As I sit at my computer drinking an ice cold beer on this hot and sticky night with my air-con cranked up, I feel most content right now. Today I received my Hapkido Brown Belt, awarded for a test taken over 2 weeks. Now the next challenge is for my Black Belt. Before returning to Korea i'd never have considered the possibility of taking on any form of martial arts. I'd passed them off as too time consuming, too difficult and even too macho for my liking. But now, nearly 10-months into my second spell in Korea, I am a few weeks away from testing for the Black Belt.
It's been a long road to where I am now, and looking back, I was so inflexible it's not funny. The journey started with the beginners belt, White, with it's introductary steps and basic principles that run through the upcoming belts. Then onto Yellow where more emphasis was placed on movement and power. Next came Blue with more kicks and more speed. And then onto Red which focussed on honing techniques already learned. Now I am a Brown Belt the hard work really starts.
Right now we're in the middle of Summer and after working, I go to my Dojang (the place where I train - like a gym, but different) at about 11pm. It's much cooler than in the day-time, but it's not easy for me at all. Each day consitutes a challenge of mind over matter, wanting to stop and relax but knowing that I won't improve if I do. I want to stop for a beer before and after every session but seldom ever do. I wonder what kind of dedication some of the people before me had in the days before air-con.
It's not a given that I will become a Black Belt. With each passing week my body is tested more and more and knocks become more longstanding. In training for the Brown Belt test I nearly broke one of my toes. That was over 3 weeks ago and I still have pain just from walking sometimes now. some time ago during one session of Falls, I banged my knee and have shooting 5 seconds of pain during some rolling movements. No, it's not certain by any means that I will pass. But, my Hapkido Master gives me confidence in myself and as my tecnique improves (fitness withstanding!) I'll be able to give it a real go.
Unlike Western society, Black Belts are ten-a-penny here in Asia, particularly in Korea where Taekwondo dojangs are abundant. Seemingly almost every kid has some form of training and its amazing how many children have Black Belts or higher status in their chosen field. Frankly, a Black Belt is no big deal here - totally unlike the almost mythical status they have in the West. Apart from 2 middle aged Korean men who sometimes test too, I'm by far the oldest person taking testing at my dojang. I don't know how old the youngest ones are - I'd guess 7, 6 or maybe even 5 years old so I'm over twice some of the kids size and over 3 times some of the kids weight.
Of course, there are plenty of teenagers, but it's been a long time since I was one of those! Oh, and from the next test onwards I'll be the only foreigner or 외국인. My Hapkido partner just left with her Black Belt, so now it's me on my own. I basically get a one-on-one lesson so there's no excuses for failure.
"Hapkido" is a Korean martial art based on self-defence which employs kicks, punches, joint-locks and other techniques.
hap can be translated into "harmony", ki describes "internal energy, strength, or power" and do means "way" or "art"