UPDATE: I went back to Kukkiwon with some students in 2016 and sat the course again, this time for my 2nd class.
Saturday 13th July
I arrived at Incheon at about 8:30 and got on the KAL bus to Gangnam. After a short walk I arrived at my room and the landlady kindly talked me around the place and facilities. By about midday I was just about to pack my dobok and head over to GM Kang, Ik-Pil’s dojang for a private lesson with the guy who literally wrote the book on Kukki-Taekwondo poomsae, but the landlady wanted to take me and an American girl that’s been staying here for 3 years out for lunch. She drove us out to a restaurant and we all had a really nice bibimbap. Then it was on to Sinnonhyeon station to travel to GM Kang’s dojang in Sinbanghwa.
I arrived outside the dojang I found on Google Maps and waited for about 20 minutes with GM Kang and I texting each other before I realised I was at the wrong place. He said to go back to the train station and he kindly sent two of his high school students running out to find me.
I arrived and met GM Kang and talked to me about my Taekwondo experience and what I wanted to learn (basically the higher black belt poomsae Jitae and Cheonkwon, maybe including Sipjin, but focussing on ensuring my techniques style are to Kukkiwon standards). I paid for my two hour private lesson and he said it would probably take one hour more to do what I wanted, but there would be no extra charge.
He then took me through parts of Jitae step by step and repeating them as combinations before combining them in to the whole pattern. The same thing with Cheonkwon. The key differences were that blocks should raise/lower to blocking height then move across (for example bakkat makki, my block raised from the waist to the middle section directly, but the Kukkiwon wants it to come to blocking height then move round. If the non blocking arm is close to the body it should be as close as possible or touching, the further away an arm is the weaker it is (GM Kang demonstrated by pushing my arm towards my body).
Breath control was very important, breathing in during preparation, exhaling during action. He also explained that my movement is “hard/go” from the start and it should build up in speed, going from soft/slow and increasing in speed. He likened this to a golf swing, soft at the top and the arms/body only tense at the impact point. Another important point was that when changing direction, the first part is to adjust body weight in the right direction, then move, don’t move keeping your body weight 50:50. However, one overall focus was that movements (be them stepping or blocking/striking) should not be multi-step, they should be one smooth flow.
After those two higher patterns he had me join his high school students for sipjin practice. His students have a competition next weekend and were in excellent (embarrassingly so compared to me) shape.
After that I sat with GM Kang and his students and enjoyed some slices of watermelon, very needed after a hot sweaty training session.
I got back to Gangnam station at about 8pm, then proceeded to get lost for an hour, with taxi drivers refusing to take me as it was too close, but not telling me which way. In the end I found a taxi driver to take me back to my room, got to bed and had two pieces of peanut bread before crashing hard for 11 straight hours.
In the morning I walked to Gangnam station, finding the way easily. I met with my original instructor GM Pan Sim Woon and his team of juniors from Malaysia. They also had their landlord with them, Mr Kim who would act as our tour guide. We started off going to Domgdaemoon for Taekwondo shopping, but like my last visit most of the places were closed. Then we went to the Ginseng market and went round smelling all the ginseng, garlic and fruit.
Then off to Insadong for a look at traditional Korean goods. I had a set of stamps made for a friend in America and after a long walk went on to our final leg of the tour, the electronics market. There I saw an amazing UHD TV, it cost 40.000.000 won, or about £25,000.
After that I was exhausted, so I caught a few trains around to get back to Gangnam, then again got lost and couldn’t find exit 4 to get my way home, so again had to resort to a short and cheap taxi drive). A quick portion of takeaway noodles (for about £3) and it was back to my room to bed!
Kukkiwon registration for the course tomorrow…
Today I got up nice and early, about 7:30, to ensure I had time for breakfast before arriving at Kukkiwon before 9am for registration. GM Pan was going to meet me there for 9, but the group he was with were very slow so they didn’t arrive until after 10am and by then I had already registered. Master Lee Hyungsun from the Kukkiwon had already registered me electronically (as I had problems with the Kukkiwon website), so the actual registration was very quick and easy.
Then I spent the rest of the day rushing between the Kukkiwon International Affairs Department and the World Taekwondo Academy trying to sort out GM Pan’s juniors who all tested in a Kukkiwon Special jump test on the Friday. In the end the WTA rules held strong and they couldn’t attend the course officially as they aren’t 2nd Dan+ in the Kukkiwon Database. Master Na Young-jib very helpfully arranged that they could attend the floor-training portions of the course, but with no graduation at the end. They seemed happy with this. After the course (which is now named Foreigner’s Taekwondo Master Training Course, rather than Foreign Instructor Course) there was an issue as to whether the Kukkiwon would let them attend the World Taekwondo Leaders Forum (which is generally for 4th Dan+), but as Master Na is in charge of this, he personally invited them.
It took a lot of laps of me running the Kukkiwon halls, but I think they got a result they were happy with. Then at the end of the day, I popped to a last couple of Taekwondo shops and came back to my room to rest up for the morning…
Starts at 8:30 sharp tomorrow, so it will be interesting to see if GM Pan’s juniors can get there on time.
We were told to be at the Kukkiwon on the floor in dobok for 8:30 to take registration, so I got there bright and early about 7:45. I wasn’t the first on the floor, there were a handful there before me. Most people turned up between 8:00 and 8:15, but some people turned up after 8:30. The class were warned that we must be there on time, registration would be taken multiple times per day and if you missed a certain number of registrations, you would automatically fail the course. During registration, we found out that there were 126 attendees, making it one of the biggest courses they’ve ever run for “FIC” and that some people had been refused entry due to the size.
We lined up with doboks on, bowed to the instructors and then went in to the classroom, as our first day was going to be entirely classroom based.
The first lecture was on Taekwondo Courtesy and Ritual. This was a very interesting lecture. He explained about meditation and the differences with Yoga meditation. The main differences being that in Yoga you lean your head forwards and put your hands with fingertips touching with the back of your wrists resting on your knee. In Taekwondo it’s correct to sit with your back and head straight (as it puts less strain on the spine) and to have the hands loosely in fists with the hammerfists resting on the knees (as it puts less strain on your wrists).
He explained that some American instructors make a mistake that after meditation is that they make students get up quickly ready to start the lesson afterwards. He said that you should take longer to open the eyes, gentle joint rotations and then stand up slowly so they get a chance to adjust from complete stillness to motion.
He then went in to explaining about correct Taekwondo bowing. He said that unless you’re meeting a really high dignatary, you should only bow to 15 degrees at the waist and 45 degrees at the head, there’s no need to go to 90 degrees bent over. In the evening on this day I saw the President of Changmookwan again (I met him last year) so it was appropriate to bow deeply then. He also explained that Bruce Lee has dramatically damaged bowing etiquette with his quotes on not looking down but always maintaining eye contact. He said this is horrendously disrespectful as it shows a complete lack of trust in your training partner/opponent (if you don’t trust someone, e.g. in a street confrontation, don’t bow to them).
For lunch I went to the Kukkiwon cafeteria for lunch. Served in prison-style trays, as much as you want this is a great way to eat lunch while training at the Kukkiwon. Even with our course size there was always a seat available. The cost was 5,000 Korean Won (which is about $5 or £3.50) but the food was actually pretty good (particularly after the days we’d trained in the morning).
In the afternoon we studied Taekwondo Growth and Development Theory. This was the lesson I found worst on the course. It didn’t seem to have a cohesive message — it started off on bone structure, then went in to the lecturer’s company which deals in gait analysis and tracking, then in to growth in children and how Koreans don’t spend enough time developing young children’s movement skills (which I think also holds true for the rest of the world too). There was questions from the order about best age to start teaching children or how to teach older people, but the lecturer didn’t seem to have any/much experience as a Taekwondo instructor but had been brought in for his general biomechanics knowledge. He did say that older people could do poomsae, performing them slower and concentrating on stability and keeping any kicks low.
The final session was on Taekwondo Judgement. The schedule said that it was also on refereeing but the lecturer said he knew nothing about that. He explained that when examining someone you should look for eye control, breathing and hard-soft power (not just using full energy the whole time). The latter rang true from my private lesson with GM Kang. Ideally a standard-based scale, but there may be times when you make allowances for people with injuries or individual capabilities and you shouldn’t penalise people for lack of physical attributes.
He talked about the Kukkiwon pass mark for gradings being 60% and it was the end of the day. Final registration for the day and we were done.
In the evening, we went to visit the President of Changmookwan, Grandmaster KIM Joong-Young. As I became a Changmookwan member last year, I had managed to contact Changmookwan and arrange for dan tests at Changmookwan for Grandmaster Pan and his juniors (and then Kukkiwon skip dan tests for his juniors), so we went along for the certificate presentations. It was a very proud moment when Grandmaster Pan got his 9th Dan Changmookwan (and then invited me to be in the picture with him and GM Kim). The juniors had spent a day training with Grandmaster LEE Sang Ki (KTA Poomsae Chairman) before the test.
One of the most surreal things on the trip was stripping down to our underwear to change in to dobok in the President of Changmookwan’s office.
Master KIM Dae Hyun then presented me with a Master certificate of Changmookwan too at the same time. We then also had dinner with Master and Grandmaster Kim before calling it a night.
Back on the Kukkiwon floor for 8:30 in doboks for registration. This was to be the same every day, but some people apparently didn’t get the message, strolled up after this time and went straight to the classroom. We had to remind our classmates that it was to be 8:30 in doboks, on the floor.
After registration, we had History of Taekwondo with Grandmaster KIM Young San (which taught Ritual and Courtesy the day before). He talked about the basis of Korean martial arts, from Taekkyun (and it’s virtual death during the Japanese occupation from 1910–1945). He then talked about the first 5 kwans — Chungdokwan, Jidokwan, Moodukkwan, Songdokwan and Changmookwan (in no particular order, just from memory). He asked how many people had lineage from each of them — Jidokwan had 1, Chungdokwan had about 3–4 and Changmookwan had about 10. Very surprising to see we were the most popular kwan and it turns out that GM KIM Young San was from Changmookwan too.
GM Kim then talked about General Choi Hong Hi’s involvement in Taekwondo history. He said that General Choi was a powerful man and great to help promote Taekwondo but that he had a “reported history of Karate” and a “reported history of Taekkyun” but that it was “not clear”. The way he was phrasing it was as if that was his claims, but there was no proof. He then talked about Choi’s son attempted assassination attempt. Then General Choi’s exile and move around from South Korea, to Canada to North Korea.
During the exams every so often the lecturers highlight a fact that should be “remembered for the test”, my advice is to make special notes of these.
The next lecture was with Grandmaster KWON Young Nam who started in the classroom describing the terminology. There weren’t many changes from what I knew of the terminology. Ones that he did highlight were that there was no more “bandae jireugi” or “baro jireugi” in Kukki-Taekwondo. A punch with the same hand as foot is simply “jireugi” or if you want to be explicit on height then “momtong jireugi”. The “reverse punch” situation is covered by simply saying the equivalent of the side and then punch, e.g. right foot forward’s reverse punch is “wen jireugi” (left punch) and the opposite is “oreun jireugi” (right punch).
Likewise, inward block is now simply “an makki” and outer forearm block is “bakkat makki”, they simplified the most common two blocks and have other ones be more specific as needed.
We did ask at the end if we could have a copy of the terminology but he said that to just use the Taekwondo Kyobon (Taekwondo Textbook).
After that session we went on to the floor and practiced them physically. We started off with the obvious charyeot which must have no gaps between the feet and fists alongside the body and then practiced Joonbi. He said that too many people around the world do it wrong, they raise up on the balls of their feet, bring their fists to the waist, jerk in to position, etc. This is all wrong. He said that the foot should move one foot length, the hands open and fingertips touch at danjung one 1 count, then raise to solar plexus over the next 3 counts, then slowly move down clenching to fists over the next 3 count (this is easier to do than explain).
We went through basic moves then. The big focus was on the movements flowing. When we teach beginners we often do this in steps and students get use to moving quickly to the “prepared position” holding it until their feet almost finish and then quickly doing the block. They want us to get away from this jerky style. You should leave the movement until later in the movement and flow through the preparation position in to the final movement position. So they had us rotating our shoulder joints and on the third rotation flowing in to an an makki.
This is the same thing GM Kang was trying to explain to me but it hadn’t clicked yet. All of a sudden all fell in to place and my poomsae suddenly jumped in level! During this session GM Kwon had two people wandering round helping us. GM Hur was one of them and had a very big personality, big presence and felt like he was a really senior guy (but very nice). The other helper was a very quiet lady who had an aura of being a junior helper, very humble, friendly.
After lunch we had Taegeuk poomsae practice and to my shock the main instructor was the lady from before lunch. She suddenly transformed from a quiet, seemingly junior lady in to this powerhouse of poomsae performance. She didn’t speak much English and had GM Hur translate for his but GM SEOL, Seong-ran was an amazingly funny (making the class crack up with her actions) and impressive instructor. She had to be my stand-out favourite instructor of the course!
She also explained that master-level instructors should do the poomsae differently to coloured belt and lower dan instructors, whereas the counts often show a block then the next count is the strike, master-level instructors should perform them as a flowing combination. Finally they explained that the lines on the Korean flag (palgwae) resemble the poomsae. If the set of lines that represents a particular poomsae has a broken line in a place, then you don’t step forward on that line, you do the combination in place. Very interesting.
After the poomsae lesson we had “unsupervised learning”, which basically meant back on the Kukkiwon floor practicing poomsae.
I got to the Kukkiwon as usual at about 7:45, warmed-up a bit and talked with some of my classmates while practicing odd parts of poomsae. Grandmaster Vohra then warmed us up before we were in to the second poomsae lesson which was black belt poomsae. The key principles were the same as the previous day — taking combinations of movements to practice them, same flowing style and then doing the whole poomsae.
Koryo and Taebaek were as I already knew them, no changes there.
Keumgang changed the way I did the stamp, I tended to turn too early when doing the kick, then stamp/shout/block. They advised us to keep the feet facing forwards before suddenly turning them all to face out to the sides (from the start).
Pyongwon had a similar change, after the middle block, circling in to low block, you prepare in a little hinge and then the foot quickly turns.
They focused again on the soft/hard principles again in poomsae, there should be times when you’ve moving gently then sudden hard power and it should flow.
One tip they had was after kicking, keep the knee held high until just as you step down and then do the punch (or whatever), generally after kicking I brought my leg down pretty quickly causing less of a snap/contrast.
One point they did clarify is that Kukkiwon rules for which hand is outside during hecho makki moves, in naranhi seogi or joochum seogi, the left hand is on the outside. If you are in a stance where one foot is forward, then that hand is on the outside, but the “neutral stances” are always left hand on the outside.
In the afternoon was first aid, injury prevention and conditioning. This was fairly easy for me as I’d recently done a first aid course.
After that was unsupervised learning. For some reason I went to Kukkiwon to learn but ended up teaching people up to 7th Dan on the Kukkiwon floor during this, either poomsae they didn’t know (but may need) or some of the changes they hadn’t picked up on (but as I’m anal about details I did). Very weird to be teaching : a)people when my grandmaster is nearby and much more qualified, b)people who were senior to me and c)Korean instructors. A great experience, but weird.
Finally home at about 7pm for dinner, studying and bed.
Last day of the course aside from the test day.
Got there about my normal time and warmed up. First lesson was sparring. Initially it was footwork practice (going across the hall raising knees, doing it with a partner), then on bouncing but going in and out slightly (keeping the back foor in place) then faking taking a quicker step in forwards with the front leg or a double quick step with the front leg to try to pull a reaction from your opponent. After practicing the basic motions, you then have your partner try to reaction kick it (counter kick) and you can either movement back with a “together-out” backwards step or by a “longer-regular” backwards step with a reaction kick. They said when using this faster step (“longer-regular” then reaction kick) you should go back at “5 O’clock” rather than straight back.
After this was a break and then we did target kicking using our hands instead of paddles (to focus on speed rather than power). At this point I felt my hamstring tweak (I injured it last time in Korea, so sat out with an ice pack rather than risk ruining it the day before the test). The class then did two-time kicking (back leg, other leg, putting the foot down in between), then in to roundhouse kick, back-kick. Finally it was charging down a line doing alternating pushing kicks, alternating axe kicks, then push-axe-push-axe, etc using alternating legs then the same legs.
They made a big deal of the correct distance for sparring — 1.15–1.20m — at 1m you can comfortably hit your opponent before they move, at 1.15–1.20 generally you can move in time, but still be in range to reaction kick.
After lunch it was back to the classroom with Dr SON Cheon-Taek who discussed different leadership styles and the benefits and common factors of good leadership stles. This was a very interesting lecture and he was a very engaging lecturer.
Then GM BANG Man-kyu (the director of the WTA) came in to basically give the class a telling off — there were too many people out of dobok, not wearing the belt, being late, not training (I was one of them, but felt it was justified as I had an injury). This was quietly received and was well deserved. They seem to have been much more relaxed about enforcing these rules in comparison to what I’ve heard of previous courses.
At the end it was back to helping my classmates with their poomsae during our unsupervised learning period while trying to brush up my own. I left the Kukkiwon floor as one of the last people at 8pm, and it was back to my room with some takeaway noodles to study my notes and our 600-odd page textbook before the written exam and physical test in the morning.
My BIRTHDAY! :-)
I got up early this morning so I was on the floor at 7:30, back practicing myself and helping my new friends with their poomsae. Before heading in to the classroom, Grandmaster Lee Kyu Hyung introduced himself in English and I had a picture with him. A very friendly famous grandmaster!
Grandmaster Lee then talked us through various demonstrations, areas to perform in a demonstration which was detailed in the textbook very well.
At the end of the lecture, Grandmaster Bang came back in and the 0001 people came up in 1st Class (Grandmaster Pan Sim Woon, my instructor, represented 1st and 2nd Class and pulled out Oh Jang and Sipjin for his classes, Master Alex Silva came up for 3rd Class and pulled out Yuk Jang and Taebaek for 3rd Class and Graduation class).
We then split in to two classrooms for the written test, done under more strict exam conditions than I’d previously heard about. The test was 20 questions, with the passmark being 12 correct answer. I finished quickly and felt fairly confident that I’d got at least 12 as most of the answers were clearly in my review notes from the night before so came to memory very easily.
After this it was quickly back on to the Kukkiwon floor for a quick practice run through, stretch then sitting down in our lines.
We were called up in groups of 3–7 people (aiming for 5 people, but not leaving 1–2 people to do it by themselves) in front of five 9th Dan grandmaster to perform our two poomsae. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous, even though I was confident I knew the poomsae and had ingrained the changes needed to make. Felt a bit queezy, but I think they went OK. This process took about 1.5 hours in total.
Finally we lined up and 20 people out of the 126 people were called out to receive Citations for their efforts and I was very proud to be one of them. Then it was time to get changed, receive our graduation certificates (we won’t find out if we actually passed until October) and then be dismissed. When I received my certificate, I had everyone sing Happy Birthday to me which was really embarrassing.
Then I headed over to the Notovel Ambassador in Gangnam where the Kukkiwon was putting a limited number of masters up before and after the World Taekwondo Leaders Forum the next day. Last year this was a multiple day event, but this year it was just one day.
In the evening Grandmaster Pan and I went to dinner with James (Jaemiseu on here), his wife and son and Master KIM Kwang Soo from James’ dojang. Kwangsoo bought me a very nice birthday gift which was very kind of him, while we ate bulgogi and then went over to meet some of the course attendees for a chat before heading back to our room to crash for the WTLF the next day.
We got up and were ready to meet the Kukkiwon staff at 8am in the morning in the Novotel lobby. I’d misunderstood and was wearing trousers and a shirt, but Master Na wanted everyone from the course in dobok so I quickly went to get changed.
We then headed over to Seoul City Hall for the forum.
The first test was on the physical impact of Taekwondo poomsae on the body. Interestingly the taegeuk series had a nearly linear relationship with VO2 Max and Lactate levels from Il Jang to Pal Jang, with the exception of Oh Jang which was just less than Pal Jang. Koryo again bucked the trend for the first 3 black belt poomsae, being much more high exertion than the others. This was interested to read though.
The next lecture was again very disjointed, it seemed to be not related to the topic of the talk until the last slide (it was supposed to be about youth development).
The third lecture was from Dr Kimberley Lakes and this was my favourite lecture. It presented her research where she took a group of children, split them in to half doing 5 x PE per week, half doing 3 x PE and 2 x Taekwondo and measured the impact on fitness and executive function. The stats from her study were interesting enough by themselves, but then she went in to how approximately 8% of the population have clinically diagnosable levels of ADHD symptoms and it turned out that not only did exactly 8% of her study group have the same levels but that it was 50:50 between the control and intervention (TKD) groups. She showed an interesting graph at the end that showed that after 26 lessons of Taekwondo those children had on average fallen from not just clinically ADHD to “borderline” but actually in to “normal”.
After some chinese food for lunch with Grandmaster Pan, Alex and his Malaysian juniors it was a lesson on self-defence. Due to some stomach issues I decided not to be rolling around the floor during this (which was a shame because it looked great fun) so I spent the time talking with James and GM Glenn Uesugi who I met for the first time on this trip (having spoken with him online for 2 decades).
Then we watched some Taekwondo demonstration teams performing on stage, including the Kukkiwon Demo Team who were awesome as usual.
In the evening Grandmaster Tony Vohra, Master Jonathan McWade, Master Diego Solarte, Master Don Wortman and I went out for dinner and a few beers. We then went back to Novotel and met up with Master Na of the Kukkiwon and his friend Master KANG Cheol In (who lives in Poland and it turns out is also Changmookwan) and had a beer with them. Then GM Vohra, Master Don, Master Kang and I went out to continue drinking. We found a bar that was open and on the way in I had a Korean guy with an American accent compliment me on my English accent.
Things went rapidly down hill from there with rounds of beer and tequila entertaining us until the wee hours. In the end the guy paid for our tab too (he was the son of an important person in Korea as well as a financial trader himself and he was adamant it was more important that we had a great night in Korea than the cost of the drinks). I got to bed rather blurry at 2am (somehow before GM Pan got back to the hotel) and woke up rather fuzzy the next morning…
In the morning I went over to visit Master KIM Dae Hyun of the Changmookwan to thank him for his help with the Changmookwan promotions, pick up a last couple of Changmookwan certificates and to take him for lunch. In the end he gave me some nice gifts of books (as he’s also the CEO of Osung Publishing) and paid for lunch for me, taking me to his favourite Kalbi-tang (rib soup) restaurant. Unfortunately I was a bit fuzzy still so didn’t eat much of it.
Then in the afternoon I took the certificates back to the Kukkiwon (where GM Pan was doing the Hanmadang Referee Course) and waited for Joanna (one of Grandmaster Al Cole’s students) to meet me. We went out and had a nice meal together to chat (TGI Fridays as I think we both wanted a change from Korean food) and then I went back to pack ready to go home in the morning.
Another great trip to Korea, it won’t be an annual thing (my children missed me too much this trip), but I’ll definitely go back and do the course when I’m eligible for 2nd Class, it was an amazing experience!