Martial Arts


Training in Korea
Part 2 of 5

By Master Todd Huddleston - 8th Dan
Yonsei Martial Arts Academy, New Orleans, LA


Master Huddleston (left) and Master Whitcomb (right) in front of Joong Ang Dojang


The 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 mine.)

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 1   -   Part 2   -   Part 3   -   Part 4   -   Part 5


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