Unfortunately, armed conflict is the path that forms nations and protects borders. No nation has ever escaped this simple truth. However, in the East, a different philosophy developed, the concept of Martial Arts. This led to the practice of developing one’s mind and body to be a weapon of last resort. That art best was practiced when trying to avoid confrontation, but when put into a position where fighting was the only solution, the skills learned could be applied with deadly force. Ancient Korea was no exception, having developed the Muye24Ki.
Under the command of King Jeongjo, Shilhak scholars Lee Deok-Mu and Park Je-Ga collaborated with martial arts master Baek Dong-Su to bring together the best aspects of Korean fighting styles with those of neighboring countries (China and Japan). Together, these great men crafted twenty-four martial arts into a single work and disseminated them to field troops, which put them into practice. The Muye24Ki are contained in the Muyedobotongji, a four-volume set that was released in 1790.
Because of the relationship of King Jeongjo to Suwon, the Muye24 are still practiced there today and are considered to be an intangible cultural heritage, for its historical significance and athletic training requirements. Song Seung-In has been studying various Muye24Ki forms for more than decade. He says, “Practicing the [arts] is fun and challenging.” Song goes on further to state that he enjoys sharing his passion with others at the performances taking place at the Hwaseong Haenggung.
Modern day warriors demonstrate the Muye24Ki in the courtyard before the main gates of the Hwaseong Haenggung. Two large trees provide some shade, but the large opening is cleared for a reason. Nearly two dozen men and women dress in authentic Joseon era costumes to relay how deadly these skills can be when on the wrong side of trained soldier. These shows are suitable for all ages, and while detailed information is presented in Korean, Sun Yeong-Hwang, the emcee, briefly explains each art in perfect English, Chinese, and Japanese. Such a draw are the shows, that crowds trickle in an hour early to get a good, shaded seat.
The show lasts a little over 30 minutes and consists of 10 acts. Each section is introduced by Ms. Sun, then the performers brilliantly demonstrate the deadly martial arts.
Hwalssoki – Korean Traditional Archery. This deadly art involves warriors using small bows. Whirling around, they quickly pull an arrow from their quiver, string their bow, pull it back, aim, and let the projectile fly across the courtyard to a target.
GiChang and DangPa – Spears. The GiChang is a spear a little over 2 meters in length. Its counterpart is the DangPa, or trident, it was developed as a defense against spears.
JangChang and NangSun – Long spears. When needing to fend off enemies at a greater distance, the Joseon era military employed these longer spears. While the JangChang was developed to defend against cavalry, the exotic looking NangSun’s bamboo shaft was outfitted with several blades to slice through oncoming troops.
JeDokGeom and BonGukGeom – Various single sword forms.
SsangGeom and DeungPae – The former are the arts performed with two swords. The latter is a sword and rattan shield skill.
Ssangsudo, Weoldo, and Hyeopdo – These are the long swords. The Ssangsudo was introduced to combat Japanese pirates. The Weoldo is a devastating weapon designed to impale and eviscerate enemies. The Hyeopdo, similar in shape to the Weoldo, was the heaviest of the Muye24Ki weapons.
Gwonbeop and Gonbang – An exciting combination of hand-to-hand combat and the use of a large club (Gonbang).
Woenangjin – This is a twelve member military formation. What makes this formation deadly is that members use a variety of the weapons from the Muye24Ki.
The final act is called Beki. This is a slicing demonstration where skilled masters of swords and spears slice hay and bamboo. It is the ultimate finisher.
Viewing the Muye24Ki
Those wishing to view the performance in person can do by visiting the Hwaseong Haenggung. Performances are at 11am and 3pm daily, except Mondays. During December, there is one show on weekends. The performance is free and suitable for all ages. In fact, performers are always willing to pose with children after the show. To get to the Hwaseong Haengung, make your way to Suwon Station (Line 1), go out Exit 6 and cross the street. At Yeokjeon Market stop, board bus 7, 7-2 or 32-1 and get off at Hwaseong Haenggung.