Taekwondo School – November 4th 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)
I’m aching this morning as I have joined a Taekwondo school run by a 7th dan, Master Bae. The school is affiliated to the American Martial Arts Association and it is exactly 190 paces from my school. The school, along with most other Korean enterprises seems to be permanently open but my classes run specifically from 8-9pm. The school is large and there are two halls, an office, mats on the floor and various other luxuries not found in Britain. When I began filling out the forms the office was full of grinning Korean boys (and few girls) who found my height and my size 15 trainers amusing. It seems that only youngsters do martial arts here and I am told that adults prefer bowling or golf. I think I am getting private lessons from the instructors. I was measured up for a suit and it should arrive on the 7th. From my extensive training in martial arts in the west, one is taught to constantly bow to instructors and to the training hall but this seems quite the opposite here in Korea. No one bows on entering or leaving the dojang and during the training there is a lot of chit-chat and laughing between the instructor and students and even the ‘Captain,’ as they refer to Mr Bae, gets little deferential treatment. When I took taekwon-do gradings in the UK, under Master Rhee, who was an 8th dan, he was treated like a god and no student was allowed to approach him uninvited. It is a surprise here, to see lazy students who stop exercising if they get tired or can’t keep up but I have since been told that this lax approach is necessary to keep youngsters in the class as martial arts schools are on every street corner. However, even in my school, Hae-song school, I have witnessed some almost brutal discipline. In one session a boy who was messing around was put in a headlock until he passed out. He was just left on the side of the mat to recuperate. One of the instructors often walks around the class with a small sort of hammer which he bashes on the soles of the feet of the youngsters to encourage them to stretch properly. Despite my criticisms most of the children with belts above green seem proficient. Martial arts are very popular here and it is quite common to see youngsters, usually boys, practicing techniques in the street. Yesterday I saw several boys walking through the town in kumdo (the Korean equivalent of Kendo) uniforms. Both carried wooden bamboo swords at their sides. Even the owner of a local restaurant I have been going to has a second degree black-belt. At the end of my last training session, we were all given a letter which I have since had translated; it referred to the equality of women in the training hall.
My flat is only a five-minute walk from the Shane School of English where I am teaching and Nana, my flatmate is very friendly. The flat is well equipped, spacious enough and clean. During the week I moved my bed out of the room and bought Korean bedding as I intend to have a total Korean experience. Nana and I went out for a meal last week. It consisted of barbecued sliced pork which is eaten with a variety of leaves and condiments. Some of the food is quite strange and has textures and tastes which I haven’t experienced before. We got slightly drink on a drink known as soju (소주). After eating we wandered around the town for an hour or so.
The teaching is okay but some of the kids are unruly. Most of the ones I teach are aged 6-13 and one luxury is that you can hit them and physically manhandle them. I have one particularly horrid class, Kindy B and one boy, Peter, was messing around a lot. He did the same last week and when I tried to keep him behind he ran away. Because I can’t speak Korean they take advantage. He did the same this week and when I went to get him he ran around the classroom laughing. Anyway, I pushed all the desks out of the way that were between us and grabbed him by the neck. Then I frog marched him to my desk and kept him stood there until he had stopped crying. Some of the Korean teachers make the boys stand and do ‘pokey drill’ (a British army term for punishment or training where you hold you weapon in painful positions until your arms ache), when they are naughty.
I’ve stopped cooking at home as it is doesn’t cost much more to eat out. On working days I have a big rush to get from my last lesson, which finished as 6.40 and then get home, grab a quick bite to eat and go to the TKD school for eight. I trained every evening this week and yesterday had my first full session in the class. I’ve had individual lessons from both the master and one of the other instructors who can speak some English.