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What Are Modern Korean Martial Arts?

February 25, 2019

What Are Modern Korean Martial Arts?

The origins of martial arts on the Korean Peninsula can be traced back to the region's Goguryeo Dynasty, during which warriors would train using swords, spears and other weapons to better prepare themselves for combat. According to various reports, traditional Korean martial arts proved instrumental in warding off invasions, including those initiated from Japan as well as Mongolia. While Korea no longer has an imminent threat of being invaded, people here still practice martial arts. So, what are some of the most common modern Korean martial arts, and how do they compare to traditional Korean martial arts practiced thousands of years ago?


Ssireum is both a modern and traditional Korean martial art. A form of folk wresting, it first appeared around the turn of the fourth century in Korea has since become a common and widely practiced martial art -- not just in Korea but across the world.

In the past, Ssireum was practiced by the soldiers for both military training as well as ceremonies. Modern Ssireum, however, is performed as a recreational and competitive pastime. In the modern variant of this Korean martial art, practitioners wear a large belt around their waist, known as a satba, while attempting to wrestle their opponent to the ground. Practitioners typically try to grab their opponent's belt, dragging him or her to the ground.


Another common modern Korean martial art is gungdo Also known as gungsul, it differs from Ssireum by specifically focusing on the use of a reflex bow. The reflect bow has been around on the Korean Penensula for thousands of years, and warriors have trained using this long-range weapon for an equal length of time. With that said, the modern martial art of gungdo didn't appear until the late 17th to early 18th century.

According to Wikipedia, modern gungdo was developed in Korean after the prince of Prussia discovered Korean's keen marksmanship abilities while visiting the region. This compelled Korean Emperor Gojong to create a modern martial art around the use of the reflect bow.

There are other modern Korean martial arts, but none are more influential or significant as Ssireum and gungdo. The former is a style of competitive wresting in which two practitioners attempt to grapple each other to the ground, whereas the latter is an archery competition in which practitioners use a reflex bow to strike targets from afar.

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