I arrived at 4pm on the Thursday, but missed the Hanmadang as it had finished early. A quick meal at Seoseokdae and then I crashed by about 8pm. I’m considering Day 1 to be my first full day.
On the next day I turned up to the grand Hilton at 9am as per the schedule. However, check-in wasn’t open until 1pm. I met Master Na and Miss JUNG Ga-Young of the Kukkiwon. After checking in, I went with two new friends Cesar (6th dan from Brasil) and Hermann (4th dan from Austria) along with Cesar’s friend Doohee in to Dongdaemoon to look for Taekwondo gear. Although it was cheap, the shops were really small so aside from buying a simple embroidered belt in a small Kumdo shop I left my main shopping until my planned Kukkiwon trip later in the week. We did manage to eat out in a typical Korean restaurant (according to Cesar and Doohee the food wasn’t great but it was fairly typical quality and price). I had bibimbap and the others had bulgogi. The food was really tasty and the bowl, unlike those in English Korean restaurants was absolutely smooth making it easier to eat all of it.
In the evening, we had the official Welcome Dinner. The evening started off with some conversation with the 150 masters from 53 countries invited. Everyone was circling well, so I spoke to a lot of people from different countries. I was really impressed with the friendliness and openness of everyone.
A speech was next by Kukkiwon President Kang, Won-Sik, translated by Ga-Young. Then we all enjoyed a buffet dinner in a very international flavour. After dinner we spoke with lots of masters from Korea and took some pictures. It was interesting to hear how most of the masters are independent of their national association. Although I am a British Taekwondo member, I was told beforehand by British Taekwondo that I was not representing BT but that I was independent so I felt a kinship with most of the people. Some korean seniors asked if i was the representative of British Taekwondo and when i clarified that the president of BT told me that i wasnt, they were disappointed that a) they took this negative position and b)hadn’t sent anyone else as a representative. At the end we were given a bag with a Kukkiwon flag and a couple of poomsae DVDs.
After the dinner I sat up until the early hours discussing taekwondo politics and common friends with Nigel Hudson and Chris Davies from the UK and Sheamus O’Neill from Ireland.
Sheamus and I went down for breakfast at about 7:30 as we were told to be in the lobby for strictly 8:55 for a 9am start. The breakfast at the Grand Hilton is a normal international style buffet.
At 9am we went over to the conference centre for the start of the day. The first session of the day was on Taekwondo Taping. In case you don’t know what this is (most of the attendees didn’t, me included), if you’ve seen some elite athletes such as soccer players with bright pink or yellow strapping on their legs under their shorts, this is Motion Taping. I’ll be honest, I was a bit skeptical, but with some demos and practice I actually was turning in to a convert. Motion Taping works by using sticky tape that has the same elasticity as normal muscles. This is applied on the skin in the same line as the muscles, to support weak muscles in stabilising joints. The instructors took us through how to diagnose weak muscles and correctly applying the tape to various parts. We received a CD-ROM at the end containing more information on how to do this correctly.
After a small lunch (enforced by the Kukkiwon as we were due to train afterwards) we split in to two approximate groups, those 5th dan and below and those 6th and above. Apparently the lowest rank to be invited was 5th dan, but some people asked to bring others and these were often lower rank (and were given associate membership of the forum, rather than regular membership as per the invitees). I say approximate because we had at least one 7th dan in our group (this split was initially by grade and then adjusted by which poomsae were known and needed review).
The first session for the lower group was sparring. Professor LEE, Sun-Jae had us going across the hall doing footwork drills. These generally consisted of changing feet kicking steps or skipping rope steps. We then did partner drills in a similar way, at first fitting in opposite legs, then trying to block the opponents kicking leg while skipping backwards.
The final drill was try stepping lightly on your opponent’s toes. After a round of this he added trying to slap the opponents butt, then after another round added in tapping the shoulder. The first one was to practice footwork and the latter two covering low and high blocks.
Then Professor Lee took us through a correct sparring stance (shoulder width apart). After a bit of bouncing my Achilles’ tendon injury from about 5 years ago flared up. This gave me a chance to try out the motion taping guys (the Motion Taping company had a massage table outside and would take any injuries/pulls for free). This was the deal-sealer for me, although I couldn’t complete the sparring seminar, by the time it finished (20 minutes later) and we started poomsae I barely noticed the injury and within an hour after the poomsae finished it felt 100% again — consider me a convert!
One point that was emphasised is that when told to line up, the students should know how to do this and quickly get in to line. They should know the grade of themselves and their fellow students and quickly get in to position. When turning during basics, if the last movement is an attack then they should do a low block when turning. Also kihap when turning. Korean classes shout much more, on each technique during line drills. They also shout more during sparring drills, this helps give you and your partner confidence.
Poomsae was with GM Hwang, In-Sik. Fortunately this seminar was just like my experiences with my instructor GM Pan Sim Woon. There were a couple of corrections; my wrist during sonnal goduro makki should have a slight bend and the punch in Keumgang comes forward then round, not straight round. I knew before the course that my olgol makki were started wrong (we kept the previous blocking hand in place and moved the next one around, rather than dropping the non blocking one to shoulder height). The final one was the simultaneous block in Taebaek, high and outer forearm block. We had the right start and end, but the olgol makki moves first not simultaneous.
Anyway, after a shower it was time to go down for dinner. This time it was a more casual affair with Professor Lee, GM Hwang and the Kukkiwon VP in attendance. The food was excellent, international in mixture with some definitely Korean flavours/favourites.
An early night for me after today’s training and I’m ready for the next day.
Breakfast was the same as yesterday. We then went over to the symposium. This was a day filled with lectures, generally surrounding getting more people to watch and participate in Taekwondo in Korea and the wider world. I heard that in the previous forum the questions were given to the askers so answers could be prepared in advance. However, the fact that this time they were free form doesn’t mean that an awkward question couldn’t be ducked (even though it seemed very related to the talks at hand). The obvious ducking on one occasion did give most of the foreigners a laugh.
Anyway, this was another good networking opportunity as I spoke more with Master Turgeon and his student Linda from Connecticut USA. They were both great and really friendly.
In the evening, after the buffet dinner, the UK and Ireland were the last guys in the room along with Michal from Poland, Diego from Colombia, Eric and Janne from Belgium and a few of the Kukkiwon staff. The Kukkiwon staff decided we should go out for drinks as it was only 8:30pm. We all went to a restaurant and had quite a few soju (downed in one) and some anju. Soju is like sake in taste but served cold. i was concerned as the senior Kukkiwon staffer said it was like vodka. in fact it’s about half the strength which was ok with me as I’m not generally a spirits drinker. We had some great time talking about Taekwondo and differences between korean and western culture.
Then after a while we moved on to another restaurant called 7676 ( which in Korean is chilku chilku whin sounds close to chingu chingu meaning friend friend so they call it that). There we went for maekju (Korean beer). By the end of it I think everyone except for a couple of english guys who weren’t drinking were fairly buzzed. We got back to the hotel at about 1am, but Sheamus (my room-mate on the forum) and I stayed up until about 2 yakking.
Surprisingly we both got up fairly sprightly at 6:30 am! Mainly because Sheamus suddenly asked over if I’d had my shower yet… This shocked me awake as we weren’t due to get up until 7 and I thought I’d overslept.
First thing, my roommate and I decided to get Internet access, which was wired and not free unlike most hotels in Korea. After checking emails, Facebook etc we then went down for our regular breakfast.
After breakfast we went to the cultural session. This was partially trying on traditional Korean hanbok (outfits) with the lady choosing a lovely pink top to go with my rather large manly frame! Thanks for that!
We then watched some videos on the projector screen about Korean culture, the Tripitaka Koreana (which is the most complete carving of Buddhist scriptures into wooden blocks anywhere in the world) and about the creation of hangul.
While there was then the offer of trying some traditional Korean food, Sheamus and I went to change in to formal attire for the 4th Taekwondo Day celebrations. Some went in the hanboks they were borrowing, but we both felt more comfortable in suits. Staying in casual dress would have definitely have been unwise; the WTF and Kukkiwon presidents were there as was the Korean Sports Minister and cameras from at least SBS and KBS news networks.
We were lucky in that when we arrived most of the first table we came to were already full. So we kept walking, eventually coming to an empty table on the front row, two away from the RVIP table.
After a few speeches from the presidents, minister, IOC members and others we then had a great meal. Sitting with us (and talking quite freely and down to earth) was GM LEE Soo Hung, the chairman of the WTF Advisory Council. During a break there was an opportunity to go and have a photo with Dr Choue, President of the WTF. I found him to be very warm and friendly, being happy to offer a firm handshake and a brief conversation about your name, country and thoughts on the forum in English.
I was introduced to GM KIM Joong-Young, who is destined to be (or already is) the new head of the Chang Moo Kwan as GGM KIM Soon-Bae is very ill/old now. He said that I should email him and he would help me become a Chang Moo Kwan member, so that was very kind of him.
After lunch we had to quickly go up and change/pack for a 1pm hotel checkout. The plan for the afternoon was to visit the Kukkiwon to see the Demo Team. The demo was due to be held in a nearby palace, but the rain was really a huge downpour, so they moved it to the Kukkiwon just for the Taekwondo Leaders Forum. I got a really good recording of the Kukkiwon Demo Team, I’ll upload that to YouTube and put a link later.
After the demo we were given a nice certificate confirming we were appointed as members of the forum and as it was later than planned we were told it was just free time. I had a quick look in the KSD shop as my main shopping trip was going to be the next day then went back to my hotel to crash (going to bed, worse for wear, at 2am and then up at 6:30 makes me a very tired boy!)
In the morning I decided to skip breakfast and head straight over to the kukkiwon. It was a dry day today, so that made things much nicer, I could take a photo of the infamous entrance sign without getting soaked. After a quick walk around, I went upstairs to see if there was anything happening on the dojang floor. There was a high dan test about to start, two going for eight dan and one for ninth. For high dan grades only a few poomsae were required. These were done, then the examiners asked a few questions of each person then passed them. I don’t know who the examiners were, but one was GM KIM Joong-Young that I met the day before who will be/is the new Chang moo Kwan president.
After seeing the dan test, I saw some fellow masters from the forum, had a quick chat and then said my goodbyes. I had a look around the Kukkiwon Museum for a few minutes (it’s as small as the rumours, but it was great to see so much Taekwondo history in one place).
I then went to see Mr Soh at the KSD store. He speaks great English so I explained the doboks I wanted making for a student and a friend and off he went to do that. I bought some other minor gifts for the kids then dragged my heavy bag to a coffee shop for lunch (waffle) and rehydration. Then I thought I’d check out the Kyobo bookstore collection of Taekwondo books. While they had quite a few, there seemed to be only one that had any English in it and that was kinda a duplicate of a book I already had. I bought a couple of books on Korean language then decided to go and chill out in another coffee shop to have a read.
Sheamus and I caught up over text message and he came to meet me after his meeting with GM PARK Hae Man. We went and had dinner at a TGI Friday (his request was “anything but Korean food”) and we chatted more about running schools and techniques/strategies etc. great fun shooting the breeze with him and I feel I found a really great friend. The we said our goodbyes, promising to give each other a shout if we are in the other’s country and went our separate ways.
I headed over to Arirang Taekwondo dojang, as I was invited by Jaimeseu from KukkiTaekwondo.com. James arrived about 10 minutes after me so we got changed and then chatted while waiting for our class to start. After a fairly quick warm-up (which, after three of them in Korea I’m finding is REALLY a very standardised warmup in Korea) we were in to paddle drills with a partner. My partner (not James) was really nice and friendly, being very understanding when I pulled up with a hamstring pull (at first I thought it was just cramp, but the more I tried to stretch it the more it hurt).
Then Master KIM Kwang-Soo (he was on the Kukkiwon Demo Team until a year ago and it REALLY shows) said we would only be doing Koryo that evening. So he started taking us through it. I learnt a lot about how Kukkiwon poomsae performance (for competitions, demos, etc) is all about a regular beat and each preparation step is fitted in to a beat. He corrected some of my basic movements (circular movement in preparation for the first move, starting position for outer forearm knife hand block and foot movement style before the last section). Then we broke in to two teams and practiced doing the poomsae synchronised. Then we “competed” against the other team to see who could do it better (I think the other team must have won because mine had gimpy hamstring guy on it — i.e. me).
Then Master Kim told us some more corrections and how to improve. I think these were aimed a lot at me as I knew I was doing the things he said in the way he was saying was wrong.
At this point, let me clarify — when I say Master Kim said, I mean he spoke in Korean. However, he had an absolute knack of demonstrating exactly the way I was doing it wrong, the showing clearly the difference and then finally the right move. I swear to god, if he learnt Enlish, he could write his own ticket in the west!!
At the end of the class, Master JIN Sang-Eun gave a nice speech about my background and welcoming me to the dojang (in Korean but James gave me the gist of it afterwards). I would have to say, I loved training at Jaimeseu’s dojang and will definitely be a regular visitor every time I come to Korea. The whole group was so friendly and the instruction from Master Kim was superb!
After class Master Kim gave me a couple more tips and I exchanged gifts with Master Kim and Master Jin (the school owner). James hadn’t eaten before class, so we moved to a local restaurant so he could eat while I rehydrated and we chatted further about training back home, our instructors and the Internet…generally putting the Taekwondo world to rights.
Finally he saw me in a taxi and I came back to the hotel to repack my new purchases in and go to bed. It’s been a great experience in Korea and I’m going to love coming back next year for the Instructor Course, but I’m missing the kids and my wife, so I’m not sad about going home in the morning.
Korea, it’s been great and I’ve made a new friend in you, see you again soon!