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The second test

On Saturday morning I went to Korean class – the last one this year – as usual. One of our exercises, which the teacher told us about the previous week, was to read out a simple passage from the textbook. It begins: ‘I am Bak Jae-yeong. I’m a university student. My younger brother is also a university student. We are very different.’ Except in Korean. Obviously. In English it wouldn’t be much of an exercise. Although I memorised it during the week, we weren’t expected to have done so. I recited it from memory anyway – and, in a vote by the two Japanese students and myself, won a small box of Jejudo cactus chocolates (I’m not sure if they were really made from cactuses or that was just a brand name). It was a very small box, containing just four chocolates – each in its own vacuum-sealed wrapper – which was quite serendipitous, as I gave one each to the other two students and the teacher. Or rather, it was serendipitous that there were only three students including me this week.

Later that day I was due to have my second taekwondo test so I didn’t hang around in Starbucks as is my wont and headed straight back to Nowon. I would have liked to have gotten more practice in beforehand … but I didn’t.

Back at my apartment, did some stretches practised a few kicks, blocks and taegeuk il-jang (태극 1-장). This is the easiest of the taekwondo pumse, or forms (‘il’ being the number 1). Starting from the ready stance, junbi (준비), you do a low block and a punch to the left, then again to the right, and then again to the front in a different, longer stance. Then you body block and punch to the right, and again to the left, then low block and punch to the front. Then comes the tricky bit – for me, anyway. Face block, kick and punch to the left, then to the right, before finally going back with a low block and a punch and returning to junbi (ideally in exactly the same spot you started from. Actually, the three different stages of the form are supposed to sketch out three parallel lines – the symbol for heaven, as used in the I Ching and appearing on the Korean flag (aka Taegeuk)).

The problem I find with the face block (eolgul makki – 얼굴 막기) is the positioning of the fists at the start of the move: the blocking hand should be at the waist (on the opposite side) with the thumb side outward, the other hand starts the opposite shoulder with the thumb side against the clavicle. From there you bring the upper fist down to its own side of the waist whilst you move the lower, blocking hand up above the head with the forearm horizontal, twisting the wrist so that the thumb side of the fist is now pointing downwards. At best, when it comes to that part of the pumse I have to either pause a moment to make sure my fists are right or just fudge it.

Anyway. I went to the dojang for 4:30 and found that there was another bevy of littl’uns being tested in front of an audience of their parents. The older students – my classmates – were huddled in the small meeting room-cum-office, so when I’d changed I went in to join them. And nothing happened for quite a while.

Kim Sabeomnim (the male master who co-trains my class) took me out to say that I’d been going on ‘last’ at about 5:50. In hindsight, what he must have meant was either simply ‘first’ or directly after the youngsters. For a while I just stood or sat amonst the teenagers as they joked around with each other. Then I got talking with a boy called Jun-hui (pronounced ‘joon-hee’, more or less) (or Alex, as he told me his English name was). He was under the impression that the UK was a violent place and I tried to explain about the gang violence amongst teenagers. He told me that he wasn’t allowed to travel to Britain because Chinese youths get murdered. If this is a reference to a real news story, I haven’t heard of it. He and a girl started discussing what my Korean name should be. The disscussion was curtailed, though, as it was finally time to begin.

To my consternation, not only was I to go on first (by myself, in front of a load of Korean parents), I was also expected to do the sinche 3-deunggeup and taekwondo-ran? patterns (which, naturally, I hadn’t practiced for the two months since my yellow belt test) and they wanted me to break boards, which hasn’t come up at all in training. In the event, Lee Sabeomnim virtually held my hand throughout the entire test – and I still screwed up several times. Breaking the balsa wood (or something similar) boards was the easiest part of the test, actually – I did one about a centimetre thick with a front kick, and another much thinner one with a hand chop.

The whole thing was enthusiastically received by the audience, but when I’d finished and the teenagers took up their marks I felt rather down and quite annoyed. With myself for not performing or practising well enough – but also with Lee Sabeomnim for not letting me know ahead of time what was going to happen – especially as I’d asked her repeatedly about just that.

I sat down by the ranks of little kids as my class mates strutted their stuff. In fact, they weren’t being tested themselves, but were rather putting on a show. Music thundered out of the PA system – mostly dance or pop music, but also including the theme from The Lord of the Rings as the kids did a series of short pieces. One was all about breaking boards left, right and centre; another had one boy with a yellow belt being picked on by a gang of red-black and black belts – and kicking their arses; another had Jun-hui at the centre of a quincunx of students doing basically a dance routine to a highly annoying, highly popular pop song.

When they’d finished, they bundled back into the meeting room where Jun-hui told me I’d been great and asked me if he’d been good, too. I said he’d been very good, but I was preoccupied with my apparent failure. Soon the teenagers all bundled out again, so I followed only to find they were grabbing their coats in order to go to a church somewhere in the building. After that, Lee Sabeomnim congratulated me and gave me a – I’m sure there’s a name for it, but I don’t know what it might be – a matching coat and pants – the kind of thing athletes wear while they’re waiting to do their thing. The coat has a Taegeuk badge on the breast and the words ‘KOREA’ (at the top) and ‘TAEKWONDO’ (at the bottom) on the back; it’s also a size or two too big. Apparently they were from the owner of the dojang.

I explained that I felt I’d done badly, mentioning the eolgul makki thing. She recognised what I meant, but said it didn’t matter and I should receive my green belt on Monday. I wonder if I should tell her I’m annoyed at her for not preparing me adequately. I probably won’t – I’m hoping to start giving her English lessons for one thing. At least I’ll know to practise a lot more for my blue belt test – whenever that might be.

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  1. Tracy
    24 December 2008 at 1:38 am

    Congratulations on getting your green belt Sean.

    Happy Christmas – what are you doing for it?

    Tray x

  2. 25 December 2008 at 6:58 am

    Thanks, Tracy. I’ve not actually received the green belt yet – maybe on Friday … or next week, who knows?

    Today, I my only plans are to go and see The Day the Earth Stood Still, drink coffee and do some reading, writing and maybe some photo editing. As I’m sure you appreciate, Christmas isn’t a big thing for me.

    Hope you and the family have a great time.

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