Using the sun to create an intense flash of blinding light probably has little history in European swordsmanship and the use of refracted light to ‘blind’ and enemy quickly reminds one of the epic, 1959 movie, Solomon and Sheba where polished shields were used to defeat an enemy army. However, there is a long and ancient history of shields being used for this purpose – weather permitting, of course! Indeed, in 2009 the British Museum held such an exhibition in 2009 (Dazzling the Enemy: Shields from the Pacific).
One might think the use of a sword blade to dazzle an opponent a trite strategy, especially if you are living in the UK or Western Europe. However, where the sun is bright and intense and skies predominantly clear (especially in winter), a clean sword blade and the sun combine to make a formidable tactical tool. I have not researched the subject, but I’d be highly surprised if swordsmen living in Korea, Japan, China etc, and possibly other suitable countries, didn’t devote time to becoming proficient not just at using refracted light in this manner, but in making themselves intimately acquainted with the position of the sun in relation to their sword.
I can only speak of my experience in South Korea, but for around six months of the year you can almost guarantee that if you are in an open space, sunlight will be intense. Even in winter, the sky is usually cloudless and despite being freezing cold, it is usually sunny. A short monsoon season (the jangma -장마) occurs in June-July when it might be cloudy but for the rest of the year you can expect clear skies. Coming from the UK, I’m accustomed to a long winter where clouds are thick and low and the sun is rarely seen. Even in a British summer you can’t guarantee a good supply of sunlight and with only a few weeks of bright sunshine a year, and highly intermittent at that, I doubt any of my martial ancestors gave much consideration to combining the sun and their swords.
There are several techniques in the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통지) forms I have this far learnt which require the sword to be used either as a mirror or a ‘laser.’ In Ssang Su Do Keom Beop (쌍수도검법) series, parts 2 and 4 each contain 3 ‘transitions’ which appear to be neither defensive or offensive. In addition these moves are performed at a slower speed and over three seconds.
In Yedo, sequence 2, (예도, 2, 점검세, Cheom Keom Sae), immediately following the initial draw and downward cut, the angle of the sword is rotated clockwise until the flat of the blade is uppermost. Once again, the technique is slow and spaced over three seconds.
In Yedo 11, (예도, 11, 은망세 – Eun Mang Sae), the sword blade is used as a mirror to view an opponent at the rear.
Coming from the UK, I was originally dismissive of the capabilities of refracted light not just because Britian is predominantly cloudy, but also because such techniques are not easily experienced; in current climes, you’re likely to be arrested if you’re training outside with anything other than a wooden sword. But make no mistake, even in Korean winter sunlight is reliable and in the long spring and summer it’s intensity will temporaily blind you and cause more than a few seconds of visual disorientation and impairment. Once you’re aquainted with angling the blade, targetting your opponent’s eyes is easy even over a significant distance.
A Short video, filmed in late spring. which demonstrates the intensity of refracted light.
Korean Sword by Nick Elwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.