This is a guest post from my travel, fitness and blogging buddy Michelle, from The Millennial In Motion! She shares my interest in staying healthy in Korea, she always sees the humor and we both are on a quest to see everything while we are here! We both found ourselves in fitness classes where we were the sole Waygooks (foreigners). She chose Tae Kwon Do as her work out of choice and here are some of the highlights from her experience (spoiler alert: they are good).
5 Amusing Things About Tae Kwon Do in Korea
By: Michelle Flagiello – The Millennial in Motion
Growing up, I had taken a Japanese form of karate known as Shukokai to follow in my father’s successful footsteps in the sport. I had only made it to the green belt (4th level) before I discovered different hobbies and sports to occupy my childhood. When I moved to Korea, he encouraged me to find a Tae Kwon Do studio to ignite the karate past, emerge myself in the culture and get a good workout. So I looked one up and showed up to see what it’s all about.
Since my first day of walking in the Tae Kwon Do studio, where the whole class came to observe me signing up as if I was a famous art exhibit on display, it has been nothing but a great workout, good entertainment and lots of laughs. Here are 5 amusing things about the class that has become a big part of my Korean lifestyle.
- As mentioned in previous posts, Korea is known for “Korean Surprises” in all aspects of a Waygook’s (foreigner’s) life. And Tae Kwon Do is not an exception. When I arrive to class, I might occasionally get the following from my instructor. “Today we do test.” “Today we eat lunch.” “Today you die.” Or from my fellow classmates, “Today we die.” There is no routine which is exciting because every class is different and you never know what it will bring. One day, we stopped class to eat some Gimbap right in the middle of the workout space. The 5 of us (the ones not part of the diet program) shared two Gimbap rolls, with who knows what inside, sharing one pair of chopsticks, in which one girl took turns putting it in each of our mouths. I had a feeling it was seafood (which I do not like) but in order not to seem disrespectful, I ate it like a champ!
- I’ve learned that Master Hwang is impossible to get mad at. Every class he runs a great workout, kicks our asses and pushes us to our limits. I am constantly finding myself doing pushups until my arms are jello, running until I can’t breathe or jogging stairs until every part of my legs are burning. I would say planks are the worst, or maybe the kettlebell, or maybe bun workouts where there is no relief of pain even when I sneak in a quick break when he’s not looking. But he has this energy about him that even when he’s screaming at me “bally, bally” (hurry, hurry) or “deo, deo” (more, more), making me grab heavier weights or forcing me to go on when I don’t even feel it is physically possible to, I never actually get mad. Although I feel my muscles burning and I walk away in pain, I still have a smile on my face and I know he is pushing the class to do their very best.
- There is this intense diet program in Daegu, which I mentioned briefly earlier, where Koreans join this specific studio to be a part of a 10 week program with a strict diet and the 2 hour Tae Kwon Do class everyday. They weigh-in each week, record their weight and in the end the member who lost the most weight, wins a decent chunk of Won. Although I was never a part of the diet program, one Monday they insisted I weigh in to be a part of an in-house, friendly competition in which they didn’t even want me to contribute money. As I weighed in, I knew I was not going to be proud of my weight but seeing the number in kilograms, I asked Master Hwang, “What is that in pounds?”. He said “Too many pounds”. He said, “No more chocolate, junk food or Mekju (beer)”. That day happened to be my birthday. It was actually Master Hwang’s birthday as well. So after class, he said “Now we eat cake” and he brought out some chocolate cake to share. I politely declined since he just told me too many pounds, no more chocolate and no more junk food! He said it’s our birthdays and we must. I have to say I never thought I would be eating birthday cake with chopsticks and that was not the only time that day!
- Most of the time, no one wants to be my partner. At first, I was a little offended. It must have been because I was the unfamiliar Waygook. Or maybe they didn’t want to spend the time trying to teach me or try to speak English. Then one day, we did an exercise where you had to knock your partner to the ground, gently with your strength. After being matched up with four different partners, varying in size – I took them all down. Since then, I’ve convinced myself that no one wants to be my partner because I am too strong. 🙂 I am always very thankful for my friend, life saver and permanent partner, Esther who is Korean American and is always happy to be my partner and helpfully translates a lot of the class for me.
- Joining a workout class in all Korean, I knew would be somewhat of a challenge. At first, I would always get confused on instructions and proper form. But it’s definitely easy to pick up on since its physical and I just need to follow my classmates movements. During class, they will all have discussions between workouts and I either daydream, try to pick up on new Korean words to learn or wish I was snuggled back in my bed. Throughout class, every so often I hear my name thrown around and sometimes someone might explain what was said about me but most of the time I just shrug it off and imagine it was a compliment. It will definitely be a culture shock returning to America where I can understand all conversations happening around me.
How is that for adventurous? Thank so much to Michelle for sharing her story, you can read more about Michelle’s adventures at her blog The Millennial In Motion! Stay tuned for the top 10 differences between and Korean and American swim team. Do you have any funny work out stories?