Happy Christmas 2008!!

Here is yer ugly muggs, standing in front of a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in the city center... Yeah, I can just about force a smile.. ke ke! My plan was to upload a few more xmas shots, but my internet connection is too slow, it just crashes when I try to upload anything more than 200kb. I'll aim to do it when I have more time.

I decided to treat myself to a hotel room for the night because my house is so noisy, I can only get about 4 hours of sleep per night. I am exhausted, and would love to move, but I am so tied down with various projects, I don't even have time to cut my toenails!

My main goal is to get my master's degree in linguistics finished by summer, and then I will have more time to make some new plans and hopefully escape my house for better things. Fortunately, I have a few options open to me, so overall, I am quite lucky at the moment. I am also thankful that I had a great opportunity in October to meet with the Shaolin Monks. That was my highlight of 2008.

I would like to thank all of you who have sent me xmas wishes by email. I hope that you will have a super new year, and that you won't fall victim to the woes of the current financial situation.

Greetings to all loyal followers of the Taekwondo Diaries!!


Wheel of Life - Shaolin Monks review

I went to see the Shaolin Monks perform their Wheel of Life set. I had some free tickets, although rather sadly absolutely NO ONE was interested in coming with me to see the Monks. Even for free, no one was interested in the idea of a martial arts show. This then (perhaps) gives some measure of the importance of martial arts in the UK amongst the general public. (Unless I misinterpreted that simply no one wanted to be in my company!!).

It was 25 years ago that I went to the theater. The theater still looks like something out of a Dostoyevsky novel, although my seat felt like something out of economy class on Aeroflot. My bum was numb and my kneecaps were displaced by not having enough legroom. Peripatetic popcorn and splashes of ale ended up in my hair. I was squished between horizontally challenged people, who couldn't help but Brizzly recount annecdotes - between passing a pint of beer and packets of fruit gums - about when they tried to jump over such and such an object (a topic perhaps inspired by the Shaolin acrobatics) and ended up in the casualty ward having to have so many stitches, etc, etc. Others made stupid jokes about the daring feats of the monks. Shut up.

T-shirts GBP 15; programs GBP 6. Potato chips GBP 3. Prayer beads which you buy in China for 20p on sale for GBP 5, and which I was presented with for free by the Monks on their press tour. No way!

The choreography itself was pretty good, enacting the history of the Shaolin Temple against the backdrop of Chinese political history. They had some musicians from Henan Province, whom I wish they had more of to mix in with the whole set. Instead, they had some terrible quality recorded soundtracks, which perhaps in my old age sounded like those terrible thudding strobes of bass that you hear from passing 'hey look at me looking cool in a car' drivers.

There was endless somersaulting, a few daredevil stunts - extremely impressive - and there was also Brit, Matthew, who did a nunchaku act and a handstand on 2 fingers - just.

All in all a good show for those into martial arts. It kind of revives my idea to try and bring the North Korean taekwondo team to the UK, if it wasn't for the fact that I don't have a lot of time these days.

On the subject of time, I have all but quit Wing Chun. I am struggling so much with time and money these days, and as my priority for the next 6 months is to finish my MA in linguistics, but that my work hours are not relenting, something had to give, and it was Wing Chun. I am just going to go once a month for the meantime, but am not sure whether it is something I will continue with in the long term. I can recognize that some of the moves are practically very effective if you are looking at martial arts on the street. But personally, my heart is just not in the style, and I can never motivate myself to practice outside of class. It's not that I haven't given it a try. I have been doing it for 1 year, and I've really tried to find an interest in it, but quite simply, the longer I do it, the more distant from it I feel. Perhaps partly because of my lack of external practice, my ability in it remains quite pitiful. I even feel really embarrassed at training in class because I know I'm really lame at doing the moves and feel totally ashamed in view of how I used to perform in hapkido and taekwondo classes, where I trained and trained and pushed myself to do better and better each time. I'm also still lacking a lot of strength - I struggle to do push ups and even sit ups. Even so, I want to do aero kicks, flips and joint locks. Wing Chun has none of this.

I still really want to do martial arts, but again, am conflicting with work pressures and martial arts training. I don't really know how to resolve it, as I am still reluctant to take the risk to give up work in the light of the expense involved in living in the UK and with all that happened to me last year. You simply cannot live in the UK without an income unless you are extremely lucky to have a massive inheritance. If I give up work, I will have to move overseas again as I cannot affford to live in the UK, and if I go overseas, I am subject to all the pressures involved in immigration and work permits in other countries and forever living out of a suitcase in seedy backstreet dwellings. I wonder how Matthew Ahmet gets residency at the Shaolin Temple - what type of visa does he have? I guess monks generally don't worry about money either, and there would lie the perfect solution to my woes if it wasn't for the fact that there would be absolutely no way I could wake up at sunrise every morning for prayer and running up the side of a mountain...


Shaolin Monks meeting video

Here is the video of yesterday's meeting with the Shaolin Monks. The soundtrack includes dubbed dialog lines from Five Dragon Claws, starring Hwang Jang Lee:

Meeting the Shaolin Monks

Once again, I was very privileged to meet some of the world's martial arts elite. This time, it was an encounter with the Shaolin Monks from China.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the press function of the Shaolin Monks' latest Wheel of Life theatre tour of the UK. They are due to perform in my home town next month, and are building up to it with a whirlwind promo tour of various city centers. Today, they stopped at 3 cities, one of them being Bristol, at the new Cabot Circus shopping center venue.

Half a dozen of the Monks turned up, including Brit-born Matthew Ahmet, aka Shi Yan Wu, the only foreigner having been permitted to receive the title Shaolin Monk. He can speak Chinese, and he was certainly very instrumental on the day, doing most of the directing of what the Monks should do. I recorded an interview with Matthew (see still frame capture, top) which will be uploaded on video shortly. I admire Matthew for his dedication to becoming involved in Shaolin life, but his presence as a foreigner in a very unique group also made me recall the role that many Western students in Korean taekwondo gyms have in that they often become used as marketing puppets for the gym.

Having an invitation to personally meet the Monks was special. It hasn't been since I was able to visit the Korean Tigers' dojang in South Korea that I have been able to meet anyone of note in martial arts' circles. And to think that my opportunity to meet the Monks would come half way around the world from their home, right into my backyard. I wanted to present the Monks something, but what are you supposed to present Buddhist Monks? All the presents I could possibly offer have in themselves originated from China - Buddhist amulets and calligraphy scriptures. Neither did I want to offer them any Western food. I rumaged around, and came up with 3 items to present the Monks: a South Korean embroidered Hapkido dobok (uniform), a 1970s Shaolin martial arts DVD entitled Five Dragon Claws starring Hwang Jang Lee (a Korean taekwondo-ist who ended up in many Hong Kong classic martial arts films including Drunken Master - Jackie Chan's famous debut film, and the villian in Bruce Lee's final movie Tower of Death - perhaps Hwang should be on my list of martial artists to meet - he is still living in Korea, on Jeju-Do island), and finally a postcard (purely coincidentally Korean-themed again) of some meditating monks with an attempted message in Chinese on the back (see above).
The Monks got heavily delayed on some British motorway, and so their stopover was rather curtailed. They were also barred from cracking a whip in the shopping center venue much to the tour manager's dismay. So what other moves could they muster for the public (increasing in number as the consumerists came out in droves) without defaulting on the British obsession with health and safety?
They did a few leaps and somersaults, wielded a few weapons. Two youngsters came out and did their routine putting their feet behind their head routine, to the great Brizzle (=Bristolian accent) murmurs of "Awww, ain't they cute!" Then it was all over.

I presented the Monks with my bag of 3 items, and took a group photo (see above). While doing some interviews for the press, I decided to undertake some enquiries of my own. Firstly, I told them I was a Buddhist. I had to look up the phrase to say this beforehand, and carefully rehearsed it, as I didn't previously know how to say this in Mandarin. The expression is: Wo xin fo. It translates something like: My soul Buddha. Anyway, as usual, I uttered my Mandarin expressions with crap tones (correct tones are critical in Chinese, taking the example of the Chinese word 'Ma', which can mean 'Mother', 'Horse', 'Isn't it?' or 'F***' depending on the tone that you assign to it), that some of the Monks just looked at me with confusion, and it was ironically the group translator that was the only one who managed to recognize what I was saying. Finally, the Monks twigged that I was speaking to them in Mandarin. One of them ran off to fetch something, and came back with a present for me in return - a set of wooden prayer beads with the name Shaolin inscribed into it. Now that the Monks had caught on that I could speak Mandarin, they tried really hard to understand what I was saying to them, although the youngest members concentration waned surprisingly fast. I proceeded to ask the members what they liked most about England. Actually, this was quite a tricky question, and I hadn't deliberately planned to ask this question. The answer was something that I couldn't have guessed. The answer from one of the teenagers in the group was that the thing that they most liked about England was the sky. The sky? I asked puzzled. Yes, the sky is so blue. I pointed up through the glass roof and cried, what do you mean - our sky is always gray and it rains every day!! But, the air is clean was the final response. I then asked the youngest members, who couldn't have been older than 7 years, whether they liked British food. One of them shook their head and the other remained silent.
When all was finished, the Monks then put on their battered and dirty jackets and walked out of the sparkling new shopping center with products aimed at unmeditative consumers who had more money than these youngsters had ever known.

Some people say that it is cruel to make young children perform what look to be excruciating moves. I've still not fathomed out the existence of the Shaolin Temple in relation to the Chinese Government, however, I do believe that genuine monks would not resort to beating human beings to get them to perform feats in this way. I believe the children who join the monastery - many of whom are in fact orphans with little hope of survival if they weren't taken into the monastery - hold their own intrinsic motivation to do what they do. Although they have to endure agonizing endurance exercises, from what I've seen, I think that they feel a sense of self-worth doing it. Overall, the group I met came across as very positive and healthy youngsters, looking not too dissimilar from kids in my English classes overseas.

I was very happy to meet the Monks and wish them success and happiness in all that they do.


Darn, I missed snapping up one of those...

While Britain is in the grip of knife-assault fear, this intriguing high street sword-concealed-as-walking stick story has emerged (copied from MSN News, 5th October 2008):

High Street retailer TK Maxx was forced into a second embarrassing product withdrawal after a walking stick was found to conceal a 20-inch sword.
The chain pulled the cane from sale after the blade was discovered by a customer who
then contacted the News of the World newspaper.
It follows the earlier removal of a range of jackets which were sold with an attached penknife.
The latest discovery was made by a customer whose partner bought him a wooden staff
from TK Maxx. He told the newspaper that he became suspicious of the weight of
the 35-inch stick. Having twisted the carved end, it gave way to a tapered sword.
A spokeswoman for TX Maxx told the News of the World that the walking sticks were artisan pieces and that its buyers were not aware of the concealed blades.
"We took urgent steps to remove them from the floor ..., therefore they are not available in any of our 220 stores," she added.
On Friday it emerged that a range of Swiss-branded coats had been pulled from sale after they were found to have a knife attacked to them by a chain.

Note the linguistical slip in the last sentence (original error in the article) - seems like fear of attack is on everyone's minds. I have to say that upon return to the UK last year, I was expecting the country to have morphed into something akin to Colombia. News of the 'hoodies' had made it globally. I was anxious to walk the streets of Britain. The reality is that during the day, things seem to be quite safe. At night, with dark street lighting, making all humanoid forms look like Darth Vader on Guiness, it is another story, and I refuse to do anything but walk down the center of the road (unless of course cars are zooming up and down) whether this is a fear grounded in reality or not. I think the reality is that it has paradoxically become more dangerous for men to walk the streets at night than women, simply because of the British disposition of looking for a fight, (Britain is also the only place I've been where people unashamedly shout and swear at people in public on their cellphone, which also says a lot about our 'culture'), but I think it's safe to say that if you keep your wits about you and use your common sense, you'll easily live to see another day.

As for me, I'm still using my umbrella to improvise as a sword. I'm continuing to practice Jian Shu 32 (see below) and I am now on move 29. The problem is that my scribbled diagram copies have 39 moves in them... Why more than 32?


The Shaolin Monks Wheel of Life Tour

The Shaolin Monks are back in town on their 2008 tour in the UK. For various (very exciting!!!!!) reasons, which I am keeping quiet about (but hope to reveal later - stay tuned!), I would like to promote their 2008 tour on this site.

If you would like to check out features and tour dates, please visit the Shaolin Wheel of Life website .

From the website, I am showing a picture of their 1999 encounter with HRH Queen Elizabeth II from their appearance at the Royal Variety Show.

Please, please support the Monks by attending their show.


KILTRO & Oops...

KILTRO - have you watched this one? The title caught my eye as I was looking to rent a video from the local library. It claimed to be the first Chilean martial arts movie, and the actor Marko Zaror was described as 'better than Tony Jaa'. I was highly doubtful from the video stills that this was going to be as good as or better than Ong Bak, so I decided to pass on it, and opt for a Japanese anime called Tekkonkinkreet. Thankfully, after watching a couple of Kiltro trailors on the internet, Tekkonkinkreet turned out to be the right choice. [Tekkonkinkreet is in fact BRILLIANT and highly recommended - one of the best animes I have ever seen].


My international noodle-breaking competition (see below) isn't even taking off as well as Mr Zaror. Not destined to become the next big thing, I guess. In addition, the day after I made the video, I remembered that it is actually considered bad luck by many Asians to break noodles, since long noodles equate to longeivity. Breaking noodles leads you to an early grave... However, it was never in fact established whether packet dried noodles fell under this superstition or were excluded because of their non-linear shape. Can someone please clarify this for me?



With the Beijing Olympics just come to a close, I was inspired to create a new international sporting phenomenon - dried noodle breaking. I am inviting competitors from all across the world to submit their own video entries for noodle breaking. The rules of entry are as follows:

1) Only dried noodles that are in their directly out-of-packet-state form are permissible
2) Any suspect competitor can be subject to a substance test before they can be considered for a prize
3) Videos can reveal as much or as little about the competitor as they wish and can be conducted in any language
4) Any prizes are non-redemable for cash
5) Competitors must not diss other competitor videos unless they can demonstrate superior performance
6) An element of comedy will be appreciated
7) All rules are subject to change at the instigator's decision
8) All final decisions are made by me and me alone, subject to external influence
9) Any racial or extreme linguistic defamation will be banned
10) The official competition will close in summer 2009

As an example of the type of video entry that can be considered, I am setting the stage with:

The competition starts now!!!

RED BELT - new jiu-jitsu movie VS. Olympics wrap-up

Apparently, a new Hollywood movie 'Red Belt' based on a jiu-jitsu theme is about to be released. I have just watched the trailer in German for it here, and I'm sorry to say that it looks like a load of cheesy, predictable CRAP. Why are martial arts movies so often an absolute dive??? I think it's about time I made my own...

I'm on my lunch break, so don't have enough time to try and find an English trailer, but there's probably one lurking out there somewhere on the internet. My tip is don't waste your time looking.

I couldn't get to see the taekwondo event in the Olympics owing to lack of internet access and no TV, but I had a quick sneak of some highlights on BBCiPlayer during my lunch break. I thought the British male competitor Aaron Cooke actually looked pretty talented and was impressed by such a high standard. Also, congrats to fellow Brit Sarah Stevenson, who remarkably was at her 3rd Olympics aged only 25, and who this time won a medal. I was on the WTF.org mailing list for daily news highlights, but they didn't seem to reveal the controversy that still plagues many of the decisions in the competition. It was only when I read a commentary written on the BBC website that I found out how a couple of athletes including Stevenson got re-instated after failed point spotting on the part of the judges. It seems even the electronic protectors are not working. Maybe they ought to get Judge Judy into the fray. Anyway, no more time to comment except that from a viewing interest point, despite enjoying practicing taekwondo, I much prefer to watch judo events and would like to see wushu instated as an event.


Weekend highs and lows

Highs: I bumped into a former Japanese judo Olympic champion in the local supermarket. He was easy to spot, since he looked very Japanese, and was sporting a sweatsuit with the big letters 'J.U.D.O.' sewn on the back. I got very excited, and circled him a few times, wondering how I was going to approach him. Would I look really silly introducing myself if he really had nothing to do with Judo at all? Could I remember how to speak Japanese? Curiosity got the better of me, and so I took the gamble to ask him in Japanese if he was Japanese. To my relief, he was Japanese, and he was into Judo. He was out shopping with his son, apparently doing some training session in the UK. I was unable to understand quite what training link he was talking about, but his son did tell me that he was a former Judo Olympic champion. Whether that meant gold-medallist or something else, I was not sure, but I was very excited to meet him. He was a very small and aged figure, but if he was a former champion, he was surely among the best in his sport. I introduced myself and told him about my background in martial arts. I told him I had failed in karate, and tried to take up Judo in Hong Kong. I told him that my instructor had been a former Japanese Olympic champion, too. The problem was that I had forgotten that instructor's name, since it had been a big point in that Judo gym that we didn't ask direct, personal questions a la formal Japanese style. Likewise, I was so excited to meet this honorable Japanese Judo champion in the most ordinary of places, that I forgot to ask him for his name. Consequently, I am trying to go through the Wikipedia list of Olympic medallists in Judo to try and work out who he may be. He had to have been competing in the lightweight division, and it must have been more than 30 years since his competition, so could he have been Takehide Nakatani (1964) or could he have been Takao Kawaguchi (1972)??
[Today: I've also taken time to track down the name of my former Judo instructor, and he is Master Takeo Iwami, and as far as I can find, he isn't on any Olympians list at all...]
Lows: I got detained by police last night after going out for a run. I have been doing just a 1-2 kilometer run for the past six months, which admittedly isn't very far, but it is a big deal for me, as 1 year ago, I couldn't have achieved that. I got caught up in the path of a big festival happening in the city, and had to go around numerous roadblocks which was so frustrating, as my return should have taken just 5 minutes across a bridge, but instead turned into 1 hour of horrible crowd battling. I was getting increasingly bothered, since I was drenched in sweat and needed to get out of my dripping clothes asap. Anyway, in my running jacket, which coincidentally was bought in a 100-Yen shop in Japan, was enough to make me look terrorist-like enough to get stopped by police. I got body-searched before I got released, which has not been the first time. I was the only one of our group of a dozen people going through the gates of the Lindau rock festival in 1999 who got stopped and body searched - much to everyone else's amusement! Being kept hanging around in sweat-drenched clothes means that this morning I have woken up again with fever and sore throat. Needless to say, I will be turning to Ho Yan Hor herbal tea for relief and not to 20-year-old lemons or eel drink...
Lows and Highs: As compensation for the delayed return, I did manage to catch sight of some fantastic fireworks. I've only ever seen one firework display better than last night's, so it was really very good. If only the city governors could put as much money into support for underpriveleged people, that would be even better.
Highs: Ex-colleague Kevin is still walking across America. I wish he could put some tracker map on his website to show where exactly he is, but nonetheless it is fantastic to think he is doing this, and interesting to see his photos which remind us that there is more scenery in the US than just that shown in Hollywood movies. Along with reading Tournament of Shadows, The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia, which describes the early pioneers into Central Asia, it is all giving me itchy feet. However, for various reasons, I need to stay put.
Lows: I've informally calculated that I am covering the equivalent of a half marathon every day at work. If only I could have enough energy to put that amount of physical exertion in a martial arts gym, I would feel more rewarded...


Only one beverage worse than twenty year old lemon

I thought it could get worse, but Japan has just released 'surging eel', a soft drink beverage which contains, yes, you've guessed it - eel. It is marketed as an energy drink. Eel sushi was the only sushi apart from conch shell sperm sushi that I would never take off the sushi bar carousel. Eel is vile.


Beijing Olympics

Without a TV, and the timezone screening difference, I will probably have to pass on watching anything Olympic related this time around. I'm not really into the boycott club, either, since Chinese political issues are more complex than most anti-China protesters realize. In Taekwondo, I'm sure South Korea will scoop most of the medals again anyway, but if any Olympic viewers wish to send in commentary of how things go, please feel free. In the meantime, please enjoy some images of the Beijing Olympic gardens, as provided by Miss Sun...


Tracking down my title bar

I finally got around to having a look at where my title bar for this website has gone, since it one day just disappeared and instead, a blank void replaced it. The link to the image was on my NODDING GNOME geocities site, since you have to refer to an uploaded image source, and this was an old website of mine. Anyway, it seems that the whole Nodding Gnome site has been taken down!!! I don't know how it happened, but somebody somewhere has deleted my Gnome!!! Bah humbug.

So, now I need to try and re-upload my title bar, which is not easy since my internet connection is beyond slow and uploading or downloading anything is near impossible... Sigh... I might have to resort to using another type of image, so if something strange appears up top, you'll know why.

AD. I have now selected a new image based on my 2001 portrait series made in Hong Kong depicting the ancient art of Kok Fu - weapons-based striking techniques designed to kill cockroaches with a single strike. The weapons utilized in the series were the ladle, the shoe and the hairspray.


Sickness and ...

I've been pretty much afflicted with sub-par housing environments for much of my life. My current housing situation sees me sharing a house with 5 other people who work night shifts. No good for me in a 'regular' 9-5 job when I expect to sleep at night but when 5 people go crashing around the house at various nocturnal intervals. More than 4 hours sleep has been a luxury for the past year or so, and thus I am rather run down at this point, even though mentally, I am still remaining strong. As a result of prolonged exhaustion, I am often afflicted with fever and sore throat. For anyone else who is struggling with similar symptoms, I have recently discovered Ho Yan Hor herbal tea. I swear that it mitigates high body temperature. It's truly amazing. You can obtain this tea over the internet or probably in any fair-sized Chinese supermarket.

The second remedy that was presented to me today by the waiter in a Chinese restaurant after he ironically 'overheard' that I had lost my voice. It is depicted in the pictures above. You will never guess what it is, so I will tell you that it is a TWENTY YEAR OLD LEMON...

I can tell you that it reminds me of the fermented pig rotting in the glass tank at the Seven Star Crags park in Zhaoqing, China. It's all brown and yukky looking, and you wonder why mankind enjoys watching things ferment in see-through containers.

Anyway, Mr A's 20-year-old lemon is a tradition of his mother's. Every week, his mother prepares a lemon for fermentation and week by week, she adds the lemon to her collection. The idea is that you put the lemon in a cup of hot water and add some honey.

So far, the 20-year-old lemon is still sitting on the desk of my workplace, and I'm not sure how I can return the vessel so that it looks like I have actually consumed some of it in order not to offend Mr A.

Thank you for a twenty-year-old lemon...



Yeemei, my former co-worker extraordinaire is getting married - CONGRATULATIONS. Sadly, I cannot attend the wedding, which as I recall from a previous HK wedding, involved some phenomenal 27 or so courses of banquet-style dinner. It was a bit silly, since upon completion of just the third or fourth course, you are already completely stuffed, and the ensuing courses arrive and get taken away from the tables barely touched. The bride, likewise, has to undergo about a dozen changes of clothes during the banquet and perform all sorts of rituals while laden down with gold jewellery. You really can only afford to get married once in HK!!
If you get married in HK, Taiwan or China, you can also expect your wedding photos to look rather creative...

TKD Times article - July 2008

I have a 3-page color spread in the July edition of the U.S. publication, Tae Kwon Do Times. The best bit is the fact that I'm face-to-face with Moon Dae Sung - a-saa!


Fancy a new career?

Now it seems the Koreans are about to start to employ foreigners to teach just about everything in the name of improving their English skills. If you want to play a part in this revolution, how about this job ad for you (as advertised on Dave's ESL Cafe):

1. Position : Full-time Instructor
2. Organization : Dong Seoul College (It is located in Songnam-city and takes 5 minutes from Bokjung subway station.)
3. Recruiting Areas - Leisure Sports - Martial Arts
4. Qualifications - Master's Degree - English Native Speakers - Korean speaking ability is preferred - Korean-American/Korean-Canadian/an applicant who hold a martial art's degree or certificate is preferred
5. Job Description - 12 months position. Sept. 1st, 2008 through Aug. 31th, 2009 ¡Ø Position is renewable - Excellent working conditions. (summer and winter vacation) - Health insurance, Teacher's pension are provided. - Housing will be provided near the college. - Overtime will be paid.
6. For further information If you are interested in the above position, please send to the address below by July 21th, 2008 - your resume with recent photo - a copy of passport - a copy of alien certificate - a copy of martial art's degree or certificate 2. Address Department of Administrative Services Dong Seoul College 423 Bokjung-dong, Sujung-gu, Songnam-city, Kyonggi-do, Korea (461-714) e-mail :

I wouldn't mind such a teaching role myself, but am realistic that my martial arts skills don't match that of an average Korean martial arts grad, certainly not at the moment having been out of training for a long time. If ever I could get myself in condition again, I would like to have such an opportunity, although I am also mindful that I think a lot of Koreans would be subconsciously resentful to have foreign martial arts instructors flood the market to promote essentially a local art. There's also a risk that the foreign instructor can't actually teach either martial arts or English effectively, since hiring procedures don't necessarily go for the best qualified - note here that they ask for 'a copy of martial art's degree OR CERTIFICATE' - does that mean a weekend course completion certificate from Ole Kicking Mule's Arse Bootcamp will suffice? If you want to emigrate to South Korea, don't fail to seize this opportunity!
Sigh, I wish I were back in Korea... Keep on dreaming...


Siu Nim Tao vs 32 Jian Shu

This is a version of the 'Siu Nim Tau' (little idea) first form in wing chun. If it looks odd, I can vouch that it feels odd doing it. Also, while it might look incredibly simple - quite the contrary. There are many subtle technical nuances which would take years to master. Judging from the range of Siu Nim Tau videos on YouTube, there appears to be a lot of variation between the forms, and at this stage, I've got no idea as to which are superior or 'right'. At least in this one, the moves are clearly visible:

Lamentably, I am very lame at practicing wing chun outside of class. At present, I am more interested in developing my wushu sword form that took me a couple of hours to copy from some old training manual back in Korea, but which I never got around to start working on, until a month or so ago (I am using an umbrella in lieu of a sword!)

I had always suspected it was a Jian Shu (narrow sword) form. Today, by chance, I found the exact form, and it is indeed the '32 Jian Shu' - '32' because it has some 32 moves in it. Thank goodness I found the following video depicting someone who seems convincingly good at the form. There I was, plodding along at the speed of a snail, having got about a quarter of the way through it. Now I realize it needs to be rather more dynamic. I don't know how faithful I am going to get to the person below, but I've always been keen on Jian Shu - I once nearly went to China to study Jian Shu after failing to find a Jian Shu teacher in Korea. I like the dynamics, and it gives me a sense of doing something, unlike dare I say wing chun.

I've only just come to recently realize through my sometimes overwhelming number of errors committed at work, that I have to consciously go through a process of mentally switching myself on if I am to apply myself and accomplish something to the best of my ability. A lot of the time, I seem to be on auto-cruise mode. I reckon this is in part to the fact that if I am to avoid becoming stressed out at work - something that would afflict most mortals because my current job is about as highly charged as the trading floor of the stockmarket - I need to separate myself from the task in order to create an unemotional buffer. Thus, I am prone to not having enough focus and can therefore make errors, although remain relatively unaffected by pressure. I can see a parallel in wing chun, in that there is a paradox between remaining in fight mode, but also to maintain a relaxed and soft body. For me, to be relaxed means totally disengaging with what I am doing. It is hard to focus and to perform well in such a state. Moreover, to be switched off also accompanies a sense of indifference and disinterest in what I am doing. I think I am much better prepared in a real life performance and combat sense to be highly charged and ready to give it my all. This has been tested when under genuine life-threatening circumstances, and I would not wish to enter a dangerous situation with anything but a steel resolve and a steel body. If my feet remain anchored in wing chun, my mind is pretty tethered, too.


SENI 2008

I realize my readership on this blog has fallen a bit low since I am not frequently posting anymore, however I would like to ask if anyone here has ever attended the SENI martial arts exhibition at Excel in London? Is is worth going to?

I was set on going to SENI this weekend, but at the last moment decided not to go because of the cost and the time involved getting to the event. In total, I reckoned it would involve over 8 hours of travel, just to get 3 hours at the event. Furthermore, I am not even sure that the Docklands subway line operates on a Sunday, which would have screwed things up had I have gotten that far. Also, from a previous experience of attending a trade fair event at Earls Court some 10 years ago, wonder whether the scale of the event is sufficient. If anyone has experienced trade fairs in Frankfurt, for example, they will know what I mean, since Frankfurt has to be the creme de la creme of trade fair size. I used to work in a hotel around the corner from the Frankfurt Messezentrum (trade fair center), and sometimes used to get free passes from the hotel guests who were not going to stay for the full period of the event and had no more use for their pass.

I was wondering if they sell martial arts DVDS at SENI, since I struggle to find them in shops, and cannot buy online due to having no bank card. Even in Korea, I could only find such videos on VHS tapes in NTSC format. There were plenty of WTF taekwondo patterns DVDs, but weapons and hapkido DVDs were strangely not on the market in Korea. I have been on the look out for nunchaku/ssang jeol bong videos in the UK, and so far have only found them in a store in London's Chinatown. However, at that time, I was leading students around on a sightseeing tour as 'work', and obviously couldn't take half an hour out to discuss nunchaku titles with the store owner. Maybe going back there one day is the only chance I have to get such a video, unless I cave in and venture into online shopping.
Any SENI visitors to report???


My Tutor Friend - fight sequence

A well-coordinated fight sequence going on at the end of My Tutor Friend. Kwon Sang Woo, (phew, phew, the hottie), seems to do all the action sequences himself. He trained his body to a phenomenal level in another high-school fight movie which comes under various English titles such as The Legend of Jeet Kune Do and High School blah blah, and in that movie, demonstrates really good ssang-jeol-bong/nunchaku competence and tremendous kicking power. He also played the role of a taekwondo college student doing part time work as a stunt man until he has a tragic accident in another movie, again with various English titles, including Youth Comic/Love Story. Kwon Sang Woo is an actor who came to sudden fame after he strategically underwent radical cosmetic surgery. He has had most of his face re-constructed, and I wonder if he even had a boob job, since most Koreans don't develop chest muscles quite that big! However, most Koreans don't find him attractive because he has a 'short tongue' which leaves him with a lisp type speech. Personally, I can overlook the speech impediment!!
It may be a matter of time before this clip gets taken off YouTube, but in the meantime, enjoy it while you can:


reflections on wing chun

Some people have asked me about Wing Chun training, so I will try to put a few thoughts down here.
I am still very much a novice in Wing Chun (aka all sorts of spellings such as Ving Tsun, but I find the Wing Chun romanization more credible as it matches Cantonese transcription - although should I be capitalizing the name of all the martial arts; guess not), so cannot really discuss it with any masterful authority. However, I am starting to see certain things in it that I had little idea about at the beginning - although I was first introduced to Wing Chun very briefly back in Hong Kong through a couple of people, and also through watching some training videos of Jackie Chan, who is a real pro on the wooden dummy practice. I didn't understand where you were supposed to start learning such moves.
Wing Chun is very much about short range combat, namely using the forearms to deflect punches and counter with hand strikes as an opponent gets sucked in towards you. It is paradoxically simultaneously very technical and very simple. It can be a very effective system, although I've come to see that many systems can be effective if it works on the principle of speed, so I don't believe Wing Chun can necessarily 'outclass' other martial arts. As in almost any aspect of society, speed wins out nearly every time.
I'm still very much in the bumbling around stages, turning knots with my terrible co-ordination. Also, after being very sick last year, I am still really struggling with strength. However, I am very lucky to have gotten this far, and I think I can eventually make it back up there. I'm using Wing Chun as an intermediary as part of my recovery process. Wing Chun training is actually quite good as a low impact recreation, and thus can be recommended for those reluctant to get into highly explosive martial arts such as karate or taekwondo. Except for the stances which I find put a lot of strain on the knees (ironically, I never had any knee pain when doing repeated high impact taekwondo kicking), it's very easy going on the body when in controlled training sessions.
Wing Chun does have some very strange stances which I cannot reconcile myself with. The idea is that the stances are supposed to make you anchored to the floor by placing you in a low sitting position and give you a stability which makes it easier to maintain balance when struck by an opponent. For me, I find myself that a prolonged Wing Chun stance makes me very flat-footed and sluggish on my feet. Again, I would rather have the speed to move around my opponent, and not face them head on. Wing Chun also has forms which require being in the main Wing Chun stance, and again, it's just not dynamic enough for my liking if I can't move my legs and feet.
I sorely miss the kicks of hapkido and taekwondo. There are several kicks which form part of the Wing Chun arsenal, but they are ironically slow and don't match the effectiveness of the arm techniques. The focus is on arm techniques. That is not to say that Wing Chun techniques are restrictive. Quite the contrary. Moreover, you only really need one or two moves performed well to overcome an opponent in any case. Personally though, my preference for the dynamics of hapkido self defence - those being very long sweeping kicks or self-defence sequences which require the use of the whole body momentum as arcing leverage - means that Wing Chun just doesn't fit my natural physical response ability, regardless of whether it is more practical or not as a defence/offence option. I guess this difference could be mirrored in why some people like baseball but not cricket when both sports are about hitting a ball with a stick. The dynamic subtleties in physical to psychological sensation transference is quite different with different movements.
I pray be that I will have the chance to return to a hapkido class one day. I've decided that I like hapkido the best of all because of the range of skills that you need to train in makes it eternally fascinating and challenging, and that it still has all the fancy kicking that attracted me to martial arts in the first place. However, I am intent on sticking to Wing Chun in the mean time because I can see that it has value in working on punching techniques. In Korea, even in Gongkwonyusul, all class punch training was done into the air. I became quite good at punching the air! However, in Wing Chun, the importance of practicing with controlled contact is stressed, and I can positively say that I'm pretty hopeless at punching people for real!! It's something I can aim to work on. I also hope to gain from Wing Chun class a better detection at an opponent's movement. I struggled with this from day one of taekwondo training, and continued to get kicked to the head right until my last class, simply because I focus so much on what I'm doing with the idea of 'looking technically right' that I cannot focus on what the other person is doing at the same time. If this can improve then Wing Chun will do it's job for me - if I make another posting of Wing Chun of this length again, then it might be doing even more than I set out to achieve in this martial art!! However, I don't feel at this stage that Wing Chun will consume me even as much as 0.1/10th of what taekwondo did, especially as I can't afford to train more than once a week, which is totally insufficient for adequate development in a martial art. As a substitute, I've now gotten out an old Chinese wushu manual that I bought in Korea, and am training for my first full wushu sword form...utilizing an umbrella!!! If I perserve to see the whole form through (either that or a gust of wind will have destroyed the umbrella before I complete the form), I will endeavor to put a video of it on YouTube.


still laughing at these ma auditions...

just watched...Master Kim vs. Master Kim vs. Master Kim

aka 김관장 대 김관장 대 김관장 (released 2006)
It features 3 Korean 'masters' in the fields of Taekkyon, Geumdo/Kendo and Kung fu. It's a comedy, and although not especially hilarious, is full of choreographed martial arts sequences (albeit very staged) for those interested in traditional martial arts.


Best of the Worst

I can do that...
But not that....
Phillip Rhee - not bad at all...
THIS is what I'm talking about - no mention of Phillip Rhee's name on the cover at all - scandalous!!!
Eric Roberts - long after the movie
Eric Roberts - a little after the movie
Eric Roberts - how he looked then:


I said I wasn't going to update this blog very much, but as I have a bit of free time to kill, I will comment on a couple of items that I have come across on my re-discovery of Western civilization.

For the first time in my life, I have watched The Best of the Best series (that's 4 whole movies). What a load of crass ****!!! The sickest parts about it was that Eric Roberts was given a higher profile than Phillip Rhee and Eric Roberts' martial arts and hairdo simply sucked by comparison. What credentials did the other Western actors have in martial arts?? In addition, the role given to the women in the movie was so dire, I could curl in my grave. They belonged to the helpless female victim stereotyped in so many 80s Hollywood movies. Blurghh!!
The series only improved slightly following part 2, after Eric Roberts was ditched (hoorah!!) and prominence given to where it was due - to Rhee. However, Rhee for whatever reason held back on his martial arts prowess, that it became another fairly lame action movie. It might have well have been consigned to a TV series. The interesting parts though, showed some footage of Taekwondo in Korea - still called 'Karate' in the movie - and in part 4, you get the end credits with some extra footage of Rhee demonstrating some Hapkido moves. I wish there'd been more of that.
Tony Jaa still hasn't produced a movie to rival Ong Bak, and Uma Thurmann has pretty much quashed the hopes of having any Western females supercede the Kill Bill role. No doubt there will soon be a Hollywood action movie role for Zhang Ziyi, but transplanting Asian actors under Western directors has never really faired well. What is next for the martial arts genre??

1 year on

It is about 1 year ago that I left Korea. I have only left it in body, though. My mind is still very much on returning when the conditions are right...

I got VERY sick with stress over an illness mis-diagnosis - turns out it was nothing - to the extent that I lost all of my physical strength that I had built up from all the martial arts training. I was further stressed by the prospect of having to give everything up in Korea and return to the UK. Things had started to go seriously downhill for my health from around mid-December 2006 when the stress manifested itself into fits of vomiting. One night I counted vomiting over 50 times. I was unable to eat any food or even set my sight on it. It was really crippling.

It turned out that everything I had anticipated in the move back to the UK not only happened, but that there was even worse to encounter. The first six months of 2007 were some of the worst months I have had to endure in my life. I only got through it by pushing - the same type of mental pushing that was developed in all the gruelling hours spent in the Taekwondo gym - and with the appreciation that there were still many people around the world who would always be worse off than me. I had also spent my time teaching overseas with the thoughts that if all my good fortune ended right there and then, that I would always appreciate the fact that I was able to have the opportunity to experience what I did. I'm glad that I can feel grateful for the life that I have led.

With no family or friends in the UK, and being jobless for what seemed like eternity, I had no option to live in a youth hostel. Sharing 8 to a room was not ideal, but interestingly, I met a retired Taiwanese pensioner in the hostel who had been backpacking around Europe with his friend until catastrophe struck and his friend was hospitalized for a few weeks. He was quite impressed that I could converse with him in Mandarin and Japanese, since he was a volunteer Japanese teacher back in Keelung, Taiwan.

I couldn't get any medical treatment for my stress, since the resources of the British healthcare system has been so stretched, that only certain categories of people can get help, so it has been a solo struggle to get myself back on my feet. Fortunately, by a remarkable twist of fate, I eventually got myself a job in a language school in the UK, and that perhaps marked the turning point in my recovery, as it enabled me to put my mind on something else. As I write now, I'm happy to say that my circumstances are much better than they were 1 year ago.

I am currently doing a part-time Masters course in education, and plan to get a few other qualifications over the next 2-3 years, so that it will perhaps give me enough ammunition to go back to Korea and secure a decent job there. Fingers crossed. I've also got a couple of new books in mind - actually one is nearly finished, but the other is a more special project as it is a novel. I have all of the plot set out, but I'm not convinced that I can write such narrative for a novel oeuvre very well. Anyway, the only dream that could really surpass getting my black belt (and actually, I STILL have not received my 2nd Dan certificate and id card from my test taken in December 2006!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) would perhaps be being an author of a best-selling novel. I need something that could guarantee a steady income of money if I ever wanted to devote extended time to martial arts training and a best-seller would be perfect. More whackiness, but if others can do it, why can't I??

I miss the opportunity to go to a martial arts gym every day of the week like crazy. All I wish to do is practice the self defence techniques of Hapkido, or learn new sword forms. However, a certain reality has to kick in at some point, and for as long as I am working a 50 hour week in the UK, I don't have the energy to attend a taekwondo class, even if it's just a couple of times per week. Instead, I am presently opting for a very soft martial arts option - Wing Chun and Tai Chi. The type of Wing Chun I am practicing is Kamon Wing Chun. I'm not quite sure how Kamon fits exactly into the wider picture of Wing Chung, but for me it doesn't really matter at this stage. Wing Chun does not really contain the time of moves that I feel comfortable with - most of it is about short range striking moves with minimal effort - but it is all I can manage to do energywise at this present time. I only go once a week because it becomes expensive to train at the club any more frequently. It has quite a large student number, and the atmosphere is quite good in the class. The instructors clearly like what they do and are really enthusiastic about teaching.

I'm just grateful that I can do any martial arts at all considering my condition this time last year. I will take as much as I can from the Wing Chun class and consider it a useful comparison against other martial arts techniques.

For as long as I'm in the UK, I'm not going to regularly update this site. I will only add to it if there is something really noteworthy to post. Otherwise, I will keep it open for the day that I can return to Korea.

Other news of note is that Yee Mei is getting married. Congratulations Yee Mei!!! She has sent me her work of taekwondo characters (see above).
Other findings that I've come across related to Taekwondo include an article about a 'survey' (WHO exactly was asked???) to propose names for the new Taekwondo centre in Muji, Korea. The results:
Top 10 Suggestions from the Korean Public: World Taekwondo Plaza, Taekwondo Park, Taekwondo World, Taekwondo Center, Taekwondo Main Temple, Taekwondo Site, Taekwondo Town, Taekwondo NURI, Taekwondo Land, Taekwondo Valley
Top 5 Suggestions from overseas taekwondo colleagues: World Taekwondo Sanctuary, Taekwonland, Taekwondo Valley, Taekwondo Palace, Taekwondo Topia
Others- World Taekwondopia, Taekwon City, Taekwondo Idol City, Taekwon World, Taekwondo Mountain
Perhaps 'Taekwondo Center' is the only sane suggestion here...