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Articles on Master Byung In Lee

Kuk Sool Won's Twin Long Swords
Doubly Chilling and Challenging


By Jane Hollander
Black Belt - June 1990

Looking for the perfect tournament weapons form?  Or perhaps just something to challenge your martial arts skill?

Whatever the reason one of the most spectacular weapons forms in all the martial arts is the hyung (form) of Kuk Sool Won's twin long swords.

Besides being beautiful to watch, the twin long swords (called ssang jang gum in Korean) hold an interesting place in Korea's history.  The first recorded stories about ssang jang gum came from the Korgyo Kingdom which existed about A.D. 600.  A korgyo king named So Soo Lim commissioned a Buddhist monk to travel to India and seek more knowledge for Korean Buddhists.  Since travel over long distances was extremely dangerous in those days, the king gave the monk a set of ssang jang gum, for self-defense use only.  the monk made mention of these unique weapons in his written account of the long journey.

A later account documented the ssang jang gum's effectiveness in defending the Paekjae Kingdom against an attack by Silla Kingdom and Tang Dynasty warriors.  Five thousand Paekjae fighters successfully defended their stronghold for three days against 200,000 Silla and Chinese fighters.  the Paekjae general, Gae Baick, had trained his soldiers in the art of wielding double long swords, which helped keep the invaders at bay for three days.  Finally, however, the invaders' greater numbers overcame the Paekjae fighters' skill and the foreigners were victorious.  Yet the Silla and Chinese troops were so impressed with the ssang jang gum that they took the weapons and techniques back to their own kingdoms.

Later historical writings described ssang jang gum as existing only in the Koong Joong Mu Sool (Royal court martial arts).  No longer was the common soldier allowed to use double sword techniques.  Limiting ssang jang gum to royalty also restricted knowledge being passed down to present-day Korean martial systems.  Only Kuk Sool Won, with its back-ground in royal court fighting techniques, teaches double long sword techniques.

In royal court martial arts, male guards carried long double swords.  The female guards who protected women royalty used a much shorter version of ssang jang gum, hiding them in the sleeves of their long , flowing outer garments.

Today in Kuk Sool Won, a number of different sword hyung exist, all bearing direct roots to ancient Korean fighting forms.  There are four types of Kuk Sool Sword techniques: straight, inverted, long twin swords, and short twin swords.

Straight sword techniques are learned first and are primarily comprised of the common slices and jabs seen in the sword forms of other martial arts.

Inverted or reversed sword techniques have the blade turned upside down with the cutting edge pointing upward.  these are short-distance defensive techniques.

After Kuk Sool sword stylists learn straight and inverted techniques, they proceeded to long and short double swords.  The short versions resemble China's butterfly knives and employ techniques suitable to their short length.  Long double swords are the most difficult to master.  Their length of approximately four feet gives them extra weight and bulk, making them awkward to wield since each one is held in one hand only.  A high degree of wrist strength and flexibility is therefore necessary.

When wielding one sword, it is only possible to execute one move at a time.  The user may either block or attack, but not both simultaneously.  that's not the case with double swords, however.  When wielding ssang jang gum, one sword can defend and block while the other delivers an attack.  Or both can be employed offensively, or both defensively.  When wielding double swords, both hands must be balanced to keep the swords from hitting each other.  This skill comes from extensive training, and Kuk Sool students are taught to be equally adept with either hand.  

Since each ssang jang gum works independently of the other, circling techniques are necessary to keep the blades apart.  Most attacks are made in a circular fashion to avoid a clashing of swords.  These circular movements require more concentration and physical training than do single sword techniques.

As mentioned, double sword techniques require tremendous wrist flexibility and strength.  For certain cuts, the last two fingers of each hand grip the sword handle while the wrist snaps like a whip.  To be able to perform such techniques, practitioners often develop wrist and finger strength by doing push-ups on their fingers.

There are three basic types of ssang jang gum techniques.  The first is jung ssang gum (straight double sword techniques), which include straight jabs, slices from side to side, and upward and downward cuts.

The second type of Kuk Sool double sword technique is yuk ssang gum (inverted or reversed maneuvers), in which the sword blade is turned upward, positioning the tip toward the rear.  Inverted sword techniques are close-range actions designed for small, cramped spaces.

The last set of ssang jang gum techniques is jung-yuk ssang gum (straight and inverted double sword actions).  This is the most difficult group, since one sword employs straight techniques while the other sword is inverted.  A simple example of jung-yuk ssang gum is to stab straight forward with one blade, while the other pokes to the rear in an inverted position

Ssang jang gum footwork is designed for countering attacks by more than one person.  The sword wielder is constantly turning, blocking and cutting in different directions, as if facing many assailants.

As a rule, the amount of time required to become proficient with double long swords is approximately twice as long as that required for a single sword.  One reason for this is that it takes longer to build the necessary strength and flexibility in the wrists when using two swords.  More time is also needed to master the separate actions of two swords.

Once mastered, however, the ssang jang gum are exciting and impressive weapons.  Tournament judges and audiences are often dazzled by the lighting-fast simultaneous circular blocks and strikes of the long double swords.  Both swords must, however, display equal speed, balance, power , coordination and style.  The practitioner must take care not to concentrate all of his energy into one hand while neglecting the other.  Each sword is equally important.

While speed is important, double sword practitioners should not sacrifice power and well-defined movements for a sloppy blur of motion.  If you are balanced coordinated, speed will come naturally.

And remember not to allow the swords to strike one another, your body, or the floor.  Nothing turns off a weapons forms judge quicker than the sound of metal against metal or metal against the floor.  It shows a definite lack of control.