In Korean Buddhism

"Buddhism was transmitted to each of the Three Kingdoms during their transition from tribal federations to ancient states: to Koguryo in 372, to Paekche in 384, and to Silla in 527. During its dissemination Buddhism absorbed the myths, legends, and shamanistic beliefs of the tribes and forged a more systematized religion and philosophy."

In the long history of Korea, martial arts and Buddhism have intertwined for centuries. Temples maintained their own special martial arts practices, combining breath control and energy movement (chi gung) with self-defense (ho shin sul), unarmed striking arts (shin boep) and weapons practice (mu sul).

Traditionally, Buddhist monks proved their detachment from material goods by wandering as beggars, carrying only a staff and a cup. Wandering over lonely roads and byways inhabited by bandits, mendicant monks developed additional martial arts practices. "For their protection, along with staff and cane techniques, special joint-locking and pressure point fighting tactics were used for purposes of submission, not killing (Buddhism prohibits the wanton taking of lives).

For a thousand years Buddhism waxed and waned in popularity (sometimes suppressed by Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism regimes) in a country torn by internal and external warfare.



Of Kwan Um Do Kwang

Founded in 1999 by Master Marc Fortin, Kwan Um Do Kwang is a young offshoot of both the Shim Gum Do martial arts and Kwan Um Zen Schools.


Master Fortin was a student of Shim Gum Do Master Kim for 20 years, living with the sword grandmaster for much of that time at the temple, where he attained the rank of a Shim Gum Do master. Master Fortin has also been a student of Zen Master Seung Sahn since 1978 and teaches Kwan Um Do Kwang under the certification and official sanction of Zen Master Seung Sahn.

Kwan Um Do Kwang was given its name by Zen Master Seung Sahn. The name is comprised of two parts; the main part is Kwan Um. This literally translates as "The Way of Perceiving Sound" but it actually refers to those who walk the bodhisattvah path.


In Buddhism, there are two types of enlightened beings. Those who break the cycle of life and death are known as buddhas, while those who teach the path of enlightenment in order to save beings from suffering are known as bodhisattvas. In the Buddhist pantheon, Avalokitesvara is the most important bodhisattvah: the Bodhisattvah of Compassion or "The One Who Perceives Suffering through the Sounds of the World." In Korean, Avalokitesvara is called Kwansaeum Bosal or simply Kwan Um (Chinese: Kwan Yin; Japanese: Kannon).

To "Kwan Um Do" Master Seung Sahn added the word Kwang or Light, to designate a unique branch of Kwan Um Do, one generated by a true transmission of light patterns through Mariji Choen, Goddess of Light and Invisibility. There are many nuances to this choice of symbolism, but it is worth noting that Kwang is also a respectful reference to Master Fortin's training under Sword Master Chang Sik Kim. Won Kwang, or Universal Light, is Master Kim's Buddhist name, and the Shim Kwang Sa, or Mind Light Temple, is named for Master Kim, its founder.


Therefore Kwan Um Do Kwang, Master Fortin's synthesis of the Kwan Um Zen and Shim Gum Do martial arts schools, is named for a branch of the bodhisattvah path that uses martial arts to teach Zen practice and compassion.


Kwan Um Do Kwang is centered around sword practice, but includes traditional long stick, ho shin sul, shin boep and the internal practices of mind sword and radiant energy body.



Of the Chogye Order

There were two primary types of Buddhism practiced in Korea, the Kyojong, or doctrinal schools, with their focus on Buddhist writings or sutras, and the Soenjong, or meditational schools focused on the attainment of enlightenment through meditation. The bastions of Korean Soen (Chinese: Ch'an; Japanese: Zen) Buddhism were the Nine Mountain Sects.

In 1170 a military coup led by the military class toppled the Koryo government, and for the next hundred years, the last 40 of which were spent in almost constant warfare during a time when the Mongols ravaged the country, Korea was run by military dictators.

"After the seizure of power by the military a new development occurred as well in Koryo Buddhism. This was the establishment of the Chogye sect within the Son school. When the monk Uich'on founded Ch'ont'ae (Chinese: T'ien-t'ai) sect in Koryo, he drew many of the promising young monks away from the Nine Mountain Sects of Son, but at the same time he inspired a revival within the Son sects. The Nine Mountain Sects of Son now took the new name of the Chogye sect, and began to flourish under the leadership of the monk Chinul (1158-1210). Chinul made 'sudden enlightenment [followed by] gradual cultivation' his basic precept, a formula that gave priority to meditation but also attached importance to invoking the name of Buddha and reading sutras. Thus Chinul combined the appealing directness of Son and the concrete gradualism of the Textual School, while the emphasis on continuous discipline lent itself to incorporation into a military ethos. The Chogye sect won substantial support from the military rulers and proceeded to develop in mountain monasteries throughout Korea as a distinct and indigenous stream of Buddhist faith and practice."



Japanese of Korea

During the 15th and 16th centuries, relatively friendly yet deferential ties with China, Korea's powerful patron-ally, along with internal factional strife among the aristocracy, led to a weakened Korean government and military. In 1592 the armies of Japanese daimyo (warlord) Toyotomi Hideyoshi, invaded Korea, landing in Pusan.

The Japanese samurai, with their superior armament (Japanese swords and Portuguese muskets), swept over the Korean peninsula virtually unchecked. The King and court fled Seoul, retreating as far as the Yalu river on the Korean border with China, leaving the populace to the mercy of the Japanese.

Hideyoshi unified Japan under the domination of one ruler, signifying an end to Japan's "Warring States" period and Japan's rise as a single cohesive power. The Japanese were trained fighters, men who followed a strict warrior code and whose sword skills were developed over centuries of internecine war. In the case of the Japanese, their sword arts were abetted by martial technology. The Japanese swords crafted in Hideyoshi's time were the finest edged weapons ever made, revered even to this day.

The Korean armies were initially defeated by Hideyoshi, a guerilla army of Buddhist monks under the direction of Sosan Daesa and his student Samyong Daesa turned the tide against the Japanese until the late arrival of the Chinese Army. Although there were only 9,000 Buddhist monks, they were effective in stopping 100,000 samurai led Japanese forces soley because they had trained for three decades under the direction of the great Zen master who possessed mystic knowledge foretelling the invasion.

"From that time, Buddhist monks were collectively known as defenders of the nation, playing prominent roles in the defense and martial arts of Korea. Only in Korea were Orthodox Buddhist monks allowed by their religion to actively learn and practice a fighting art."

Today, Koryu maintains much of its distinctive "battlefield effectiveness" as a traditional military art with forms that emphasize defense against multiple attackers.  The Korean monks studied Japanese styles, not only to emulate them and incorporate techniques, but to develop their own uniquely effective counters. For example, Korean Buddhist one-handed styles, wielding lighter and less resilient swords than the Japanese katana, are designed to deflect and turn a heavy blow and rotate through that deflection into an attack.


Temple Arts


The credit for resurrecting and further developing the Korean Buddhist sword tradition rests in one man, the martial arts Zen master Chang Sik Kim. Zen Master Kim founded the Shim Gum Do (Mind Sword Path) school in 1971 and is credited with having personally developed the Shim Gum Do Zen Sword system. This system was the result of "sword enlightenment," a flash of Zen inspiration that led to a fundamental understanding of the sword arts and how the energy of the sword works in harmony with other martial arts.

Master Kim is the student of Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee, the 78th patriarch of the Chogye Order of Soen Buddhism. Master Kim first met Seung Sahn as a young boy in Seoul. The Zen Master gave him the following kong-an:


"A Sword-Master was watching the moon's reflection in a pool of water. Withdrawing his sword he sliced the reflection and the moon fell into two halves. How is this possible?"

The boy was filled with wonder, and when the Zen Master told him that he could one day become a great sword master if he moved into the temple and trained hard, Chang Sik Kim immediately became a resident of Hwa Gye Sa.


Years later, in 1969, during a 100-day meditation retreat in a small hut on Sam Gak mountain near Seoul, Master Kim attained an understanding of the patterns or forms of Zen Sword. Following that inspiration, Master Kim forged a cohesive system of traditional Buddhist temple martial arts, including hundreds of intricate forms for training shin boep, ho shin sul, long stick, one-handed sword, and two-sword.