The Haidong Gumdo

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Haidong Gumdo is the traditional martial art of the ancient Koguryo Kingdom that ruled over eastern Asia, including the Korean peninsula and Manchuria. The true purpose of Haidong Gumdo is to execute justice with the light of the sword that is as majestic and brilliant as the morning sunlight on the east sea.

Haidong Gumdo, also spelled Haedong Kumdo, is a name coined around 1982 and used for several Korean martial art organizations that use swords. Spelling varies between certain organizations.

Most notable are Haidong Gumdo by the original organization (Daehan Haidong Gumdo Federation) under Kim Jeong-Ho, and Haedong Kumdo by the largest offshoot (Hanguk Haedong Gumdo Federation) under Na Han-Il. Haidong Gumdo derives its name from Haedong Seongguk Balhae (海東盛國渤海), a name for Balhae, an ancient kingdom in the region of what is today northeastern Korea, northern China, and eastern Siberia.

Haidong Gumdo was developed by the master Sul Bong who had great knowledge of sword techniques. He opened a dojang in the Baekdoo Mountains and taught his apostles Haidong Gumdo that they could spread righteousness and justice.

The practitioners who lived according to the ideas of Choong (loyalty), Hyo (filial piety), Ye (propriety), Eui (justice), Shin (trust), Ji (knowledge), Duk (generosity) and Che (sound body) were called Samurang.
They conquered eastern Asia under the command of Kwang-Gae-To the Great, and helped the Gogugyo kingdom to become the most powerful country of its day in eastern Asia.


The Samurang, under the command of general Uel Ji Moon Duk, fended off 2 million soldiers during the invasion of the Sui Dynasty. They also defeated 600,000 Tang soldiers at the Ahn Shi battle under the command of general Yang Man Choon.

Some of the Samurang moved to Japan and they were known as Samurai as the pronunciation has been altered to accommodate the Japanese alphabet, as Korean food Kimchi is known as Kimuchi in Japan.

Haidong Gumdo is a Korean sword art which draws from battlefield tactics and techniques to build a curriculum for mental, physical and spiritual development. Students learn forms, step drills, sitting and moving meditation, sparring as well as bamboo and straw cutting. Unlike Kendo and its Korean equivalent, Kumdo, the focus in Haidong Gumdo is not duelling but on the tactics of outdoor, pitched battles. Powerful, complex and beautiful, Haidong Gumdo is a wonderful style which can be pursued throughout your life.

Haidong Gumdo means many things to many people. On the surface it is a martial system which preserves and promotes the Korean approach to sword techniques. The dynamic movements and visible power of the forms capture the eye and imagination. Graceful, flowing motion, harnessing lethal power is one way to describe Haidong Gumdo. 

There is more to it than this, however. The art does not merely teach how to fight with swords. We can begin to see these depths of meaning when we look at the name chosen to represent the art. Hai Dong Gum Do translates best to East Sea Swordsmanship. This translation does not carry all of the meaning for all people. Hai refers to the sea but it also refers to the sun. Dong is east and it too speaks of the sun, specifically the light energy of the sun. Gum means sword and Do has many shades of meaning. In this instance Do is used to represent an approach, both physical and mental, to a body of skills which are properly called an art.

Most often in English, Do is translated simply as way or path. Gumdo translates directly as the way of the sword. What often goes unrecognized is the understanding that to travel a path changes the one who travels. Self-improvement or enlightenment is integral to Do. When all the elements which combine to make the name are understood, a very graphic picture of Korean swordsmanship is laid out for us.

Images of loyal defenders standing against invaders from across the waters. Images of powerful people learning to control natural energies in accordance with nature and the rules of proper conduct. Images of people who have learned what it means to be human, ready to stand against the darkness in the world and within themselves. It is a beautiful and meaningful name.

A series of legal actions between the two primary Haidong Gumdo organizations has revealed and documented the history of this martial art. These organizations claim that Haidong Gumdo is rooted in the martial traditions of the Samurang, a group of elite warriors originally trained by a master named Seolbong in the ancient Goguryeo Kingdom (modern-day northern Korea).

Haidong Gumdo Sword Master

However, written documentation verifying the existence of this class of warriors is lacking, as is any information on what happened to the Samurang or their sword methods after the fall of Goguryeo.

The World Haidong Gumdo Federation claims that Kim Jeong-Ho, president of the Daehan Haidong Gumdo Federation, learned Haidong Gumdo from a master called Jangbaeksan (meaning Mount Baekdu) at Kwanak Mountain. The trials concluded that Haidong Gumdo was created by Kim Jeong-Ho and Na Hanil, both of whom had studied the Korean sword arts of Gicheonmun (under Bak Daeyang) and Simgeomdo (under Kim Changsik), and that the story of Jangbaeksan was a metaphor for this.

The pair worked together under the name of the more widely known of their two arts, Simgeomdo. Around 1984 they began teaching their martial art under the name Haidong Gumdo. Haidong Gumdo remained a relatively minor art until 1989 when Na Hanil played the leading character in a Korean TV drama. This helped to promote Haidong Gumdo considerably, but the rapid growth of the organization led to internal strife.