It was described by Kuk Sa Nim as ‘the trip of a lifetime’, a one off chance to experience the culture, history, and to discover the roots of Kuk Sool Won in South Korea.
Here is a brief account about the ‘trip to Korea’
The Flight and Arrival In Korea
The Asian Air economy class flight was basic yet comfortable, with the latest Hollywood in-flight movies to entertain us, combined with a pleasant choice of Korean or western food. The Nine-hour non-stop flight time was a good excuse to catch up with some much-needed sleep and to conserve some vital energy for adventure that lie ahead.
After a somewhat smooth flight from Frankfurt in Germany, flying over Russia, Siberia and China, we finally touched down at Incheon international airport in South Korea. For me it didn’t seem that long ago, watching on TV, hoards of football supporters arriving at this fantastic new airport to watch their countries play in the World Cup, now I was here too. In the arrival reception area, we were pleasantly greeted by an entourage of Korean Kuk Sool Master’s led by Chief master In Joo Suh, the Grandmasters youngest brother. A banner, which was held up said it all ‘welcome to Korea’. It was a great first impression and it certainly helped lift our spirits after such a long trip.
Unfortunately our tour guide informed us there was still an eight-hour coach trip from the airport to our hotel. Thankfully ahead of schedule we finally arrived in Gyeong Ju City, thoroughly exhausted, thirty hours after leaving our homes in England.
Our first port of call was the Gyeong Ju Hotel, a superb four-star facility that would be our base for the next four days. The hotel and it’s staff were magnificent even though communication was often a little difficult.
The meals that were provided for us were very interesting, with a choice of both western and oriental cuisine.
Breakfast was always very enjoyable with a varied range of food to suit individual taste. During the evening we purchased meals from the western style restaurant, however once again translating the menu to the waitresses was a little bit complicated and on more than one occasion we ended up getting something completely different than what we had ordered.
The Tournament venue
The Tournament venue was held in a large and relatively modern auditorium, capable of holding six to seven thousand people.
Outside in the car park there were many different food stalls selling all sorts of Korean delicacies such as Silk bugs and corn dogs. But I must admit going hungry seemed a more suitable option than what was on offer.
The streets leading toward the auditorium were lined with over a hundred Kuk Sool banners advertising the event and large banner held up by large inflatable balloons welcomed us upon entry into the carpark.
Billed as one of the biggest Kuk Sool Tournaments to be staged in Korea, people attended from many regions in South Korea, as well as the 250 Americans and thirty Europeans. The competition format would similar to that to which most of us had been used too, all except the sparring, which was to be – full contact.
Having been appointed as a referee in conjunction with three other Korean Master’s, I soon found myself being thrown in at the deep end. Having adapted to their judging style quickly, I soon began to enjoy myself. My only problem was communicating with the other masters as none of them spoke English. It was a case ‘fake it until you make it’. Generally the standard of the competition in Korea was high.
Although the overall atmosphere seemed a little subdued the attitude and performances of the Koreans participants was relaxed, but very focused. The main thing I noticed was that there was no cheering or interference from Parents and certainly no video camera’s capturing the referees every move.
The Masters Exhibition I can only describe this event as one of the most enjoyable martial art exhibitions I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few). From an entertainments point of view there was something for everyone, including some of Korea’s Top musical talents. For the serious martial artists, the standard and quality on display was of the highest calibre seen any where in the world, with prominent exhibitions from over thirty Korean Kuk Sool Masters.There was music, Fireworks and a state of the art light show to highlight all the performances. However, it was the ‘Korean Kids demo team’ that stole the show with an outstanding performance of precision and timing that any Kuk Sool instructor would be proud of. Promotions.
The promotion ceremony took place after the second day of the championships with a vast range of high-level promotions including Masters’ Barry and Choon Ok Harmon to 8th degree Black belt. Master Simms and Master Sung Jin Suh also promoted to 7th Dahn.
For myself it was an unbelievable honour to be presented with my 5th Dahn Black belt (Master’s degree) by Kuk Sa Nim. Congratulations also to the other newly promoted British Kuk Sool Masters’, as well as Master John Ives and Master Philip Holmes who received the sixth degree Black Belts. I’m sure that this memorable experience will stay in our minds for many years to come. Visiting Korea’s National Treasures.
After all the excitement of the Tournament and Master’s exhibition, it was nice to relax slightly and visit some of Korea’s most historic and famous sites.
Our first expedition was travelling several miles up a famous mountain to visit the national treasure of Sokkuram Grotto, which houses one of the world’s finest Buddhist shrines deep inside some caves. On the same day we also visited Bulguksa Temple.
This is one of Korea’s best-known temples and a testimony to both skill of Silla architects and the depth of Buddhist faith at the time of it being built. While most of the wooden buildings had been rebuilt over the centuries most of the stone bridges, stairways and pagoda’s are original and date back 535 A.D.
Gyeong Ju city where we were based is described as ‘the museum without walls’ because of the wealth of historical buildings and treasures. Tumuli Park in the middle of Gyeong Ju city has a collection of 20 royal Silla tombs where many thousands of historical treasures have been excavated. Not only did we have the pleasure in seeing some of the tombs, but also many of us visited the ‘Cultural Centre’, which displayed many cultural treasures and historical artefacts.
Staying At The Buddhist Monastery
Kuk Sa Nim had arranged for our party, all two hundred and fifty of us to stay at Buddhist Monastery – One mile up in the mountains. A superb tranquil setting that can only be described as …… cold. The resident monks had all given up there living quarters for the night allowing us to stay there. Although the temperature outside was dropping well below freezing point, inside, the buildings under-floor heating was absolutely boiling and during the night we all cooked lying on the floor.