Korean sword fighting class teaches more than combat

By Mark Iacampo, U.S. Army Garrison HohenfelsJanuary 28, 2013

Master Yoon-Joo Bae
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Learning the moves
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HOHENFELS, Germany -- Child, Youth and School Services SKIES (School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills) program offers many exciting classes, but it is a special treat when a teacher is one of the highest ranking practitioners of her art in Germany.

Master Yoon-Joo Bae is a fourth-degree Black Belt in Haidong Gumdo, a Korean sword fighting discipline developed for the battlefield rather than individual duels. Although the art is based on a warrior battling multiple attackers, Bae says Haidong Gumdo is not about combat.

"The first thing (students) learn is self-confidence, focus, respect and concern for other people," Bae said. "Fighting is more an experience to us, so we train not just to win something, but to develop our qualities. We are training forms. We concentrate more on technique and precise control of the sword."

Bae originally trained in her native Korea under the late Vice President of the World Haidong Gumdo Federation, Grandmaster Kim Min Gwan. She immigrated to Germany in 2002, and began teaching Haidong Gumdo the following year, opening her own school "Musang Dojang" in 2004 in Amberg.

"It is a dream come true for me," she said about opening Bavaria's first Haidong Gumdo dojang. "My dream is for Haidong Gumdo to be a common sport in Germany like taekwondo and judo. I do my best, and I will continue to do my best."

Bae's "best" has put her dream well within reach. She pioneered the first Haidong Gumdo classes at adult education centers and community colleges in Germany and was instrumental in getting it recognized as an official college sport here. Her school has grown to include Schnaittenbach and Regensburg, and she is the co-founder of the Austrian Haidong Gumdo Association.

In 2007 she began teaching on U.S. mil itary bases in Bavaria, starting her classes in Hohenfels in 2009. Bae said teaching Americans has been an adventure.

"My father was a Soldier in Korea. When I was a child, he explained the Korean War experience to me and told of the American Soldiers that helped us. My father is very proud of me. Teaching the children of American Soldiers is a great honor for me," she said.

To Bae's students and their parents, the feeling is mutual.

"She's a true expert in this art, and we are so lucky to have someone of her quality on our little post," said Tendula J-Kawaguchi, who has two children enrolled in the class.

Eighth-grader James Crone has been studying with Bae since she came to Hohenfels and is her highest ranking pupil. He said he was first drawn to the sport because of its uniqueness.

"You see all these other sports, kendo, taekwondo, karate, and they are all so popular, but this sticks out because it isn't heard of so often," he said.

Crone quickly came to appreciate Haidong Gumdo for the art itself and for its tenants of patriotism, respect, loyalty and justice.

"And how martial arts can influence the body and mind, and how you can release energy after a hard day's work," he added.

Parents are equally impressed. Crone's father, John, said Haidong Gumdo instills discipline.

"(James) learns a lot of respect inside this class, and he shows a lot of respect, too, so that's a good outcome," John said.

J-Kawaguchi said she also appreciates the discipline as well as the style and grace of the movements.

"(My children) are here for the 'art' part of martial art," she said. "(Haidong Gumdo) is very meditative. The whole emphasis is not on fighting, it's more about being mindful, paying attention to your actions, listening to the environment around you and being part of it."

Amy Norris said her 9-year- old son Edward has gained a great deal of self-confidence in the class. Edward is more pragmatic about his reasons for enrolling.

"I get to sword fight like a Jedi!" he said, smiling.

It's the smiles that Bae appreciates the most.

"I love children, and when I see after each class the children are happy with me and Haidong Gumdo, well, that's why I do this, that's why I drive over 80 kilometers every Thursday," she said.