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Sib Pal Gi


This system is known as The Eighteen Ways, and under the leadership of Kim Kwang-Seok in 1981 is meant to preserve 18th century Korean martial arts. There is much controversy over whether or not this system truly preserves the Korean traditions or whether it corresponds more to Chinese martial arts. The main idea of this system and the resulting association was to emphasize “native” tradition at a time when the Japanese occupied Korea in the early 1900s. The Sib Pal Gi Preservation Society (since 2001) is dedicated to demonstrating martial arts publicly and creating awareness of the style in order to eradicate the ideas left behind by the Japanese arts that had become standard during their occupation.


The Ancient Roots of Sib Pal Gi and its Development

Kim Kwang-Seok may have brought this system into the modern era but its origins date back to a military manual from 1610 titled “Muyejebo” which translates to “Martial Arts Illustrations.” This manual incorporated fighting styles seen in the armies of Chinese General Qi Jiguang and was meant to sort of fill in the gaps for that had been seen in the methods of training Korean armies during the conflict with the Japanese in the Imjin war of the late 1590s. Twelve skills were added to the six that were already used for a total of eighteen and thus “The Eighteen Ways” began.


During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Kim Kwang-Seok was trained in secret by Taoist monk Yun Myeong-Deok while hiding in the Munam community of the Korean mountains. He brought his study of Eastern medicine and the ways of meditation that he learned to modern Sib Pal Gi. Later on, his students formed the association to preserve the art. Many of the practices that he learned were of Chinese origin and this wasn’t as disconcerting to the native Korean as submitting to practicing the Japanese martial arts that had been forced upon the nation. Kim Kwang-Seok opened his school in 1969 and the first public performance of his system occurred in 1986 in Seol. After that, in 1987, Kwang-Seok published his first book on this subject, subsequently publishing three more over the years through 2002. 


In modern Sib Pal Gi, there are varying forms of the practice depending on the theories that the school ensconces. One such theory is the practice of General Qi Jiguang’s Chinese arts both armed and unarmed. Several different weapons are practiced and the types are varied from school to school. Another theory is to label all Chinese martial arts as Sib Pal Gi, using it as a generalized termed in the way that some use the term “kung fu.” There is one theory that Sib Pal Gi is used to identify the reconstruction of historic 18th century Korean martial arts. This theory is practiced by only a small group and is widely unpopular.


Disciplines and Practices

Before firearms became used in tactical training, the ancient martial arts included many practices that concentrated on the principles of strike, slice, and thrust. These three categories make up the disciplines of the eighteen ways of Sib Pal Gi, all of them being divided into one of the three.


There were six original systems of ancient Korean martial arts that still make up the eighteen ways of modern Sib Pal Gi. These are the ways of the long stick, shield, multi-tipped spear, long spear, trident, and two-handed saber. When the Muyejebo was revised, twelve more fighting systems were added including the long bamboo spear, flag spear, short sword, Japanese samurai swords, combat engagement with the sword, crescent sword, spear sword, twin swords, Admiral’s sword, native sword, fist method, and flail.


Students usually begin by training in the fist (or gwonbeop) method because this is the only component of training that is unarmed. Before attempting to master any of the weapons systems, the gwonbeop method is used to teach students to prepare their bodies for combat training. By learning the different types of open-handed styles and stances, they are then more easily able to understand the ways of controlling each weapon as they continue on.


Terminology, Clothing, and Applications

Much of what is known about Sib Pal Gi is shown in illustrations from the publications put out over the years for instruction. The terminology mostly has to do with the names for each weapon, which are used during training. Students are expected to learn about each weapon as they master it and this includes calling each by its original name. Many of these words are Chinese as are the systems that are used in this art, thus the controversy over whether or not it should be considered Korean. The weapons are named respectively from the above list as follows: Gonbang, deungpae, nangseon, jangchang, dangpa, ssangsudo, jukjangchang, gichang, yedo, waegeom, gyojeom, bonguk geom, gwonbeop, and pyeongon.


Illustrations show ancient warriors dressed in traditional practice clothing of billowy pants bound at the ankle and bare tops or a Korean “dubok.” Modern armies wear different clothing but students of the art of Sib Pal Gi that are not soldiers likely wear similar outfits to other Korean martial arts although there is no evidence to support this and no standard of uniform for practitioners.


Modern Application

Unlike many other Korean martial arts, the focus is on fighting with these weapons and mastering skill with each one. The philosophies are similar to that of the Korean army training but there is no belted ranking system, competition set, or code of ethics that is widely known. Students are mostly learning to master the ways of striking, slicing, and thrusting with these weapons.


Open handed techniques, similar to those taught to the Josean military in ancient Korea are also included in the disciplines that Sib Pal Gi curriculum. Similar to Kim Kwang-Seok’s training, students may also be taught Eastern medicine and concentrated breathing techniques but these disciplines vary from school to school.


Most modern practitioners that set out to learn and master Sib Pal Gi are doing so in order to explore the ancient ways of Korean martial arts and the systems described in the training manuals as per “the eighteen ways.” The applications may include self-defense and combat training as well as education and exploration. Since there are many disciplines to master, doing so takes many years of practice and study. Reading about Sib Pal Gi and seeing the demonstrations is not enough to learn the art. The student must practice vigorously with each weapon in order to expect to master it.


Controversy Over the Name

This system is known by several names and there is much controversy over which name is correct and what the different variations actually mean. The Sib Pal Gi Association and the Si Pal Gi Preservation Society stick to the one name. Other names include Sipalki, Sippalki, and some other spelling variations. The big differentiation is between Sibpalgi and Sipalki which many believe are completely different systems of study. These people believe that Sipalki refers to the ancient Korean practices and that Sibpalgi refers more to the Chinese practices that were integrated into the art.


This controversy causes rivalry among practitioners and disputes over the definition of Sib Pal Gi as well as its history. Many practitioners believe that, if a student is learning the eighteen ways, that the student is learning Sib Pal Gi, regardless of what they are calling it. Others believe that Sipalki is strictly historic and that, in order to be practicing the true martial art, the practitioner must be actively preserving the ancient history of Korean martial practices.


Still, there are practitioners that believe in teaching only the twelve practices that were later supplemented to Sib Pal Gi by General Qi JiGuang. They view these ways as superior, since they were added to the art in order to enhance it and fill in the gaps made by the traditional military practices. These practitioners are not shunning Korean history, rather they believe that it was made better by the addition of these practices and adapt them into other parts of martial art that have to do with the mind and body.


The Complete System

Kim Kwang-Seok began his widespread public teachings with his first book, “Skill Analysis of Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts,” after being somewhat reluctant to come forward with what he knew. It was his desire to preserve Korean martial arts that led him to debut his teachings in a public way and it is this philosophy that keeps the practice alive. 


While this system may not be as comprehensive as other Korean martial arts, it still encompasses the idea of conditioning the mind, body and spirit. The focus may be on weapons and combat training, but students do also learn about medicinal practices, meditation, and deep breathing techniques. These components are essential to mastering the complete system. Without being able to control their inner power, it is believed that students cannot master the use of weapons and combat techniques. They must be balanced in order to achieve true knowledge and competence within the complete system.