Mind and Matter – First Dan Essay
Michiel van der Meer
This essay is the culmination of many years of training, and I am very glad to have had the opportunity of practicing Haedong Kumdo all this time. In many ways, it has shaped me mentally (Mind) and physically (Matter). In this essay, I will discuss both Mind and Matter in relation to two central questions related to Jinyoung Ssangkum Ryu Haedong Kumdo:
1. What is to you the most important aspect and your favorite part in Jinyoung Ssangkum Ryu HK?
2. In your opinion, what makes our style unique?
As a Haedong Kumdo (HK) practitioner of about 5,5 years, I’ve been along on a journey with my peers at Dojo Den Drijver. When I first held a sword in 2017, it brought together a long desire to practice martial arts, put together with something that made me as giddy as when I was a small child: a sword. It brought up feelings of apprenticeship, of realizing this wasn’t something I was good at, but needed training before finding my way. And thus, I set off on a path that would take me to multiple years of Haedong Kumdo training and even now an upcoming black belt test.
In my mind, I did not expect to see as much growth occur as it happened, both with respect to my personal development, as well as the development of such a relatively small sport here in the Netherlands. During these 5 years, there were some major roadblocks, not least to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, which we all battled through and came out on the other side. The result? A dedicated team that is committed to practicing, teaching, and progressing HK within the Netherlands.
I have the deepest respect for the amount of thought and feeling that went into the design of Jinyoung Ssangkum Ryu (JSKR), and I think this is where our sport truly shines. While we were drifting between styles at first, I recognized the thoughtfulness and structure the JSKR mindset brought to our training. There was more clarity, and looking back, we now find ourselves with very clear Geup requirements, an involved grandmaster, and great support among other dojos.
This brings me to the first point about my favorite part of JSKR HK. Because of structured training, embedded in an international organization of HK, we strive to implement the latest teachings in our classes. In other words, there is a line of inheritance with respect to learning new techniques. This goal of learning ourselves, and transferring what we learn to students brings joy to my life which would otherwise be seriously lacking. In the practice of HK, I can also truly take the time to internalize what specific techniques are meant to express, and how they tie into the bigger picture.
In the long run, I’ve realized I’m not the type of person that merely accepts e.g. a pattern of strikes but looks for the reasoning behind that pattern, which is often provided. This helps me in gaining enthusiasm for our sports, as well as being a practical mnemonic device. Similarly, I think it is equally important to have a structured way of introducing more content to new students, and our common trainings create a sense of tradition across the Dutch dojos. On top of this, we are actively involved in establishing more and more standard practices, such as sparring, which will hopefully further impact our cohesion positively.
Finally, we allow our minds to be more focused on practicing Haedong Kumdo when we go to class. Since we know what we want to teach and know what to practice ourselves, we are able to let go of doubt and uncertainty. Since there will always be a teacher (even for those that teach themselves!), we can keep on learning and improving ourselves.
In answer to the second question, I find that there is a seemingly contradictory combination of two aspects that originally piqued my interest in JSKR HK. These two points are (1) the incorporation of techniques with two swords, and (2) basing the techniques on real combat. These two combined bring a dynamic to JSKR that I really enjoy, and as mentioned before also help me in internalizing the skills, rather than memorizing them. While I have ways to go, I notice how certain movements have become ingrained, and I apply them even in daily life. For instance, when I picked up bouldering (free climbing on artificial rock walls), I notice how my balance is positively impacted. Similarly, coordination with both hands and having an active mindset to realize where both hands are is directly transferable from double swords training.
Funny enough, when we first started practicing with two swords, I felt out of my depth, and quite uncomfortable. This is why I called the combination contradictory: in my mind, using two swords over one would surely be too difficult and slow me down. Still, this feeling lingers, and using both swords as equals are not something I would say I am capable of. However, this experience helps me to realize how much training is left for me, how my body deals with needing to do movements I am not familiar with, and how training progresses your skill. This form of whole-body feedback is something that is able to improve not only the body itself but also fortify my mental state. Pushing myself through the use of double swords is one of the best ways to get myself to have that feeling, and shows how unique JSKR is in this.
Lastly, there is this ‘click’ that happens when practicing sword forms inspired by useful combat techniques. Whether it is double- or single-handed, realizing that certain movements flow and lead into each other has become a significant part of feeling what is right to do. This I think is only possible because of the philosophy of JSKR, and can be felt by practitioners that put in the effort. Since our style takes a holistic approach of training both the body and mind together, we become attuned to our techniques and can start to rely on the underlying idea of e.g. a Ssangsu, rather than remembering the steps. Situating those techniques in real combat, even only in spirit, makes us more aware also on the fact that we are handling weapons, and simultaneously develops the mind to be humble and controlled.
Whether it concerns Mind or Matter, JKSR HK finds a way to fortify both, teaches us to have control, and makes us strive to be our best selves. We can see the results within individuals, in our dojo, and in the Netherlands as a whole. I am glad I am part of these developments, and I cannot wait for my next training session.
Michiel van der Meer