The bus is leaving at 8.15am and despite a few sore heads most people make it to breakfast around 7am. The dress code for the day is doboks and a brave few have chosen to wear theirs for breakfast as well, presumably to avoid having to unpack and then repack as we’re moving across country today. There’s cereal, toast, eggs, kimchi and rice on the breakfast menu. As kimchi is reputed to be one of the 5 healthiest foods in the world, the competition is on, lead by Calvin Thomas, to see who can consume the most and therefore look the youngest by the of the tour.
It’s an hour’s drive into Seoul through the rush hour, almost stationary traffic, to get to Do San Memorial Park, but it gives us an opportunity to see the Han River, one of the longest rivers in Korea and one of the most important in Korea’s history. As we watch the scenery alongside the river, we listen to Clio Yates reading the chapter, Do San, from world famous author, Stuart Anslow’s – can’t believe it’s not top of the best-seller lists- book, “From Creation to Unification”.
One of the main reasons we have made the trip to Korea, is to visit sites connected to each of the ITF coloured belt patterns. Stuart’s book provides greater detail about the lives of the historical figures that the patterns are named after, which all adds to our understanding of how and why General Choi created and named the Ch’ang Hon patterns.
A short walk from the bus takes us to the park and our first stop is the very large statue of Do San that is the focal point of the gardens. We line up and Dave Lyles takes us through a short warm-up to get us moving and ready for some Tae Kwon-Do. Master Vitale takes over and we run through the fundamental moves of Do San – the new movements that are introduced in this pattern, as set out in General Choi’s Encyclopedias. Then it’s time to perform the pattern, first one move at a time and then in our own time. For a group that only met a day earlier and incorporate a number of different styles, we somehow manage to work together to perform a reasonably co-ordinated pattern. A couple more run-throughs and it’s starting to look even better, which is good as we’ve now attracted a small audience.
Stuart then takes over to demonstrate applications of some of the moves from the pattern. Details of which can be found in another of his excellent, must-have books – Ch’ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul (Vols 1 and 2). We find ourselves a partner and practice using blocks to escape from grabs. It’s a great opportunity to learn the pattern moves in more detail and also to work with different partners and get to know fellow tour buddies.
Then it’s time to pose for the group photos before moving onto the Do San Memorial Hall for a short film about his life. As we collect our belongings, there’s an emotional air to the group as the reality of being in Korea and performing Taekwon-Do patterns begins to sink in. Here we are only a few metres from where Ahn Chang-Ho is buried, performing the pattern named in his honour. The connection between the Taekwon-Do that we perform everyday in our dojangs and the importance of the vision of General Choi to spread his work throughout the world starts to make sense.
On the bus journey to the park, there had been a discussion about Ahn Chang-Ho’s year of birth. In the original pattern meaning, it is stated as 1876, but while researching for his book Stuart discovered that this was incorrect. His actual year of birth is 1878 and outside the Memorial Hall is a plaque confirming this. Cue obligatory photo opportunity and heated Facebook debate. Inside the hall we watch a short film about Ahn Chang-Ho’s life. Most of it is familiar to us already but it is interesting to watch it presented from a Korean point of view. Then we are free to wander around the exhibits. The displays are in Korean but it’s clear we’re looking at Do San’s writings and documents. As we leave we’re given a booklet which shows Do San’s life in cartoon form which will be great to show the junior members in our clubs. And like little kids ourselves, we can’t resist using the ink stamps provided to stamp our booklets as a souvenir.
Outside we move to the area of Ahn Chang-Ho’s tomb. He is buried here together with his wife, having originally been buried in Manguri Public Cemetery, when he died in 1938. His wife’s remains were also moved here from Los Angeles. It’s an opportunity for individual photos and also some more group shots. We haven’t quite got used to organising ourselves into group poses yet, so someone decides we should line up either side of the tomb in height order and allocate ourselves numbers. From now on, if we adopt a similar pose then we only have to remember if we’re left or right and a number. How difficult can it be?
Then time’s up and CJ tries to usher us all back onto the bus. But we’re still soaking up the atmosphere and trying to get photos of everything we see. Finally, we’re all rounded up for a head count at the gates then it’s onto the bus for a short drive to lunch.
Lunch is at a sushi restaurant in the centre of Seoul. This is followed by a walk through the city streets. It’s our first opportunity to see the king of selfies, Dave Lyles, in action as he marches up hill with selfie stick stretched in front of him. We walk for around 20 minutes until we find Kukkiwon, the headquarters of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). There we meet up with Jeff Rosser and Sanko Lewis, two writers for Totally TaeKwon-Do magazine, who live in Korea. Jeff tells us that a side entrance is open, so we sneak in for an ITF raid. Placed at the top of the hill, the Kukkiwon originally could be seen throughout Seoul. However, it is now hidden by the skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline. Even so, we know that we are enjoying part of TaeKwon-do’s history just be being there. Standing high over the arena, we can feel the atmosphere that is generated whenever competitions or gradings are held here. It doesn’t matter to us that it is WTF – it is all about the Taekwon-Do.
Having taking in the surroundings, we move to the VIP seats for a group photo opportunity. Then down the steps onto the matted arena for more photos. Soon the kicks are flying as everyone enjoys being in such an important place.
Then it’s onto the highlight of the day and possibly the whole trip – back into Seoul for the changing of the guard ceremony at Deoksugung Palace. Word has got out around the city that a person of great importance is on our bus. In honour of his status, world famous author, Stuart Anslow, has been given a prominent role in the ceremony. He is to be given the title of Eomgosu and will be striking the drum during the ceremony. In order to make him look good, two female assistants – Clio and Shannon – are chosen to accompany him.
As the excitement builds we wait outside the gates, watching the guards occasionally change places with each other. It’s an ideal chance to grab a photo or ten and Elliot can’t resist a side kick shot next to a guard with a very scary looking sword thing. Shannon and Clio are dressed in Hanboks, the traditional Korean dress, described by Shannon as being like a cloud and by Clio as unflattering. Meanwhile, Eomgosu Anslow has an even more elaborate colourful costume, as befits his status, complete with a large hat, adorned with a long red tassel.
The area in front of the gates is roped off with only important people now allowed near the drum. There is a parade of guards and a military band around the square in front of the gate and then it’s time for the main event. Stuart is given an oversized drumstick, which he swings at the drum, beating it three times. Spectators are overhead saying that his drumming was “very powerful” – allegedly! Following the magnificent drumming, we are treated to a colourful display from the guards handing over the keys and password to the palace, to the next shift. There is more drumming but this time from another drummer who tries to out-perform Stuart by twirling the drumstick when he has finished.
After a brief stop to top-up the caffeine levels, we’re on the road again, heading for tonight’s hotel. During the bus journey Elaine Ogden reads about the history of Korea from Eomgosu Anslow’s book. This is followed by a discussion of the patterns, Juche and Ko-Dang and the possible reasons why General Choi replaced the latter with Juche. Master Kruk said that General Choi had felt that he needed to implement a pattern with more difficult techniques. But also that he felt second degree was the right place for such as pattern as the student would possibly be too old if it was implemented at a higher grade.
Master Vitale confirmed that he had also heard this explanation. Having extensive knowledge of the history of Taekwon-Do, Master Vitale was able to add more detail to discussion and went on to talk about the pattern U-Nam, which was named for Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea. It is believed that U-Nam was the 4th or 5th pattern created but it had to be taken out when Syngman Rhee was forced to flee Korea. Stuart was also able to add more information about the meaning of Juche and also about Ko-Dang being a Christian Communist.
We stop at a roadhouse for dinner. Brian comes round the tables with pictures of our dinner choices on his phone – Bibimbap, pork cutlet or noodles. Dinner done and were off again, arriving in the dark at a hotel, which appears to be in the middle of nowhere.
Waiting in the hotel lobby for our room keys, the phones and tablets come out as everyone connects to the wi-fi, to check all is ok back home and be the first to post the day’s photos to facebook. After a busy day we’re ready for a rest but having avoiding it yesterday, there is no escaping the Hanbok fitting today. We’re given a short time to find our rooms then it’s back to the lobby.
The women go first. Their hanbok is a simple, brightly coloured floor-length dress, with a short jacket over the top. There is a long ribbon at the front, called an otgoreum, which must be tied in a particular way. Fortunately Sabina is an expert in fitting the hanboks and tying the bow. Once the women are all swishing around in their dresses, feeling more frumpy than cloud-like, it is the turn of the men. Their costume is more elaborate, consisting of very baggy trousers together with a shirt, waistcoat and jacket. For the younger gentlemen, the colours range from vibrant pink to a soft peach. Others have gold, blue or rich red. All the hanboks feature beautiful embroidery.
It seems to take forever for the men to be fitted, so meanwhile the women have worked out that their floaty dresses still allow them to execute proper side kicks. It’s a chance for some action shots that can’t be missed. Although the men’s baggy trouser design is so they can sit comfortably on the floor, it also enables them to practice their kicking work. However, there are couple of dissenting voices among the group. Korean traditional dress works best on very slim Korean women. “We never want to wear a hanbok, dobok or anything else that ends in ‘bok’ again!!!” exclaim Marie and Lyndsey, who are very happy when the group photos are finished and we’re allowed to rest ready for another busy day tomorrow.