9/21/2006

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.

9/05/2006

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...

9/02/2006

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.