I was going to include this with my new links post a few days back, but it was so cool I figured it need a posting of it’s own. Last week I stumbled onto the official website of the Hwarang Do martial arts organization . If you’ve read anything about the history of the Shilla Dynasty, you probably ran across at least something about the Hwarang (화랑).
“Hwarang” literally means, “flower youth,” but these guys were the farthest thing from pansies. The Hwarang were an elite body of aristocratic Shilla youth who trained in the arts military strategy and hand-to-hand combat. They were also at the top of Shilla scholastics and were well versed in Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, literature, poetry and even music and dance. Many great figures from the mid to late Shilla period were Hwarang, like General Kim Yu-shin (김유신), who unified the 3 kingdoms, and the Buddhist saints Wonhyo (원효) and Uisang (의상).
I know nothing about martial arts (except they hurt) and even less about the organization’s claim to be teaching the same styles and methods taught during the Shilla Dynasty (sounds impressive that it takes 5 years to get your black belt). However, they have posted 2 long pages of stories and legends about famous Hwarang from the Shilla dynasty.
It’ll take you a while to get through all of them (not to mention some of the translations are a bit rough). Still, I had to post at least one story up here for your reading pleasure, so I picked a gnarly one. And I quote:
“One of the most famous stories of Hwarang warriors is the martyrdom of Kwanch’ang, the son of General P’umil, who died in the wars of unification.
Samguk Sagi 47:437. Translation: Peter H. Lee: Sourcebook of Korean Civilization, vol.I, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993. p.104-105.
“Kwanch’ang (or Kwanjang) was the son of General P’umil of Silla. His appearance was elegant and he became a Hwarang as a youth and was on intimate terms with others. At the age of sixteen he was already accomplished in horseback riding and archery. A certain commander (taegam) recommended him to King Muy�l (654-661).
When, in the fifth year of Hsien-ching, kyongsin (660), the king sent troops and, together with a Tang general, attacked Paekche, he made Kwanch’ang an adjunct general. When the two armies met on the plain of Hwangsan (now Nonsan), P’umil said to his son, “You are young, but you have spirit. Now is the time to render brilliant service and rise to wealth and honor. You must show dauntless courage.”
“I shall,” Kwanch’ang replied, mounting his horse and couching his lance. He galloped into the enemy line killing several of the foe. Outnumbered, he was taken a prisoner and brought to the Paekche general, Kyebaek. Kyebaek had Kwanch’ang’s helmet removed. Kyebaek was greatly moved by the youth and valor of his captive and could not bring himself to kill him. He said with a sigh, “Silla has marvelous knights. Even a youth is like this – how much stronger must their soldiers be?” He then let Kwanch’ang return alive.
Upon returning, Kwanch’ang remarked, “Earlier when I attacked the enemy’s position I could not behead the enemy general, nor capture their standard. This is my greatest regret. In my second attack I will be sure to succeed.” He scooped up water from a well and drank; he then rushed upon the enemy line and fought desperately. Kyebaek caught him alive, beheaded him, and sent back the head, tied to the saddle of his horse.
General P’umil took his son’s head and, wiping the blood with his sleeve, said, “He saved his honor. Now that he has died for the King’s cause, I have no regrets.”
The three armies were moved by this and strengthened their resolve. Beating drums and shouting war cries, they charged the enemy lines and utterly routed the Paekche forces. King Muy�l conferred the posthumous title of k�pch’an (Rank 9) on Kwanch’ang and had him buried with full rites. Toward funeral expenses the king sent thirty rolls each of Chinese silk and cotton and one hundred sacks of grain.
“In order to praise his heroism and loyalty, the people initiated this dance lamenting the premature death of the knight. This dance seems to have been popular in the Koryo and Yi dynasties. The Chungbo munhon pigo (“Korean Encyclopaedia”) from 1770 (and 1908) adds that the sword dance was performed together with the Ch’�yong dance in later times.”
Lee, Peter H. (I, Hak-su): Korean Literature: Topics and Themes, The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1965. p.83-84.
This is probably the reason why this dance and accompanying hyangga poem is sometimes wrongly included in the Hwarang material (see for instance Rutt, Richard: The Flower Boys of Silla, in: Transactions of the Korean Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Vol 38, October 1961 p.51-52). “