Elwood 5566

Moving on to Haidong Gumdo

Posted in Hae Dong Gumdo, Martial Arts, taekwondo by 노강호 on April 18, 2012

I’d love to pick up studying taekwon-do in Korea. Not that crappy WTF style (which I’ve also studied to red belt) which seems to simply churn out an endless succession of spinning kicks which look great but have as much potential as a feather boa. And then there’s the total lack of handwork!

one of my instructor’s swords. I’ve seen plenty of replicas and blunt blades, but in the presence of a genuine, live blade, one is struck by both their beauty and frightening potential.

Yes, WTF, has it strong points, it has its share of superb practitioners and I’m sure there’s a suitable school somewhere near where I live but I’m annoyed that in the birth place of TKD, the only type of TKD taught is sport taekwondo. I’m 56 and don’t want to jump around a gym doing nothing but back kick-turning kick, back kick-turning kick, or some other flashy combination and churning out a pattern a month so I can dan grade in ten months. I’ve done the kicks to head height and smashed my feet into sand bags with quite impressive power and along with an abdominal hernia, it has ruined the backside of a few pair of trousers. Now it’s time for slightly gentler training and in any case, low level kicks which smash a knee joint have always been more effective as a means of self defence.  But in the home of taekwondo – not only is it impossible to find a school which teaches traditional taekwondo – but it is impossible to find anyone who knows anything but the WTF exists.

And how many Koreans adults have you met that study TKD? When you tell  a Korean you’re studying a martial art its like telling a westerner you’re favourite PC game is Barbie Homemaker; it’s simply not taken seriously. Martial arts are for kiddies  and most Korean men are WTF ‘have-beens’ with a third or fourth degree black-belt earned in less time that it took me to grade to first dan (ITF) in Europe.

another ‘live’ gumdo blade

I hate everything about WTF, I hate their stupid uniform, I hate their boring patterns, I hate the boring training methods, all the running around the gym and jumping over obstacles and a plethora of other tactics designed to entertain kiddy classes and which have mutated Korean WTF schools into sporty kindergartens with accompanying infant grand-masters. Of course, this is just my experience of Korean WTF, I’ve never trained in a European WTF school. And I hate the way you can kick someone to the face but you can’t punch it. When I was at my peak, my kicks were all dangerous and far superior to my hand techniques but with WTF it seems the feet, despite being the key note of TKD, are ineffectual. Most of all, I hate the way the WTF has re-written history so that in Korea WTF taekwondo is simply taekwondo! No other form of taekwondo is acknowledged.  And worse, in Korea, WTF is a business; it is simply about making cash – but then many organisations can be accused of this.

S0, I decided to take up  a new martial art and one which has only recently begun to appear in the west – namely Hae Dong Gumdo. It too attracts criticism but I’m not bothered. I want the dan grade as quick as I can get it and in most martial art schools in Korea you can do a dan grade a year. At 56 with 30 years of on and off experience in TKD, I will always feel inferior to the days when I was at my best but with Gumdo, I can be better today than I was yesterday and I’ll be even better tomorrow. After only three lessons I’m already progressing but in TKD (ITF), I’m always a shadow of my former self.

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Every Boy a Black Belt

Posted in Martial Arts, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on April 3, 2012

one master to another

Anyone who has lived in Korea will have noticed just how many kids, mostly boys, have black belts in one martial art or another, usually taekwondo, hapkido or komdo. Seeing kids in martial-art uniforms on the street is a daily experience and indeed many of my students come to school in a uniform, because they are either going onto, or coming from a martial-arts lesson, in much the same way as Western kids might wear a track suit. In South Korea, almost every boy and a good many girls are black belts and many are senior dan grades the equivalent of ‘grand master’ (usually 4th and above).

There is a lot of criticism in the west to the promotion of children to dan grades (ie. black belt grades) and it is a topic that, for as long as I can remember, has divided the martial arts community.  The school in which I trained in West Germany, over thirty years ago, and which still teaches today, didn’t promote children to dan grades and there was a strong ethos among the senior grades and instructors that earning a black-belt required both physical and mental maturity.

There is a world of difference between the experience of learning martial-arts in the West and  in Korea. Though there is always variation between schools in any country, I’ve generally found schools in the West to be far stricter in both terms of training and etiquette. Further, general attitudes towards the  ‘black belt’ differs significantly. It is these differences, as well as those concerning the nature of a style or art that shape attitudes towards junior or even infant dan grades.

I’m told by Koreans, that training and etiquette in Korea were much stricter before martial-arts schools became big business and before the development of sport taekwondo as practiced by the dominating style of taekwond0 on the peninsula, namely WTF (World Taekwondo Federation). Indeed, the different ‘spellings’ of taekwondo, namely ‘taekwondo’ and ‘taekwon-do, reflect the division of this art into two factions represented by the WTF and ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation). Currently, most schools in Korea are sport taekwondo schools under the umbrella of the WTF. I’ve yet to meet a Korean martial artist, or instructor, with any knowledge of the historical development of their art and the relationship between traditional taekwon-do (ITF) and sport taekwondo (WTF). And of course, there are other Korean kicking styles including Tangdoo-do and Mooduk-kwan – all closely related to taekwondo historically and aesthetically.

everyone a dan grade

It is difficult to ascertain the extent of change that may have occurred in Korean attitudes and approaches to training partly as we are either dependent on translated articles or first hand-accounts by the few westerners who may have trained here between the 50’s-80’s and who may have glamourised or romanticised their experiences. Discipline and etiquette in the Korean classroom has changed over the last ten years and without doubt changes are mirrored in the taekwondo dojang (training hall). When I trained in a WTF school in Daegu, in 2000-2001, and again in 2003, I remember writing about students being hit on the legs with sticks, and a boy who misbehaved and was put in a headlock until he passed out. However, these were isolated incidents and in general the school was far friendlier and etiquette and training much less regimented than in the  ITF schools back in the UK.

Martial-art schools, and especially WTF taekwondo dojangs, are one of the most common Korean establishments and their presence in terms of buildings, colourful mini-buses which ferry students to their schools and the logos, badges and stripes which personalise WTF uniforms, dominant the landscape. Competition for students is fierce and taekwondo schools are as subject to economic pressures as any other business and like many other businesses, they come and go on a regular basis. My old taekwondo school in Song-so, Daegu, despite being the most popular in the area, closed in 2005. A competitor with a better cartoon character on their fleet of mini-buses, or an additional touch of ‘bling-bling’ by way of a gold embossed lettering on a suit, is enough to cause students to migrate. With the pressures of competition, Korean taekwond0 schools have to be ‘child-friendly.’ ‘Adult friendly’ is rarely a consideration as I’ve never seen Korean adults training or doing anything other than instructing. I know adult classes exist but the predominant market caters for children. Hence, schools personalise the standard WTF dobok (uniform) with an array of piping, badges and designs in a way that is interesting, amusing but at the same time tacky, camp and ‘ballroom’ to the extent that only the sequins are missing. And in cold weather, students often wear long quilted coats, sort of anoraks which carry the schools logo and perhaps a few badges and which are worn not  just to and from the dojang but sometimes worn over the dobok  during training. There is also a custom, not as prevalent today as ten years ago, of wearing a white polar-neck ‘shirt’ under a dobok. Likewise, dojangs are often camped-up with bright colours, manga cartoon characters, stunning logos all of which result in designs more acquainted with kindergartens than gyms.

2nd dan

Like the private academies (hakgwons), taekwondo schools are judged by their results often to the expense of standards. As with English schools, where the ability to pass a test is more important than actually speaking English, the belt is of more importance than the art. Not only must the training be fun and pleasurable, but belts must be passed both with ease and speed. Training in Korea is the quickest way to gain a dan grade and it is easily within the realm of possibility to be wearing a black belt within ten months of putting on a dobok – I’m tempted to say ‘within ten months of first learning how to tie one’s belt’ except that a great number of students, even dan grades, don’t seem to have learnt the correct method. In Germany, where I gained my dan grade in the Chang-hon style of taekwon-do, the journey from white to black took in the region of 4-5 years and above blue belt each belt had to be remained at for 6 months while from red-black to black, the wait was a year.

My school, Song-do Kwan, had originally been owned by a Korean but in the early 1970’s many German dan grades began to break their affiliation with Korean instructors because they were concerned about both the commercialization of the art and the manner in which techniques were often withheld from students in order to maximise potential profits. My school was a two  floor gym, rented by the instructor, Georg Soupidis, and training for five nights a week (and I often trained in two or three sessions an evening),  cost a couple of pounds. It was the cheapest school I ever trained in and as the school had no affiliation and was independent of the ITF, there were neither club nor membership fees. Unlike Korea, most students were adults.

Training for kids in Korea is great with plenty of tumbling, running and jumping and there is no doubt it is energetic and aerobic but from both my training, and classes I’ve observed, there is little explanation of or focus on the intricacies of technique and a total lack of focus on power. And often, towards the end of a class, kids allowed to play ball or tag games.

In most Korean dojangs the instructors aren’t just senior dan grades, they are grand masters, and often senior ones. In my first Korean school, the chief instructor was a seventh dan and his assistants both fifth dans. In the UK, in all but wing-chun kung fu, I’ve only ever trained under 1st-4th dans and most have been 1st or 2nd dans. As a student in a Korean school, and certainly as a foreigner, you can expect your grand-master to give you some personal training. Generally, the relationship between instructors and students is less formal than in the UK and the respect afforded a senior grand-master is really  no different to that afforded a teacher, professor or even an adult in general. This contrasts starkly to my experience of ITF in the UK where senior dan grades, even junior ones, were treated like royalty.

3rd dan

I don’t want to generalise about UK training, because variation always exists but the ITF were particularly strict. Western oriental etiquette seems to over do the significance of bowing to the dojang, instructors and other practitioners maybe because it is not part of our culture and from my experience and observation, you are likely to both bow more reverently and more often in a British taekwondo school than in a Korean one.  The Western dojang seems to be more hallowed a space than it is in Korea perhaps because of the fact it is often a manky church or school hall. The increased deference to the area is meant to elevate its status to the point you forget that the bit of carrot stuck to your trouser leg is a remnant of the pensioners’ lunch meeting held earlier that day. Likewise, the status of ‘black-belt’ is of more significance though I think this has declined since the 1970’s and 80’s. Certainly, in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, dan grades were revered and while you might not have humbled yourself before them, you treated them with respect. As for grand-masters, when I was at grading sessions in the presence of Master Rhee Ki Ha (9th dan), head of the  UKTA, you were not allowed to speak to him or approach him.

(1965)the first TKD book to be published in the English, before the ITF, WTF or black piping

The UKTA tightly controlled the design of uniforms and regimented to the centimeter the location of the obligatory badges. ITF taekwon-do, certainly in the UK, has been both thoroughly commercialised and, like many other styles, turned into a sort of medieval guild which at one and the same time protects its own brand, claims superiority over all others, and promotes the importance of its higher ranks. These developments at times conflict from Choi’s original vision which appeared in the first book to be published on taekewon-do, in English, in 1965. Taekwon-do: The Art of Self-Defence,  not only included the  Chang-hon style patterns which form the backbone of the school, but the five Japanese Heian kata (Pinan-平安). Choi suggested that the skills required for yellow belt could be transmitted by a yellow belt to a white belt and there is the general assumption that once equipped with a black belt, one is able to teach.  As both a business and martial-arts organisation, the ITF has been highly successful but the training and membership have never been cheap.

I trained with three ITF schools in the UK and never really felt comfortable in any of them. One had a training regime that was horribly brutal and the 2nd dan instructor would regularly order an assistant-instructor, who happened to be a member of the British ITF team, to kick students from other styles out the gym’s double doors. The preamble to a training session included 200 front leg rising kicks. The school had 8 students, all male, all under 30. Meanwhile, in the same town I was training in a Shotokan school that had 60 members, the eldest of whom was a woman of 67. In another school in London, under a Korean 2nd dan, students were only taught techniques required for belts with all other techniques being ‘banned.’

a 4th dan

When it comes to junior dan grades, your opinion on their credibility is probably going to be based on the values you associate with your particular style. WTF taekwondo is a sport and though it produces some fantastic martial artists, the day-to-day nuts and bolts of a Korean WTF class is churning out a flurry of successive spinning kicks. In the competition arena power and technique are sacrificed to speed. Apart from in the practice of patterns, I don’t think my classes in WTF ever included hand techniques and indeed the WTF fighting rules have turned the hands and arms into vestigial organs which hang limply at the sides. Even styles which are not renowned for kicking ban head kicks because of their potential danger but the WTF allows head kicks, even the largely uncontrollable spinning and axe kicks, while banning hand to head techniques. For an art where the feet should be superior to the hands, this isn’t a very good advertisement for kicking potential. Further, as it is good strategy to ‘box’ a kicker and kick a ‘boxer,’ the WTF style fails to fully develop or raise awareness of both the importance of a good guard (against hand to head attacks) and effective offensive handwork strategy. Every style has limitations but I feel that if ITF taekwon-do were to die out and WTF dominant, much of the essence of taekwon-do would be lost. Naturally, a style is only as good as the person practising it, and there are excellent martial artists in all styles, but I cannot avoid concluding that the emphasis on sport severely weakens taekwondo as a martial art.

fantastic stretch and technique - 4th dan

With the objects of tournament competition as the orgainising features of WTF taekwondo, there is nothing wrong with junior dan grades. The lithe-light, supple bodies of children are able to unleash a blur of fascinating footwork which is equal to, if not better than that of many adults. Some of the grand masters I teach in school, and I teach several a day, are able to kick with as much stretch and beauty as the likes of Bill Wallace but in terms of power, they are totally lacking.

the famous 'Superfoot' Bill Wallace, an incredibly powerful technician. Dan grade? No idea...

And what age is too young to have a black belt or to be a grand master? The youngest 4th dan I’ve met so far has been 7! Does a child or infant grand master deserve the same respect and admiration as an adult senior grade? Does mental maturity have anything to do with black-belt qualities?

If the values of your art or style believe power to be an important facet, then junior dan grades are as incapacitated in this field, by virtue of their physical and mental development, as are prepubescent ballet dancers in the performance of adult ballet. This is no slur on their ability, it is simply that they do not yet have at their disposal, the tools to be powerful.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Bathhouse Boxers

Posted in Diary notes, Martial Arts, taekwondo by 노강호 on April 25, 2011

Sunday evening and Migwang bathhouse was again packed to watch Samsung Lions (Daegu’s baseball team) from the comfort of either the ‘ebente-tang,’ (today infused with ginseng), the hot pool, or the large jacuzzi. It would have been possible to watch it from the cold pool but it was  full of noisy students. At one point I moved to the small ‘ebente-tang’ during a commercial, when it almost empty and as soon as the game restarted, it suddenly had 9 occupants.

The moment I arrived at the changing rooms I spotted the numerous foreigners. There were 9 of them and they were all very fit and athletic with washboard stomachs and compact physiques. I wasn’t sure whether they were middle eastern or Eurasian but assumed they were probably Islamic as they all wore briefs or even jjimjilbang clothing in the bathhouse complex. I’d heard about the reception people get wearing underwear in the bathhouse and though they attracted much attention, no one seemed to take objection. However, at one point I did see one of the grumpy old attendants trying to explain that they should take their pants off.

Ilkin Schabazov

When one sat next to me I learnt they were the Azerbaijan taekwondo team, here to train at Keimyung University in preparation for the World Championships in Gyeongju, between May 1st and 6th. This morning I googled ‘Azerbaijan taekwondo’ and two of the men I’d seen I was able to research. One was Ilkin Schabazov, two times world champion for his weight division. Another fighter I recognized but couldn’t identify.

unfortunately, I couldn't find his name

Only one spoke English. How do you like Korean food? I asked. He replied, Pizza, McDonald’s and fried chicken!

Arirang video on World Taekwondo Championships in Gyeongju, May 2011

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A Tale of Philosophers and Carrots

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, esl, Korean language, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 8, 2011

podcast 74

There is a Korean ‘idiom, dang-guen-i-ji (당근이지 – that’s the carrot, or absolutely!). Now, this isn’t directly borrowed from English but is apparently a development, by children, of dang-hyeon ha-ji (당연 하지 – absolutely!) If you say them repeatedly and alternatively, dang-guen-i-ji is definitely easier.

dang-guen (당근) the carrot, a familiar Korean crudité

So, one day I am buying something in a shop and use my newly acquired idiom and proudly ‘joke, ‘ ‘dan-goon-i-chi ‘(단군이지). The old lady serving gives me a funny look, no doubt amazed at my ability to use colloquial Korean. That day, I use the phrase several times and not just overdo its use but probably use it in slightly odd situations and this, so I believe, accounts for the bemused faces it induces.

Dan Goon (단군), legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC

A week or so later, I use it after having my hair cut and then I discover, I’ve been confusing the Dan-goon Wang-geom (단군왕검), the revered emperor-philosopher with dang-guen (당근), the common carrot. In translation, I suppose Dan Goon-i-ji might be rendered, ‘that’s the Socrates,’ or ‘that’s the Wittgenstein,’ depending on your current taste in philosophical schools. I should have realised my mistake earlier as I have a long history of confusing the legendary founder of Korea with Bugs Bunny’s favourite crudité.

Part of the course in learning a language is that you make mistakes and some of them can be amusing even if they do cause embarrassment.  I’m probably quite famous in the area in which I live for entertaining locals with my bumblings.  One of the local Monday morning market vendors was very bemused when she realised that the ‘eagle jelly’ I was asking for, was in fact ‘acorn jelly’ and on more than one occasion I’ve asked for, ‘some thinking,’ rather than ‘some ‘ginger.’

I’ve been there so many times! (link to Lulu)

In English the sounds ‘kan’ (간) and ‘kang’ (강) or  ‘tan’ (탄) and ‘tang’ (탕) are very easy to distinguish but this is not the case in Korean. For years I’ve heard and read silly arguments between western taekwondo students quibbling about the transliteration of terminology into English without realizing that the relationship between many Korean letters and English ones is an approximation and that many simply cannot be effectively captured with a letter of the English alphabet. English script isn’t adequate enough to differentiate the sounds  of its own language let alone those of another  as is borne out by the discrepancies between the ‘a’ in ‘cat and ‘father’ which result in disagreements between those speaking northern  and southern variations of British English.  Koreans for example, finalise a word ending in ‘n’ with the tongue between their teeth and distinguishing between some sounds often necessitates watching the mouth closely. So, I often mispronounce ‘soy-sauce’ and end up asking for ‘liver sauce’ and confuse ‘soup’ with ‘briquette.’ ‘The reason I’ve spent so long mispronouncing Dan Goon (단군) is because it was one of the first 10 Korean words I learnt some 30 years ago when I began training in taekwon-do. Many non-Korean TKD teachers mispronounce the word because the transliteration often rendered it ‘Dan Gun.’ If you want to pronounce Korean accurately you have to learn the Korean script or at least study the systems of transliteration used closely so as to avoid simply producing ‘approximate’ pronunciations.

Tasty!

And then there’s ‘ddong’ ( 똥 – shit)!  A westerner only has to attempt the combination ‘dong’  (동 – east) to elicit laughter and hence ‘dong-sa’ (동사 – verb) and ‘dong-wui-o’ (동의어 – synonym) have the potential to temporarily disrupt English lessons.  Maybe it’s just my lack of ability, but it seems no matter how hard you try, Korean kids seem to choose to hear ‘dong’  (east) as ‘ddong’ (shit).

and I love mandu

Some Koreans, can be quite cruel in their derision should you attempt to speak their language and even ‘sounding’ a word  or phrase in a Korean manner, can elicit sniggers and subsequent mimickery.  I’ve even known friends write my blunders down so they can  narrate them to others but I don’t mind as I too have learnt such blunders, regardless of nationality, are cute and on occasion my pen comes out to record  mistakes.

First, there are the obvious ones:

I’m fine – I’m pine

I like fish – I like pish.

Last week a new student appeared in a class and a student informed me, ‘there is a new pace in the class.’

‘I like crab’ usually always sounds like, ‘I like crap.’

And there is always the older boy who tries to impress you with his knowledge of ‘naughty English’ and proudly states, ‘puk-you! On the subject of four letter vulgarity, ‘vacuum cleaner’ becomes ‘pak-um creaner.’

How about, ‘make a mistake,’ which students often repeat as ‘make a steak’ or similarly, ‘be careful,’ which becomes ‘big apple.’ I hadn’t thought of combining the two but there’s a  laugh  when I want to exact some revenge; ‘be careful not to make a mistake’ – ‘big apple not to make a steak.’

However, the one I remember best was years ago when a colleague was teaching a class to sing, Queen’s, ‘We Will Rock You.’ The kids were thoroughly enjoying the sing along as they loudly sang,  ‘we will, we will LOCK you.’

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Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam-Il (삼일 March 1st)

Posted in History, patriotic Taekwon-do, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 1, 2011

Remembering Sam-Il International Taekwon-do Style

It may be of interest  to know that there exist two ‘spellings’ for Korea’s most famous martial art; namely ‘taekwondo’ and ‘taekwon-do.’ Here in Korea, ‘taekwondo,’ basically sport taekwondo, is the most popular style with most practitioners, however not only does another major style of taekwon-do exists, but there were originally 9 different schools of TKD.

emblems of various kwans and federations

In the 1940’s, 5 major schools (kwans) had survived Japanese colonization where their practice had been banned. A ‘kwan’ was a school or group of martial artists following one particular style or leader. Kwan members were forced to study Korean systems, such as taekkyon, in secret, or learn Chinese or Japanese styles often in Japan, Manchuria or Okinawa. During this period, the future of Korean martial arts were significantly influenced by this exposure and most especially the exposure to Japanese Shotokan karate, the practice of which had been allowed. After WW2, when Japanese colonization ended, five major kwans emerged:

Soeng Moo Kwan (성무관) ‘Pine School.’ Founded by Ro Byung-jik, in 1944. Influenced by shotakan karate. Popular in the army.

Roh Byong-jik

Cheong Do Kwan (청도관) sometimes spelt Chung Do Kwan,  ‘Blue Wave School.’ Founded by Lee Won-kyuk, in 1944. Lee practiced taekkyon (Korean traditional kicking) and Okinawa te. Popular in the police as Lee was a teacher at the Korean Police Academy.

Chung Do Kwan emblem

Moo Duk Kwan (무덕관)  (from which Tang Soo Do is derived). Founded by Hwang Kee, in 1946. Hwang practiced taekkyon, tai chi and kung fu.

Hwang Kee, Martinov, Jae Joon Kim and Norris

Moo Duk Kwan

Kwon Bop Kwan – later became Chang Moo Kwan. Founded by Yoon Byeong-in, in 1946. Yoon studied kung-fu and karate andof all the kwan styles, early Chang Moo was the most heavily influenced by Chinese kung-fu.

Yoon Byeong-in

Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan – Founded by Chun Sang-sup, in 1946.

Jidokwan (Yun Moo Kwan)

By the end of the Korean War, four other schools were established but these emerged from the original 5 kwans. The ‘new’ styles were:

Han Moo Kwan – Founded August 1954 by Lee Hyo-yoon. This kwan derived from Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan.

Oh Do Kwan Founded by Choi Hong-hi (죄홍희) and NamTae-hi (남태희) in 1955 who were originally Chung Do Kwan (Cheong) exponents.

Jung Do Kwan – founded by Lee Yong-woo, in 1956 and also emerging from the Chung Do Kwan.

Kang Duk Kwan – founded in 1956 by Park Chul-hee and Hong Jong-pyo, emerging from Kwon Bop Kwan.

In the early 1950’s, President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi (Oh Do Kwan) to introduce martial arts to the Korean army where he was a senior officer.  On April 11th 1955, either Choi (Oh Do Kwan) or Song Duk-son (Chung Do Kwan) proposed the name ‘taekwon-do’ as the term to identify the styles practiced by the kwans. Though not all adopted this name and continued using terms such as tang soo do, it was broadly used. In the mid 50’s,  Syngman Rhee then instructed Choi to unify the nine kwans which led to the establishment of the Korean Taekwon-do Association (KTA) in 1959-60.

ITF's Choi Hong-hi

In the early 1960’s, The KTA and Korean Government dispatched a team of 12 taekwon-do ‘diplomats,’  known as The Original Masters of Taekwon-do, on a world tour to promote taekwondo and Korea. The twelve were: Choi Chang Keun, Choi Kwang Jo, Han Cha Kyo, Kim Jong Chan, Kim Kwang Il, Kong Young Il, Park Jong Soo, Park Jung Tae, Park Sun Jae, Rhee Chong Chul, Rhee Chong Hyup, and Rhee Ki Ha. The group was led by Choi Hong-hi and Nam Tae-hee of the Oh Do Kwan. Members of this group became instrumental in introducing and establishing taekwondo in countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, Germany the UK and Ireland.

Rhee Ki-ha, UKTA

In 1966, Choi (Oh Do Kwan), and other senior members  founded the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). In the early 1970’s, other members founded the official governing body, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). Their headquarters became the Kukkiwon. The WTF is supervised by the Sports Division of the Ministry of Culture.

Kukkiwon, headquarters of the WTF, Seoul

On January 8, 1977, the nine  kwans unified, recognizing the Kukkiwon as the black belt promotional body for Taekwondo. The WTF replaced kwan names and gave them a numerical designation: (1) Song-Moo-Kwan, (2) Han-Moo-Kwan, (3) Chang-Moo-Kwan, (4) Moo-Duk-Kwan, (5) O-Do-Kwan, (6) Kang-Du-Kwan, (7) Jung-Do-kwan, (8) Ji-Do-Kwan, and (9) Chung-Do-Kwan.

Korean demonstration team

WTF taekwondo emerged largely because of political machinations between the various kwans and its subsequent popularity, especially in Korea, was enhanced by the introduction of taekwondo into  the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. In 2010, taekwondo became a sport in the Commonwealth games. ITF taekwon-do has suffered division since Choi’s death in 2002 and now has three competing organizations, two in Austria and one in Canada all claiming direct decent from Choi and the ITF. The ITF, structured on Oh Do Kwan practices and most especially retaining the 24 patterns originally practiced by the Cheong Do Kwan, also came to dominate North Korean taekwon-do. Pyongyang is the unofficial headquarters of ITF taekwondo training.

When Taekwondo Strikes (1973) broached the subject of the Japanese occupation

Although I have trained in both WTF and ITF styles, I have a preference for ITF which is perhaps not unusual as I took my black belt in this style and taught it for a number of years. The reason for my preference is that for many ITF practitioners, practicing at a time when Korea was isolated and mysterious, learnt about Korea came from the Choeng Do school (Blue Wave School) of patterns which were taught throughout the  Korean army and in universities. All the patterns imparted some aspect of Korean history. Though my knowledge was superficial, I at least knew who founded Korea, who the Hwa Rang-Do were and who Ahn Joong-gun was at a time when you’d have found it difficult to locate  any relevant information whatsoever.  A few years ago I quite impressed a Korean teacher when they asked me if I knew who, in tradition, was reputed to have  founded Korea. I instantly replied, somewhat like a robot, ‘the holy Dan Gun’ legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC.’ When taking my junior grading in Germany, you were required to know the relevance of each pattern.

Today is Sam-Il, which the anniversary of the birth of the Korean Independence Movement which was initiated when 33 nationalists signed a Declaration of  Independence, telephoned the local Japanese police to tell them what they had done, and were subsequently arrested. The event not only led  to some softening of harsh Japanese rule, but led to further displays of nationalism both in Korea and further afield.

We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.

We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race’s just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.

Japanese troops at West Gate, Seoul, 1904

Sam Il, (which means 3,1, ie March 1st), is the 16th pattern of the International Taekwon-do Federation and the pattern used to test black belts for their 3rd dan. It comprises 33 movements, as a reminder of the 33 activists who had the courage to sign their name to a document that they knew would lead to imprisonment, and possibly their torture and death.

I no longer train in TKD but I feel its spirit and I miss it. My own teacher, Georg Soupidis, trained under one of the Original Masters of Taekwondo, namely Rhee Ki-ha and gained his black belt under him. Rhee is still the leading figure in the British International Taekwon-do Federation and I once spoke to him at a grading in the UK. And General Choi Hong-hi once stayed at Georg’s house when he was visiting Germany. Further, if you should find a copy of Choi’s ‘bible’ of taekwon-do, on one of the back pages, Georg can be seen among the ITF black belts representing West Germany.

There are twenty four patterns in ITF taekwon-do, all descended from the original Cheong Do Kwan (Blue Wave School). ‘One pattern for each hour of the day.’ All have a significance in terms of Korean history and it’s struggles against oppression and diversity and I have certainly found no other form of martial more patriotic or more insistent on developing decent citizens, via a code of conduct, than taekwondo and none more so than taekwon-do. If you want a potted history lesson, read through the meanings of the 24 patterns, below…

Name Meaning Level
CHON-JI means literally “the Heaven the Earth”. It is, in the Orient, interpreted as the creation of the world or the beginning of human history, therefore, it is the initial pattern played by the beginner. This pattern consists of two similar parts; one to represent the Heaven and the other the Earth.It is said that the pattern was named after Lake Chon-Ji, a beautiful lake in North Korea with water so clear and calm that you can literally see the Heaven meeting the Earth. 9th Gup
DAN-GUN is named after the holy Dan-Gun, the legendary founder of Korea in the year of 2333 B.C. 8th Gup
DO-SAN is the pseudonym of the patriot Ahn Chang-Ho (1876-1938). The 24 movements represent his entire life which he devoted to furthering the education of Korea and its independence movement. 7th Gup
WON-HYO was the noted monk who introduced Buddhism to the Silla Dynasty in the year of 686 A.D. 6th Gup
YUL-GOK is the pseudonym of a great philosopher and scholar Yi I (1536-1584) nicknamed the “Confucius of Korea”. The 38 movements of this pattern refer to his birthplace on 38o latitude and the diagram represents “scholar”. 5th Gup
JOONG-GUN is named after the patriot Ahn Joong-Gun who assassinated Hiro-Bumi Ito, the first Japanese governor-general of Korea, known as the man who played the leading part in the Korea- Japan merger. There are 32 movements in this pattern to represent Mr. Ahn’s age when he was executed at Lui-Shung prison (1910). 4th Gup
TOI-GYE is the pen name of the noted scholar Yi Hwang (16th century), an authority on neo-Confucianism. The 37 movements of the pattern refer to his birthplace on 37o latitude, the diagram represents “scholar”. 3rd Gup
HWA-RANG is named after the Hwa-Rang youth group which originated in the Silla Dynasty in the early 7th century. The 29 movements refer to the 29th Infantry Division, where Taekwon-Do developed into maturity.The meaning of this pattern sometimes causes confusion as it refers to two time periods, the Hwa-Rang youth group of the 7th century and the Korean 29th Infantry Division formed by General Choi in 1953. 2nd Gup
CHOONG-MOO was the name given to the great Admiral Yi Soon-Sin of the Lee Dynasty. He was reputed to have invented the first armoured battleship (Kobukson) in 1592, which is said to be the precursor of the present day submarine. The reason why this pattern ends with a left hand attack is to symbolize his regrettable death, having no chance to show his unrestrained potentiality checked by the forced reservation of his loyalty to the king. 1st Gup
KWANG-GAE Is named after the famous Kwang-Gae-Toh-Wang, the 19th King of the Koguryo Dynasty, who regained all the lost territories including the greater part of Manchuria. The diagram (+) represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory. The 39 movements refer to the first two figures of 391 A.D., the year he came to the throne. 1st Dan
PO-EUN is the pseudonym of a loyal subject Chong Mong-Chu (1400) who was a famous poet and whose poem “I would not serve a second master though I might be crucified a hundred times” is known to every Korean. He was also a pioneer in the field of physics. The diagram ( – ) represents his unerring loyalty to the king and country towards the end of the Koryo Dynasty. 1st Dan
GE-BAEK is named after Ge-Baek, a great general in the Baek Je Dynasty (660 A.D.). The diagram ( | ) represents his severe and strict military discipline. 1st Dan
EUI-AM is the pseudonym of Son Byong Hi, leader of the Korean independence movement on March 1, 1919. The 45 movements refer to his age when he changed the name of Dong Hak (Oriental Culture) to Chondo Kyo (Heavenly Way Religion) in 1905. The diagram ( | ) represents his indomitable spirit, displayed while dedicating himself to the prosperity of his nation. 2nd Dan
CHOONG-JANG is the pseudonym given to General Kim Duk Ryang who lived during the Lee Dynasty, 14th century. This pattern ends with a left-hand attack to symbolize the tragedy of his death at 27 in prison before he was able to reach full maturity. 2nd Dan
JUCHE is a philosophical idea that man is the master of everything and decides everything, in other words, the idea that man is the master of the world and his own destiny. It is said that this idea was rooted in Baekdu Mountain which symbolizes the spirit of the Korean people. The diagram ( | ) represents Baekdu Mountain. 2nd Dan
KO-DANG is the pseudonym of the patriot Cho Man Sik who dedicated his life to the independence movement and education of Korea. The 39 movements of the pattern show the number of times of his imprisonment as well as the location of his birthplace on 39 degrees latitude.Ko-Dang was replaced by Juche in the early 1980s, either in the year 1982 or 1983. 2nd Dan
SAM-IL denotes the historical date of the independence movement of Korea which began throughout the country on March 1, 1919. The 33 movements in the pattern stand for the 33 patriots who planned the movement. 3rd Dan
YOO-SIN is named after General Kim Yoo Sin, a commanding general during the Silla Dynasty. The 68 movements refer to the last two figures of 668 A. D., the year Korea was united. The ready posture signifies a sword drawn on the right rather than left side, symbolizing Yoo Sin’s mistake of following his king’s orders to fight with foreign forces against his own nation. 3rd Dan
CHOI-YONG is named after General Choi Yong, Premier and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces during the 14th century Koryo Dynasty. Choi Yong was greatly respected for his loyalty, patriotism, and humility. He was executed by his subordinate commanders headed by General Yi Sung Gae, who later become the first king of the Lee Dynasty. 3rd Dan
YON-GAE is named after a famous general during the Koguryo Dynasty, Yon Gae Somoon. The 49 movements refer to the last two figures of 649 A. D., the Year he forced the Tang Dynasty to quit Korea after destroying nearly 300,000 of their troops at Ansi Sung. 4th Dan
UL-JI is named after general Ul-Ji Moon Dok who successfully defended Korea against a Tang’s invasion force of nearly one million soldiers led by Yang Je in 612 A.D., Ul-Ji employing hit and run guerilla tactics, was able to decimate a large percentage of the force. The diagram ( L) represents his surname. The 42 movements represents the author’s age when he designed the pattern 4th Dan
MOON-MOO honors the 30th king of the Silla Dynasty. His body was buried near Dae Wang Am (Great King’s Rock). According to his will, the body was placed in the sea “Where my soul shall forever defend my land against the Japanese.” It is said that the Sok Gul Am (Stone Cave) was built to guard his tomb. The Sok Gul Am is a fine example of the culture of the Silla Dynasty. The 61 movements in this pattern symbolize the last two figures of 661 A.D. when Moon Moo came to the throne. 4th Dan
SO-SAN is the pseudonym of the great monk Choi Hyong Ung (1520-1604) during the Lee Dynasty. The 72 movements refer to his age when he organized a corps of monk soldiers with the assistance of his pupil Sa Myung Dang. The monk soldiers helped repulse the Japanese pirates who overran most of the Korean peninsula in 1592. 5th Dan
SE-JONG is named after the greatest Korean king, Se-Jong, who invented the Korean alphabet in 1443, and was also a noted meteorologist. The diagram (Z) represents the king, while the 24 movements refer to the 24 letters of the Korean alphabet. 5th Dan
TONG-IL denotes the resolution of the unification of Korea which has been divided since 1945. The diagram ( | ) symbolizes the homogenous race.

VARIOUS PERFORMANCES OF SAM-IL HYOENG (삼일형) ‘BLUE WAVE SCHOOL.’

Some  Interesting links

jidokwan link

songmookwan link

Link to ITF taekwon=do patterns taken from here

World Taekwondo Federation link

International Taekwon-do Federation link (1)

International Taekwon-do Federation (2)

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Master Georg Soupidis – Osnabruck Song-Do-Kwan (Taekwon-do)

Posted in Diary notes, taekwondo by 노강호 on August 14, 2010

Master Georg Soupidis (6th Dan around 1972))

The e-bente-tang today was mugwort (쑥) and because it is the school holidays it was fairly busy. It was disgustingly hot on my way to Migwang, my favourite bathhouse and it rained all night and a good deal yesterday, so it was humid. As I said, I’m not spending much time in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) so I wallowed for a long time in the cold pool (냉탕).  I had a dream last night, a taekwondo dream. My most recurrent dreams are either about taekwondo- which I studied for 20 years or the British Army, in which I served around 15 years. They are the sort of dreams, the specifics of which you can’t recall but which shadow your days with their atmosphere.

As I was in the cool pool I started thinking about my taekwondo teacher, Georg Soupidis. I studied almost all my taekwondo in Germany, in a fascinating town called Osnabruck. George had been an ex-soldier, originally from Greece and he was an excellent teacher. There are thousands of fantastic taekwondo practitioners in the world but few fantastic teachers, and Georg was one of them. I left Osnabruck in 1984 and I haven’t seen him since. I’ve spoken to him on the phone a few times and always planned to re-visit Osnabruck but time is running out.

Georg Soupidis (far left)

I entered my first taekwondo school back in 1974 and can still remember the feelings I had training there. All the black belts were decent people and mostly studying at  University. I remember Lutz and Heinz, who became lawyers, and there was Stephan who worked in a bank and another youngster called Stefan Wawer whom I had a crush on, but never told.  Then there was Stephan Bic, a lad about the same age as myself with a kind and gentle nature. He had a blue belt and being tall we often partnered each other. I admired him for a long time but once again, he never knew. Coming out was just too much of a risk! It was super-cool to practice martial arts in the mid 70’s and having a black belt or advanced belt was revered. Bruce Lee had only just died and his last film, Game of Death, was still to be released and hence the martial arts fad was at its peak .

Georg (left) and myself. (1982)

My school was the Song Do Kwan, a professional martials arts academy situated a short walk from the central railway station, in Osnabruck, on Mosse Strasse. General Choi Hong-hi himself had stayed at  Georg’s house when visiting for a training seminar. General Choi  was one of the founding fathers of taekwondo though his contributions have subsequently been whitewashed from much of Korean history.  If you read anything by the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation ), the sport version of taekwon-do popular  throughout the pennisula and perceived as the only form of taekwon-do, it seems to  emerge from out of the blue somewhere around 1973. However,  it’s history stretched back before this and  in  Choi’s second manual on taekwon-do, published in 1972, Georg can be seen with the core of German  black-belts with General Choi stood in the middle. My point? When this photo was taken the WTF didn’t even exist. I trained in the Song Do Kwan from 1974 until 1981 after-which the school moved into a public facility. However, for the next 5 years, whenever I passed the home of my old school in Mosse Strasse, Osnabruck, I would respectfully bow towards it as I passed.

The Song Do Kwan team after a competition in early 1982.

For years my life was the Song Do Kwan and I trained diligently and became a very competent  competition fighter. I eventually passed my black belt on April 3rd 1982. Even after enduring military exercises in the middle of winter I would return to camp and head straight to my dojang. I remember Georg with great affection and he was one of the greatest influences on my  life. Walking into the Song Do Kwan changed my life and though I no longer practice taekwondo, it teachings took me elsewhere.

Once I left Osnabruck, in 1986, I lost my focus. I trained in a  school in Paderborn,  Germany, and  when I returned to the UK in 1988, trained in Aylesbury and then at a Karate school in Essex University. When I came to Korea in 2000, I trained in a WTF school, and though I gained my red belt, didn’t think the style was as efficient as the ITF style (International Taekwondo Federation).  Of course, a style is as good as its practitioner and a good martial artist borrows from whatever style to improve their technique but WTF was just too much ineffectual bum kicking.  Just my  opinion!

To all my old friends in martial arts, and especially Master Georg Soupidis, I send my greetings.

(I haven’t written any posts on martial arts despite their having been part of my life for many years. Keep checking as  they are long overdue!)

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Blue Belt Grading – May 1-16th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Bathhouse, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on May 1, 2001

On Saturday, I met U-chun. During the period of the middle school exams she is working seven days a week and this situation will continue in all hagkwons until May 12th when the exams finish. She works from 2pm until midnight on six days a week and on Sundays works from 9am until 3pm. I am writing this diary On May 1st which is a public holiday for Buddha’s birthday but as you can expect, the hagkwon teachers are working today, as are many of their pupils. None of them will get a day’s holiday in lieu which is so typically Korean.

We wandered around E-Mart for a while so I could question her on what is what. It was my turn to buy lunch today and I chose a restaurant near MacDonalds, one I had passed many times before and one where you sat at tables and not on the floor. I never find sitting on the floor comfortable as I can’t get my long legs under the low tables. We ordered a seafood meal which was cooked at our table in large frying pans built into the table. The meal looked fairly Klingon but tasted very good. First the chef put water in the pan and then a massive stack of seafood consisting of crab, prawn, squid, squid roe, shellfish and octopus. This was topped with vegetables and red pepper paste. There was easily enough for four people and when the pan was half empty some noodles were added to it. The meal took us over an hour to eat and as U-chun had to go back to school, we left quite a bit. It was a pricey meal costing 24000W (£15) but we really enjoyed it.

The video player in our house, which is a pile of shit and has been playing up ever since I have been here, eventually died after I bashed it with my fist. A cassette was left in it and to get it out we had to dismantle it rather forcefully. However, Mr Joe replaced it without any questions; but of course, the replacement video isn’t new and is the size and weight of a computer hard drive. It must be at least ten years old. Matt is pleased as his sole entertainment is lying in bed, (even when it’s hot), with a packet of cigarettes, a bottle of coke, some Pringles and a couple of videos.

every day as my mini-bus passed an apartment, this little boy would bow

I went to Pak Ji-won’s this evening. He was really excited as he is off on his school picnic this week. He is spending four days at Mount Sorak in the north east of the peninsula, not too far from the 38th parallel. It is the third highest mountain in Korea. Although Ji-won’s is almost 18 (17 UK age), he was like a little boy looking forward to Christmas. I happened to bump into him and his class mates as they were shopping at E-Mart, on Sunday. They had two trolleys full of apples, oranges, Korean crisps and coke. I did my shopping and as I was leaving the supermarket I noticed them waiting outside the store entrance. Ji-won’s wasn’t with them and I sat opposite and observed them for a little. I tried hard to imagine what it must be like to be a Korean teenager going on your one big school trip. Korean and western cultures are so different that it is impossible for a westerner to become Korean. Ten years living in France, Germany or the USA would be enough to make you a native, provided you immersed yourself in that culture but too many differences exist between Korean and the west. Many of these differences are born out of childhood socialization. The boys were all excited in a way only Korean kids can be. Affectionately, they draped themselves over each other. I wondered how much this excitement was scripted knowing that once schooling is finished life becomes even more prescriptive, regimented and seconded to work. As much as I respect and admire and have fallen in love with the Korean psyche, I find their lives horribly myopic: the nightmare of schooling, which for Ji-won’s is some seventy hours of study a week, the brief reprise of university followed by army service for the boys, followed by the bondage of marriage. I really think that in Korea, education, like football in the west, has become one of the main forms of social control.

I am still going to the mokyuktang several times a week and still enjoy it. I have discovered the various types of pools and the properties they are supposed to have. Both mokyuktang I use have green tea baths which are believed to be good for the skin. There is usually also a herb bath as well as a bubbly Jacuzzi. I am now completely relaxed preening myself in the drying area where I put on hair gel, clean my ears with cotton buds and help myself to the various skin creams and skin bracers. All this is performed naked and in a roomful of other preening men. I even dry my balls with the hair dryer, something I have learnt from observation though I haven’t directed it up my arse which is something I have seen several men do. I am able to stay in the sauna much longer than when I first started – even when it is over 100 degrees. One mokyuktang provides a huge pot of salt in the steam room which you rub all over your body. In another steam room I often sit on the floor cross legged or do stretching exercises as the heat is conducive to stretching. Stretching exercise is regularly practised by young and old alike in the steam room.

I had only had my purple belt about twelve days when I was told I would be grading for my blue belt. In fact, I have only worn my purple belt three times and had washed it over the weekend to take the stiffness out of it. I was training during the week when there was a pre-grading class and everyone was asked to run through their patterns. Though I knew my pattern well, (대국), there were some errors that needed ironing out. Master Bae, the head instructor, took me through it and pointed out a few minor errors and told me I would be performing the pattern the following evening. He then told me I would be taking my black belt exam in August or perhaps a little earlier.

Now I have got to say that some of the kids in Di Dim Dol treat me strangely. I think some of them find it odd having a coloured belt training beside them who is old enough to be their father. If you do come across adults in the dojang are either instructors or black belts. In one of my classes in Di Dim Dol school there is a boy called Jake who was in a few of my first Taekwondo classes. I suppose he is about 13 and naturally, he is a black belt. In an English class it emerged I did Taekwondo at the Songham School and I could deduce from the conversation he was having that he peers were asking him what belt I wore. Well, he quite took the piss out of me and mimicked to them I was stiff and couldn’t kick well. It hurt me a little and I was annoyed as some of the kids were laughing. As he was leaving the class I pulled him to one side and thrust the Songham oath in his face. I made him repeat some of the lines which referred to mutual respect, team spirit and working together. He was embarrassed, put his head down and apologised. Then there is another boy called Jordan who I have taught several times and is another black belt. Even though we have trained in the same Taekwondo class he refuses to say hello to me. Whenever he sees me he looks at me as if I am mad. I ran through my patterns thirty times on the day of the grading and as I am one of the lowest belts in the class, I was called up fairly early in the grading. Well, I was really on form and I performed a really powerful pattern with a massive ‘kia’ at the conclusion which quite made the youngsters sat close to me jump. My ‘kia’ had been pretty Pathetic until fairly recently. Anyway, Master Bae said something after I had finished and the whole class applauded me. Afterwards, the little Fat kid who can’t do sit-ups came up, held his thumb up and said, ‘poomse choayo.’ (‘good pattern’). Then Jordan, the boy who had never spoken to make, came up to me and bowed. Ever since this, whenever he arrives or leaves my lessons at Di Dim Dol School, the waves and smiles at me.

I am now fitter than I have ever been since I took my black-belt in 1982. In some ways I am fitter. I cannot believe how terribly unfit I was when I arrived in Korea as a big fat blob. My experience here is quietly unfolding and it is an experience that I have people interested in Martial arts dream of. It was a pure fluke I came to Korea at all and I could have ended up in any number of countries. I don’t think it’s pretentious that and I give myself a lot of credit and respect for the way in which I walked into a Korean Taekwondo school looking like a lump of lard, surrounded by kiddies and teenagers and set about undertaking a training regime which humiliated me. My only response to this was to grin stupidly and try harder.

On Friday evening Ryo Hyu-sun took me to Woobang Tower Park. First we went to McDonald’s and had a burger and then we walked around the park for several hours. There were loads of young people skateboarding and roller blading. Just as you’d expect here, they were peaceful, un-offensive and friendly. We had a coffee at one of the park cafes and I saw a couple of men who were most certainly gay. It certainly made me realize how miss gay company as I haven’t met or spoken to a gay person since I’ve been here. One couple walked past me. One of the men, perhaps in his late twenties or thirties was dressed like John Travolta and wore a white suit. He had a hairdo and a very camp, practiced lip pout. He walked with an incredibly pouncy wiggle and I would have excused his effeminacy had he not been carrying this tiny little handbag dog. Handbag dogs are very fashionable here and even Dong-soo (박동수), my Taekwondo instructor, wants one. However, the fact that the dog had fluffy ears that were dyed pink aroused my suspicions.  Right now, I’d love to have some gay company, even those horribly superficial gays that I usually detest back home.

In Yong San Dong I had the morning of cleaning up piss, which I must say, is something rare here. First of all, Dong-seop wet himself. He performed his usual stint of pissing into his trousers at the urinal; then I got back to my classroom to discover little Song-joon looking flustered and gripping his dick. Then I notice he is sat in a puddle of piss so I have to take him to the toilet, wash him and get him to change his pants and trousers. He has the most amazingly tiny pecker but I shouldn’t mention this as it is lynching material in the west. But hey! This is Korea and the day’s not over. Next, I have to get a bucket and cloth and mop up the piss on and around his seat. I have to stress, piss problems are very rare in Korea kindergarten classes and only ever seem to be experienced by boys. Just as I finish this is Matt and Amy, (a Korean teacher), come into my class and ask me to look at a boys balls. He had just been kicked between the legs, was holding himself and crying.

‘ Why can’t you do it?’ I ask. Matt begs me to do it goading me with the fact I know something about balls and first aid. We pull the boys pants down and I make a private joke to Matt about the antics of Monsieur Jelle Fangre as I’m checking the lad still has two balls. One of them has disappeared so we bounce him up and down on his heels until it reappears. After that he is fine and within minutes he is running around. When I wrote these diary notes up, back in the UK and some years later, I was tempted to edit this experience simply as we have a total obsession with anything to do with the bodies of little kids. If an English toddler suffered the same experience nobody would help them for fear of accusations – even if there were a crowd of adults present. Personally, I do not think this an attitude reflects a caring society. On several occasions I know Becky, my niece, has been left to sit nursing a painful splinter as no member of staff are allowed to touch her. Kids are left suffering until a parent arrives.

On Saturday U-chun and I found a really nice Japanese restaurant which specializes in pork fillet served with pickles, sauce and udong noodles. The restaurant is new and typically Japanese with contrasting black and white colours and minimalist use of furniture. A group of boys came in and had a birthday party during which they sang the Korean version of ‘Happy Birthday’ which is sung to the same tune we use in the west.

In the evening I met Pak Ji-won who told me all about his picnic in Mount Sorak. Jun-hee had put two bottles of soju in his bag and this behaviour seems pretty standard as a right of passage. Ji-won was very animated as he told me how he and his friends got a little drunk and how he fell over a friend’s bed and almost got caught by his teachers. He told me one of his friend’s was sick on another friend as they slept in bed. He told me how Korean students will remember the High School picnic for the rest of their lives – ‘until the day they die,’ were his exact words, spoken in English. He said this without any severity or weight and  in a way only the young can talk about death. Jun-hee, his father, meets up with his old school friends every six months and there have been occasions when I have since met his childhood friends. This practice is standard among Korean males at least who refer to their closest childhood friends as ‘gochu chingoo’ (고추친구). ‘Gochu’ (고추) is the Korean word for a ‘chilli pepper’ but it is also a simile for a penis. I believe it is still a tradition in Korea, though not necessarily widely practiced nowadays, to hand a bunch of chillies on the front door of a house when a boy is born.  ‘Chingoo’ (친구) is the Korean for ‘friend’ or ‘circle’ and so the phrase can be translated as ‘penis friends.’  Jun-hee told me all his old friends know what each other’s dick is like. I am sort of detecting that nakedness in Korea is seen to promote a deeper level of friendship between two people naturally as a result of the sharing of intimate experiences. Jun-hee and Ji-won keep asking me to accompany them to the mokyuktang. I certainly sense I have a different level of friendship with U-no and Lee Seong-gyu, both with whom I have bathed with. Even men who I don’t know but recognise from the mokyuktang all say hello to me in the street; one man even squeezed my arm as he last saw me. Nudity is certainly a wonderful social leveler.

I had a long chat with Pak Dong-soo during his weekly English lesson, this time about his experiences in the army. It sounded ghastly! Six weeks of basic training in winter and all living in one tent next to a river in which they drank and bathed. A week of exercise, a week of intensive Taekwondo training, a week of making bobby-traps and a week of shooting fire arms. Every day included strenuous runs. Interestingly alcohol, in the Korean army, is illegal!

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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Mogyuktang Observations Plus – Tuesday 3rd April, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Now I am getting quite relaxed using the mokyuktang, I am beginning to discover a different aspect to them. Regularly, I use the steam room and sauna, only for a short while, and after that I go and sit in the cold pool. The process of going from very warm to cold has the most amazing effect on the mind. I experience a strange taste in the back of my throat and start to feel a little dizzy after which my mind becomes calm and floaty. The whole sensation is rather like a little drug hit. In this state, which is very pleasant, I notice other men just sat around all in their own little worlds. If such an institution existed in the west it would probably be polluted with pop music. The mokyuktang is filled with music which when in the right state is wonderfully relaxing. It is the music of running, splashing and spraying water. If you sit at one end of the cold bath you can look down of the mirror-like surface of the pool and really enjoy the state of calm the experience induces. When you get out of the cold pool you have to be a little careful as your body is slightly wobbly and I have noticed, men usually get out of this pool and sit awhile on the edge of the pool before moving to another bath.  I still can’t believe I’m naked in a place full of other naked people and have even started sitting on the floor of the steam room, cross legged.

Han Song Bathhouse, Song-So. The third Bathhouse I visited. It became my regular bathhouse in 2001.

It is interesting watching the interaction between children and their fathers; last week a young boy and girl sat playing beside their father. Young children bring toys to the pool and between being scrubbed and scrubbing their father’s back, they run around enjoying the water and playing. They were fairly interested in me and for quite a while they stared whenever they thought I wasn’t watching them.

One day there were two lads in the mokyuktang, probably in their early twenties and most likely from the local university. As is usual, one sits behind the other on the low plastic seats which look like upturned washing-up bowls, and then they take it in turn to scrub each others’ back. There was an old man in one corner of a pool and one of the lads went over to him and scrubbed his back for him. I was hoping he might volunteer to do mine but I was out of luck. A visit to the mokyuktang would give any artist a deeper insight into the human body and I find it amazing watching naked bodies from an aesthetic perspective. It is fascinating how they are designed and how the muscles interact and are articulated and how the human body is structured and proportioned.

At taekwon-do on Tuesday evening, I discovered the school oath is being replaced. I was rather annoyed as it was the first evening I had been able to recite it at the same speed as the Korean students. A new oath hung on the wall and is to be used from now on and so I will have to learn this. As my body has become fitter and more agile, I am able to exert myself more in classes. The sessions are grueling! I hadn’t realised how unfit I had become after three years of writing. Pak Dong-soo spent sometime during a lesson working out on the bag; he is beautiful to watch and can do flying kicks well over six foot high. He moves like a bird.

The English teaching I am doing is becoming increasingly boring. Last week, in one class I went berserk and smashed my stick on a table. This is the third stick I have broken in three months. I called for a senior teacher and he came along and shouted at them. The kids are not disruptive but more inattentive and chatty. Sometimes it is impossible to get their collective attention and sometimes I just despair – especially after a long day. It doesn’t help that I rant and shout as Koreans find such displays of emotive behaviour unpleasant and deem it to be a loss of self control – which of course it is.

Fridays are a drag as I teach in another kindergarten and have no time for lunch. There are days when I observe something that I realise gives me a greater understanding of the Korean psyche. In the kindergarten, when I pass out a handout, the kids all gather around me. There is rarely any pushing, they just stand passively in front of you with both hands extended and wait for you to place the handout directly into their hands. One day, I was watching two boys who came into the PC bang (room). They were eating an ice-cream which consists of a plastic ball, a little larger than a snooker ball, with a built in straw. Both of them just stood in the middle of the room, passively sucking. They sucked in a way so totally different from how children might suck or eat an ice-cream in the West, without the greed and voracious consumerism. If there is one thing I am learning about my culture, it is how vulgar, greedy and selfish it is. English kids are always on the want, they are always squabbling over possessions and in particular, over food. In six months of teaching in Korea, I haven’t once seen a fight or seen one child strike another. In my kindergarten class last week, which is held in a small school situated in an apartment complex, the Korean teacher left the room briefly. Suddenly fifteen or so little children converged on me eager to stroke the hair on my arms, which fascinates them. Some wanted to stroke my hair, a few wanted to pat my belly. Korean children can be quite beautiful in both features and mannerisms.

After a hideous class at Di Dim Dol, I went and sat at the table Nana and I share outside Joe’s office. Lisa was there for her afternoon class. I started moaning about my lesson and she immediately started complaining loudly.

“Korean children have no manners. They’re rude, ignorant, and need training.” I almost told her to shut-up.

“No! They’re not rude!” I replied. ‘They are usually well mannered, polite and very gentle. Yes’ they run around between classes and don’t recognise your personal space but that’s cultural.”

The other day she told me how she has this tone of voice she reserves for ‘foreigners!’ She then went on to say she had a ‘men-sahib’ attitude towards Koreans which confirmed my suspicions about her having a colonial attitude.

On Friday it snowed heavily for most of the morning and suddenly it has turned cold and wintry. In the evening Ryo Hyu-sun took me for a meal, we had pork barbecue and a few bowls of dong dong ju (동동주) after which we went for a walk in a nearby park. The cheery blossom and lilac are in full blossom despite the cold recess.

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©Bathhouse Ballads – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Senior Green Belt Grading – March 10th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in customs, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 10, 2001

In Di Dim Dol last week I passed one of Young-seop’s (영섭) classes. The door was open and he was stood out in the corridor. Inside, the entire class of fifteen year olds were sat meditating. Young-seop told me that by seven in the evening many of his students were exhausted and meditating cleared their minds and prepared them to focus on the lesson. When the older students come into the school there are teenagers in every classroom, very often they sit with their heads on the desk taking a short sleep before their lessons begin. They have quite a funny way of doing this probably as the result of years of practice. They usually sit with their arms hanging loosely at their sides and their head on the table.

'filial piety' - an important Confucian value

The spring holiday has just finished and Ji-won tells me that for the next two years he will be in school from 7am until 9pm and I have noticed that there are now taekwon do classes for high school students who have to adopt these hours. While Korean kids seem brighter than their English counterparts, I don’t think they are proportionally better and I am critical of the Korean education system which put youngsters under so much pressure. Most Koreans lack creativity and their education seems to consist of a lot of rote learning. It seems that social control in Korea is exerted through education and employment. A lot of effort in the west is put into moaning about children who do sweat shop labour or are poorly paid  in third world countries and yet  Korean teenagers find themselves imprisoned in their schools.

During the spring vacation,  many boys are visible hobbling on the streets after being circumcised (포경 수술) . You see them hobbling along as if they have just spent several days in the saddle of a horse. I noticed one boy in KFC who was obviously  in a lot of discomfort and who kept having to stand up to adjust his underwear.

I bumped into Ji-won last week, he was walking down the road, arm in arm with his mum, Sun-hee. There seems to be much less evidence of a generation gap between teenagers and their parents than is apparent in the west. Several times he has told me he wants to do something his father has recommend, and the reason he gives for this is that his ‘father knows best.’ When it was raining last week, the seventh shower in almost 5 months, a boy accompanied me home under the protection of his umbrella. He had seen me go into a shop without a brolly and waited for me to reappear. He then walked me under his umbrella which as in the opposite direction to his apartment – how nice!

I had a sore shoulder last week and visited a Korean osteopath. They treated my shoulder with some form of electric shock treatment. I wasn’t very impressed but I was given the most amazing head massage. It was so relaxing and weird as it didn’t feel like I had hands on my head at all. It was quite indescribable and I think I will have to go back for another one.

I had my taekwon do grading this week and managed to jump several belts so I now have my senior green belt which is dark green. I was the first person to be called up as I was still the class junior. I had been told I was to perform the patterns, Taegeuk Il Jang (태극 一 장) and Taegeuk I Jang (태극 二 장) and so I had stopped practising the third pattern, Taegeuk Sam Jang (태극 三 장). Anyway, the moment I was on the mat, with thirty or so Korean students sat behind me, Mr Bae asked me to perform my two patterns and then asked if I could perform the third, Taegeuk Sam Jang (태극 三  장). Confused, and not understanding him, I said I couldn’t and so sat back down. I later discovered I’d been given my first green belt. The grading continued with the black belts, which is a large number of the class, going through patterns or performing with sticks or nunchaku. The following day I had someone write a letter for me explaining that I could perform Taegeuk Sam Jang (태극 三 장) and so that afternoon he asked me to perform it and immediately gave me my senior green belt.

I usually go to the taekwon do school early so I can warm-up and do some bag work. I have discovered there is a class where boys aged between 11 and 14 do dance routines to Korean pop music – affectionately known as k-pop. It is really amazing to watch as it is all choreographed and well rehearsed. I had a job telling my instructors that in the west such a class, despite the fact most of the boys were red or black belts would be seen as effeminate and ‘gay.’

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A Peaceful City, Feb 28th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Comparative, Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on February 28, 2001

Once a week at the taekwondo school we practice tae kuk kkwon (태국권). During one class Pak Dong-soo performed a set which took several minutes to perform. It was really quite beautiful as he moved slowly from one position to another without and wobbling and with absolute grace. The next day we did a weapons training session. Increasingly, I am beginning to see martial arts training in Korea as the training ground for boys prior to their national service. The lessons on fairly relaxed and there is a lot of banter between students and instructors which of course, I don’t understand. There are a number of girls who train in the school and they don’t take any crap from the boys. Sometimes I seem to detect more aggression between the girls and boys than between the boys themselves.

two fourth dan boys in my local taekwondo school (2012)

One aspect I really like about being in Korea, and something other foreign teachers also mention, is being able to go out in Korea without being on your guard. Although I have lived in Wivenhoe for two years, I have only ever been into Colchester in the evening on two occasions. The atmosphere on the High Street, in the evening is threatening and aggressive, crowds of marauding youths, with slaggy, cheap girls who regardless of weather wear flimsy clothes. Then there are the aggressive men and youths who strut around swearing, usually drunk and looking primarily for sex and if that can’t be found the frustration will be vented by a punch-up.  You daren’t make eye contact with these men or lads as to do so is to challenge their pathetic sexuality. God! So many straight men are disgusting and even many of my straight friends are quick to disassociate themselves from them. We British like to believe we are an educated society but by and large this is a myth. The masses are just as stupid and ignorant as they have been in the past and it is for political reasons they have been kept this way. I am not claiming Koreans are superior, most of the world is full of stupid people but it is wonderful to walk the streets of a busy city without fear of being assaulted or abused by football yobs, drunken louts, lads looking for trouble. Despite the fact I live above two bars, neither of which close until well after midnight, I haven’t witnessed a brawl or argument or even heard drunken revelry.

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