Training in Korea
Part 2 of 5
By Master Todd Huddleston
- 8th Dan
Yonsei Martial Arts Academy, New Orleans, LA
Huddleston (left) and Master Whitcomb (right) in front of
Joong Ang Dojang
The Tang Soo Do headquarters school was, and still is, located close by
the Namyong Dong subway stop in Seoul. It was not on the main street and
difficult to find, so I had to be shown the way. It was in an alley-way
across from a Chinese restaurant about one block off the main road. When
I trained there, there were no special markings distinguishing it as
Tang Soo Do headquarters except for the large sign marked "Moo Duk Kwan"
right above the windows. The building consisted of three floors. The
first floor was the training area. The second was the changing area as
well as office space that was rented out. The third floor housed the
Head Master's office where of course a desk was reserved for the head of
the organization, Grandmaster Hwang Kee.
The training area was 1,500 sq. ft. and consisted of a small waiting
area next to the window with a bench. Outside of that, the rest of the
area was a wooden floor made with 1"x 2" wooden strips. It was stained
and varnished and it did have some give to it, which was conducive for
jump kicking but it was hard, which meant a student's feet had to toughen
up to get used to the constant pounding on it. (It took two months for
There was a small room to the right of the training area that looked
like a bathroom, but was never used as one. The front wall was covered
with maroon velvet with a small framed Korean flag in the center with a
picture of Grandmaster Hwang Kee under it. In the middle of the room was
a support column that always got in the way during training. The winter
was especially difficult for when the temperature inside the school was
at zero the floor was especially hard and unforgiving. Blood blisters
always formed and then popped on the bottom of my feet before training
was over, making it very difficult for me to walk afterwards. Sweat on
the floor was another enemy as it tended to make the floor very slippery
and conducive to falling.
There was no air conditioning or heating system throughout the whole
building, which meant the classroom temperature was dictated by the
season. Spring and fall were OK but the summer and winter were extreme.
The summers in Korea were very hot and humid making any kind of physical
movement a sweaty adventure. Winters were the polar opposite. (It got so
cold in Korea that my fingers and toes would go completely numb, and
that was fully clothed.) Of course it felt even colder if one was
standing ready to train, barefoot and with nothing but a thin uniform
on. Once students got to training, the cold wasn't as bad, but then your
uniform got really wet making it very easy to catch a cold. To top it
off, the master would open the window right next to me claiming the
classroom needed air.
Training equipment was sparse, but there were two "glove" targets used
for jump kicking and a heavy bag made out of old tire tubes that really
stung if one kicked or punched it. Above the shoe rack toward the front
of the school was a huge, round, clock-like thermometer. I found that
odd since there was no air-conditioning to ward off Korea's super hot
and humid summers, or no heating system for its bone chilling winters.
(Maybe it was there just to remind students what extreme temperatures we
were training in.) There were some tiny fans built into the walls that
tried to circulate air but were never really successful. The walls were
yellow and there was a small board in the back of the room for
announcements and testing lists, and no water fountain or drinks to buy
to help out with training.
The changing room on the second floor was tiny with little room to
change and it always smelled musty thanks to a lot of old uniforms that
students had left behind. There was a small shower (with no shower head)
inside the room with cold, slightly-running water (no hot water).
Koreans consider things like hot water and air conditioning a luxury and
even if they do have them they don't use them since it is perceived to
be too expensive. Water for the shower came out right above the urinal
that was never cleaned, so when a student took a shower, not only was he
cleaning himself, he was rinsing out the urinal as well. Needless to
say, not many people took showers.
The bathroom was located on the third floor next to the office. (I think
this was done on purpose so students would not be tempted to leave class
- climbing so many steps was difficult.) Inside the bathroom, there was
a traditional Korean-style toilet where people had to squat down to use,
and there was never any toilet paper available. This was typical, for
all Koreans seemed to know one had to bring their own toilet paper. I
soon learned to carry a whole roll in my training bag. I describe the
bathroom for the squat down toilet must have been part of the training
someone had planned. Being a westerner, this was no easy task.
To the left of the bathroom was the office, which had minimal lighting
and so was usually dark. The furniture, including the two desks was old,
and modern technology consisted of an antiquated fax machine and a
phone. Students never spent a lot of time in the office since "hanging
out" with the masters was not part of our training. However since we
were required to bow to the Master before and after class, everyone had
to go to the office on a daily basis.
Part 3 -
Part 4 -