The Grand Finale

This marks the final post of this blog. EVER. I'm still too ill to train in martial arts, so around one year ago, I officially decided to declare myself retired from all martial arts activity. Not being able to participate in an activity I loved so much left a huge void, but I have since been finding ways to get over it all. The world has a lot of opportunities out there if you have the will to find them.

I will always remember the experiences I had while training, and am glad that I made it back to the Kukkiwon some five years later to watch some of the 2010 Hanmadang event:

The Taekwondo Diaries have brought me a few unexpected things, and people are still welcome to leave comments or contact me through this blog if they wish.

All the best, and lots of peace to everyone around the world.


Z. The Taekwondo Diaries


Martial arts Venetian style

I wonder what gym space rental fees are like in a place like Venice, Italy? On a short three-day break in Venice recently, I came across at least 3 different types of martial arts gym - gojo ryu, okinawan karate and judo - all Japanese in origin. The photos above were on an advertising board outside an ultra-expensive cafe. (Very up-to-date marketing, if I may add). I didn't see any students, despite the enticing 30 degree heat, but I did meet with the gojo ryu master. He had faded pictures of Japanese masters all over his gym wall. He didn't speak any English, and with my Italian limited to only greetings, we only had one clear understanding of viewpoints - his mirth of taekwondo! I handed over my new business card, and the tone with which he read the word 'taekwondo' meant that he regarded it as quite separate from his gojo ryu. With a shake of the head he handed me back my card and I left for the airport. I'm not going to diss another martial art just 'cus I don't practise it.


Punch Lady - Movie Review

Just watched K-Movie, Punch Lady, released 2007, and have to say that it was RUBBISH. I'm sorry to the producers that my opinion of it is so bad to deem it unrecommendable. The fundamental concept of a battered wife wanting to get her revenge on her husband in the boxing ring is a strong one, but the way they realize it was not the route to take. It is so unconvincing, it's pathetic. Combining unoriginal comedy with domestic violence was also lame. If you really wanted to put a killer lady into the ring against her husband like this, then you really needed to train the woman through a tougher routine than that in the film. Alternatively, I would have chosen the daughter as the one to train up to get revenge. Save your time and don't bother to watch this.


Shaolin mach II

You cannot always say good things about your workplace, but when a minibus marked 'Shaolin Warriors', full of little monks from China, pulls up outside the front of your office windows, it surely has to be a good place to work. At least for me it provoked a rush of excitement that saw me abandoning my duties (fortunately my manager had gone on his lunch break when I dropped a pile of faxes, yelling 'The Monks!'), and running outside to greet the Monks as they disembarked on their latest stopover on their new(ish) Seasons of Life production around the UK. It's a pretty hectic tour, as they have nightly shows in a different city for about 4 months in a row. I'm suspecting that there are different groups of Monks who divide the tour schedules up between them rather than having a single group covering all the venues.

Lamentably, there were only 2 of us in the street who noted the new arrivals and gave a greeting. Again, the Monks were soooo friendly, and were really delighted to have even just this small piece of recognition. I did not recognize any of the Monks in this group that I had met on their previous visit to the city. I tried to explain in Chinese that I had met some of their members before and that my prayer beads that they had presented me with last time were bound by elastic that was about to snap. I quickly had an interested crowd of just about the entire troupe gathering round me, they being apparently - although strangely to me - just as excited to see me as I was to see them. I think they were more baffled by my poor Chinese, but as soon as they recognized my pronunciation of '2008' (I've grasped the tones of Mandarin numbers - just about the only vocabulary that I know the tones of!), they twigged on to what I was telling them.

I asked if I could take some photos of them, to which they were only too pleased to do so. I rushed back into work, and persuaded a colleague who thought I had gone nuts to took some photos on his cellphone camera. As soon as my colleague said 'fighting pose', the Monks automatically knew what to do. (So did I, and obviously, I went into silly pose mode.) It was incredible, as I felt that they would have been prepared to do any pose in front of the camera. They really seemed to enjoy the attention and photographing opportunity so much. However, in such a circumstance, I always feel a bit embarrassed to point a camera at people touristy style just to exploit them for my own personal gain/interest, particularly when it comes to a subject matter as honorable as the Shaolin Monks. I also felt responsible in that I was holding them up from their all important preparation to their very physically demanding gig.

Again, I am still uncertain as to the political element of the Shaolin Monks, and it's strange that there seem to be no obvious observers who travel with them to keep an eye on how they behave and what they say in public. However, it is undoubtable that they have genuine acrobatic and martial arts training, and they gave another very fine performance. Seasons of Life was different to Wheel of Life in terms of backdrops and less obvious story telling, although a lot of the same routines were there. I noted that they had some very good floor level spin kicks. They also had some Hapkido style breakfalls, but I had seen quite a few students in Korea who achieved much greater height and technique to these falls. The Monks seemed to rely landing on their feet a lot when doing a jump and fall, whereas the Hapkido falls tend to land on the forearms. Matthew Ahmet, the Britmonk and Abbott Zhuang were not there this time, however. They also incorporated a routine which had audience members involved. Overall, it was very good, but I still wonder about some of the appeal elements of exhibiting martial arts in this way. There was a feeling after a certain number of skull somersaults that it has a limited viewer attention span even though it is certainly a very talented feat.

Go go Monks!


Double Happiness

I was STUNNED when I received news that my original Taekwondo instructors from Hong Kong sent me an email a couple of weeks ago to announce that they have MARRIED!!! I had always thought their relationship was purely business! So, what a big surprise, and what fantastic news!!! I wish them Double Happiness!!!!! I was also impressed by their wedding album pictures (top). Sometimes, Asian wedding studios produce really cheesy wedding shoots, but their photos were really impressive - envy - envy....

Also recently married is ex-colleague Yee Mei (bottom - that's bottom picture), whom I also wish Double Happiness!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Her wedding photos bring jealousness in the form of the wonderful memories of the Hong Kong landscapes. Hong Kong, you're the best!!!! (Although Korea will always be best for martial arts!)

Yes, I do have martial arts shenanigans going on in the background, but am too busy to write about it, as I am literally writing them. More news to follow one day.



I was surprised myself that the last posting on here was from 2008. I'm clearly not good at updating. However, I'm still EXTREMELY busy with a couple of projects that have to take priority over weblog postings. Hopefully, later in the year, I can reveal them on this site.

Meanwhile, I can recommend to all of you, that if Percossa are in town, they are highly worth going to see. Percossa is a Dutch comedic percussionist group whose current promo logo is '10 Jaar van de Straat'. I had the priveledge to see them on tour in Holland in February.

I'm really not a theater-going type, but for the Shaolin Monks or Percossa, I'll make an exception. While Percossa is not quite martial arts, the performers have an incredibly high fitness level, running around the stage, banging lots of drums, with a couple of really genial acts. They are extremely talented people. There was even one act done in a Capoeira style.

As to what I was doing in Holland, that was part of my exciting martial arts project that I am undertaking at the moment. For the project, I spent a week in Europe visiting some locations, and if you are interested to see some of the places, you can watch my YouTube videos from the trip. Apologies that the quality of my videos are not the greatest.


Happy Christmas 2008!!

Here is yer ugly muggs, standing in front of a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in the city center... Yeah, I can just about force a smile.. ke ke! My plan was to upload a few more xmas shots, but my internet connection is too slow, it just crashes when I try to upload anything more than 200kb. I'll aim to do it when I have more time.

I decided to treat myself to a hotel room for the night because my house is so noisy, I can only get about 4 hours of sleep per night. I am exhausted, and would love to move, but I am so tied down with various projects, I don't even have time to cut my toenails!

My main goal is to get my master's degree in linguistics finished by summer, and then I will have more time to make some new plans and hopefully escape my house for better things. Fortunately, I have a few options open to me, so overall, I am quite lucky at the moment. I am also thankful that I had a great opportunity in October to meet with the Shaolin Monks. That was my highlight of 2008.

I would like to thank all of you who have sent me xmas wishes by email. I hope that you will have a super new year, and that you won't fall victim to the woes of the current financial situation.

Greetings to all loyal followers of the Taekwondo Diaries!!


Wheel of Life - Shaolin Monks review

I went to see the Shaolin Monks perform their Wheel of Life set. I had some free tickets, although rather sadly absolutely NO ONE was interested in coming with me to see the Monks. Even for free, no one was interested in the idea of a martial arts show. This then (perhaps) gives some measure of the importance of martial arts in the UK amongst the general public. (Unless I misinterpreted that simply no one wanted to be in my company!!).

It was 25 years ago that I went to the theater. The theater still looks like something out of a Dostoyevsky novel, although my seat felt like something out of economy class on Aeroflot. My bum was numb and my kneecaps were displaced by not having enough legroom. Peripatetic popcorn and splashes of ale ended up in my hair. I was squished between horizontally challenged people, who couldn't help but Brizzly recount annecdotes - between passing a pint of beer and packets of fruit gums - about when they tried to jump over such and such an object (a topic perhaps inspired by the Shaolin acrobatics) and ended up in the casualty ward having to have so many stitches, etc, etc. Others made stupid jokes about the daring feats of the monks. Shut up.

T-shirts GBP 15; programs GBP 6. Potato chips GBP 3. Prayer beads which you buy in China for 20p on sale for GBP 5, and which I was presented with for free by the Monks on their press tour. No way!

The choreography itself was pretty good, enacting the history of the Shaolin Temple against the backdrop of Chinese political history. They had some musicians from Henan Province, whom I wish they had more of to mix in with the whole set. Instead, they had some terrible quality recorded soundtracks, which perhaps in my old age sounded like those terrible thudding strobes of bass that you hear from passing 'hey look at me looking cool in a car' drivers.

There was endless somersaulting, a few daredevil stunts - extremely impressive - and there was also Brit, Matthew, who did a nunchaku act and a handstand on 2 fingers - just.

All in all a good show for those into martial arts. It kind of revives my idea to try and bring the North Korean taekwondo team to the UK, if it wasn't for the fact that I don't have a lot of time these days.

On the subject of time, I have all but quit Wing Chun. I am struggling so much with time and money these days, and as my priority for the next 6 months is to finish my MA in linguistics, but that my work hours are not relenting, something had to give, and it was Wing Chun. I am just going to go once a month for the meantime, but am not sure whether it is something I will continue with in the long term. I can recognize that some of the moves are practically very effective if you are looking at martial arts on the street. But personally, my heart is just not in the style, and I can never motivate myself to practice outside of class. It's not that I haven't given it a try. I have been doing it for 1 year, and I've really tried to find an interest in it, but quite simply, the longer I do it, the more distant from it I feel. Perhaps partly because of my lack of external practice, my ability in it remains quite pitiful. I even feel really embarrassed at training in class because I know I'm really lame at doing the moves and feel totally ashamed in view of how I used to perform in hapkido and taekwondo classes, where I trained and trained and pushed myself to do better and better each time. I'm also still lacking a lot of strength - I struggle to do push ups and even sit ups. Even so, I want to do aero kicks, flips and joint locks. Wing Chun has none of this.

I still really want to do martial arts, but again, am conflicting with work pressures and martial arts training. I don't really know how to resolve it, as I am still reluctant to take the risk to give up work in the light of the expense involved in living in the UK and with all that happened to me last year. You simply cannot live in the UK without an income unless you are extremely lucky to have a massive inheritance. If I give up work, I will have to move overseas again as I cannot affford to live in the UK, and if I go overseas, I am subject to all the pressures involved in immigration and work permits in other countries and forever living out of a suitcase in seedy backstreet dwellings. I wonder how Matthew Ahmet gets residency at the Shaolin Temple - what type of visa does he have? I guess monks generally don't worry about money either, and there would lie the perfect solution to my woes if it wasn't for the fact that there would be absolutely no way I could wake up at sunrise every morning for prayer and running up the side of a mountain...


Shaolin Monks meeting video

Here is the video of yesterday's meeting with the Shaolin Monks. The soundtrack includes dubbed dialog lines from Five Dragon Claws, starring Hwang Jang Lee:

Meeting the Shaolin Monks

Once again, I was very privileged to meet some of the world's martial arts elite. This time, it was an encounter with the Shaolin Monks from China.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the press function of the Shaolin Monks' latest Wheel of Life theatre tour of the UK. They are due to perform in my home town next month, and are building up to it with a whirlwind promo tour of various city centers. Today, they stopped at 3 cities, one of them being Bristol, at the new Cabot Circus shopping center venue.

Half a dozen of the Monks turned up, including Brit-born Matthew Ahmet, aka Shi Yan Wu, the only foreigner having been permitted to receive the title Shaolin Monk. He can speak Chinese, and he was certainly very instrumental on the day, doing most of the directing of what the Monks should do. I recorded an interview with Matthew (see still frame capture, top) which will be uploaded on video shortly. I admire Matthew for his dedication to becoming involved in Shaolin life, but his presence as a foreigner in a very unique group also made me recall the role that many Western students in Korean taekwondo gyms have in that they often become used as marketing puppets for the gym.

Having an invitation to personally meet the Monks was special. It hasn't been since I was able to visit the Korean Tigers' dojang in South Korea that I have been able to meet anyone of note in martial arts' circles. And to think that my opportunity to meet the Monks would come half way around the world from their home, right into my backyard. I wanted to present the Monks something, but what are you supposed to present Buddhist Monks? All the presents I could possibly offer have in themselves originated from China - Buddhist amulets and calligraphy scriptures. Neither did I want to offer them any Western food. I rumaged around, and came up with 3 items to present the Monks: a South Korean embroidered Hapkido dobok (uniform), a 1970s Shaolin martial arts DVD entitled Five Dragon Claws starring Hwang Jang Lee (a Korean taekwondo-ist who ended up in many Hong Kong classic martial arts films including Drunken Master - Jackie Chan's famous debut film, and the villian in Bruce Lee's final movie Tower of Death - perhaps Hwang should be on my list of martial artists to meet - he is still living in Korea, on Jeju-Do island), and finally a postcard (purely coincidentally Korean-themed again) of some meditating monks with an attempted message in Chinese on the back (see above).
The Monks got heavily delayed on some British motorway, and so their stopover was rather curtailed. They were also barred from cracking a whip in the shopping center venue much to the tour manager's dismay. So what other moves could they muster for the public (increasing in number as the consumerists came out in droves) without defaulting on the British obsession with health and safety?
They did a few leaps and somersaults, wielded a few weapons. Two youngsters came out and did their routine putting their feet behind their head routine, to the great Brizzle (=Bristolian accent) murmurs of "Awww, ain't they cute!" Then it was all over.

I presented the Monks with my bag of 3 items, and took a group photo (see above). While doing some interviews for the press, I decided to undertake some enquiries of my own. Firstly, I told them I was a Buddhist. I had to look up the phrase to say this beforehand, and carefully rehearsed it, as I didn't previously know how to say this in Mandarin. The expression is: Wo xin fo. It translates something like: My soul Buddha. Anyway, as usual, I uttered my Mandarin expressions with crap tones (correct tones are critical in Chinese, taking the example of the Chinese word 'Ma', which can mean 'Mother', 'Horse', 'Isn't it?' or 'F***' depending on the tone that you assign to it), that some of the Monks just looked at me with confusion, and it was ironically the group translator that was the only one who managed to recognize what I was saying. Finally, the Monks twigged that I was speaking to them in Mandarin. One of them ran off to fetch something, and came back with a present for me in return - a set of wooden prayer beads with the name Shaolin inscribed into it. Now that the Monks had caught on that I could speak Mandarin, they tried really hard to understand what I was saying to them, although the youngest members concentration waned surprisingly fast. I proceeded to ask the members what they liked most about England. Actually, this was quite a tricky question, and I hadn't deliberately planned to ask this question. The answer was something that I couldn't have guessed. The answer from one of the teenagers in the group was that the thing that they most liked about England was the sky. The sky? I asked puzzled. Yes, the sky is so blue. I pointed up through the glass roof and cried, what do you mean - our sky is always gray and it rains every day!! But, the air is clean was the final response. I then asked the youngest members, who couldn't have been older than 7 years, whether they liked British food. One of them shook their head and the other remained silent.
When all was finished, the Monks then put on their battered and dirty jackets and walked out of the sparkling new shopping center with products aimed at unmeditative consumers who had more money than these youngsters had ever known.

Some people say that it is cruel to make young children perform what look to be excruciating moves. I've still not fathomed out the existence of the Shaolin Temple in relation to the Chinese Government, however, I do believe that genuine monks would not resort to beating human beings to get them to perform feats in this way. I believe the children who join the monastery - many of whom are in fact orphans with little hope of survival if they weren't taken into the monastery - hold their own intrinsic motivation to do what they do. Although they have to endure agonizing endurance exercises, from what I've seen, I think that they feel a sense of self-worth doing it. Overall, the group I met came across as very positive and healthy youngsters, looking not too dissimilar from kids in my English classes overseas.

I was very happy to meet the Monks and wish them success and happiness in all that they do.