When I arrived in Korea, I decided to start marital arts. Having no experience at all, I thought I would give Taekwando a try, since it originated in here. However, some of the other foreigners in town encouraged me to join Teukgong Moosul (특공무술), a mixed-martial art that was also created in Korea.
Unlike like karate and taekwando which are considered sports, TGMS is a method of fighting as it emphasizes self-defense and submission of an opponent. It was developed by Lim Ung-Hwan, specifically for the Korean military by combining many different sports and combative methods, including Taekwondo, Yudo, Aikido, Kung-Fu, Taegeukgweon (Tai Chi), Dang Rang Kwon, Muay Thai, wrestling, and kick boxing, and more. It has been the official martial art practiced by the Korean military since 1978 when it was demonstrated to the then President Park Jung-Hee.
Like many other martial arts, Teukgong has a belt system to determine the level of an individual. The belts include white, yellow, green, brown, blue, red, and black, taking about a year to get to a first degree blackbelt with hard work and committment. Belt “promotions” are based on form and self-defense, rather than sparring.
Our gym in Taebaek is run by Master Kang, a very dedicated and enthusiatic teacher. Lucky for me and the other foreigners, he speaks English very well and provides instruction in both languages. We practice five days a week, and each day has a different. Monday is a wild card, and changes from game day, fitness, stretching, and other activities each week. Tuesday focuses on Muy Thai and kick boxing, sometimes with a little sparring at the end (the example is from another gym, but is a good illustration of what sparring looks like). On Wednesdays we learn form, Thursdays are self-defense, and Fridays are gymnastics.
Perhaps one of my favourite things about TGMS is getting a little more immersion in Korean life. Outside of school and the foreigners in town, I don’t have many meaningful interactions with people in the community. Teukgong is a great way for me to get to know other people around me, learn more about the culture. There are always good laughs to be had when high school boys insist they are “handsome boys” and run around the gym like decapitated chickens. Another bonus is the hwaeshiks that come around about once a month, and throw all our hard work down the drain with copious amounts of makgoli, soju, and fried chicken.
The teukgong boys love posing for pictures!
I’ve played competitive sports my whole life, and I can confidently say that TGMS is the most intensive, tiring, and painful physical activity I’ve ever engaged in. Some days include “discipline,” which entails inflicting bruises on each other in order to strengthen soft spots like our shins. Other days test our endurance with obstacle courses that almost always make me want to vomit. Although it may sound ridiculous that anyone would choose to put themselves through this torture, it has been a great space to push myself and improve my fitness. I think I’d still be useless in a fight, but at least now I can run away faster!
Elsie and I ready to spar.