1/22/2007

The British martial arts scene

This posting is on request.
Coming back to Britain, I was sceptical about the opportunities I'd have to train in martial arts, especially outside of London. It turns out that there are actually a lot of martial arts classes around. In the city of Bristol, there are quite a number of Taekwondo classes, 2 Aikido classes, 2 Wing Chun classes, a Judo class, a few obscure Chinese martial arts as well as a couple of kick boxing classes, Tai Chi and boxing and perhaps a couple of others I have missed. There are lamentably ZERO Hapkido classes in this region, which is really what I would wish to continue training in.
From initial survey, there does seem to be quite a lot of quality tuition in these classes, but my suspicion of sub-standard venue quality was confirmed. Most of these classes have to rent a small space in a school hall or a sports centre for just an hour once a week because it's not profitable for an instructor to have their own gym. Some places have a few mats which can be put down, but the matted area is really quite small to do free practice such as somersaults or sequences. The space for maneouvre when you are elbow to elbow with other students is pretty restricted and you spend a lot of time apologizing for bumping into people. However, there are some exceptions.
I managed to get a free trial class in several places. One was a trial Tai Chi class, which surprisingly had about 500 people turn up for the trial. I could never have believed so many people would be interested in Tai Chi in the particular district I was in. Later, I stumbled upon Master Davies' Black Belt Academy which is just around the corner from the place I am staying in. Now, this was a surprisingly good place. This is one of the few places that has its own purpose built gym complete with matted floor, hanging bags and large tumbling mats. The main activity in this place is Taekwondo, and it runs similar to a Korean style class - with the kids in your class to boot! The standard of the students on the particular night I went there didn't seem very high, but it didn't really matter to me. The instructor was good, and I felt I would be happy to join this gym. I did find it strange, though, that the students addressed the instructor as 'Sir' and had to explain the meaning of the Poomsaes on request. In Korea, I bet nearly all students couldn't tell you what each Poomsae represented. I know I certainly can't remember without the aid of my Taekwondo Diaries for reference!
I have signed up this month for Aikido class, as I initially thought this was going to be the only martial arts class within walking distance from where I'm staying - the cost of the bus fare here in Britain now is exhorbitant, it is a national scandal, and I'm only prepared to travel out on the bus if it's only absolutely essential. Thus, I'm pretty much housebound these days, which without a job, is kind of a gloomy time for me right now, especially compared to all the activities I got up to only before the start of this year. I also can't bear that it gets pitch black outside by 4pm, and that there is virtually nothing to do after 6pm. All the shops are shut and there is nothing but a pub, a Chinese take-away and now, it seems, 2 martial arts classes to go to.
So, back to the Aikido account. This class is only once a week, sharing a small area adjacent to some badminton courts in a sports centre within walking distance from where I stay. I joined it thinking that it would just be an extension of Hapkido. I went into the first class thinking that it would all be so easy. How wrong I was. Aikido is turning out to be one of the most difficult martial arts I have yet to experience. I feel like I come out of class having just sat a quantum mechanics exam. My brain has been put through the mill in a bewildering set of coordination instructions which actually are soooo different from the Hapkido moves I learnt. Yet, my body feels like it has done nothing. I'm really frustrated that I cannot use my Hapkido knowledge at all in this class. Everything is different. I'm starting from square one again. The other students are really of a very good standard, but quite honestly, I find the class boring because I go through this mental torture, but physically feel like I've done nothing. There is no sense of a workout. I'm not breathing heavily or feeling like I've been pushed to my physical limits. Furthermore, there is no kicking included in Aikido. That is the ultimate deciding factor as to why I will vote for Hapkido over Aikido. I need the sense of physical challenge to feel satisfied in the class. Aikido is simply not doing anything for me. I respect Aikido as a martial art, but I've decided firmly that I don't like it. I will not continue it beyond the end of the month.
I will also not continue Aikido for another reason: I will be spending February and March in Korea! I cannot seem to find a job here, and as I have no home and no idea how I can manage things here in the foreseeable future, I'm going to use up the return portion of my flight ticket and sit things out in Seoul. I will try to engage in Taekwondo training and perhaps Gongkwon training again. I have an offer to take back my previous job in Hong Kong, but it will take at least 2 months to sort out the work permit, so Korea will be cheaper to hang around and wait in than the UK. I don't know if I am doing the right thing, but in Hong Kong I will have the chance to complete an MA course in English teaching, and I think I need to start to address my professional needs if I am to have any chance of finding a decent job in the UK when I do eventually call it quits abroad. This is some crazy route...

1/11/2007

Degraded Dan Cert

This news is just in from Mooto Media News...
Dan Certificate has been Upgraded! Han, Hae-Jin / Translated by James KW Oh (2006/06/01)
Kukkiwon(President Woon Kyu Uhm) just announced newly renovated version of Dan certificate. The new printed version of Dan certificate shows slightly modified layout but size hasn’t been changed. The new card version of Dan certificate has been upgraded from cheap looking plastic laminated card to decent looking plastic card.
It's nice to know that the Kukkiwon has decided all its cards hitherto have been 'cheap looking plastic laminated cards'. More amusing is the accompanying image of a Dan certificate. Note how the personal details have been blurred out in the Korean texting, but that they forgot to blur them out in the English texting!! So, congratulations to Mr A.N. from a Southern Asian nation beginning with the letter 'T'...

1/10/2007

Kicking the Cross

In Korea, Taekwondo is big. In Korea, Christianity is bigger. I just find something incongruous about the mixing of the two. It's a bit like trying to mix Marmite with Kimchi...

Postscript 2

1/07/2007

Postscript 1

Here are some extra Korea shots from December 2006, which I just got processed. I will also add more photos to Flickr when I can (there's a limit to uploading photos per month, which I've already exceeded.)

Seoul Grand Park is Korea's version of Hong Kong's Ocean Park - a remarkable US$1.50 entry fee (HK Ocean Park is over US$40!!). Cable car ride was an extra $5, though. The snowfall insisted I go out and find a park to walk around in, so I ventured to Grand Park for the first time. It was really amazing to be surrounded by so much snow; however, it was so cold, that there were no animals to be seen at all outdoors! I nearly froze to death before the cable car reached its stop. This is a place that I suspect is really crowded in the summer.

Bukhansan is one of the surrounding national parks around Seoul. It's impressive to have such a large park within a 30 minute subway ride of a capital city. As was typical for Sundays in December 2006, it was bloody freezing. But, surprisingly, it seemed that all the over-60's in Seoul were climbing these mountains. It was pretty crowded here, and I didn't like the fact that the locals brought their 'balli balli' push and shove mentality even to the hiking trails. There's a real risk of getting pushed off the side of a cliff by some grey-haired grannie if you come here...

Some extra shots in Gongkwon on my final night. The guys on the bags are trained boxers.

At the end of an overhead throw. This was another member of Gongkwon, who strangely, was also fluent in Japanese... Quite hot, too!