I'm a bit of a collector. I'm a collector of black belts. What brought me to Korea was my desire to train Korean martial arts at the source. That was a good six years ago. What brought me back to Korea was a desire to earn a somewhat comfortable living. The first time I came to Korea I stayed for six weeks while doing some extreme Tae Kwon Do training at a high school outside of Seoul. I came back to get a Tesol certificate and to do a little English teaching. At that time I was a third degree black belt in Taekwondo. I had hoped to learn some more martial arts at that time. I had hoped to hook up with the University Taekwondo team to work out with them, but that didn't happen. Instead I did a little light training with a local master as a part of the tesol program. I took some classes with some other English teachers.
Since I had a good ten years experience on everyone else I didn't really find the classes that fulfilling. They were pretty fun, but I wanted some serious shit. That's when I hooked up with a Kumdo school. Kumdo gave me all kinds of new challenges. At first it was pretty easy, but after a month of swinging a stick around, the instructor called me into his office and invited me to the next level of training....training with the kendo armor. Little did I know that the stuff would cost about six hundred bucks. I ended up staying in Korea a little while longer just to pay for a plane ticket back since I had blown a good chunk of change away on some athletic equipment. This was in March of 2005.
I stuck with the Kumdo stuff until December of 2005 when I headed back home for a brief respite. I took all of my gear with me. I went back home and I stayed away from my old Taekwondo school for a few months. I'm not sure why I did that. For the year of 2004 I ran a Taekwondo dojang for my instructor. That was one of the hardest jobs I had ever had. It was hard because I didn't get paid well, and I felt like I was stuck there. I got paid eight bucks an hour and worked twenty hours a week. I felt marginalized after having been to Korea. I had big dreams of improving the school's curriculum, but I thought that I needed more scientific physical education. I was also second fiddle to a master that had been hired from Korea. This guy had a college degree in Tae Kwon Do, but I was kind of disappointed in his skill level. Anyway, my marginalization had a little to do with that and a little to do with the fact that I was teaching classes to what I considered the best of my ability, but the most important part of the job was to get people to sign up. That's why I left to get a Tesol certificate in the first place, and it was also why I was a bit reluctant to go back in 2006 and start up again for a few months.
Also in 2006 I got into contact with a local Kendo club that I joined. I was worried that my instructor would disapprove of my training Kendo at a different school in his area. (Yes I know that it is hard to believe that somebody would get upset about something like that, but old Korean men. That's right I'm not even going to explain this rational other than by saying old Korean men.) After about two months of looking for a job in South West Michigan, I picked up some shitty work in a flower greenhouse putting plug trays on carts for shipping to garden centers. At that time I figured I could go back to the Taekwondo school and start up again. I didn't want to be coerced into being a dojang master again so I had the leverage of having another job. Almost instantly I was offered the opportunity to give my instructor 900 bucks and test for my fourth degree black belt...which I took even though I didn't feel any better at Taekwondo.
I sailed through that test. I wasn't the slightest bit worried, and I didn't really take it that seriously. I joked around with some of the other black belts. Another black belt, a man from Mexico who had taught me many things about the art when I was a kid, happened upon a broken board when it was time to do our board breaking. I thought it would be funny if I stood on the other side of the room and made a punching motion as he pulled the already broken board apart. The truly funny thing about that was that some people didn't get the joke and actually thought that I had some how broken the board with my mind. I sailed through the test and had some fun with it.
That would be my last black belt test for a few years. That test was in June of 2006. I returned to Korea in August to work in a middle school . That middle school represented a huge missed opportunity for me. It turned out that a guy who works in the office there was on the Korean national Kumdo team that competed in Taiwan in the 2006 world championships. That year Korea took first in the team competition while a Japanese guy took first in the individual. I never really ended up practicing with that guy, but by December of that year word had gotten around that I was back in town, and my old instructor sent me a text. I was really appreciative towards him for wanting me to come back. By December of that year I didn't know what I was going to do with myself. I kind of hated my job, but it paid well. Starting back up with Kumdo was a real comfort.
Then in October of 2010 I did my Kumdo 1st dan test. The test was pretty easy. A real departure from the black belt test events that happen at Chung's Black Belt academy in Kalamazoo. Here is a short list of what is involved:
1. A three day fast.
2. A research paper about teaching Taekwondo or being a referee.
3. A speech about something.
4. A recitation of all of forms or poomse that are taught there....Those are:
a. the Taekwondo Taeguk forms.
b. The 5 Tang Soo Do pyung ang forms (Also practiced in Okinawan Karate)
d. Five forms invented by Grand Master Sun Hwan Chung called the Shim Shin forms.
e. A form called 21 basic motions, where a motion is done while calling it's name in Korean.
f. A very athletic form called 42 basic motions...Also invented by Grand Master Chung.
g. If you are high in rank you are supposed to make a creative form....although these are rarely done.
h. If you are over a first degree black belt you have to do the Taekwondo Dan forms Koryo, Geumgang, Taebek etc.
i. If you are over a first degree blackbelt you should to the Tangsoodo Dan forms: Nianchi, Shipsoo etc.
5. demonstrate your self defense ability.
6. demonstrate your one step sparring ability. (One step sparring is a self defense exercise that isn't widely practiced at modern Taekwondo schools. An attacker steps back into a low block and punches at the other person's face. The other person takes defensive and counter attacking postures.) Before I was a third degree black belt one step sparring was done in a free style manor. These days every belt up to and beyond black belt has three to five techniques that must be learned.
7. demonstrate your sparring ability.
8. demonstrate your sparring ability against more than one attacker.
9. break a board with a foot speed technique. What makes something a "speed" technique is the fact that the board holder only uses one hand to hold the board rather than two.
10. break a board with hand speed technique. Again, hold a board in one hand and break it with the other. This is really hard if you have never done it before.
11. Take a picture.
12. Eat something.
So when I took my 1st Dan in Kumdo test, I was expecting something a little more involved. Instead I just had to to an ancient Korean sword form called Bon Guk Gum bub. I messed that up pretty bad. By then a lot had happened since my fourth degree black belt test in Tae Kwon Do. I got married, and at that time my wife was pregnant. During the time of the test we were waiting for some D.N.A. results for our son. We wanted to see if he would have downs syndrome or not. Needless to say my mind was somewhere else. I also thought the hardest part of the test wouldn't be any of the physical stuff which I knew by heart, but the written test. The written test was in Korean. A few days before the test my instructor gave me the test questions and answers in Korean. This is a pretty common practice for everybody, but it was still pretty difficult for me to memorize all of that Korean. Anyway, I passed despite my flub.
October passed and it was onto November. On Thanksgiving I was walking around Jinju's Geumsan Myun during my lunch time when I happened upon a truck that had a phone number for a Tae Kyon school near my house. I had wanted to learn Tae Kyon for a long time. By then I had given up on on Taekowndo in Jinju. I tried it at two schools. One school was filled with bratty high school kids, and I was better than the instructor. The other school was just filled with kids. I made the discovery that adults in Korea don't practice Tae Kwon Do, unless they own a Tae Kwon Do school, or are college kids in training to be future Gym teachers or Do Jang owners.
I copied the number of the Taekyon school down in my phone and went home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my wife. (We also found out that day that our son didn't have Down's Syndrome. I don't think we would have loved him any less, but it was a pretty big relief...I don't mean to offend anybody by saying so, so I'm sorry if I do.) Anyway, that day I zapped some chicken in my dong yang magic with some mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. My wife called up the Taekyon school and we went over to meet the master.
I joined the next week, and a year later I tested for my first dan. I have to say that the test was a little lack luster. I just had to do one form, and demonstrate a few techniques. Taekyon techniques are a lot like Taekwondo techniques, so in my opinion I looked like a goddamned master compared to a lot of the other people there. Think about it, if they had only been training 1 year too, they couldn't have developed the skills that I had after fifteen or sixteen. Also the kids testing suffered a bit from Korean kid syndrome, and that is a disease where you spend all of your time studying Math and English so when you go to your martial arts school you don't put fourth any effort. Their instructors could have also suffered from Korean master syndrome. Korean master syndrome is where you understand that the kids who come to your school spend all of their time studying, therefore to keep the kids interested, you don't really teach them how to kick or punch or concentrate on anything, you just spend the whole time having the kids run around in circles, play soccer, dodge ball, or do super annoying gym class leap frog activities. I can't vouch that any of the Tae Kyon masters did any of those things, but I did see that at Tae Kwon Do schools. That is one reason why when I would train Tae Kwon Do in Jinju, I would often leave in a fit of rage.
The test also made me a little sad about the state of Tae Kyon. Tae Kyon is said to be a root martial art of Tae Kwon Do. (Actually Karate is) Tae Kyon actually existed a few thousand years ago. It was probably a lot different than what it is today since it was outlawed by the Confucians and it was also banned by the Japanese. Modern Tae Kyon stems from one guy who learned it when he was a kid and he demonstrated it to one of the dictators. That guy taught a bunch of other people, and it has gone on to become recognized by the Unesco cultural heritage people. Because of all of that you would think that the Gyeongsangnamdo provincial competition and dan test would be able to muster a little more than the 40 or 50 people who showed up to my test. This was 40-50 people and about 7 masters. It is somewhat obvious that one cannot make a living as a Taekyon master in Korea. That is pretty sad I'd say. Comparing Tae Kyon and Tae Kwon Do, it is kind of sad that the thousand year old martial art isn't as popular as the sixty year old sport. That being said though, sometimes Tae Kyon can look a little silly. It sounds a little silly with the strange guttural ki-aps taht are said with each motion, but it isn't bad. It is a lot more gentle on the joints than TKD. I think that it is more suitable for older people who just want to have an exercise. It also provides some good crossover context for Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido. Tae Kyon doesn't have punching techniques, but the sparring combines kicking and take downs. The kicking and take downs aren't meant to hurt anybody, but you can learn how to knock someone down, and a Tae Kyon push kick has a lot of power behind it. Also if you a Tae Kwon Do person who isn't used to blocking hand attacks at your head or foot attacks at your legs, the sparring gives you a lot of new things to think about.
Anyhoo, I'll end this here. I have spent way too much time on this post.
See you all later.