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The way of the sword

Monticello woman shares her passion for Haidong Gumdo

By Karen Flaten

RoseAnn Heisel poses with an actual Korean sword. Contributed photo

When RoseAnn Heisel and her husband moved to Monticello in 1975, RoseAnn wanted to own horses. They built their home on acreage and RoseAnn set about beginning to fulfill her dream of raising Arabian horses, which she bred to show. When they got a dachshund as a pet they soon decided to breed and show dachshunds as well. The Heisels’ daughters grew up in 4-H, where they showed rabbits, chickens, horses and dogs.

“I had the best of times when I did everything!” exclaimed RoseAnn, who also owned a dog grooming business in Long Lake in the midst of raising animals and children.

It was through RoseAnn’s dog grooming business that she was first exposed to martial arts. One of her employees was in a competition and asked her to attend. RoseAnn went to watch her compete and thought, “I can do this!” Her employee connected her to a place to go for training, and RoseAnn was soon hooked.

RoseAnn got involved in martial arts at the peak of its popularity in the United States. Films starring Bruce Lee had brought Chinese martial arts into the public realm in the 1960s and early 1970s. But that was only the beginning. With television’s Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, in the 1970s, and several Hollywood films, such as Karate Kid, released in 1984 and Bloodsport, released in 1988, the American public became increasingly enthralled with the many different martial arts available.

RoseAnn trained in several martial arts, including Tai Chi, Kung Fu and Chinese Kenpo. She loved every minute of it, excelling at the extreme workouts, as well as the competition. In 1989, she competed in a state tournament and won. In 1998, she earned a black belt in Ao Denkou Kai (sometimes called White Lightning Karate).

In 2004, RoseAnn was introduced to the Korean martial art called Haidong Gumdo by chance. Videotaping an unrelated seminar, she was still in the room when a sword class began. It was Haidong Gumdo, the Korean Sword Art. Fascinated by the sword moves, RoseAnn immediately joined Haidong Gumdo and began to train, earned her first black belt in Haidong Gumdo in 2011. RoseAnn has continued to train, achieving her second “Dan,” or black belt, in November 2012. She earned her third “Dan” in October 2014. But RoseAnn was so passionate about sharing Haidong Gumdo that she began teaching the Korean martial art as a community education class in 2008, when she was still only a red belt.

“I like teaching through Community Education, since it keeps the costs down for people,” said RoseAnn, recalling that for her, the training didn’t come cheap. “I spent a small fortune, believe me.”

Haidong Gumdo students hold wooden practice swords. Contributed photo

Wanting to share this beautiful and exciting martial art with others, RoseAnn continues to offer classes through Monticello Community Education. She has been teaching for 12 years, and has been a master in the program for 9 years.

Haidong Gumdo literally means “Korean way of the sword.” A traditional Korean sword art, most sources claim that it originated in the third century A.D. Although similar to the Japanese sword art called Kendo, Haidong Gumdo was originally developed for the battlefield. Its moves were meant to be used against multiple combatants. Japanese Kendo, on the other hand, was developed for one-on-one combat or dueling. Proponents of Haidong Gumdo insist that it is also more beautiful and that the moves are more fluid than those of Japanese Kendo. As with other martial arts, Haidong Gumdo trains both the mind and body. Students are encouraged to build strong character while showing respect, courtesy and fairness to others. Historically, the Korean warrior’s aim was to conquer evil through righteousness.

As RoseAnn pointed out, Haidong Gumdo is a full body workout. It provides training on posture, walking and breathing, and on how the body moves in general. Students in Haidong Gumdo begin learning the stances and cuts with a wooden sword so that there is less chance of injury. Once a student has earned their black belt, they progress to using a “real” (and quite sharp) sword. Students can also learn sword dance as part of their program, adding a beautiful and creative element to the combat moves they train in. And in Haidong Gumdo, students of any age are welcome: “Ages 8 to 75,” as the Monticello Community Education catalog lists RoseAnn’s Haidong Gumdo class.

One of the many things RoseAnn has enjoyed about teaching Haidong Gumdo is that it has allowed her to reach out to people who are recovering from injuries or have special needs. She believes Haidong Gumdo is one of the best workouts you can find. She has used it as a recovery tool for her own injuries over the years, and knows it works.

RoseAnn has had knee replacements and a hip replacement due to arthritis, but has been able to return to Haidong Gumdo, and has found that the deep stances required by the sword art are good therapy for recovering from knee and hip replacement surgery. In fact, RoseAnn has found that, even prior to being able to incorporate leg exercises in to her recovery routine, she could get a good workout just by practicing her upper body moves. In the past, RoseAnn also suffered from carpal tunnel, but she finds that it is kept at bay by the sword training. When RoseAnn showed her sword moves to a chiropractor, he commented, “That is one of the best things for carpal tunnel. Keep that up!”

Reminiscing about a past student, RoseAnn related the story of a retired man who moved to the Monticello area for a few months, and took her class just for fun. He had been experiencing neuropathy in his feet when he began taking Haidong Gumdo. But after training in the Korean martial art for three months, he no longer felt any pain in his feet!

RoseAnn has also found meaning through teaching students with special needs. Although most students of Haidong Gumdo are trained according to a standard method, RoseAnn has learned to find different ways of teaching. “People with special needs may need to hear the information in a different way,” said RoseAnn. “And I had to learn that.”

RoseAnn Heisel demonstrates a sword dance. Contributed photo

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, RoseAnn has also had to modify her training to keep herself and her students safe from the virus. Initially, she decided to move the classes outdoors for the summer in order to enable social distancing. Calling it “Swords in the Park,” RoseAnn taught her students in area parks. But with the end of summer approaching, she will go back to teaching indoors, and has been considering the best way to adjust her teaching so that participants can remain socially distant. Before the pandemic, RoseAnn allowed up to 12 students at a time to take her class, but, in order to protect herself and her students, she plans to teach a maximum of five students per class.

“Haidong Gumdo uses a lot of breathing techniques,” explains RoseAnn, so she wants to make sure there is even more than 6 feet of distance between her students – “to keep things safe.”

RoseAnn has set a tentative schedule for her Haidong Gumdo class to be taught on Thursday evenings this fall through Monticello Community Education (Call 763-272-2030 for details on class).

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