It’s not often that you get to do something that scares the living daylights out of you, but is also extremely exciting at the same time. The thing that makes Taekwon-Do so fantastic, for me at least, is that it presents so many opportunities to experience this juxtaposition of emotions.
Pack your bags, we are going on a Taekwon-Do adventure! You won’t need anything except your dobok – Let’s go!
My story takes us 8,836km from Auckland, New Zealand to Tokyo, Japan. In fact, this will be a journey through time and space, as this happened in early January of this year.
I met up with a friend, Dane Canton (III dan, Southern Cross Taekwon-Do Academy), who currently resides in Hokkaido, Japan, because I had this harebrained idea to take a flight from Seoul to Japan to train with Taekwon-Do legend, Master Hwang Su-il (VII dan, Hwarang Hwang Taekwon-Do Club).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Master Hwang Su-il, he was the motion capture artist for the Taekwon-Do character Hwoarang in Tekken 3. If you have ever played the Playstation game Tekken, Hwoarang is seen performing the pattern Hwarang in the introduction sequence. You may have also noticed that between Tekken 2 and Tekken 3, the characters went from being these awkward, robotic fighters to moving fluidly and realistically. In my opinion, Tekken 3 revolutionised combat video games. At the time, Master Hwang was a sparring World Champion, and through his work on Tekken – he made ITF Taekwon-Do something that most ordinary people (especially in South Korea) could identify with, or have some connection to and knowledge about.
I got in touch with Master Hwang through my dojang in Seoul, booked the flights and then worried about the details later.
Our first club training was at Fuchu dojo. Fuchu dojo is the HQ for ITF-Japan, similar to our MMC.
The dojo is very easy to get to from Fuchu station, less than a minute walk. I didn’t come to Tokyo with any expectations of what training would be like. I had prior knowledge that training in Japan is high intensity and the standard is very high from reading essays on the iTKD website and YouTube videos, but I didn’t quite know what to expect.
The session was two hours and started with a comprehensive warm-up with mostly ballistic and static stretches, followed by footwork exercises. The majority of the training itself consisted of linework, patterns, bag work, target padwork, footwork drills and free sparring. The intensity was high as expected, and stayed specific to Taekwon-Do. I sweated about 3 litres and felt like a truck had hit me, but I honestly had a great time. The best time. Everyone was really friendly and kind. We were made to feel very welcome and comfortable. There was some serious talent in the class, and their skill level was very high. Master Hwang lead the class, as well as trained alongside us demonstrating devastating power and grace in the same breath. There were also some ladies in the class in their fifties and they all could reverse turning kick stationary, closing distance and flying with speed, power and ease. I was blown away.
After class, a bucket and several cloths were put out, and everybody helped to mop the floor. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do in New Zealand. When you train hard – blood, sweat, tears and other fluids evacuate the body – you make a mess. You make a mess, you should clean it. It honours the dojang as a sacred space, and it acknowledges the hard work that everyone contributed towards during the lesson. Also, I personally am not a huge fan of laying down on a dirty floor whilst wearing a white dobok. Cleaning the floor makes sense to me. It only took us 3 minutes to do the job because everybody helped out and I actually had a great time doing it. A highlight of the night was after the mopping, when all the club members faced each other in a round of paper, scissors, rock to determine who will have to rinse out the bucket and cloths. This was good fun, as everyone celebrated victory as they were let off the hook and then eagerly watched to see who would have to do the deed.
It was Fuchu dojo’s first evening of training for 2018, and many of the students stayed behind for a social event. Master Hwang mentioned that they have an event every 2 months to develop club culture. We all chipped in, then 2 members went out and bought food and beverages. We sat down for the next 2 hours chatting and having a good time. This was the trip highlight for both Dane and me. Thank you ITF-Japan and Fuchu dojo for making us feel like family.
If you’re feeling brave and up to it, take the plunge. I encourage you all to go overseas and meet new people by training in and visiting dojangs outside of your own. You will forge so many new friendships and make an instant connection through the common interest of Taekwon-Do. If not overseas, visit another club, near or far. It may even feel a little daunting at first, but between nerves and anticipation is where magic happens!
Irene Yu, 2nd dan
Dragon’s Spirit, Papatoetoe