Taekwondo? No can do.

Since I’ve been losing weight at a steady rate since I’ve been here, I decided now was the time to take up some form of regular exercise. I haven’t been actively trying to slim down, but it’s been slowly starting to happen anyway thanks to a combination of (a) my new Korean-style diet (steamed rice, fresh vegetables, no fried/fatty food), (b) not over-eating due to not wanting to look like a pig at a table where everyone shares food from communal plates, (c) not eating junk food due to it all being, well, crap, (d) keeping busy all day and most nights, and (e) teaching 8 music and drama classes a week, involving dance routines and much running around trying to keep order.

Anyway, I’ve always hated gyms and running, being the easily bored type. I need to be learning as well as exercising, so I enjoy dance classes, aerobic workouts, and kickboxing – anything that has a bit of variety and a series of moves to memorise. Recently a friend that has been going to a Waist Trainer Center has had great results, so I am gravitationg towards that. Combine this preference with the fact that I’m living in Korea and also the realisation (during a spot of Wii boxing) that I still have a worrying amount of anger and aggression bubbling away inside me, and you’ve got my new fitness effort: South Korea’s national sport and very own martial art, taekwondo.

A colleague phoned around and found a studio nearby that claims to have taught a foreigner once before. She took me there on Friday evening to be my interpreter as I registered, and tonight I found myself in my brand new uniform and white beginner’s belt, entering a class full of… children.

Well, think about it. There’s no such thing as an adult beginner class in Korea, because everyone here starts learning taekwondo as soon as they can walk. They’re crazy about it. Everywhere you go, you see people in their uniforms walking to and from their classes every night. The club assured me that at this particular class there would be adults, but it turns out that by “adults”, they just meant teenagers rather than elementary school children. And of course as soon as I walked in I was the centre of attention, being the awe-inspiring white girl. Children here fall to pieces when they meet a foreigner. The girls giggle and blush and whisper, and the boys nudge each other to try and make someone use one of their few English phrases.

Fortunately, I just had to do the stretches and warm-up with them, and was then taken into another room for private instruction. I have returned with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think I could really love this sport if I stuck at it and got beyond the almost falling over as I try to kick a pad my instructor’s holding at shoulder height. It felt pretty damn good to punch and kick furiously like that, never mind the fact that you have to yell as you do it. Heheh.

However, I really don’t want to be in a children’s class. And I don’t want the private instruction – my self consciousness is still a little too great for that, and I just want to be an anonymous figure at the back of a class for a while until I get some sense of what I’m doing. But the main problem is the total language barrier. My instructor is lovely – the same age as me, warm, and friendly – but he speaks next to no English. My knowledge of Korean is at roughly the same level as his knowledge of English. Maybe higher, in fact, now that I know a variety of TKD commands like “kick”, “punch”, “attention”, “yell” and something that may or may not be “try not to kick me this time”.

If he really did teach a foreigner before, that foreigner must have known a lot more Korean than me, because he didn’t seem to know what to do with me. Several times he just stopped and gazed at me as if desperately searching for words that I would understand, and we could only communicate by me copying the moves he showed me. He couldn’t explain anything, and I couldn’t ask anything. It was frustrating. So I kicked and screamed a bit more. :)

Anyway, I’m now pondering what to do. Stick at it despite how uncomfortable I am with the kids’ class/private instruction set-up,and see if we overcome the language difficulties? I’m not sure that I’d be happy with that. Leave and concentrate on my language lessons, and return when I can speak better Korean? Search for another class especially for foreign ESL teachers (surely there’s bound to be such a thing)?

Nothing’s simple. And my simmering frustration with living in a country where I can’t communicate in the most basic situations is nearing boiling-over point now that I badly want to be able to do something and am being held back by the language barrier. I think it’s a gym and Korean lessons for now… sigh.

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5 thoughts on “Taekwondo? No can do.

  1. Edwin says:

    Hi, there. Stumbled upon your blog through Twitter. I’m a blackbelt Taekwondoka in Holland. I can imagine it is not very rewarding training with Koreans in a kindergarten environment. There is one tip I would like give you though. All the names of the techniques in Taekwondo are very easy to learn. Once you know the basis names communicating with your trainer will be easier.

    Keep it up and I know you will enjoy it!

    Should you visit Holland in the future you’re welcome to train with us.

    Greetz, Edwin

  2. Thanks all! I’ve decided to throw myself into my Korean language learning for now and venture back when I can at least hold a basic conversation. So far, I’ve got all this grammar but can’t seem to put it into practice! TKD classes will give me something to aim for. :)

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