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.


Kevin said...

Happy trails!

Kevin (your coworker!)

RAHUL said...

Hey zoe i read this article. i know you are leaving korea. Why dont you try again for korea. U know u r my main source of latest information about tkd and korea because u put all tkd stuff in this page. Never Leave Taekwondo Till Your Last Breath.
-Rahul, India

Little Cricket said...

Best of luck on the transition. Hope to hear more about taekwondo from you soon.


Muay Thai said...

Yea, best of luck... How have things been going?

Dave (Muay Thai Dude) Mitchel

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog