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  • Hwarang vs AUSKF gradings and tournaments

    Last weekend a contingent of the George Mason University Kumdo/Kendo club came to the SEUSKF Willam and Mary tournament. They did very well, taking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in mudansha, a 3rd place in yudansha, and 2nd place in teams. What is amazing about this is that their team consisted of 1 yudansha, a sho-dan, and 4 kyu grades. I found out from them that they are affiliated with US Hwarangkwan.

    This, along with other information I have heard about Hwarangkwan testing, leads me to believe that they grade very differently from other kendo/kumdo dojos. In fact, having watched closely their "mudansha" champions, I would estimate their skill level at sho-dan or ni-dan at the least. Only one of the "kyu-grade" team members actually looked like a kyu-grade player in competition.

    I congratulate them on their skill and talent, which is undeniable, but I do wonder whether it is entirely appropriate for their "mudansha" to be competing with more traditional kendo/kumdo mudansha. By this I mean it seems like stacking the deck substantially by putting rather experienced kendo players in with fairly raw recruits.

    This analysis in no way detracts from their team performance, it was quite excellent. But it still seems odd to me that a team of 1 shodan and 4 mudansha would get so far against teams composed of yudansha, including some with 4- and 5-dan players in them.

    I realize that grading is subjective and no competition is ever totally "fair", but I wonder if there shouldn't be some limits to how unfair it can get in this regard.

    Thoughts?

  • #2
    since I wasn't able to physically watch the bouts and judge the "appropriate" leavel of these players in question myself. I can only conclude the following possibilities, (all of which are from my experience with various kumdo dojans/players i've seen and other kendo tournaments i've been to)

    1)most kumdo dojans are very competition oriented, so. ..people who came from kumdo dojans usually spar a lot more. hence it give them more "experience" regardless the rank. that would certain help their odds in the team division.

    2)the competition are the W&M bring a small group perhaps isn't the best representation of what "excellent" yondan and godan are suppose to be. A lot of yonda and above kenshi's that I've seen exhibits this "lazy" kendo. only doing what they are good at, so after about 1 minute. It's not hard to figure out some "tactics" to confuse/surprise them, and win by a mix of fortune and intellect. I'd say that large tournaments like Detroit, some west coast, and various other ones would get a better scale of what is an appropriate display of that particular rank's kendo is suppose to be.

    3)of course, there is also the possibility that these hwarankwang kenshi(s) are just extremely talented and should be seriously considered for future U.S team finalists.

    Comment


    • #3
      Well, I attend US Hwarangkwan, and I think of this from the other perspective - that some schools grade too easily. What information have you heard about Hwarangkwan testing?

      You live in Vienna - the main US Hwarangkwan dojang is in Vienna, right off Gallows, in the same building as Kitty Jordan's Piano store. You should come check it out before making unfounded statements.

      I'm not sure why you think it's inappropriate or unfair that these guys did so well. So you'd group off all the "good" kendokas from all the "bad" kendokas so they wouldn't compete together? I know these guys - they practiced very hard. US Hwarangkwan is a traditional kumdo school. It is KKA sanctioned, and in fact, is the de facto HQ for the KKA in the east coast.

      US Hwarangkwan does not hold people back just to win tournaments. Hwarangkwan's timeline is very similar to the other kumdo/kendo schools I know of. If you practice diligently, you should make shodan in about 3.5 to 4 years. I practice with the shodan you speak about, and he just became a shodan this past December. He's just very good.

      Comment


      • #4
        I practice at U.S. Hwa Rang Kwan and the people who went to that tournament are just very good at kumdo/kendo. Our dojangs don't hold people back so that they can win mudansha tournaments either; The shodan who led the team was actually skipped up to shodan and made his first dan in a little over 2 years. We're not competition orientated either; we only attend a few tournaments a year to make sure our students don't focus too much on winning matches. The reason that the GMU team did so well is because they're all just very good practitioners of kumdo/kendo. If you're from vienna you should come practice and see for yourself.

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        • #5
          FWIW --- and this has only a little to do with this subject --- if I recall correctly, at the last SEUSKF regional tournament, a team comprised of one 7.dan and two 5.dan (the TMG team) lost to a Charlotte team which had, I believe, a 4.dan as its highest ranked player...

          so just about anything is possible with team competition...

          Comment


          • #6
            I wrote a long reply and it got eaten. I guess I timed out.

            So here's my quick response.

            1. Those guys were awesome, no doubt. I look forward to crashing their Monday night GMU class and practicing with them. I am sure I will learn a lot from them. Nothing I say is meant to take away from their obvious skills. I told them I wanted to visit and they said iwas welcome anytime. Very nice guys, honestly.

            2. They were way better than 95% of the kendo mudansha at W&M, and at any kendo tourney I've been to. Maybe that's just because they rock, which they do, or maybe it's Hwarang grading. Or some combination thereof.

            3. I know from a Hwarang sho-dan named Myke Cole that geting sho-dan in Hwarang is about 100 times as intense as getting a Japanese kendo sho-dan. He wrote an epic e-mail about it a few years back, and he knows the comparison because he got his Japanese sho-dan first. So my comments about Hwarang grading are not "unfounded" but I guess I should have spelled that out in the first place. Although Myke could have exaggerated...

            4. I don't think Hwarang people are intentionally held-back to win mudansha tournaments. But it does seem that the don't promote as fast. It is quite possible to reach sho-dan in 2 years at a Japanese dojo with some serious effort, and people skip kyu grades quite often. Take that for what it's worth. Maybe it means nothing.

            If I've offended anyone, I apologize. These were just my honest observations about what I saw.

            See you on the dojo floor,

            Brian
            Last edited by Black Knight; 27th March 2007, 09:55 AM. Reason: Added thoughts

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Black Knight View Post
              I wrote a long reply and it got eaten. I guess I timed out.

              So here's my quick response.

              1. Those guys were awesome, no doubt. I look forward to crashing their Monday night GMU class and practicing with them. I am sure I will learn a lot from them. Nothing I say is meant to take away from their obvious skills. I told them I wanted to visit and they said iwas welcome anytime. Very nice guys, honestly.

              2. They were way better than 95% of the kendo mudansha at W&M, and at any kendo tourney I've been to. Maybe that's just because they rock, which they do, or maybe it's Hwarang grading. Or some combination thereof.

              3. I know from a Hwarang sho-dan named Myke Cole that geting sho-dan in Hwarang is about 100 times as intense as getting a Japanese kendo sho-dan. He wrote an epic e-mail about it a few years back, and he knows the comparison because he got his Japanese sho-dan first. So my comments about Hwarang grading are not "unfounded" but I guess I should have spelled that out in the first place. Although Myke could have exaggerated...

              4. I don't think Hwarang people are intentionally held-back to win mudansha tournaments. But it does seem that the don't promote as fast. It is quite possible to reach sho-dan in 2 years at a Japanese dojo with some serious effort, and people skip kyu grades quite often. Take that for what it's worth. Maybe it means nothing.

              If I've offended anyone, I apologize. These were just my honest observations about what I saw.

              See you on the dojo floor,

              Brian


              Just to add, I took my shodan exam with Myke Cole (I believe I was partnered with him for the kata portion back in 2001 in NYC, though I do recall both Allan Wong and myself practicing kata with Myke before the test) and recall reading the ordeal of the Hwarangkan shodan exam, which included a lot of elements not found in our own shodan exams.

              When I first started kendo, a buddy of mine simulataneously trained/was ranked in kumdo/kendo and the requriments were different. They also had single person kata which looked nothing at all like any of the ZNKR seitei kata.

              Also, the Hwarangkan shodan from the W&M tournament went up against a nanadan as I recall in the team tournament and did quite well, along with the kyu ranked competitiors who competed against yondan/godan.

              These guys were very pleasant and obviously talented and hard working, their success demonstrates their skill.

              It is also situtations like these why I would advocate a different way of grouping competitiors in competition based off years training, or number of tournaments entered. You have people like myself who didn't take exams for years and are theoretically underranked, competing in the lower level divisions. You can't call either situation sandbagging, but how do you group people appropriately?

              Comment


              • #8
                Brian,

                I know a couple people from your dojo. I practice at Hwarangkwan and a kendo dojo - in fact, I practice with your 3-dan leader every week, and one of Hwarangkwan students practice (or practiced) with you guys, until injuries forced him to stop. You did use phrases like "stacking the deck" and question their "appropriateness." So why should we get offended???

                Grouping people by abilities is an intriguing concept, but we already have a system for dealing with that - it's called kyu and dan grades. It easier/harder at some schools, but in the grand scheme of things, it averages out. If you are at the same grade, you're suppose to be peers, and a grade does not reflect your sparring abilities alone. It's certainly possible to obtain shodan in kumdo in one or two year at some schools. It takes longer at Hwarangkwan.

                I don't buy grouping people by years of experience - you can practice 5 years once a week or you can practice 5 years 5 or 6 days a week. Let your dojo/federation decide where you should be graded, and that's really the only tihng you can go on.

                Schools send out beginners to competition all the time, but rarely complain when they have to go up against more experienced opponents. That's part of the learning. You're not always going to face opponents at your own level. Life isn't "fair." All knowledged should lead to self knowledge - that's the "do" or the way in kendo. If you see someone better/worse than you, instead of figuring out where they should be grouped, we should all look inward and think about what it means for us and how we can apply it to ourselves.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I apologize for the phrase "stacking the deck"; it was poorly chosen.

                  As for appropriateness, I think it's a fair question. I already said life isn't fair, but there are levels of competition for a reason, and I think there is good evidence of a disconnect between Hwarang's grading and Japanese kendo. I notice you didn't respond to my comments about Myke's shodan test. Would you agree it's much more intense getting shodan at hwarang?

                  Anyway, in the end I agree with you that we should look within, as well. Which is why I said I plan to train with the GMU guys very soon.

                  Take care,

                  Brian

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by johnkichu View Post
                    I don't buy grouping people by years of experience - you can practice 5 years once a week or you can practice 5 years 5 or 6 days a week. Let your dojo/federation decide where you should be graded, and that's really the only tihng you can go on.
                    Therein lies the rub. what about people who choose not to be graded or can't be forwhatever reason. I was nikyu for about 3 years practicing kendo 3 days a week, and our dojo rarely communicated with the head dojo in NYC, so we found out about exams after they occured (hyuna has verified this in my case though I was only nikyu for 2 years there).

                    For that situation what division would have been the appropriate one for me?

                    What would have been the appropriate division for my friend who was ranked differently in kumdo and kendo, testing simultanesouly in both schools?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      i would say that the us hrk dan testing system is pretty difficult. and, i think the problem, or the unfairness, that you speak of lies in the fact that many other places promote rank much too hastily. it's not that us hrk tests extremely hard, it's that others test much easier than what should be the norm.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Brian,

                        There is actually an interesting thread about the differences between kendo (at least GNEUSKF) dan grading and kumdo (Hwarangkwan) grading, over the Kingdomfigher.com forum.

                        I think the difference comes down to this. At Hwarangkwan grading, all the members of the judging panel know all the applicants well, and they wouldn't have asked you to test in the first place if they felt you weren't ready. There is no written portion - they've already spent years talking to you and know whether you "get it" or not. So, during the actual test, instead of spending a lot of time making sure you can do basics correctly, they literally put you through the ringer, literally. It is very physically demanding, as Myke describe. The last test consisted of:

                        1. brief demonstration of your mastery of basics (kirikashi, basic wazas, etc...)

                        2. Korean forms, Bon Guk Gum Bup and Chosun Se Bup (and you better do these forms perfectly, as well as #3 and #4 below)

                        3. Kendo no kata (shodan testers needs to know the first five)

                        4. Iaido (shodan testers need to know the first ten). Hwarangkwan practices Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido. If you were testing in Korea, I don't think you need to do this.

                        5. Now the fun begins - it's keiko time. You basically have to spar every other people testing, and then all the non-testing black belts who are there to help out. Then our head sensie spars each individually, in a shia style, with judges. You end up sparring over 40 opponents. This is the gruelling part.

                        And because you wouldn't have been allowed to test unless the head sensei already knows whether you're ready or not, everyone passes, if you can physically make it through. If you screw up during the forms & kata, you will be asked to repeat, but I haven't seen this happen yet. They do practice intensely for the test.

                        When I witnessed the Greater North East Kendo Federation dan test, it seemed (at least to me) that most of the judges did not know most of the applicants. The panels were senior senseis from various dojos in the federatino. So you have to spend time demonstrating your mastery of basics, then kendo no kata,and a couple of keiko sessions. And since the test isn't just one dojo, there are a lot of people being tested, so you don't see the same type of test as Hwarangkwan, and you can fail. This is just my observation - my opinion, so don't get too worked up if you don't agree or if it's wrong.

                        By the way, KKA allows local schools to grade up to 3 dan in the US. From 3 dan on, you either have to go to Korea, or wait for the annual test, which is judged by officials from KKA. The annual test flip flops between the west and the east coast. Last one was in NY. These tests, as well as the tests in Korea, are similar to the AUSKF dan tests and ones in Japan, and unlike the test of lower dan, local tests.

                        But getting back to your point - yes, the test may be more intense, but passing Hwarangkwan test doesn't make you a better competitor. That is not going to teach you to compete better. As I've said, I practice at a kendo dojo, also, and I can tell you that the regular classes are very similar. I don't think Hwarangkwan does any more sparring/keiko than the kendo classes I've been to, or seen. We do have our late, advanced classes (3 kyu or higher, mostly yudansha's) during which we keiko a lot, but the primary focus of those classes are not teaching (you don't go there to learn to fight). It's mainly for high level students to practice.
                        Last edited by johnkichu; 27th March 2007, 11:52 AM.

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                        • #13
                          deleted repeated above
                          Last edited by hl1978; 27th March 2007, 11:53 AM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by peeleep View Post
                            i would say that the us hrk dan testing system is pretty difficult. and, i think the problem, or the unfairness, that you speak of lies in the fact that many other places promote rank much too hastily. it's not that us hrk tests extremely hard, it's that others test much easier than what should be the norm.
                            Peeleep should know - he just went through this late last year. He's also one of our hotrods.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by hl1978 View Post
                              What would have been the appropriate division for my friend who was ranked differently in kumdo and kendo, testing simultanesouly in both schools?
                              This is an interesting question. Are you even allowed to test in both schools? I mean, if it's a legit kumdo school, it should have the KKA-IKF approval, so why do you need to test in both schools?

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