Have you ever wanted to be a Taekwondo grandmaster and break boards with the simple swing of a hand? I never did, but after a unique experience in Seoul, Korea, I may have changed my mind.
I'll be honest, when I volunteered to attend a cultural retreat, set up by the United States Forces Korea, in Seoul; I thought it wouldn't be interesting or fun. However, within the first hour, I knew this experience wasn't what I initially thought.
The cherry blossom tree-lined sidewalk led me to the entrance of the Seoul Convention Center, where I met the rest of the participants at the Ministry of National Defense Taekwondo Camp.
As we made our way inside the enormous building, I found a sprawling array of Korean cultural dishes. Most of the dishes I had never tried but they peaked my interest and senses. The cuisine ranged from traditional bulgogi to kimchi and sundae, a type of Korean blood sausage. Sorry, but I was too scared to try the blood sausage.
During our generous meal, the program speakers gave us a snapshot presentation of Korean history.
Did you know that King Sejong, one the prominent kings in Korean history, ensured no person went hungry in his kingdom, and if he discovered a starving person, he would punish those who let it happen? Before that night, I had no idea.
After the meal and history lesson, busses waited to take us to our next destination, the National Taekwondo Institute.
Once we entered the institute, we were issued our very own dobok, a traditional Korean Taekwondo uniform. I was nervous but excited and had a feeling that things were about to get physical.
We started with some stretching exercises to relax our muscles, then began the basic kicking movements.
It was challenging to run, jump from side to side and kick repetitively but the Republic of Korea Armed Forces Taekwondo Defense team cheered us on. Their encouragement really gave me the motivation to continue and it helped me rediscover my "can do" attitude. I realized that Taekwondo wasn't only about being physically tough but also mentally tough too.
After the movements and drills, we took a break and the team surprised us with an amazing performance. They jumped, flipped and broke boards over seven feet in the air. Their amazing feats of athleticism and agility took my breath away. I tried to record them with my phone, but I could barely hold it still as I cheered and followed their every move.
After we socialized with the Republic of Korea Army performers it was time to head to the hotel, and I needed it. My body was sore; who knew a few leg kicks would wear me out like that?
The next day we put on our doboks once again and practiced more taekwondo -- this time I was ready. I had a blast as we all simultaneously punched, kicked, and leaped over ROKA Soldiers.
After our lesson, we rushed to the Convention Center to prepare for the day's final event, a banquet!
Another massive assortment of Korean food awaited us. This time I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something different: gimbap. According to Wikipedia, gimbap is a Korean dish made from cooked rice and various ingredients rolled then served in bite size slices. I compare it to sushi, and I'm normally not a fan of sushi.
When the banquet concluded, we were each presented with a commemorative group photo. While walking home and kicking the cherry blossom pedals that had fallen to the ground, I started to look at the photo, and I knew then that this was an experience I would not forget.
After being immersed in Korean culture and learning some Taekwondo moves, maybe it's time to give the full-time Taekwondo grandmaster job a shot.