writings are unique due to their very non-technical nature. He based much of his writings off of information gathered from rural farmers; obviously, these people were not familiar with “fancy” terminology and complex titles. Illiterate rural residents informed him of the practical, effective methods that are still so relevant today. 

The tenets of Gwonbeop, as mentioned before, are listed in the form of a poem. The poem includes many titles that sound odd or even ridiculous to those who are unfamiliar with Korean martial arts terminology. However, martial arts enthusiasts around the world have found a great deal of satisfaction in learning the ancient art forms listed here. If you are interested in delving more deeply into the history of Korean martial arts, take a look at some of the techniques that were originally listed in General Qi’s writings. After familiarizing yourself with the terms, you may find it rewarding to further research the history behind each of these techniques:

Seven star strike. These striking techniques are referred to as “inside” strikes.
Spy techniques. This concept refers to the way in which a martial artist considers each hand; one hand is considered the host hand and one hand is considered a guest hand.
Golden rooster. This technique points to the critical nature of balance in relation to the given environment of a martial artist.
Casually hitch-up your clothes. This is one of the more silly sounding techniques, but it carries an incredibly important significance in the world of martial arts. This term calls for mental and physical silent meditation and preparation before encountering an opponent.

Other techniques include stretching out the whip, the ghost kick, stances such as the capture and grab, a position that is referred to as the lower jabbing position, the position resembling mounting a dragon in the opposite direction, the posture known as false prey, the ambushing crouch, and the crouched tiger. Obviously, it can take a great deal of time to become familiar with the techniques listed, and even longer to learn how to master them. However, we would encourage you to keep trying instead of becoming intimidated by the amount of information there is to learn. The reward of learning Gwonbeop is well worth the effort, time, and energy involved.