The end of a(nother?) journey / Gongkwon wrap-up

I'm not quite sure how to write the last entry for this blog - if it is going to be the last one...who knows? I'm not even sure that I can even bring myself to say that it's the end of my Korean experience.
I'm not quite sure what is going to come of things for the immediate future, but tomorrow I will be leaving Korea after a 3 year stay and going to the UK. There are no definitive plans for me until I unpack my bags in the UK, but I'm hoping that I will someday again have the same amazing experience as 2006 in particular turned out to be. I thought the first two years back in Hong Kong some five years ago were going to be the highlight of my life, but it turned out to get even better. How can someone like me, who came from virtually nothing, manage to supercede yet again all that's happened so far? Therefore, it really saddens me to leave all this behind.
I also have to try and start putting things in perspective as far as all the martial arts training goes. There seems really little logic to spending so much time and money on something which is in the end just a hobby. Where is it all leading? Maybe if I continued training for another 10 years, I could qualify myself as an instructor. I loosely have hopes to open a self-defense class for women back in the UK some years down the road, but as I'm sure most of the instructors of martial arts in the UK will testify, teaching martial arts in the UK is no moneyspinner. They will all advise not to give up your day job. Yet, when the majority of job ads I see posted for my hometown in the UK consist of work such as call-center work or sales assistants, how can you be inspired to live just to work in such an environment? I got out of the UK to try and escape that type of trap.
Anyway, whether this blog continues will depend on what happens next. There will definitely be a considerable slowdown in posts after the cramming in as much information as I could during December. Posting about Taekwondo while not in Korea doesn't seem to hold the same meaning. I hope this site will continue to provide a guide to those who come to Korea for Taekwondo. For those that have extra questions about training in Korea, they can still continue to post via the comments section.
That brings me to the final comments I have for now in providing a review of what happened in my month at the Gong Kwon Yu Sul gym (pictures above). I finished there yesterday.
I think that Gong Kwon Yu Sul certainly provides a more no-nonsense training system than the regular Taekwondo and Hapkido gyms that are prevalent around much of Korea. 85% of Korean Taekwondo gyms are McDojos. If you want some decent training as an older adult in Korea, Gong Kwon is definitely a place to check out.
Gwon Kwon Yu Sul is really hardcore fight stuff. There are adults of all ages here - one student was 65 years old - who come to live out their K-1 fantasies, away from the skipping ropes and hula hoop routines in the regular Taekwondo gyms, and some of the black belt students really are very good. Many have previous training in other martial arts, so it's in fact a bit difficult for those to enter this arena with no prior martial arts experience. Even with my now 6 years Taekwondo experience, all the grappling manoevres were totally new and really baffling, and I felt like I was learning to walk all over again. I have never watched a K-1 match in my life, so have no intuition about how such techniques are done. Anyway, I did come away having learnt a lot of new moves which I can add to my arsenal. I thought the armbar move in particular was a really key move to learn. It was an interesting exposure.
However, the problem for me was that I was about the only woman in the class. There were 2 other women in the class, but they quit before my month was out, having only been there a couple of months. Gong Kwon Yu Sul, and Master Kang, has some problems in its exclusion of women in my opinion. Firstly, there is no denying that a woman sparring against a man under Gong Kwon Yu Sul terms has little chance. I know that I would be knocked out or have my bones broken in an instant if I were to spar any of those male blackbelts in a real competition. Gong Kwon Yu Sul is not a style that women can fight back with. Women need another martial art to compete with Gong Kwon.
For me, I envisaged the grappling techniques to have practical use in women's self defense. However, Master Kang sees his style purely on all out combatitive sparring terms. In discussion with Master Kang, he doesn't seem willing to modify his art to adapt to a woman's needs. His attitude seems to be that a woman simply has bad luck to be born with inferior physical strength to a man, and there is nothing that can be done about it. On my first day, he even said that women belong in an aerobics class. As a female, I have issues with this kind of attitude about women. So far in Korea, such an attitude fortunately hasn't really appeared in the Taekwondo gyms I've been studying at. Is it to mean that Gong Kwon Yu Sul is to be a martial art which excludes women completely? Can a martial art be successful if it serves only the needs of the male population? Master Kang is very keen to spread his martial art world wide, but I wonder about the international women's receptiveness to it. There are a few women pro-wrestlers who might enjoy this art, but what about the rest of us? I don't want to be a pro-wrestler. I just mainly want to develop new techniques which will enhance my knowledge about the possibilities of martial arts out there. I want to study martial arts for the purpose of classical martial arts ideals. If my knowledge can also help me save myself from an assault in the street, I would also like that, too.
On the other hand, I enjoyed that Master Kang was an open guy, who was very approachable, as well as being thoroughly knowledgeable about his techniques. He could get every angle of every move right on every single demonstration. While Master Kang doesn't speak any English, I was surprised to discover that he speaks fluent Japanese (He was also equally surprised that a white women from England could converse in Japanese, too!) Finally, we were able to have some conversational exchanges in Japanese, as he is also one of those Koreans who just don't understand my Korean. My Korean pronunciation is not very good, so only those with a good ear understand what I'm trying to say. It reminded me again of the contrast between Japanese and Korean martial arts instructors. With Japanese masters, you simply cannot ask questions or raise any points about the art in their presence. Even today, Japanese formality remains extremely strong. I remember signing up to a Judo class at a Japanese school. The master approached me and asked me what I wanted. I said I was waiting to sign up for a class. He didn't look me in the eye, and just said that I could wait more, and went off for quite some time before coming back. He didn't answer any questions I had after that point. With Korean masters, it's totally different, and in my view, much better.
I also admire Master Kang's attempts to establish his own brand of martial arts at a relatively young age. His vision is that Gong Kwon Yu Sul will take root all over the world, in a similar way as Hapkido spread from one or two men's visions of essentially combining Karate with Aikido. It's perhaps a little ambitious, but if it turns out that I was a student among the first wave of Gong Kwon Yu Sul gyms, at the foundation of a new martial art, then I could be part of martial arts history in time to come. His vision also inspires me to start thinking more about starting to plan an ideal system of women's self defense. Who knows if in the future, I too could also conjure up my own brand of martial arts. What would I name it???
Thank you to the Gong Kwon Yu Sul big boys for having the patience to train with me, and thank you to Master Kang for giving me your books. I will endeavor to try and study a bit more of the Gong Kwon system back in the UK.


Elfin' Christmas & Global Warming

Thanks to Sharon in Singapore for pointing this one out. I've created my own dancing elf...funny, kind of looks familiar...
I'm also pointing out that today it's 12 degrees celsius on the 26th December in Seoul, Korea - it's nearly T-shirt weather! Last night, I also had 2 mosquitoes in my room. Clearly, the environment has reached irreversible damage. Therefore, may I add a reminder to everyone who's viewing my site from every corner of the globe to cut down on the amount of fuel that you use. Please switch off your appliances when not in use, do not waste water, and recycle whatever possible. Thank you.


Happy Christmas from the TTD

I guess I can't avoid the inevitable Christmas greeting, so here it is with an image from the Taekwondo Diaries (pg 1---?)

Don't forget, that I also designed some 2007 calendars from pictures I've taken from around the world including Australia, Tokyo and Bodensee. If you're interested in ordering the calendars, visit my Lulu site.

Let's hope the world will be a better place for all in 2007 - Happy Christmas!



Yangji Pine Resort

Skiing has always been a priveleged activity for me to do, as coming from a place like England which has NO ski resorts - maybe the only ski resort in the whole of the UK is in a remote part of Scotland called Abergavenny (spell?) - the expense of a distant trip to the European Alps was always off budget. Every Sunday during my early childhood, I used to watch a program called 'Ski Sunday' which had all the highlights from all the European ski competitions, and used to watch every single turn and angle of the skiers and be so envious of those who could ski like that. I used to hum the TV's theme tune in the school playground and pretend to ski down the hills around my home. I could have killed to have been born in Switzerland or Austria! It was my biggest dream for many years to be able to visit a ski resort. I finally got the chance to go skiing in Australia in 1997, and later, I was a manager in a hotel ski resort in Austria in 1999. Therefore, a chance to go to a ski resort is not something I take for granted.

Yesterday, I went snowboarding at Yangji Pine Resort near Seoul. Pix will have to wait for later, so I'm posting the pic from the Pine Resort homepage. The pictures of Korean ski resorts on the websites always look pretty impressive. In reality, they are okay, but they are not like anything of the size, quality and scenery of the Alps, for example. However, that you can go skiing within an hour of Seoul and all for a day cost of just USD50 all inclusive, the convenience is hard to beat in many parts of the world.

I think my Taekwondo training has served me well, as I woke up this morning without any ache to my legs. I'm impressed. However, my shoulders are sore because I spent much of the day falling down and landing on my arms. I'm not really a fan of snowboarding. I really wanted to ski, but my Korean friend said they would teach me how to snowboard, so I was ready to try it for the first time. As I experienced, it was REALLY HARD. I spent the entire morning crashing to the floor - and as the snow there was all artificial, it's like hitting the floor of an ice rink; no cushioned landing. However, after lunch I tried it again, and all of a sudden I got the hang of it and was going down the entire slope from start to finish without falling over. What a champion! But...I've decided that I don't want to try snowboarding again. Having 2 feet fixed to a heavy board was not a particularly enjoyable feeling. If I go to a ski resort again, I will definitely opt for skiing!

For anyone planning a trip to the Korean ski resorts, try and get a local to help you, since if you try to book everything yourself through the official resort channels, you will be paying at least 2 or 3 times as much as we did. There are some Korean Internet sites of rental stores outside of the resort grounds which can offer everything much more cheaply. We even got free transportation to the resort. These are things I probably never would have found by myself.


An annoying click

Can you hear that darn click, click, click???? It started happening a couple of days ago. Can anyone trouble shoot which of my links are making that sound??? Grrr.


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This month's new martial art: Gongkwon Yu Sul

With the spate of recent black belt exams over, I'm taking a break from the familiar. For my final month in Korea, I'm testing the waters in MMA - yes, mixed martial arts!

I'm not really a big fan of wrestling or K-1, but I wanted to try something new. I was hoping for Geumdo, but I remembered a website I had caught site of a year or so ago, promoting 'Gong Kwon Yu Sul.' I'm sure nobody knows what this is, so I'll briefly explain. Gong Kwon Yu Sul was set up by Master Kang Jun as a 'new' martial art about 7 years ago. It must be every martial artist's dream to found their own martial art. Master Kang did just that, even though he must have only been about 30 years old at the time. He takes elements from all the martial arts, although primarily Hapkido and Jiu-Jitsu. (How many people have complained that Hapkido is an inadequate art after you are taken down to wrestle on the floor? - hence bringing in Jiu-Jitsu.) After watching a couple of videos from his website, I thought the ability of the students was pretty impressive compared to regular gym standards in Korea to warrant checking it out. So...now that I have some 'free time' to experiment, I thought I would give his gym a try.

This gym is pretty hardcore, and the reason why the students in the video were all very good is because most of them have already climbed the ranks in Hapkido, Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Judo. In Gongkwon, they're looking to the next level. REAL combat. Most of the students are working adults which is in complete contrast to the regular Taekwondo gyms. There are bank managers, software consultants, soldiers. Now I know that not all Korean adults are giving up their martial arts dreams!

There's no way I can compete with these guys in a sparring situation, but some of my previous Hapkido and Taekwondo training is coming in handy. We drill on individual moves for hours, which is a bit tedious at times, but this is how it ought to be done if you are really going to master the moves. Last week, I learnt how to do some armbar maneouvres. It was my first time to do this, and all I can say for anyone who doesn't know how to do, is that this is a REALLY useful move to know for all sorts of purposes. And, also unlike my Hapkido class, the students WANT to practice and be thrown around the mats as much as possible. I'm actually punching people and throwing them over my shoulder to their request. Not sure that I'll be requesting to be punched, though...
To give you more of an idea of what Gong Kwon is about, and to see quite how hardcore this is, have a look at Master Kang's YouTube video promo:

On a side note, Master Kang, now having created his own art, has discovered the problem of marketing through Internet search engines. Basically, if no one knows the name Gong Kwon Yu Sul, which is probably just about everybody, then they are hardly going to search for it on the Internet.

The Gong Kwon Yu Sul website is in English and Korean. (Although Master Kang himself doesn't speak any English). So you can get more information here: http://www.gongkwon.com


Yong Moo Hapkido Polar Bear Club

I hadn't known about the existence of 'Polar Bear Clubs' until I came to Korea and saw reference to them in a TOEIC exam question. Having a look at Hapkido clubs posting on the Korean portal Daum.net, I came across the Yong Moo Hapkido gym doing their own Polar Bear stunt antics.

Consequently, it seems it can make them fly...


Moon Dae Sung

By chance, I got to know someone working for a major publisher which supplied books to our university. Turns out he was/is preparing for his 5th Dan test. He sent me this picture in which he poses with Athens Olympic gold medallist, Moon Dae Sung.
I also had an opportunity to meet Mr Moon last year, too. However, after an unfortunate accident while playing soccer in a Taekwondo gym, I was unable to walk to the venue where he was attending. I was really sorry about missing the chance to meet him. I've seen Mr Moon on some TV shows, and I think there is a lot behind his character. His fitness level is also amazing, not to mention that he is an eligible bachelor of the same age as myself. As far as I know though, he doesn't speak any English...sigh. He currently holds an honory post in a university in Busan and does some coaching, so you can sometimes spot him at tournaments.

The Blue Wave waves hello

Some more feedback regarding the book from a member of the Blue Wave in the US:
I came across your blog today, and downloaded your book. I am really excited about reading it. I lived in Korea for a year in 1991-92 as a student at Yonsei Uniiversity. My primary reason for going to Korea for the year was Taekwondo, my instructor had arranged for me to train with a High School team.

I love how no-nonsense you are on your blog. I had a close friend attend the Poomse World Championships on the US Team, he said the repeated Korean National Anthem was out of control as well.

I have added a link to your blog on my own.

Thank you. Go and check out his blog now!


Daegu flashback

Here is/was my Daegu gym way back in '05. I'll be popping down to visit them next week.

Teaching Taekwondo

My first ever attempt to teach Taekwondo at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul Korea earlier this year. It was just a one off class. I realized I was not ready to be a Taekwondo teacher. The story behind me becoming assigned as their Taekwondo instructor was funny. They wanted to offer a 'Taekwondo experience' to their Korean language program students. However, the school was not prepared to pay any money to hire a professional instructor. Hence, I got roped in. I bet the students were shocked to find that their authentic Korean Taekwondo instructor had a white face!

Korean Tigers flashback

One of the pix I took from my visit to the KTigers gym which is already about 1 year ago. They are truly the best the of the best in TKD.

Flying Rahul

Rahul, from India, sent me this picture from his demonstration event.

TKD competition pix

Earlier, I wrote about a competition at the Kukkiwon which was for school students. Our Elite Hwarang gym students performed in this one.
Note that from today, I have added a Flickr account in the sidebar. All my related images will gradually be uploaded to there.

Yonsei University International Taekwondo center

I popped over to Yonsei University the other night to check out their 'International Taekwondo Center'. They have an open class for Koreans and foreigners on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 7:00pm-8:30pm. Cost is W10,000 for a single lesson, or W80,000 for a month. I added the venue to the Tagzania map.
From what I saw, a lot of the foreigners are there because they are part of some exchange program with the university. The university offers them Taekwondo classes as part of a cultural program add-on. Therefore, there are a lot of white and yellow belts who are real beginners in Taekwondo. However, there were also a couple of experienced black belt guys among them. But, for all their ability, I was very impressed with the instructor's own skills. He demonstrated each move with such speed. I'm now reminded why it's hard for foreigners to keep up in Taekwondo medal tallies!
There doesn't seem to be much attention to the individual. Just a kind of mass training, crossing the floor doing each of the kicks in turn. You can also notice that it's a hardwood gym floor, so practicing any advanced kicks could be a bit dangerous.
Actually, for note, this class set up and gym space is very much like the one I saw over at Seoul National University. Except that the fee is about half there, and the instructor at SNU is a senior student rather than an official coach.

At last...pix from the 1st World Poomsae Championships

Here are the photos I took earlier this autumn of the 1st World Poomsae Championships, held in the Olympic gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea. Nothing dramatic, but you can get a feel for the event set-up.
By the end of the day, I was able to sneak unnoticed into the competition arena. I tried to shake hands and get photos of several prominent officials, and also a pic of Athens Olympic bronze medallist, Seong Myeong-Seob, who was competing in the 2nd Korean Open at the same venue as here. However, someone's head got in the way of Myeong-Seob, so the image quality is not worth posting.
Seems this competitor, winner of the female individual senior poomsae category - of course from Korea - knew as many of the judges as I knew during my test at the Kukkiwon. She has her own series of Poomsae-dance videos. Winning the gold medal is good PR for her video sales...
One of the medal ceremonies. As Korea got a clean sweep of ALL the gold medals, the Aeguka anthem was played about a zillion times. Not sure what pose the officials would have made had there been another country's anthem playing...
The seating around the stages was at a very steep angle, so it was hard to get a close up. Here you can see the competition arena set up (it remained the same for the 2nd Korea Open which started the following day.) Despite the large gym, the event had quite a small feel to it. The only spectators were the coaches and other competitors. Few members of the public came to watch even though it was a free, walk-in event.Here is the male group semi-final round. This is the Iran team. If you enlarge the image, you can see the enigmatic Iran coach. He is wearing a special all-white male hanbok for the event. If you performed on the center stage, the TV relayed a live picture of you on a large screen. It's perhaps from this stage that they captured the footage which has now been released on the WTF sanctioned DVD for this event. Even though I haven't watched the DVD, I don't think it would be worth watching unless you are training to be a judge for a Poomsae event. All the Poomsaes performed were really of good merit, it really came down to fractions when distinguishing between point scores. Watching would be like seeing a procession of dozens of Poomsae competitors, male, female, individual, pairs, groups, nearly all doing Koryo Poomsae.

The final countdown: HKD - The pix

The only good students at the gym were those who had come from other gyms. This student already has a 4th Dan in Taekwondo and can do all the fancy flips. He was thus promoted to brown belt in about 3 months.
Me and Kwang Jang, Ryu Seong-Won. Yeah, it would seem that I'm no good at tying my belt...
Here is about half of the evening class. The remaining students refused to pose for a photo for me. Sometimes it was a large class, so things were really slow with us lining up one at a time to do a single roll or a kick. A couple of the kids in this shot were REALLY annoying kids. One even expressed a dislike for foreigners! I'm not going to miss those particular students...


The final countdown: HKD

I just went to the photo store to collect the CD-Rom which should have all the pix of all the Taekwondo events since the summer on it, but...they tell me there's a 'hitch' with processing it. My heart skipped a few beats, as there is no way I can go back in time to re-capture the images I had. Anyway, I've been told to come back tomorrow, so pray be, all images will survive the 'hitch'.

In the meantime, I will write up what happened at the end of the Hapkido series. As you may know if you've read all the previous posts, I 'automagically' received my black belt as early as September - even earlier than I had ever thought myself, after I looked at the date on my Dan card (ABOVE). (The nationality on the card originally had 'Korean' on it, but got wiped over, and replaced with 'British'. Just like being mistaken for a man at the Kukkiwon test, it seems that despite the blue eyes on my photo, I was also momentarily mistaken for a Korean!). Then, I was set to take the moms and pops demonstration test on November 26th, so that I could be presented with my certificates and prizes, (I also got an extra prize because I had filled up the blanks on my 'Chin Chan Sticker' wall chart, where stickers are awarded for attendance to class.)
What happened was that the entire month of November classes were taken up with preparing the students for this moms and pops bonanza. We hadn't done such preparation for a similar event back in the summer time. It was as if we were preparing for the Kim Jong Il mass games. The pomp and circumstance was truly ridiculous. I sat through classes which involved an entire week of being able to stand up and say 'My name is...'. Funny thing is, I was never asked to stand up and say what my name was. Each time we finished, the kids would shout out, 'But 'Jyo-Ee' hasn't been called yet!' Finally, the instructor explained that he wouldn't ask me to speak in Korean in front of the parents 'because I was a foreigner, and it was unnatural to expect a foreigner to speak Korean.' It sounded a bit bizarre to me. Anyhow, nevermind because I was just waiting for the moment when we would start doing exercises again. But that moment never came. For one entire month... We didn't do anything except drilling standing up, lining up, bowing and nodding and saying something like 'yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir.' For me it was really a waste of money and time, since I was due to be taking the Taekwondo 2nd Dan test a short while after, and was keen to get as much training fitted in.
Another thing I didn't like about the HKD class was that in the last few months of my stay there, the instructor regularly changed. The Kwang Jang boss was still there, but he did little hands on stuff in the gym. I guess he was too busy planning the schedule for this moms and pops thing. Instead, he had senior students instructing. We saw 3 or 4 of them. Although these new instructors seemed to be pretty competent at Hapkido, the problem was that they all seemed to be from different gyms, so their techniques were all somewhat different to each other. While one instructor taught us one move, another would insist that it was done a completely different way. When there are so many disciplines in the art of Hapkido, it is difficult to spend much time focusing on just one area. As a result, it was often the case that we would see a particular self-defence move shown to us just once, and then were suddenly called upon to duplicate it in a test, having so little practice in it. When instructors are all teaching different techniques, the chances to become well-versed in any particular move diminishes even more. Moreover, the test judge would call out 'incorrect' when we do the move that has been 'taught' by a different instructor. Basically, I came away with only a vague notion of the some 50 self defence moves that were shown to me in the time at the gym. However, even the Kwang Jang himself changed all his own moves while I was at the 6 month point. He added all these frilly spin finishes to many moves, which have no function in the self-defence purpose of a move. Everytime a test came, it was like a whole new ball game, with all the moves and test requirements constantly changing. Very few students ended up with any real ability. I saw a 3rd Dan black belt there who couldn't even do a forward roll.
This is also the class which has simply been so bad in terms of discipline and instruction, that I can count 3 or 4 times when I left the class early in nothing but disgust. That gives you some measure of how bad some of the classes were. I really can't recommend this gym to anyone who wants to do serious HKD training in Korea. (Hence, I only awarded this gym 2 stars on the Tagzania map). The only good thing about the gym is the decent size of floor space, and equipment such as a hanging bag and heavy mats. You also had to pay extra for all the individual tests - an absolute McDojo. In many ways, these negative points have made it easier for me to walk away from that particular gym. There was absolutely no way I could develop myself further at that gym.
When I was told I was going to do a 'sword demonstration' at this moms and pops event, intuitively I wondered whether I was actually going to be called upon to really do a sword demo, or whether I was going to be called upon out of the blue to do something as 'obscene' as a skipping rope demo, (I absolutely HATE the jump rope!) It really wouldn't have surprised me. I went prepared for anything, although really I was only just going to attend the event in the first place just so that I could do the polite thing of receiving my Dan certificate.
For all the preparation, turnout was pretty thin. It was quite different to the 'success' story of the moms and pops demo of the summer. In true Korean style, many moms and pops turned up ridiculously late. The scheduling was also very awkward and adhoc. Kids who were absent were called out to do things. Nobody knew their lines, let alone their moves.
One odd demonstration was the Karaoke demonstration. One little boy, quite bravely, volunteered to sing a song in front of everybody in the room. He was given a cellphone which was playing a downloaded tune, and stood pretty silently in the middle of the room for about 5 minutes, holding this cellphone to his ear. I didn't realize at first that he was supposed to be giving a singing demo. At first, I thought this was going to be some self-defence demo, whereby another student was going to pretend to steal the cellphone from the little boy!
When my turn came, I had to do some falls, and then alas, the move which I have the most difficulty with: jumping/flying over someone standing at head height. I had only ever succeeded on doing this move on 2 occasions, both being only on the Friday prior to this demonstration! Part of the reason for my inability to do this jump, is that I am not very good at taking off on two feet. Secondly, I am shortsighted and don't wear my glasses when doing such moves. It's really hard to guage the height and distance at any point before the move. In this particular move, it's really critical to have the perfect height and distance when you decide to jump. Some poor kid was standing on the runway - with his parents watching, and I knew when I got halfway down that I was going to make a mess of it. But, I had too much momentum to stop, so I rather heavy-handedly pushed him aside while I kind of semi-jumped over. Really bad. What could have been worse though, was that there was a big window which I pushed the kid into. It could have broken, or if the window had been open, the kid would have gone flying out of the 5th floor. I already heard this cry of horror coming from his parents in the audience. They didn't sound too pleased with me. Fortunately, the kid was already quite grown up and strong enough not to get upset with me pushing him into the window. So, I just put the error aside.
Finally, the event concluded by having what must have been the lamest student I ever saw at that gym doing about 10 minutes of board breaking. I felt a bit disappointed inside because the particular student - a middle school girl - had never shown any effort in class and had a really low ability. She really labored through the breaking with one failed break after another, wearing one shoe to cushion the impact, while I watched and wished that I could also do such a demonstration to redeem myself after the failed jump. I don't have the most strength, but I can move faster than most of the students I've trained with, so it would have been nice to end on such a high note to demonstrate my kicking in such an event.
Photos were taken and will be uploaded...if I can actually get them back from the photo shop!! An anxious 24 hours awaits...


The final countdown: TKD - The pix

The final countdown: TKD

There's a lot to report, as well as a lot of photos, so I think I'll do it in daily installments, and perhaps get the pix put onto Flickr or something, 'cus I don't know if Blogger can upload so many photos (also for those who have slower Internet connection, waiting for all the images to appear on a single screen is a pain - not everyone has the highspeed proliferation as found in South Korea!)

So, first there's yesterday. I went to bed early on Saturday night, and strangely, (for me at least, when I reflect on all the shaky TKD belt tests I had to take during the 1st Dan run up,) woke up really refreshed and without any nerves whatsoever. In fact the whole build up to the test was quite smooth. My main worries included whether I could remain free of sickness, since the onset of winter has meant that just about everyone around me was struck down by a debilitating flu-like virus - one of my students had even come to English class saying that she'd 'left her I.V. drip at home' (!!!) Another worry was whether the temperature would go down below zero degrees celsius, as last December had been soooo cold with a couple of daytime temperatures having been as low as minus twenty. I remember hanging around outside for about 4 hours awaiting my 1st Dan test in Daegu, so the prospect of having to do it in Seoul at an even colder time of the year was a real problem. How can you burst into Poomsae or sparring when your body is frozen into a block of ice?

Anyway, off we set to the Kukkiwon in a GPS navigated car. It was just me and the instructor, who - and this is where it gets really uncanny - happened to be a Kukkiwon judge, and was going to be judging that very day at my test!!! I couldn't have landed such better fortune, as he was able to tell me everything that was going to happen in the test, and even that they had selected in advance that Taegeuk 6 Jang was going to be called out along with Koryo Poomsae. That type of information should have been top secret! And then, get this, I was invited to join the judges and meet the chief Kukkiwon officials in the Kukkiwon arena, while other test takers were forced to wait on the surrounding balconies. I was also the only one allowed to warm up in the arena area, as well as having my own personal hot air (a la jet engine) heater aimed in my direction. Just as amazing was how I think it had been personally rigged by my instructor to have the adults test before the children to avoid the long wait - usually it is the other way around. How much easier could I have had it??!! It was unbelievable luck!!!!!

So, I was able to start testing pretty much straight away. There weren't actually many people there. At my 1st Dan test in Daegu, there had been over 100 test takers, but this time, there were perhaps 200-300 max. There were only 8 'adults' testing, 4 of those taking the 2nd Dan test, only 2 women, and only one foreigner. The test itself only takes about 5-7 minutes. I don't think people in other countries could believe how short such a major belt test is. Furthermore, you can see afterwards that it is impossible to fail. Personally, I don't think I quite deserve the 2nd Dan just yet. I'm quite sure I wouldn't get through a day long test, for example. I would need perhaps another 6 months of full-time training to be perhaps truly ready for what I consider to be 2nd Dan competence. Anyway, under the circumstances that I am leaving Korea after December, I'm quite sure I'm doing the best thing by taking advantage of the convenience of doing the test here. In other countries, the testing availability and requirement may not be so convenient for my schedule at the time.

I can't really remember whether I made any mistakes with the Poomsae. I just noticed the guy in front of me making a hash of it. I just kept my mind pretty focused and tried to execute the moves with as much technique as I could muster. It went as well as it could for my ability. Then, we had to do just 2 sets of kicks, one with each leg. But, I couldn't quite hear what the combination was, so I made a mistake somewhere. Nevermind, as I noticed the other test takers were pretty clueless, too! I had to do a turning kick, double jump kick (actually, I'm not sure what the English name for this kick is), and then perhaps it was a back kick, or it could have been a reverse kick, or even a call for us to just turn around after the doule jump kick. I really didn't hear the last instruction at all. I just did the turning kick and then the double jump and figured if there was something wrong, I'd simply be asked to do it again. But, no call came to do it again.

Next, I had to do sparring. The sparring at the 1st Dan test had lasted all of 30 seconds, with me doing a back kick into my opponent's stomach and knocking her down. This time, we had to wear all the padding. Embarrassment number 1 was that one of the officials had somehow mistaken me for a MAN (!!!) and had pointed for me to put on the bollocks protector!!! I nearly did it, but thank god I didn't. That would have been really embarrassing. Anyway, I'm all padded up, when I find out my opponent is a woman who looks more like a man than I do. She was taller than me, older than me (I wonder if she was in the special forces, 'cus an older woman taking the 2nd Dan test in Korea is highly unusual), and her limbs were about twice as thick as mine. Oh no, bad sign. A further embarrassment came when the referee in the sparring ring, pulled me around some 270 degrees, so I was facing not the judges, but the row of parents in the audience. As I was just following the referee and had no glasses on at that point, I just bowed to the parents!!! (There is a photo of me doing this, but I'll spare my dignity by not showing it). I did finally bow to my opponent, though. And, then, woosh, the biaatch kicked me straight in the mouth! I heard the whack against my jaw and teeth. I had no idea whether anything was broken, but was kind of stunned that she would try this in a test which was not for point scoring. (I saw it happen to a couple of other test takers, too). Kudos to me, though, 'cus I just kept going, even though I had some tears coming to my eyes...aahhh...

Sparring lasted less than a minute, and then, it was all over. I took off the protectors and left the arena. I had a little blood inside my lip, but really not much. Not much waiting around, and not even frozen to death.

Another test and another belt to my name!

As the instructor/judge has been so good to me throughout the test preparation, I will upgrade the gym to a 5 star gym on that basis on my Tagzania map (see side bar). He even took pictures of me at the test on his camera, even while he was supposed to be judging, and he sent them straight through to me via email. Up until this instructor, just about all other instructors had not done anything 'extra' and had never taken any time out to explain all the nuances and discrepancies between all the Taekwondo movement variations that occur from gym to gym (I will aim for this information to be explained in detail in a later post), so I'm really impressed at his service.

Finally, as probably it's all anyone is interested to see, are the photos. (ABOVE) As I said, I will put them up in installments. First is the Chung Woo gym pre 2nd Dan test prep, and then some of the images taken from the actual testing at the Kukkiwon. You will notice another foreigner at Chung Woo. He is a professional chef from France. He seems like a really decent guy, but it's funny how he takes sparring soooo seriously. He even pushed one of his 6ft tall opponents into a glass display cabinet while we were practicing in the gym! He is built really solidly, just like Baekdu San itself!! I just hope my Kukkiwon sparring biaatch will be avenged by him someday!! Allez! Allez!


First blood

MINUS 1 DEGREES CELSIUS, and I've just completed my 2nd Dan black belt test at the Kukkiwon in Seoul! I'm going to present a full report of all the events that have been going on over the past couple of weeks from the end of Hapkido to the end of Taekwondo, to the start of my bodyguard training course (starts tomorrow!), including uploading all the photos which I'll get tomorrow morning, but for now I'm going to start my vacation!!! I'll just tell you that I drew blood in the sparring section of the test --- but, just a little, and yes, unfortunately, it was my very own blood! I'm a little stoked right now at all the events that have happened this weekend, but I will have some very unique photos to post. It has truly been a phenomenal end to the start of a new beginning...more later...


Kyokushin Karate speed kick video

TKD/HKD gym locator in Korea

My last post was deleted by mistake. Therefore, take note of the addition to the side bar courtesy of Tagzania.com. The map highlights gyms I have trained at in Korea. Anyone who is also training/has trained in Korea and has a gym to recommend, please send me a note so that we can add that gym to the map. It would prove really helpful for those coming to train in Korea for the first time without knowing where to go.
Note that there may be some problem viewing the map with some browsers. For example, on Tagzania, there was mention of a download plug-in for Mozilla.
I've also added a weather link for Seoul city. You can see how cold it will be when I take my test this weekend, barefoot, in t-shirt and dobok only, waiting for hours and hours outside the Kukkiwon. According to the forecast, it's going to be below zero...


This is nuts!!!

Shaolin Ball

The above video is absolutely nuts! (But it's an absolute must see!)

I've decided to focus on my testing over the next 2 weeks, so will not be updating this site until it's all over. I'm still promising to upload all the Korean competition pictures... So stay tuned... Meanwhile, I'm in a panic because I've been designated as the 'Geumdo/Gumdo Mistress' for the Hapkido gym's demonstration show over this weekend. I have little clue about how to use the sword, let alone give a demonstration with it. Over the past weekend, I practised with a long cardboard tube, but had little idea about how to go about it, until I resigned myself to the best course of action being to improvise any move I can. However, I'm still lacking confidence on the idea of improvising with a sword in front of up to 300 people while wearing a black belt. I'm suspecting somehow it's been lined up to destroy the image of foreign practitioners of Korean martial arts. We'll see.

Anyone care to come and watch? It's at Chun Ji Kwan Hapkido gym, Seoul, 15 mins walk up from Seoul Station along Mallijaegil (headed in direction of Gongdeok Station). This Saturday afternoon. Followed by Taekwondo testing at the Kukkiwon on the following weekend.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the above video (which I did not make!)



There is a new term: 'Taeglish'. Can you guess what this is? Watch the video on the link below. It's really cute - even though I cringe at the word 'Taeglish'!!


Another one of those 'Taeglish' cuts:



No break

My instructor told me yesterday that the board-breaking part of the 2nd Dan test at the Kukkiwon has now been cancelled over the winter months, since previously it had led to some broken fingers brought on by the sub-zero temperatures which test takers have to wait for hours in. Ahem...Could they perhaps just cancel the sparring part, too?

This week sees another event at the Kukkiwon (assuming it hasn't been moved as with the Hanmadang). I think it's the Korean national team tryouts. I saw it last year. There was some high grade sparring going on there. As yet, I'm in 2 minds whether to venture out there this week or not.


Arm strengthening exercise

Last night I was shown a nifty arm strengthening exercise you can use anyplace, anytime with no required equipment. The instructions are here:


I'm wearing a DRESS!!! Yikes!!

Here is Ms Dae Jang Geum herself, sporting the traditional Korean Hanbok dress:

No Hanmadang

This week has been very busy, and it's meant I've been lapse in my 2nd Dan preparation training...

Firstly, on Thursday, I went to the Kukkiwon in Seoul expecting to see the Hanmadang. I took the one hour subway ride over to the Kukkiwon, but as I approached the place, I immediately became aware of an absence of traffic and no promotional banners over the gates, and discovered that for the first time the Hanmadang was not being held at the Kukkiwon. I guess I should have double-checked the venue in advance, but I could have sworn I saw an advertisement for the Hanmadang just this autumn listing the venue as the Kukkiwon.

Instead, this year, the event has taken place down in Muju town as a promotion for the new WTF headquarters which are being built there. While Muju is located in about the centre of South Korea, it's really not a convenient place to access. It's essentially a well-known ski resort town, which means that you need to do transfers on various shuttle buses to get there. From Seoul, it could take up to five hours to travel there by bus, so that's a whole day return trip. Perhaps it suits people living in cities like Daegu and Daejeon, but for the majority of the population living in and around Seoul, and for the majority of visitors who arrive in Korea via Incheon airport, the new location of Muju is a hassle to get to. It will only be convenient to access should they have a special bus service just to the Taekwondo venue.

Oh well, while I don't have any 2006 Hanmadang pix to show, at least I do have a taster from pictures of last year's Hanmadang on this site below. There's probably a big similarity to the types of demonstrations on show. The only difference will be that it won't have been so crowded down in Muju.

So...as I had time to kill seeing as there was no Hanmadang, I decided to get my flight tickets. December 29th is the date when the whole Korean adventure is now set to end. I haven't yet mentioned this fact on this site until now as I was having to wait until my resignation was formally accepted by my workplace - that took about 2 months! I don't know if I am doing the right thing to resign before my contract is over next summer, but I have a couple of pressing medical problems, and didn't know whether they could hold out until next summer. Therefore, I made a really, really, really, hard decision to end things by the end of this year. The fact that I don't have a home in the UK meant that I couldn't just go for a temporary visit during the vacation and come back. In the UK, for a temporary visit, I would have to stay in a hotel. There is literally no hotel room in the UK these days for less than $200 per night. At that rate, I would have spent at least a couple months' worth of salary just for a month's visit to the UK. That isn't worth it. So, instead, I have to make a clean break and commit myself to at least 6 months by renting someone's apartment which will be the most practical option for me. So, that's why I thought I should try and take all the black belt tests I could before I finished here. Even though I'm not quite ready for the rankings, I reckoned that it would be nearly impossible to get them in the UK, so could have wasted all this training if I left Korea without taking the tests. From initial research, it seems that Hapkido at least, is virtually non-existent in the UK, and even then, finding an IHF-affiliated school is impossible.

I've been training steadily for the 2nd Dan test thus far. However, this week hit a low when I got a total of about 10 hours of sleep vs 10 hours of Taekwondo class. I had moved into a 'Goshiwon' (dormitory) to save extra money in preparation for leaving my job. However, even though the temperature outside is still quite mild, the building has an underfloor heating system which creates sauna like conditions inside the rooms. Korean women like this hot condition. They think it's necessary for good body circulation. I am willing to accept that I need to bend to their cultural ways to some extent. However, when the thermometer in my room reads over 40 degrees celsius, and there is no ventilation, I am tossing and turning in perspiration all night long. The conditions are literally akin to a living hell. When I tried to open the fire escape door to allow in some wonderful fresh, cool breeze, the girls living on the same floor told me to close it because they 'felt cold'. I feel really angry when I hear them say this, standing before me in just shorts and a vest like they are on Copocabana Beach! WHY CAN'T THESE GIRLS PUT ON A SWEATER AND LOWER THE ******** *********** ************* TEMPERATURE OF THE HEATING!????"*&"""!$£$%^^ After getting zero minutes of sleep on Thursday night, I got heat exhaustion yet again. By the morning, I was passing out, vomiting and in delirium. I don't know how I made it to work. After speaking to the landlord who controls the switches for each floor of the Goshiwon building, it seemed that he refused to lower the heating temperature. I insisted on seeing what temperature our floor was set to. The digital switch display said 65 degrees celsius! I noticed that the ground floor switch was off. I asked him why he had his own floor nice and cool with no heating and had ours on sauna level. He said that other girls in the building had apparently complained it was too cold, and that as I was 'in the minority', I had to go with the temperature. Bah! Such a temperature was literally killing me, and it was certainly going to affect my ability to train at full speed in the Taekwondo gym in preparation for the test, so I immediately moved out into my workplace owned dormitories. What sucks in this whole thing of moving is that I lost about US$400 in total compared to if I had just stuck it out in the workplace dorm from the beginning. That wipes out all the extra I made from selling all my books and CDs and from the overtime at work...

Anyway, something 'good' did happen as well this week. I ended up being caught on 2 TV shows on Thursday while I was in between getting my flight tickets. One had something to do with government backed tourist promotion in Korea. I did insist that I wanted to pose for the camera in some Taekwondo stance, but I was told that the idea of Hallywood (Korea's version of Hollywood screen popularity in Asia) was a better promotional take for foreigners than Taekwondo. So, I had to don a traditional Korean Hanbok dress for the first time and had to pose for the camera. I'm not sure what they are going to do with the footage, but I got some free polaroids from the event. I'm making a webcam capture of the pix which I'll upload below.

Finally, my current Taekwondo gym is turning out to be an unexpectedly good one. Partially because of the relatively small class size, the instructor is taking a fair amount of time giving me personal attention. Moreover, finally, a Korean instructor is explaining to me the nuances of all the differences in the Poomsae patterns. I now at last understand why there are so many differences in all the moves. Perhaps I can elaborate on this more in a later post, but in brief it has to do with that even within the WTF in Korea, there are so many fragments of old school systems who have not managed to agree on a set way of doing the Poomsae. They acknowledge the differences, but for reasons of affiliation, try to insist on a their particular techniques. My instructor tells me that he is on the governing board of 'Seoul Taekwondo' for Poomsae, and that this school prefers to see, for example, the original Taekwondo kicks in the Poomsae. This means that toes must be up in the front and turning kicks. The side kicks, too, are a little different.

My current instructor is also a more senior instructor than typical in Korea. He is in his 40's which is unusual. Usually, the gym instructors are in their 20's, fresh out of sports college. So, in this tale, it seems that the quality of instruction is more valuable for my purposes of Taekwondo development at this stage.

Okay, so I really should work on my Poomsae, but as usual, I get waylaid by things such as this site, grocery shopping, going to lunch, darn lesson preparation, laundry, catching up on sleep...

Other things I noticed this week included a new Mooto shop outside the Kukkiwon. Inside, for sale they have a DVD for the 1st World Poomsae Championship. On the cover, they have pix of the exact people I saw live. I promise to upload my pix of the Poomsae Championship before the month's out! I'll also upload my Hanbok pix below.


Hanmadang 2006 this week

This coming week is the Hanmadang 2006 at the Kukkiwon in Seoul. I will try to go, although my work schedule is a bit longer than this time last year, so I can probably only go for one afternoon during the event. I will take my camera and endeavor to finally finish the film and get pix of all events to date uploaded here.

Hang on...

There is also a great collection of martial arts tutorials I discovered recently on YouTube. The poster is Erle Montaigue, a.k.a. 'Moontagu' and it seems he is an Australian based in Wales, UK. His styles include chiefly Tai Chi and Wing Chun. His commentary on some of the videos is really informative as he guides you step by step along particular moves.
Visit his YouTube channel here.
Visit his website here.



Something I need to work on - memorizing the South Korean national anthem. Can't remember, though, whether I would have to sing 1 verse or all of them. Here it is:

1 동해 물과 백두산이 마르고 닳도록
하느님이 보우하사 우리나라 만세

Donghae mulgwa Baekdusani mareugo daltorok
Haneunimi bouhasa urinara manse

Until the East Sea's waters and Baekdu Mountain are dry and worn away,
Heaven protects, our nation eternal!

2 남산 위에 저 소나무 철갑을 두른 듯
바람서리 불변함은 우리 기상일세

Namsan wie jeo sonamu cheolgabeul dureun deut
Baram seori bulbyeonhameun uri gisangilse

As that pinetree atop Namsan is wrapped in armour,
wind or frost, our spirit is unchangeable.

3 가을 하늘 공활한데 높고 구름 없이
밝은 달은 우리 가슴 일편단심일세
Ga-eul haneul gonghwalhande nopgo gureum eopsi
Balgeun dareun uri gaseum ilpyeondansimilse

Autumn sky, a vast void high and cloudless,
the bright moon is our heart, undivided and true.

4 이 기상과 이 맘으로 충성을 다하여
괴로우나 즐거우나 나라 사랑하세
I gisanggwa i mameuro chungseong-eul dahayeo
Goerouna jeulgeouna nara saranghase

With this spirit and this mind, give all loyalty,
in suffering or in joy, love the country.

무궁화 삼천리 화려강산
대한사람 대한으로 길이 보전하세

Mugunghwa samcheolli hwaryeogangsan
Daehansaram daehaneuro giri bojeonhase

Rose of Sharon, three thousand li of splendid rivers and mountains,
Great Han People, let us long preserve the Great Han.

Countdown continues...

I've just completed my second week of the eight week training build up to the second Dan Taekwondo test. The first week was fine, but all of a sudden, the last week felt so exhausting. I struggled to get through a double bout of Hapkido and Taekwondo each day. I'm pretty delirious by the time I get to work at 7:30am each morning - nevermind, as my student's commitments to my English classes are often not too inspirational themselves! I also have to contend with our workplace's Halloween Party which will clash with Taekwondo class. I think the Halloween Party is the worst moment as far as work goes. It was fine for kindergarten, but it's pretty twisted to do face painting, sip cola and pass the pumpkin among adults. Thank Ghost, at least it's just one day of the year...

Anyway, the build up to test countdown has a very strange feel to it. I'm no where near as anxious as for the first Dan test, and I'm not even doing extra exercises such as going out running as I had done for the first Dan. My build up is not the best physically, but I think I have gained some psychological wisdom about the whole procedure. Furthermore, this time around, I have to aim towards learning the Korean national anthem. I'm up to line 3 so far.


Apparently, I'm a black belt...

(Photos re. World Poomsae Championships and Korean Open will probably be ready in the 1st week of November, after I finish my camera film at the Hanmadang!)

Unbeknown to me, I am apparently already a Hapkido black belt. I'm not sure when or how it happened, but I suspect it was when I handed over the whooping W250,000 (=US$250) fee with an extra W100,000 month's class fee.

The confusion is really confusing.

Under normal schedule of one belt promotion per month, I should have achieved black belt rank next month. However, as I felt I wasn't of sufficient ability to be promoted that fast, I was planning on attaining the rank perhaps some time early next year. I needed more time to polish my falls and self defense moves. They are okay, but not sharp enough to be worthy of black belt in my opinion. However, all that schedule changed, and I 'had to' take the black belt test this month.

My Korean is not very good, but it's been good enough to communicate with the Hapkido instructor thus far. After discussion about taking the black belt test, I was of the idea that the instructor said the black belt test would be scheduled for the 22nd of October. But last night, when mentioning to the instructor that I didn't think I could be ready to perform the self-defense part of the test to a sufficient level by next Saturday, the instructor simply told me that it didn't matter. I had already 'passed the test' and there was no test on the 22nd, and he didn't know what I was referring to as far as that test date was concerned. Well, I was pretty surprised at all this information which contradicted the schedule I was given for the 22nd. I don't know when and where I was apparently graded, and what on earth was I doing, coming in to train for two hours every day and all through our week long Chuseok vacation for this test I could swear I was told would be on the 22nd???

I simply PAID to pass. Of that, I'm quite sure. So, it's a bit of an anti-climax and I'm not sure how I should continue with the Hapkido class until the year is up. Should I just continue to train my heart out for the next couple of months to try and make up for the gap I feel is missing in truly justifying myself as a Hapkido black belt?

It's not so straightforward to continue the Hapkido on a daily basis for another couple of months, as also I have started a new Taekwondo class - NEW news is that I'm going to take the Taekwondo 2nd Dan test in December! - and have moved into a 'Goshiwon' accommodation (done so in order to compensate for the expense shelled out for the Hapkido black belt), where I can expect just three or four hours of sleep per night because of all the noise and heat in that place. On top of that I have to get up at 6am to go to work. I've survived the first week of this 15 hour training schedule a week, but I don't know how long I can keep such a routine up without something giving. Especially, if I get some serious cold at this stage - many of my students are already sick with the changing of the seasons here - then it could spell disaster.

I apparently have to at least attend some ceremony in November which sees the official handing over of the black belt certificate in front of all the kids' parents. For the price I paid for that piece of paper, I'm expecting that it will be inlaid with gold and diamond trimmings!

So, I'm also back at the Taekwondo gym. I will take the 2nd Dan test at the Kukkiwon (something I just couldn't let pass while I'm still in Korea) in December. I'm not going to Elite Hwarang gym. Their class time of 9pm-11pm is unmanageable when working full-time. Instead, I've found some backstreet basement outfit just 2 minutes walk from my home, called 'Chung Woo' gym. They have an unusually early class time of 5:30, but this fits in fine with my work and Hapkido schedule. The training is also only half as demanding of that of Elite Hwarang, but again, it's more manageable with my schedule. The students in that gym are all black belts, except one or two, but there is a vast difference between their ability and that of the Elite Hwarang students. The Chung Woo students have little technique in their poomsae and seem to wear out pretty quickly. 20 sits ups is the norm. NOT the 200 of Elite Hwarang!

Btw, I the Hapkido black belt is from the International Hapkido Federation.


Martial Cuts

A new video. I wanted to see how the webcam would capture outdoor shots, so I took my laptop up to the rooftop and kicked ass. Quality and speed capture is not so great, but it's just a sampler of what I can do.


For reasons that will become apparent later, I will be taking the Hapkido black belt exam in less than 3 weeks from now despite not being entirely prepared for it. Stay tuned.


More feedback

Here is another message of feedback about The Diaries from an American female who has now relocated to Korea for Taekwondo:

I just started skimming/picking through your book. I've only read the chapter on finding a studio, but I had to drop you a line.

I'm another teacher here in Korea. I taught in the States for three years and always wanted to teach abroad. When my fiance dumped me out of the blue at the end of the school year, I knew it was time to move.

I chose to come to Korea for a few reasons (I'd had friends who taught here, I didn't want to go to China, etc), one of which was I had studied tae kwon do back home and thought, "If I'm going to teach in Asia, why not teach in the homeland of my sport?"

I just read the chapter about finding a studio here. I came here just hoping to find a studio with a Master willing to take on some foreign woman who wouldn't treat me as if I were breakable. Yet I didn't want someone who was so serious I was going to get screamed at for every little mistake.

I live in Gwangmyeong and managed to find a studio I like. Not surprisingly, I'm the oldest person at the studio (at 25 western age), the only foreigner at the studio (I like that), and one of the few women. My class runs from 8 to 10 pm and features a lot of 17 and 18 year old boys. Luckily, most of the 17 and 18 year old boys are pretty serious (as serious as the 15-17 year old boys were back home) and they're friendly and helpful to me.

Unlike your experience, Master asked me what I'd studied back home (my studio back home did both WTF and ITF forms), started me one form back and made me work from there. I was surpised about that, but thankful.

When we met, I told him I'd only studied for two hours a week back home (see, I did not come here taking this very seriously) and to go to 10 hrs a week straight away would kill me. He started me off with 6 hours a week and I've moved up to 8 because I ended up enjoying it so much. I'll probably eventually admit that my Friday nights are not as exciting as I want to think they are and add that night, too.

He speaks *very little* English and I've only been here two months, so my Korean is barely existant. Yet he makes sure--somehow--that I understand what's going on. Some Saturdays there are activities--soccer games, hiking, tourneys--and he always makes sure I know about them. When I need to bring my running shoes for class, he gives me a call and says, "Amanda, daligi." He's a fifth dan and the only person who teaches at the studio. He's a good guy, someone I would respect even if he weren't my master.

I am still amazed at how quickly he moves me through belts, but at least he is picky with me. He doesn't let me get away with sloppy work. A friend from my studio back home had taught here and started TKD here; her instructor let her get away with really sloppy work because she was the only foreigner.

The ONE thing Master did for me/about me that made me uncomfortable was change the entire training schedule for the month of August to accomodate me. He was switching to that weird summer schedule, starting class at 6, but I couldn't get there due to work. So he changed it to 6:30. Oh I HATED that, but the one studiomate I could talk to about it (who I no longer see, since she works) assured me that nobody minded. Still. How embarassing.

I wish that I could communicate more with Master to understand the art part of TKD, but so far I can't. The thing I like the most is that I feel like the studio has embraced me and I've embraced them. The job I have here is horrible and on the days that I get really homesick, the only thing that keeps me from really hating Korea is thinking about how good my studio and studiomates are to me and for me.

It's late and I'm babbling at this point, but I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that I'm excited to read the rest of your book.

For the person who wishes to pay me for the diaries...

Someone has posted a comment wishing to pay me for the Diaries .pdf download. I want to insist that I don't take payment for the book. I had been hoping originally that the Diaries was going to be picked up by a publisher after some initial interest from a couple of publishing groups, but that didn't happen in the end. Therefore, I'm just pleased to receive comments such as 'It was an informative read' or something of that form. I do have some ideas for some future books which I hope could turn around my fortunes, but I think quite frankly, my literary skills are not quite yet up to fame and fortune. Wouldn't it be fantastic to earn the income of someone like JK Rowling? However, it seems that there is very little interest in Taekwondo publications in the mainstream media. Only people who train in Taekwondo seem to have any interest in reading on the topic matter. Although the WTF is suggesting that perhaps half the planet is involved in TKD, from my side, I'm not feeling any such impression of such numbers.


1st World Poomsae Championships 2006

Today, I caught the second day of the 1st World Poomsae Championship at the Olympic Park in Seoul. It was quite an international event, although many smaller nations didn't seem to be represented - there was also the usual big clout of Iran, Taiwan and Spain in the competition. In fact, I got to meet the national coach of Iran who is a Korean, and has a great sense of style about him. I don't know his name, but I have a whole collection of postcards with his picture on, since he is some kind of celebrity figure in Taekwondo circles. I wonder if it is really owing to him that Iran has great status in international competition.

Korea swept gold medals across the board. It got a bit tiring to hear the Korean national anthem played about 10 times during the medal ceremony. Some of the Korean participants deserved their medals; I think there is a particular kicking technique which the Koreans can often show an edge too, especially in the side kicks required in the Poomsae forms. They have superior angles and balance - perhaps from childhood conditioning. The Korean medalists were also from universities where they are training full-time in Taekwondo in any case. However, a couple of the first prize awards were questionable. A couple of the participants even got booed by other national team spectators. After this result, it's hard to see how other nations can break into the Korean medal rankings. Certainly, I noticed that each judging panel always had 2 Koreans in them, vs 4 representatives from differing nations and awarded the highest marks to their fellow nationals. There was also a low-scoring towards the Japanese participants. It's at risk of having the politically strategic scoring of ice skating or even the Eurovision Song Contest. There's certainly some unlevel playing field.

Sometimes it was easy to see a 'better' Poomsae performance. Other times, it was hard to distinguish what cut the grade. Certainly, the women's competition was very impressive, and any one of several nations could have won a medal for their performance. I can see that I need to up my own Poomsae skills to be on such a level!

I took some photos, but need to wait until the whole film is finished to get it processed. I managed to sneak into the competition area to try and get some shots at the medal presentation award. There were simply no other spectators other than those who were directly linked to the competiting teams except for myself, it seemed, so noone seemed to notice when I strayed into a supposedly 'authorized access' area. Generally, local Koreans do not go to watch Taekwondo competitions like some nations do with other spectator sports. There was certainly more home crowd passion during the soccer World Cup, which is kind of disappointing when it's the Koreans snagging all the medals.

The 2nd Korea Open starts tomorrow, and it seems many of the same competitors for the Poomsae are competing in the Open as well. Does that mean a clean sweep of medals for the Koreans, too? I'm not sure whether I'll be able to go and see it because I'm well behind on my class preparation schedule. I don't know how I can find time to fit everything in!

The photos will come eventually...


Bumper crop of events

It's a big week coming up in South Korea for Taekwondo events. In the coming single week there will be the 1st World Poomsae championships and the 2nd Korea Open. It's really hard to get actual information in English on the events, but it appears that they will both be held at the Olympic Stadium, about 1 hour by subway from where I'm based. So, I will try my best to get on over and watch the events - work permitting! (Already, I missed out on a trip to Ulleungdo this week because of work events - sorry to the two who I had to turn down. I was really looking forward to it and was really sore to miss the opportunity because of an awkwardly scheduled work meeting. Alas. Maybe another time...)

I'm not too keen on the sound of a World Poomsae Championship, but the Korea Open event sounds promising. I didn't go to it last year because it was over in Chuncheon and I didn't finish work in time to be able to get over there.

I will post up pictures from the events here. Although you'll have to excuse the delay because I still have the old fashion style camera with film, and not digital images that I can quickly upload.

Last weekend, I attended an event at the Kukkiwon which was a national championship for Korean elementary, middle and high school students. By chance, I bumped into some people I know including the members of the Taekwondo gym I train with. Turns out half of them were competing in the event, but had never told me about it. Anyway, at least I found out about it upon arriving there. The girls all got a clean sweep of the medals which I had to wonder about because they all literally do Olympic level training in that gym to the extent that I was convinced they were capable of maybe even trying out for the national team, they are all so good. I was a bit miffed though, that they took all the medal winning in their stride, and actually seemed a bit embarrassed to receive a prize. If that had been me on the podium, regardless of whether it was the tournament for lackeys or the champagne cup, I would have been beside myself with excitement. I would have been jumping up and down, shouting "Give me more champagne damnit!!" (Actually, I've never seen champagne at Korean sports events.)

Last night, I broached it to the Taekwondo gym owner - the Kwangjang - that I would like to take the 2nd Dan test at Christmas time. He said that only if I was prepared to train with them six days a week for the next four months (!) would he let me register to take it. With their class time finishing close to midnight, and with me due to get up at 6am for work the next morning, that type of training is pretty much an impossibility. I kind of understand the training requirement. Afterall, I wouldn't let one of my English language students take a test without attending classes. However, it gets frustrating at the many barriers I've met at trying to get to black belt tests in Korea. Furthermore, the Kwangjang explained that he would let the other foreigner at the taekwondo gym take the black belt test in December because 'he's sooo good' - yet, this other foreigner would have only been taking Taekwondo for 10 months up to the black belt test, and in fact I rarely ever even see him at the gym!

Realistically, the only way now to go for the second Dan in Korea is to join one of the mcdojos here and join their early evening classes, training alongside the elementary school students. But, I know that route won't help to genuinely improve my level, so I'm calculating that I might be taking the 2nd Dan test after still another couple of years to come...sigh!

But, it's not all disaster. I will take everything in my stride because there's no real purpose to all my endeavors in taekwondo other than it being a hobby. Additionally, I have the Hapkido black belt test to look forward to, which if nothing unforeseen happens, I will aim to take in the springtime.

Heads up and I will report back on all the championships of the coming week.


Apples and Pers

Congratulations to Sab in Amsterdam. Her new baby, Per, was born on July 31st.

Some more Diaries feedback...

I received mail from some more people who have read The Taekwondo Diaries. Both of these people are going to train with Master Chang at SangRok Gym.

"Just read your TWD diaries and thought i pop you an email. its quit
funny, I currently live in Hk (like you in past) and now head to kroea
day afetr tomorrow. I will stay with MAster Chang for a little while
and experience korea there!" Andreas, Hong Kong.

"I have recently moved to Korea from the U.S.A. to work as an orchestral musician. I have been bitten by the TaeKwonDo bug, and my interest and internet searches led me to your book. ... Again, thanks for providing the world with a great resource and interesting insight into your life." Jason, USA/Korea.

Keep sending your feedback!

KTigers captures

Above are some pictures from the Korean Tigers book 'The World Tour Exhibition Highlights'. I try to keep them in mind for inspiration. But this month, I have not done much training because the heat has made me feel not in the mood for exercise. Taekwondo training was switched to 5pm when it was still roasting outside, and just the 30 minute walk to the gym had me all frazzled out! I skipped a whole week of classes. Another point I need to consider now is that my workload at school has increased to the extent that my workplace offers little advantage over many other schools. This term, I've found myself working through the weekends just to catch up on grading and lesson planning. For sure, there is no financial advantage at working where I do. Next semester, waking up at 6am for teaching classes, certainly makes it really hard to have much energy in the evenings for training. I anticipate I can only aim at 3 nights a week of Hapkido at the most. I'm starting to wonder at how long I should stay in Korea for the sake of Taekwondo. Giving up work right now, however, is not viable for a couple of reasons, one of those is that I could essentially be homeless, and secondly, I need to be on a full-time work visa to be eligible to take belt grading at the Kukkiwon in Korea. This rule was made so that not just anyone can come over for a vacation and take a test here. I'll give it until Christmas, then I need to make some decisions about my priorities... Therefore, perhaps it should be at Christmas time that I urge myself to take the 2nd Dan grading test regardless of actual progress made.

P.S. Since I added the Clustrmap to try and find out how many visitors were coming to this site, it seems the answer is...well...not many! I was blocked from listing my site on Karateforums.com where I could get good exposure - they said I was promoting a commercial enterprise in linking to my book site. Bah humbug. So, if people want to see more posts, they had better tell me what they want to read about.


Taekwondo made compulsory in Sichuan Province

Story from the Chengdu Daily in China on June 4, 2006

BEIJING -- The Olympic sport of taekwondo has been promoted as a required course in elementary schools in Sichuan Province, southwestern China, reported the Internet edition of the Chengdu Daily on June 4, 2006.

The idea of taekwondo as a required course in elementary schools has already passed the first session of discussions and it will be officially
implemented soon, according to the educational personnel of the province.

According to the newspaper, the sport has been rapidly developing since its official introduction in China in 1992. Within the past decade, up to 10,000 gyms have been set up all over the country, and the result is an impressive count of over one million taekwondo practitioners.

China's recent golden successes in taekwondo at the Olympic Games have greatly fueled the popularity of the sport among the younger generation. China won three gold medals in taekwondo at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

In this regard, the introduction of taekwondo as a required course in elementary schools would serve to further heighten the popularity of the sport, as well as enhance the lives of millions in China.

SJB Manual Captures

I made some webcam captures of my quaintly dated Ssang Jeol Bohng manual.

Ssang Jeol Gohn (short nunchaku) >




Sam Jeol Gohn (3-part nunchaku) >



Hapkido poster

Temperatures are a bit hot here now for training. They don't have any air-conditioning in the gyms, and all the windows are closed. In the Taekwondo gym, they are still wearing the sweat suits! (I'm not).

Here is a new promo poster for our HKD gym.



A bit belatedly, here are the pix from last year's Hanmadang event in Seoul. There were not many foreign participants, and the majority of the event was concerned with demonstration style competition. It was okay to watch but nothing spectacular. It was also pretty cramped in the small Kukkiwon venue for the huge number of participants.


Hapkido testing June 2006

Today, I got my first award in Hapkido!!! Actually, I don't know what the award was for. It may well have been a regular certificate to confirm belt promotion which they commonly handout here, but as only a few of us got given the certificate today, I would like to hope it is some type of award! I would like to believe that I did some outstanding remarkable feat. But, I don't think so. One year on, and my test consisted of 2 forward rolls, 2 falls, 2 self-defence moves and a bow (as in bow-wow). Not overly demanding.

I awarded myself a psychological prize in that I didn't get nervous during the test. That was despite having some 200 family members of all the students sitting in the room, and myself, entering to gasps of 'foreigner! foreigner!' Although, the calls were not nearly as extreme as down in Daegu City. In Daegu, foreigners are treated like aliens. I hope I can feel so calm when the day of my black belt test comes. And, if that test should be as simple as today's, then I can be confident of passing all the gradings. I know I can already do all the moves of all the existing black belts except for a back flip and jumping over someone standing at head height. I have 12 months to work on those missing skills. But, really, why I felt so confident on this occasion is surely to do with the past few weeks of training at the Taekwondo class. The training there has been SO HARD, but I've handled it. Consequently, I knew that in this Hapkido test, whatever they threw at me, it wasn't going to be even 10% as difficult as what I've been doing in Taekwondo class.

There were lots of amusing but tragic moments for me, as I got parents telling their kids to approach me and practice their English. One little boy came up to me and shouted 'You're a bloody foreigner!' to which I pretended 'No, I'm Korean!' He shouts 'You can't fool me! You have white skin!'. I reply, 'Really, I'm Korean.' Other kids catch on to this 'game' and say to the boy 'Yeah, she's really Korean.' The little boy then flips out, beside himself in uncontrolled rage, screaming 'Am I stupid?!! Do you all think I'm stupid!!!' He then tries to pinch my skin, yelling 'This is real foreigner skin; look, it's not makeup!!' Oh no...

There was also a demonstration stunt team consisting of some guys who the Hapkido instructor had called in from some place outside. This went horribly wrong. They were supposed to do a fight sequence with some flashy kicks and falls. At the end, the five guys were all supposed to feign lying on the floor in agony. Anyway, one of the guys doesn't actually get to his feet when it's all over. Everyone starts laughing, thinking he's making a joke out of the scene. Then, his team mates decide to pull him up. He's barely conscious, and his leg is just hanging awkwardly lame at an odd angle... Shivers... I looked at the reaction of all the onlookers. The kids were all quite passe about it, and the family members didn't seem too bothered. The lame guy was carried off into the office and an ambulance was called. I think it went wrong when one of the team was supposed to hit the guy in the shin with a bamboo sword which is used for gumdo practice. I think he hit a bit too hard...

Nearly as shocking was the next round of action - the parent's breaking test... I have never seen parents partake in class before, but here they were, suddenly called upon to break pine boards. Non of the parents looked in very good form. Non of them were under 40 years old. But, they came out, guns blazing, to save their kids self-esteem and smashed their way through the blocks. It was about the most convincing breaking I have ever seen the whole time I've been in Korea. Kudos to them! But, I was disappointed that they only called on the fathers and not the mothers. Then, they awarded the parents with customary gifts, and even though I'm not a parent and did no breaking, I for some reason got called up again, and was presented this time with a book voucher - to the value of about 2 pound 50.