Martial Arts


Training in Korea
Part 4 of 5

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

The Training

The training in Korea was intense - it was the most difficult training I had ever done. That's not to say it was this way throughout Korea. I knew lots of martial arts schools where things were more lax and the master was really laid back and friendly with the students. But not at the headquarters. Students were in constant motion the whole time, which meant if you were not already in shape, you were going to get in shape fast. There was no talk or explanation by the master, just physical action. (Many times he yelled at me in broken English "Don't ask! Just Do!") Drinking water was a no-no and even if you were sick or injured you were expected to keep up, no excuses. And if you were the only one to show up for class, you just signed your own death warrant. Being alone meant a faster pace of training plus the master could focus on your mistakes, which meant getting yelled at more. And he could push you to the point of breaking since there were no other people around to slow him down. The training was so physically demanding that new students didn't last long. The master didn't really have patience with you if you couldn't make it to the finish line. I guess that is why there was never an abundance of students there.

Back then, there were only three times to train - 9:30 am, 3:00 pm, or 7:00 pm and students showed up well before class got started. The 7:00 pm class had the most students. Being late was frowned upon. Those who were, cranked out 50 push-ups before they even thought about asking to join the class.

The atmosphere before class was not pleasant. No one talked to each other. Everyone had a gloomy look on their face as if they knew that the day's training would be very difficult and with a lot of physical pain. I would not say this was a happy time, and I got the real sense that this was the "calm before the storm." Once the master entered the room, the senior would yell for everyone to stop what they were doing and bow. We then lined up according to rank, bowed to the flag, did a brief standing mediation, and after bowing again things got rolling.

We started with fifty knuckle push-ups counted out in rapid succession with the master being able to out-push-up everyone. We then went into horseback stance and did middle punches. The master did them as well, all the time watching us to make sure we were twisting our waist and punching at the solar-plexus. Next was basic blocks and strikes. The requirement was to do five going up the floor and five coming back down. We did every block and strike that way. Low Block. Five times up, five times down. High block, knife-hand block, high knife hand block, low knife-hand block, twisting ridge-hand strike. We did them all. The two most difficult were usually done at the end. They were Chae Han Dan Soo Do Mahki (Squatting low-knife hand block, and one step Ha Dan Dwee Dol Lig Ki. (One step-turn back sweep.)

The master was a fan of really deep stances. I had never done these before so my legs had to go through a lot of pain to get accustomed to it. In addition, my little toe always got caught in the cracks of the floor when doing turn back sweep, making it much more difficult.

Warming up was next, using the same exercises everyone in Tang Soo Do does. Deep Knee bends, hamstring stretches, alternate toe touches, splits, butterfly, arching the back, etc.. Not a lot of time was spent on stretching since we were already warmed up from basic blocks and strikes. At least that was the master's philosophy.

Like blocks and strikes, kicks were done every day, five up and five down the floor, by the count. (We did not stand in place and kick.) The master demonstrated each and every kick before we were ordered to do them. Again, we did them all. Jump kicks were done right afterwards. If there few students in attendance, we kicked the target glove held by the master. If there many students, we jump kicked up and down the floor. There was no time to catch our breath until after jump kicks, when the master ordered a one minute break. I found the term "one minute" odd since I always timed it and was always less than sixty seconds.

We also practiced every form we knew daily. Keecho I, II, and III were first, followed by the Pyoung Ahn forms I through V. Bassai was next, then Naihanchi I, II, and III, the Yuk No forms and all the Chil Song forms. We always wrapped up with higher level forms such as Jin Do or Kong San Goon. A person's rank dictated what forms were done and how long they had to do them. If you were a lower belt, you were asked to go to the side and continue practicing your current form until everyone had finished theirs. If the master wasn't satisfied with how they looked you did it again. He emphasized forms a lot during training, so deep stances, correct rhythm and timing were a must. There were also no breaks given between forms. Constant movement was the mantra.

After forms everyone got a partner and did one-step sparring. I found this much easier than doing kicks or forms and it also meant that two thirds of our training was over for that class. One-steps in Korea were different then the ones I had learned, so I struggled with them at first.

Finally, there was self-defense. Various grabs were emphasized starting with same side, single hand grab all the way to grabbing from behind. I found it strange that sparring was not usually included in our daily training. At my original school, we sparred a lot so I expected the same in Korea. When we did spar, it was for a very brief moment and contact was limited.

By now time was almost up, so we got back into line, did horseback stance middle punches, 30 finger tip push ups, then a sit down meditation. We always ended class with, "Soo go has show sum mi da," which means "thank you for your effort."  This is a very good thing to say in a lot of situations in Korea and it is of the highest form of the language.

After bowing out, the master would leave. We were then supposed to do 30 sit ups, but a lot of people didn't since they were just too tired. Training lasted one and a half hours with just one, one-minute break. Of course the litmus test for how hard one trained was how wet one's uniform was. Mine was always drenched.

Note:  When I first got to Korea, the only Korean I knew were the Tang Soo Do commands, so there was a problem  being able to fully communicate. In the beginning, I was constantly reprimanded and had no idea what was being said. After living there a few months I did begin my study of the Korean language and this helped, for I was able to memorize the parts of the body soon afterwards, but I was limited to that only. For a long time, I could not communicate with the other students or even with the master, which was a big hindrance that led to a lot of misunderstandings between us.

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



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