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...