A lovely American friend of mine has been doing taekwondo since she arrived in Korea. Since sports generally aren’t my thing, her participation has allowed me a glimpse into a part of Korean culture I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.
Taekwondo is the national sport of Korea, and it is everywhere. There are taekwondo schools every few blocks, and nearly all of my students (boys and girls) do it. All of the English textbooks I’ve ever used in Korea feature someone doing taekwondo (which necessitates the discussion that you do taekwondo, you don’t play taekwondo), and schoolyard brawls take on a whole new meaning when half the kids involved are black belts. (I have considered stepping in a few times to break things up but find I value my limbs too highly…)
Today, my friend was attempting to earn her black belt. She invited a number us to watch, and cheer her on. It sounded like a great way to learn more about taekwondo, so I charged my camera battery and headed out.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from a Black Belt test – fights to the death perhaps, or a rickety ring surrounded by sweaty spectators clutching grimy dollar bills – clearly I’ve watched too many movies. Whatever images my fertile imagination had conjured, this was not among them.
The testing took place inside a stadium; it was all very clean and civilized. Mom, Dads, siblings and grandparents filled the stands with their picnics and photographic equipment. The youngest belt hopefuls squirmed around to wave at their parents before taking their places on the mats.
The testing began:
I know that under certain circumstances, taekwondo can be lethal. I’ve seen professional demonstrations that were spectacular. Taekwondo being done by pint-sized pipsqueaks was quite frankly, hilarious. Especially when they began sparing:
When the black belt hopefuls came out, the mood in the stadium changed. They were fierce, concentrated and precise.
It was a fascinating way to spend the morning. I understood now why so many of my students were broken and battered; it’s certainly not a sport for the faint of heart!