One of my students has gone to South Korea for a cultural trip and to experience Taekwondo in its home country, the following is his unedited diary (well, clarifying comments in square brackets).
Friday 15th September
Okay so I started today with a few nerves about training for the first time in Korea but there was a huge load of excitement at the same time. I was lucky enough to have Suhyun as a friend who collected me from my hotel to the dojang [Master Kim Kwang-soo’s Taekwondo gym, in Sinchon, South Korea — Gaon Taekwondo]. It was so easy to get to, about 5 minutes walk away.
In the morning before training I went out to the supermarket to buy some breakfast as I wanted to be energized for training. I couldn’t find my choice and not speaking the language was a little struggle. I did manage to find some bananas and a cereal bar which got me through the morning.
When I arrived at the dojang Suhyun introduced me to everyone which was nice and I instantly started connecting with people. Having brought some English biscuits helped break the ice as well, would definetely recommend this.
Training started off with a hand on the chest looking at the Korean Flag, then we all went to the floor bowed our heads to the ground, like some sort of prayer to the system.
Warm up was intense, around 20 mins with quite a lot of stretching involved which I really enjoyed. Afterwards we did paddle work with the kicking patterns like the ones we do in Stevenage but more demonstration style [after my trip to Korea in March 2017, I copied Master Kim’s paddle kicking patterns in our dojang]. After that we went onto patterns and practised for 15 mins. Master Jeong Jae-hyung [one of Master Kim’s staff instructors] corrected my stance, he made it longer which I thought was strange as in STC I thought my stance was already too long.
Once class had finished Suyhun and her friends took me out for lunch, I was trying to always think of culture and let them eat first etc.. but a lot of the time they kept going “you first”, but I then went “no, you first” haha. Opening the door for people is good and builds respect for grade or if a female they should always go first. Lunch was really tasty, the girls ordered for me and the dish had a resemblance to Katsu curry. They ordered some side dishes which they said were not spicy but I almost had to cough they were that spicy, think I’m just a bit weak when it comes to spicy but watch out!
Suyhuns friends then wanted to take me to see their university which was close by. It was huge!! Went on and on and on!! I really liked that they wanted to show me their city and hometown.
Finally me and Suhyun went for a coffee (Koreans love coffee by the way, shops everywhere) and then I went back to my hotel to rest a little ready for my evening classes.
So after a good morning’s Taekwondo training session and sight-seeing I wanted to make the most of my experience and go to both of the evening classes. All I can say is WOW!! The training was so immense, the first class we did another tough warm-up then poomsae (I started to learn my 3rd pattern and had to show both masters what I’d learnt at the end of the class).
At the end of the class we all stood up in a circle and the master talked about the class and what we learnt. They asked me to introduce myself to everyone and tell them why I came to Korea. I must say, I felt so so welcomed.
The second class was very tough physically, think it’s the hardest class I’ve ever had. At one point I thought my legs were going to fall off! In this class we did tons of paddle work drills, building resistance. Then we did some demonstration training (jumping front kick and jumping turning kick) — loved every minute of it.
At the end we all gathered in a circle again and Master Kim introduced me to the class. He asked me tell everyone again why I came to Korea. Then they made a group picture putting me right in the middle. I must say, I could not have felt more welcomed to the class.
After 3 hours of tough training we all went for “beer and chicken” (Chi-maek/치맥 a famous Korean combination). Master Kim at the end of the class announced it and everyone who wanted to go put their hand up. There was about 15 of us that went. We went to the restaurant straight from the dojang and had some delicious food and beer. The master sat at the head of the table and had complete respect from the students. At first I didn’t drink until everyone had taken their first sip and when I did I looked away but they all told me not to, that we are friends so it’s okay to drink in front of them. I’m glad I did it as it showed I respected their customs.
One thing I spotted today was all the students had a black belt doboks even though they were white, yellow etc… not the trousers, just the black strip going down the chest. I will ask why tomorrow… (in case Harry doesn’t update this — it’s because in Korea generally students only spend one year as a coloured belt, so it’s not worth buying a white collared dobok just for one year and then change it, so most people just wear a black collared dobok).
Have a big day ahead tomorrow, 3 training sessions at the dojang and a visit to Kukkiwon.
Saturday 16th September
DAY 3 was superb!! When I woke up I felt quite jet lagged so I quickly dashed to the coffee shop for a dose of caffeine before training!! When I arrived at the dojang training started with around 15 of us, a lot of new faces. Training was mainly paddle work but was a little harder this time. One thing I spotted that is different to how we do it is the instructor sets a different drill depending on your belt so the whole class is doing different drills.
Again after this we went into poomsae and this time the masters focused me on the first 8 moves only. It’s starting to be drilled into me. Towards the end of this class i started to get a pain in my left knee so was slightly worried. Don’t want anything to stop my training. After this class I again got invited for lunch with about 10 students, lovely bunch of people. Everyone ordered the same dish and they did pre-warn me it was a little spicy but blimey, my mouth was on fire again!! I realised quite a lot that the Koreans take a lot of consideration about the right place to eat, you can tell food is at the centre of their culture.
Straight after lunch we went back to the dojang for GDT (Gaon Demonstration Team) training. Before the class started I got a chance to watch some sparring training, these guys were hard as nails and had beautiful kicks….
The GDT was super cool, flying in the air with tornadoes. I could feel my knee though so had to take it a bit easy. Towards the end Master Kim instructed me to change as he wanted to take me Kukkiwon to see the national demonstration team.
This was incredible and makes you just want to just go back to the dojang and train. I wasn’t allowed to take videos which was a shame.
At the end they asked if anyone would like to break a board on stage, I put my hand up and got picked!! I decided to do a tornado kick and broke my first board in Kukkiwon, was so cool.
On the way back, Master Kim’s cousin who speaks excellent English invited me to go and see the sea in Incheon, I said yes and so we went. I didn’t realise it was so far away but well worth the drive.
The easiest equivalent would be Brighton, was loads of fun, we had a shooting competition which I lost (going against ex-Korean military 😂😂) and then some baseball which I luckily won! On the way back to the hotel now, nearly 3:00am so thought I would take the opportunity to write this. They have a saying here, the lights never go out… I believe it means that Korea never sleeps.
I ran out of doboks today so had to buy one but only black belt ones available, I’ll have to wait a bit to wear it in the UK 😂😂.
Tomorrow I have no training so good opportunity to rest my knee!!
Sunday 17th September
No training today as the dojang was closed so took the day easy. Also I wanted to watch my knee and get it ready for an intense week ahead.
Went for a walk around Seoul which was lovely. Seemed like there was a huge student fair on with thousands of people walking down the streets. It was a great atmosphere, loads of karaoke and fun stalls. I now understand how much Koreans love music, everywhere you go people are singing on the streets. They also love Ed Sherran 😂😂.
Went to do a bit of shopping in the afternoon, if you like shopping South Korea is for you!! Went into one store(similar to a House of Fraser) which had 10 floors. They are so big you get lost in them.
Icing my knee up tonight and getting an early night ready for tomorrow!
Monday 18th September
Where to start with Day 5. Probably best with my morning routine of coffee, banana and Kellogg’s breakfast bar!
Went to the morning class at the Gaon club, Master Jeong ran the class and it was great as usual. In the class there were about 8 white belts and I couldn’t believe their spirt and how good they were again. With every kick they shout so loud and take great pride in being trained by the Gaon masters. I was told to slow down today with my paddle kicking to make my footwork more precise and effective, speed comes later. Also I learnt the next 5 moves on my next pattern.
After the class I was invited to lunch again but I sadly had to decline to shoot off to Master Jeong In-choul’s dojang [a different Master Jeong from the one at Gaon]. Whilst watching all the class pack up and change into clothes I observed every student spend minutes folding their wet doboks so neatly, you can see the pride they have in their uniform.
The next part of my day is what I was most nervous about, getting lost on the busy Korean subway! I had to get from my hotel to Master Jeong’s dojang in Bucheon which consisted of a couple of changes onto different lines. I started off and got my ticket which was easy as the machine can be put into English. Then got on a train to Sandorim which again was easy and well signalled in English.
When I got to Sandorim I had to get onto the blue line but I couldn’t see it in the station, I was walking around the place and a complete stranger came up to me and asked if I needed help as I looked lost. I was completely taken back by this kind gesture, the man walked me all the to the platform I needed and waited for me to get on the right train, now you wouldnt get that in London, would you! Overall the Korean subway is so good, easy and in English. Feel confident using it now. One funny thing was my ticket didn’t work when I got to Jungdong station and no one was there to open the barrier. An old women came to help me and it still wouldn’t work so she made me jump the barrier, she laughed watching my long legs step over it!! Again, such friendly people….
Arrived at Master Jeong’s dojang an hour early so thought I would grab a quick snack and actually found him in the convenience store. After a chat and a coffee we started training on my punches and hip movements. So many little things he pointed out that I have to change to improve (keeping my elbows in, using hips, relaxing shoulders etc…). After this I joined in his class with his students and did a combination of drills and poomsae.
After all that training I was starving so we went for a bite to eat at a local Korean restaurant. We had some delicious steamed pork and vegetables. A great evening was had!
Made my way back to the hotel to wash my doboks and get ready for the next training day ahead. Loving Korea at the moment…
Tuesday 19th September
This sounds silly but every day just gets better and better in Korea!! Honestly had such an amazing day today.
Today there was no morning class so I met up with a new dojang friend Kim, Sang-hyun and went to play some baseball. I love these little pop up baseball batting ranges around the city, so much fun and dead cheap (I’m secretly becoming a fan of baseball).
After this we met up with Suhyun and had another Korean typical dish for lunch BoSsam [보쌈, a pork dish in Korean cuisine. It usually consists of shoulder or belly pork that is boiled in spices and thinly sliced. The meat is served with side dishes such as spicy radish salad, sliced raw garlic, ssamjang (wrap sauce), saeu-jeot (salted shrimp), kimchi, and ssam (wrap) vegetables such as lettuce, kkaennip (perilla leaves), and inner leaves of a napa cabbage leaves.]
With a couple of hours to kill before training Sanghyun Kim and I went to play some VR games. This was so so so cool and scary at times but a lot of fun. You can play loads of PS4 games in VR.
Straight after this, I managed to buy a knee support and before I even started training my knee was in pain but I took a painkiller, put my support on and started training. We started off with a kicking endurance class which is basically non-stop paddle kicking. In this class they separate us into 2 groups (upto green belts down one side, higher than green on the other). With the 2 masters holding the paddles we did 3 different routines depending on grade.
The ones I did were the first 2 of the ones we do in STC. Although I know more complex ones I totally understand why they make us repeat these again and again, they are drilling the basics in and I feel that the basics are starting to come together now. One thing I just love about this dojang is the noise!! Everyone, and I mean everyone, shouts at the top of their voice and it just sounds so powerful and gets everyone so pumped up!! I actually think having music on in the background helps, as people have to shout even louder. Once this class finished we had 30 minute break before the next one but no one rests, everyone goes to practise what they just learnt or stretch.
Second class was poomsae, although it felt like endurance class with the warm up. Had a 30 minute warm up which consisted of lots of cone running and a million jumping jacks. First 2 lines of students each have to shout hana, du, set (one at a time 10 times per person) and then the whole class shouts 1, 2, 3, and so on.. felt like we did millions of these.
When the poomsae started we went into belt groups and practised our patterns. There was a lovely 10 year old girl who helped me with mine. We did our pattern probably 20 times at least and I can now finally complete the 3rd pattern. After this class my knee was quite painful but Suyhun helped me with some ice for 10 minutes before my favourite class, sparring!!
I can honestly say the whole class was dead lying on the floor after the sparring class. It started with a bit of stretching and then basic paddlework in twos to get us warmed up and ready (I was soaked at this stage!). Then half of the class broke out into 2 groups, one paddle holders and the other kickers. The paddle holders would be positioned like a zig zag across the room. We started with a couple of easy ones, back turning kick. Then we did back turning kick medium height followed up by a head height turning kick. Next set was similar but on fast kicks. Then 20 turning kicks left-right, then 20 turning kicks but 2 left, 2 right and so on. Now bear in mind you have to do each set twice and go though 6 people so in one set you do 120 kicks! Killed everyone, even Master Kim looked tired after demonstrating. Oh and we did the whole class with body armour on, not sure why, maybe extra weight or to get us used to wearing it.
After the class everyone had a quick drink then straight back to training by themselves or in small friend groups, no instructors. I was chatting to a black belt who is in the Goan Sparring Team and I asked him how to glide back and forth, we then spent the next hour training on this, so kind of him to show me his wealth of experience! He is so so quick and just glides across the floor. Started to pick it up but it will take time and a whole load of practise!
Overall finished today’s training at 23:50am, nearly 6 full hours of training. I’m buzzing, I don’t think i will sleep tonight. This country amazes me each day, the people and culture are just incredible.
Wednesday 20th September
As I thought, I couldn’t manage to sleep last night because I was so buzzed after Master Kim’s session. I woke up quite late at about 10:15am and had to quickly get dressed ready for my first session of the day at 11:00am. I don’t think I performed too well in this session, probably because I was just so tired from the night before. After class we all went and got lunch again, this time we had Kimchi (quite hot but the beef was delicious).
Once we finished lunch the 2 masters headed back to the dojang to open up again and the rest of the group wanted to take me to see some of the sights in Seoul. We started off going to see the City Hall building then we went over to the last king’s palace [Gyeongbuggong, 경북곡].
Very cool but a bit strange, you have a beautiful palace then a western building right next to it (the building looks like Buckingham Palace). Just outside the palace’s gardens you can watch the changing of the Korean guard, this was very cool. After all of this we went to see the British Embassy quickly, then a man-made river that runs through Seoul, this river is surrounded by beautiful architecture. We had a little rest and put dipped our feet in it to cool them down from all the walking.
Finally, our last outing was a food market where I got to try the seafood pancake!
Enough about my outings 😂😂, more about training. So we started class again at 6, where master Kim was going through hip movements and punching techniques. This class was easy physically but hard techically. After this class we had a 30 minutes break till the next class so I started practising what I’d learnt (so did everyone). The next class was meant to be poomsae but we didn’t did any patterns. As always the poomsae class warm up is the most demanding, tons and tons of knees up, hitting pads multiple times. After this we did more paddle work similar to the morning session but with more higher kicks. Once the class had finished I went to stretch but this time I had two people helping me, one pushed my back to the floor, the other held my hands going backwards! I was so pleased I managed to do it. Then I went into the front splits which I was nearly able to do. Feel like I’m finally breaking through a barrier and getting better flexibility. There was some white belts who were just amazing at stretching, coming from ballet and yoga backgrounds.
My 4th and final class of the day was GDT demonstration training. This was the second class I’ve taken of this but I managed to pick up the basics. We did 3 different types of kicks, running then left knee in the air, right leg kicks a pad in the air. Similar to a jumping front kick but trying to get as high as possible. Second was 2 jumping turning kicks in the air. The 3rd was the hardest and 70% of the class struggled with it. The drill is you run up to the paddle holder taking 3 steps then jumping in the air kicking the first paddle, then with the same foot still in the air kick the second one. Essentially it’s 2 kicks whilst still in the air. When I did it for the first time Master Jeong stood up and gave me a hug in front of the class, I felt very proud at that moment.
That sums up all 4 classes today. After the final class everyone spent another hour training. I was doing some sparring kicks with a college student who competes all the time. Total training today, 6.5 hours. Tomorrow we have a self defence class which I’m really looking forward to then we are off to have some goodbye drinks with the club.
Thursday 21st September
This is a bit of a sad day as it’s my last full day in Seoul. Don’t want to go home! No morning class on Thursdays, so I packed my bag and did some last minute shopping.
After this Master Kim very kindly took me to see the Nansan tower which is a massive tower on the only mountain in the centre of Seoul. When we got there we didn’t realise that we had to climb the mountain to get there. There was probably 500+ steep steps to climb to get to the top. It felt like a Taekwondo session in itself. Master Kim mentioned that when he was at college studying Taekwondo he used to run this 7km steep mountain every day before class. It reminded me of those old Hollywood martial arts films with intense training.
When we reached the top the view is spectacular. You have a 360 degree view of Seoul, the city just looks immense. After taking in the sights we sat down for some tasty fried chicken. If you come here you should definitely try it. It comes with all different sauces, my favourite is honey chicken.
When we returned to the dojang we started off with a footwork class, I loved this. Bouncing back and forth, gaining speed then trying it out on paddles. This is something I think the dojang really drills into the students, we are always bouncing up and down. Even in line when waiting to kick the paddle. I really hope I can master this one day.
The second class in the evening was poomsae however again we did no poomsae. We worked on fundamental preparations for moves in the patterns. The first drill was doing a front kick in the air, chambering the knee, hold for 2 seconds then go down into long stance. We practised this many times until the whole class got it right. Then we did this again but through in a punch at the end. Finally we did a hip exercise, you jump in the air as high as possible then twist your hips back and forth.
With about 15 minutes to the end of the class I very sadly pulled my knee doing another front kick exercise. The moment I chambered my front kick on the way down it made a loud click and was quite painful. I had to sit the last bit out. I’m afraid after icing my knee for 30 mins I still could not bend it so I had to sit the last class out.
Once all 3 classes had finished we all went out for some beer and dinner. (My leaving drinks from the club). There was about 30 of us and we managed to get a massive long table in a local bar close to the Dojang. We all started drinking soju and rice wine. Then we moved onto beer with soju and coca cola, very strange combination but very sweet and tasty. As I was leaving the club everyone kept on trying to give me drinks and cheers me (I learnt a new word, konbae, means cheers). After about 5 hours drinking with these lovely people everyone decided that 04:00am was enough!
I know I have said this a lot but you just can not imagine how welcoming Koreans make you feel! I’ve made friends for life here…