This year the Spartans Taekwondo academy organised a trip to South Korea to learn about Taekwondo, the culture, the history, etc. I will be giving my personal account of the amazing trip that i was so fortunate enough as to part take in this year.
On the first day, we arrived at Incheon airport on the island of Incheon just off of the coast of Seoul. Upon arrival, we teamed up with Master Pyo’s group from Germany and set off from the airport. We were then traveling toward a city named Gwangju, towards the south-west. Halfway to our destination we arrived at a service station where we would get our first exposure to the heat, as well as food that Korea had to offer. The temperatures were soaring high as we set off on our first face to face encounter with Korean food. Tempted by all the selection, i had settled on some Korean churros which i reckoned highly. I also tried these Korean Walnut cakes called Hodugwaja, which again were delicious. After leaving the service we set off and arrived at Chosun University, the first of many places that we would be staying. Toward the end of the day we introduced ourselves to our new German companions as well as some of the kind Koreans who would be helping us around while staying in Gwangju. We all then received special trip Doboks and a team tracksuit and two team shirts with a fleece. We then all went to bed ready to participate in a. Competition the next day.
On the second day, we all got together and travelled to a nearby gymnasium hall where the “Chosun university presidential international poomsae Taekwondo championship” was taking place. all of our groups took part as well as several other countries totalling up to 9 which were also present to take part. We were taken up on groups of 4 to compete against each other. 1st place would receive gold, 2nd silver and 3rd and 4th both receive bronze. All participating teams were determined and performed well. the english team received a total of six bronze and 1 silver medal. The Korean team put on a performance for the foreign teams coming to participate. They performed Poomsae, board breaking as well as impressive kicks and jumping kicks as well as kicking while blind folded, using sound to find the target. There was also dancing and a dance mixed with poomsae performed by the junior teams which was astounding! After the competition we all went to have a meal together with all the participating teams to celebrate the day and all of our hard work. Each team were summoned up to perform for the other teams in celebration (However we luckily avoided this). Together, we enjoyed some Korean cuisine such as Kimchi, a cabbage based dish with spices and seasonings and some Korean spirits named Maekju (Beer) and Soju (Spirit). The team returned home after a breath taking celebration party and packed ready to leave the next day.
The third day approached and we left after eating breakfast. Saying and thank you’s and farewells to all the kind Korean volunteers who helped us out. Our German-British team then departed to view a competition that was being held in Gwangju that day. The team arrived at the ‘Gwangju open international Taekwondo championship’ to watch all of the sparring and poomsae competitions that were being held. Following this we departed to a beautiful mountains area on the way to Yeosu. From there our group met up with Master Chong (who was decent in english which was great) and together we ascended the large hill and arrived at Taewon Temple, a landscape beautifully decorated with green to juxtapose with the nature around it. We all had a vegan meal, as meat in not permitted in the mountain, which consisted of chilli turnips, chilli spinach soup and bean sprouts. After lunch we were told we could sightsee the local area. surrounding me was luscious green, the sounds of nature and an accepting, peaceful community. The area was decorated with statues symbolising different buddhist beliefs, a giant bell and large buddhists statues. After sightseeing and taking plenty of photos, we were summoned to the main building where we took part in a training regime hosted by monks to give us a taste into their ancient form of martial arts which we all got to have a go at doing. After the training they gave us a demonstration into a form of their poomsae which was astonishing to see! handing out our fare wells we made our way to the town of Yeosu, where we stayed at another University campus waiting for what the next day had to offer.
As the fourth day enrolled, we set off early to another area of the campus to a presentation room where we got a brief history lesson from Master Chong about the history of Yeosu involving Hamill and his arrival at Yeosu. Following this, we travelled to several museums including a large turtle ship giving an insight into the Korean-Japanese history of Yeosu being a coastal town. The group set off to view the vast ocean and the Hamil lighthouse, mentioned by Master Chong earlier, which was rather short and coloured red. Succeeding this, we travelled to a facility not for the Acrophobics (Height phobics) as we would be travelling over the Yeosu sea, running parallel to a large bridge connect the two halves of the city, via cable car! Coming from an Acrophobic myself this was a large hurdle to cross but definitely worth it for the experience as it was a breath taking sight seeing the deep cerulean ocean spill into the horizon, the city below moving concurrently to us and the breathtaking nature coexisting with the urban environment. Arriving at the half way point at the other side of the city, we explored the area a little before embarking back to where we came. A great place we visited was a pavilion outstretched away from the cable car facility which overlooked the ocean and the city that was delightfully accessorised with small wooden hearts with little messages written on them by couples who visited in the past. Ending the sightseeing, we retired for our last trip on the cable car and departed toward an aquarium which housed and sheltered a variety of different sea life from small clown fish to even giant green turtles! There was an area where visitors could hold and touch the smaller fish which was challenging because they were very fast however i managed to use my taekwondo speed and magic to capture one, they were slimy and surprisingly sturdy. Once we were finished we left to train at a area dojang along with some local koreans, it was a privilege and a great experience however the squats were punishing on the legs! Finalising the day our group, now accompanied with some koreans, went for a lovely evening stroll onto a gorgeously illuminated promenade that was slightly outstretched into the sea, it was a exhilarating way to end the day.
Moving onto the fifth day, we started the day again by setting off early to travel. The first point of interest we arrived at was a cute and lusciously green park. As far as the eye could see was lovely and varied roses ranging from red to orange and even yellow. hidden away amongst the park were several ponds, surrounded by trees, that lay below a hazel wooden walkway connecting several areas of the park. Tannoy’s constantly played older sounding music from western culture creating a familiar yet nostalgic vibe to really craft a tranquil atmosphere making this park a very vibrant and pleasing environment to be in. Amongst the music played we heard the superman theme and even the pink panther theme! departing this beautiful park we set off to have a traditional Korean meal. On the menu was a traditional Korean soup, or Tang, named Samgye-tang, which is a chicken soup stuffed with Rice, Ginseng, Jujube and Garlic served with a variety of vegetables and seasoning for the chicken. In order to consume this tantalising dish, you must cut the chicken into three or four pieces, then take one of the pieces and transport it to a small plate where you then shred the chicken, dip it in the seasoning and then enjoy the meal, and of course enjoy the broth afterwards. This was tied first as a favourite meal for me while i was there along with pork belly wrapped in lettuce named Samgyeopsal Gui. The next area we visited was called Gwanghalluwon Garden in Namwon, a large Garden first constructed in 1419, however it is famous for housing a love story of Lee Mong-ryong and Chunhyang, the subjects of a famous Korean folk story. The stimulating emerald garden seemed to be alive as we traversed it. The garden itself housed several traditional buildings to help the ancient tenants to avoid the sun as well as a shrine dedicated to Chunhyang which has become associated with helping people who are single to find a good partner, how romantic! To end the day we all went to watch a traditional show consisting of very loud drumming, dancing and a comedy lady with a diabolo and spinning plate. Following this we arrived at one of my favourite places, the Taekwondowon, a large centre located in Muju dedicated to Taekwondo, a beautiful area painted green with the emerald forest that encloses it and all the beautiful decorated paths and communal areas, which also included training centres, accommodation, food and so much more!
As the sixth day rolled along, we began the day grabbing some breakfast before we set off to train with a Poomsae Trainer going over many different techniques and blocks to improve them so that they look far more appealing when performing them. Following this we did some exercises and practised some kicks along a talented demo student. We also learned some new kicks and techniques to better our previous efforts. After the lessons we left to go to an observatory museum, leaning about space an having some fun trying on model space suits and looking at model spacecrafts. Soon after we travelled to a museum all about insects and small critters. In the. museum were several large and small creatures that could be found all over South Korea, and even stunning giant sculptures crafted by the shells of green beetles. The team then did some light shopping in a small market before we set off to climb the hill in the Taekwondo one to take in some of the areas that had been built to promote the sense of history and tranquility to better focus. We found ourselves at a dojo area where the group decided to take some great photos, it was a brilliant opportunity and the photographs turned out great!
It was now day seven and we started off the day by traveling to part of the Taekwondo which housed a large museum dedicated to taekwondo. There were many exhibits such as donors used by the olympians, some posters for the first world taekwondo championships and even medals! Soon after we found ourselves invited to a demonstration in the main theatre are of the complex where many talented students put on an impressive taekwondo demonstration showing off many kicks, flips and blocks , it was a breath taking sight to see it in person. Our team then decided to leave the Taekwondowon in style by taking a trip up to the top of the largest hill, catching the large cable car up to the observatory and taking one final glimpse of the complex before we had to depart. The Taekwondo was a great experience and in would urge anyone to travel there as it was a brilliant sight and taught us all very much. Leaving Muju, we then set off to have a day out in Jeonju, a nice small rural town that has maintained a very traditional style while merging with some modern themes. The oxymoronic atmosphere was very refreshing indeed and all the locals were very pleasant and the town itself was very nice to look at with it’s traditional roof tilling and beautiful paths, it was lovely indeed.
Onto day eight, we a had a day if learning and experiences ahead. We began by travelling to a history museum of all the history of Korea until the moderns times and where Korea was in the times of our seniors. Next to this museum was a gigantic battleship that had been converted into a Korean marine museum, rested on the shores of the ocean. Inside the ship was many exhibits about Koreas ocean war history, as well as informational videos and presentations. We had learned a lot about the invasion of the Japanese army in Korea over the trip and as we traveled to different museums and such, and in this city we were showed an example of the culture the Japanese bought over in the form of their wealthy accommodations that they had Built as they moved over to southern Korea. many of these houses still stand today and some have become tourist destinations. To finish off the day we went to train along side children, which consisted of sparring training and kick practicing. Side note: the man in the lift called me good looking and i tried a massage chair for the first time and after the onslaught of uncomfortable squeezing and pushing that i was assaulted with, i don't think ill be trying it again any time soon.
On the ninth day, we traveled to a football field where we took some photos and did some racing, the winner got a price of 10,000 Won! (About £7). Afterward we set off back towards Incheon, bound for a big water generator facility which contained small informational areas dedicated to teaching people about the facilities however the most memorable part, again Acrophobics beware, was the tower that had a glass floor!! the building itself was around 100-120m tall, and it has da large portion where the ground on the top floor was transparent so that you could peer into the soily earth that lay below. It took me a long time to build up the courage to step on it however i faced my fears in the name of experience! Following this we set off and arrived at the Anyang World Taekwondo Hanmadang, where the Kukkiwon Taekwondo demonstration team were ready to put on a performance for all of our viewing pleasures. It was very similar to the Taekwondowon demo however many more boards were broken and there was even a section dedicated to blindfolding the Martial Artists and having them use sound in order to break their target!
On the tenth day, we were surprised to be enjoying a lovely sushi breakfast which had been prepared for us all. following this we all went out for a trip to the beach. The beach was lovely and white, the shore swayed in and out rhythmically, the steady zephyr greeting our warm skin. Everyone was out and having fun, from light swimming in the ocean to wrestling on giant inflatable platforms. We all had a great time around the nice cold sea, there was even small fish roaming around the shallow waters, however i would definitely invest in some waterproof sun cream to avoid burning like i did. The team then departed our fun in the sun to enjoy a fresh seafood lunch! we had a mussel soup which was delicious even to me, and i mostly try to avoid seafood. i definitely recommend as it was one of the best meals we had while we were out there, simply gorgeous. Afterward we all left off to train with Master No, an intensive kick training exercise involving many spinning kicks and jumping kicks. Later that night we were treated to a lovely homemade Pork based dinner by the students, after which we had a great disco party all together where I danced myself into a quadricep injury that would last a fortnight after Russian dancing too hard, good one me. The Karaoke was great however and everyone enjoyed it very much.
Day eleven rolled along and we left the accommodations of Dr.No to set off for the final destination of the trip which was right back at the capital city of Seoul , a monstrous city housing over 11 million. This is where we made our way to the world taekwondo headquarters, the Kukkiwon. The Kukkiwon had a large area in which to demonstrate performances as well as practice for them. there was a lot of photos and posters on the wall to celebrate its rich history. Nearby there was also an Adidas shop with many great offers on for taekwondo gear, recommended by me. Later that evening we checked into our final hotel, the SR Hotel in Seoul which was a great location, a crisp and stylish black feel with a quaint little coffee shop on the ground floor decorated with coffee beans and leather chairs. To summarise the day we went out for a beautiful black bean noodle dinner from a local place just around the corner. Thank you to Master Pyo for buying our drinks!
Day Twelve! The last day for acrophobics! we set off in the direction of a famous Korean shopping centre which consisted of many levels from Lotte tower, the Lotte Shopping centre and Lotte world. The tower itself stands at a breath thing 555m tall, and is the 5th tallest building in the world! We began by doing some light shopping about the base of the tower. There were many stores to choose from consisting from a small studio Ghibli shop to a Gucci store! Following this we all ascended to the top of this gargantuan building, the tip of the skyscraper kissing the clouds above. From here we could see almost all of Seoul. I didn't spend much time on the edges, however i did go on the outdoor section so that participants can really feel the sky and the atmosphere. Once we had descended back to the bottom of the tower, we went to the sub area of the shopping centre called Lotte world, were all the amusement areas, food stores and a giant ice rink in the centre. We had all split at this point and i had a look around at some of the stores such as the VR section. Later the day we had some free time and we spent the evening cruising night time Seoul and enjoying some chicken and beer (a favourite of ours).
The last group day we had was on the thirteenth. We started off by travelling to a large palace named Gyeongbokgung Palace, a vast open and historical palace with many reservoirs and small lakes to look at, small birds that you can feed by hand and many luscious and green parks in ethic to take a gentle stroll though. It was very tranquil. After this we traveled over to the Korean National History museum where there was many exhibits in which to look at and a lovely fruit garden near the front. After lunch we all went off to a Korean war museum where there were many planes and large sculptures to analyse and learn. The park itself was particularly beautiful to gaze at with its small moat complete with fountains and its large greek like columns. To finalise this last day as a group, we went to see a a show called “Jump” which was very funny and martial arts themed live performance that is definitely worth the watch!!
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was so lucky to have been able to partake in this trip and i would definitely be interested to go again as it was simply a breathtaking experience!!
By Sam Watson