Chris Guffey

Spotlight on You: Chris Guffey

Q&A with Yokosuka Base's Korean Swordsmanship Master Instructor

by: Tyler Hlavac | .
published: August 11, 2016
Q. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your history with the U.S. Military.
A. My Father is a retired MSgt of the U.S. Air Force who served for 23 years. Like most kids, my parents initially enrolled me in martial arts and, thus, I began my training in Tang Soo Do in 1991 at the age of 6 on Luke AFB.  As a child, I was interested in the martial arts but it wasn't until I was much older that I realized what an opportunity I had been given.   My Dad's career brought us to Osan AFB, Misawa AFB twice, and Andersen AFB. These moves allowed me to train in areas where martial arts and the martial way are part of the history and culture and with people that appreciated the purity and traditions of the art form.  
I eventually begin my teaching career at age 15 in Misawa and this experience molded me into the person and martial artist I am today. Little did I know those valuable skills I learned growing up in the martial arts would provide me the platform needed to begin my career as a professional martial artist.
Q. Can you describe the principals or philosophy behind Haidong Gumdo (Korean Swordsmanship)?
Although the days of using a sword to defend oneself are over, training in swordsmanship provides us a way to cultivate our inner warrior spirit. In addition to this, we teach with the mindset of instilling in our students a sense of discipline and a code of ethics to inspire them to lead exemplary lives as leaders in the community.   
Q. What made you develop an interest in such a unique martial art, as opposed to something more common like karate, taekwondo, etc.?
From the ages of 6-20 the main style I trained in was Tang Soo Do, the Korean variant of Shotokan Karate.   As a teenager I was exposed to Chinese Kenpo, Tae Kwon Do, Kuk Sool Won, and Kaju Kenbo. In 2005, once I finished my college education in computer networking, I began teaching Karate for the City's of Surprise and Buckeye in Arizona. Shortly after beginning my first two locations, I was hungry for more knowledge outside of my Karate background and so I trained in Hung Gar, Northern Longfist, Xin and Chen style Tai Chi, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I wholly committed myself to my martial arts training and growing my business the last 11 years. 
In 2006, I researched the swordsmanship styles offered in the Phoenix area. After putting in some research online, I fell in love with the fluidity and creativeness of Haidong Gumdo. I found a school in my area and was recruited to join the World Haidong Gumdo Federation's Masters program thanks to my 15 years of experience.  At the age of 21, I became the youngest Master in Haidong Gumdo outside of Korea. I had, and continue to have, the opportunity to train alongside great Masters from all over the world, who are also high ranking martial artists in other disciplines, as well as with our Federation's Chief of Education Master Jeong-Woo Kim every 6 months. We also had a great group of Masters in Arizona that would meet on a regular basis. Depending on the time of year he would visit us in Arizona or we would travel to Utah to train with him. Training would be anywhere from a minimum of 3 days to almost 2 full weeks and we'd go at least 6 hours a day up to 12 hours at our longest. I did this for 9 years until we moved to Yokosuka late last year. Thankfully, our geographical location has made it a lot easier to travel to Korea to continue my education.
Q. Which is the hardest part about studying Haidong Gumdo? The most fun?
In my opinion, the hardest part about studying Haidong Gumdo is the same as any other activity in life, just staying the course. This Japanese proverb sums it up the best, "Beginning is easy, continuing is hard." Everybody has days where motivation is low, the most important thing is to keep moving forward and striving to be better then you were yesterday.
The most fun aspect of Haidong Gumdo are definitely the live cutting drills. Everything we do in training is to make that skill better and so you need three specific things to actually cut through a target; proper blade angle, proper cutting angle, and tip speed. In our art we utilize a variety of targets we used to increase ones cutting prowess such as; paper cutting, throw cutting, candle snuffing, straw or tatami mat cutting, and bamboo cutting. The first three I listed can be done with a wooden sword or real sword and the last three can only be done with a real sword. Paper cutting, typically done with newspaper in varying orientations, is used to check the straightness of your cut. Throw cutting can be done with a whiffle ball, racquet ball, or tennis ball when using a wooden sword and is actually done with apples utilizing a live blade so you can be a real life fruit ninja. Throw cutting works on your timing and accuracy. Candle snuffing's goal is to extinguish the flame using the wind generated from your sword tip to train your accuracy and tip speed. Straw, tatami mat, and bamboo cutting are supposed to be similar to cutting through human limbs and is used to train all aspects of your cutting skill.
Q. What brought you to Yokosuka? What made you want to start holding classes for those living and working aboard Yokosuka Naval Base?
After ~7 years of applying for DoDDS teaching positions, a Spanish position finally opened up at Yokosuka Middle School late last Summer and my wife officially got the job on my birthday- August 31st. That began the mad rush to sell our cars, home, my martial arts schools I owned since 2005, and prepping everything for the move. We arrived in Japan October 7th and I stayed for three weeks to get housing, cars, and AOB squared away before heading back to AZ to complete the sale of my business and tie up any loose ends. It was tough to leave our family and friends as well as our students but we knew coming here was the best decision for our family.
I began teaching martial arts as a sophomore in high school when my family moved back to Misawa from Guam so I knew I'd have the opportunity to teach on base again. I made my way back to Yokosuka on Thanksgiving and took 3 months off from teaching before pursuing a position here. Luckily the MWR had a facility and time available for me to start teaching again at the end of March this year. It's great having such a large facility, especially for a martial art that requires lots of room to swing swords.  Moreover, not having to worry about the overhead of running my own facility like I did stateside is a great relief. That brings cost down significantly and so our class is only $50 monthly whereas in the states we were $125 a month, and that was considered cheap!
Q. Is there any prerequisites for your classes?
To begin training in swordsmanship absolutely no experience is required although any martial arts background, even in a discipline with no weaponry, will help someone to pick up the curriculum a little faster. If you are ready to have fun learning something new and have a great attitude, our class is for you! There are even programs available for those that may be interested in teaching the art and already hold a high rank in another martial art style.
Q. Why should people study Haidong Gumdo?
Haidong Gumdo is a lifelong martial art that those young and old alike can train together. In fact, I have had students as young as 6 and as mature as 64 enjoy the program and what it has to offer.  It is challenging training but anything worth doing isn't going to be easy and that's exactly how we cultivate physical, mental, and spiritual growth. Swordsmanship is one of the few styles I can see myself training into my golden years and the reason why after 6 different Black Belts, I no longer train in any other discipline.

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