Monday, June 24, 2013

The Tournament

As I had predicted, I won something without having to win anything! Aren't I lucky?
Me, my taekgyeon master, and another trainee at the Taekgyeon Training Center in Chungju (near where our tournament was held)
What I did have to do, however, was muster up as much patience as I could for what turned out to be two extremely long days. This taekgyeon tournament was a long, drawn-out affair, and it wasn't even due to inefficiency. It's just that there were many teams (from Daegu, Chungju, Busan, and more) and tons of events to get through, and I spent many hours simply waiting.

I had mis-estimated the tournament schedule. Although our team (the biggest one in attendance, at forty-five strong) arrived at the 호암체육관 (Hoam Sports Center) in Chungju by 9:30am, none of the adults had any events until the mid-afternoon. The entire morning, then, was dedicated to the children's events. I had a great time watching kindergarteners attempt to spar. They mostly ended up running at each other, hugging fiercely, and toppling over.

By noon, most of the youngest kids and elementary school events were over, and we had lunch. Then, there was an opening ceremony of sorts (개업식) that included a fantastic taekgyeon dance performance that was as captivating as a ballet and lots of excruciatingly boring speeches by men in suits. After that, middle and high schoolers began their events, and things became a bit more interesting to watch. Unfortunately, I also fell victim to a massive wave of fatigue, having slept for only three hours the prior evening, plus three bumpy hours on the bus. So, I napped. I also babysat the kids who had finished their events. They're really adorable, and I wish I had taken pictures, but I had unwisely left my camera at home over the weekend!

Around 5pm, it was finally time for the adult tournament to begin. I had been waiting restlessly around for about seven hours. Unluckily, I was also last in my section, being one of the lightest athletes and only one of three competitors in my weight class, 태백. The other two competitors started off in the semi-finals, and I "won" my semi-final by default, having no opponent, so at around 6:20pm on Saturday evening, after an entire day of doing nothing, I found myself in the finals against a tall, friendly-looking guy who I was sure was going to knock me flat on my face in a matter of seconds.

A fellow athlete at my dojang took a video of my 시합 (shihap, or... fight? battle? Oh: match). If I get ahold of it, I will post it here. For now, here's another video he took of another athlete from my dojang. He's blue, and he won this round!

So, yes, this is what taekgyeon should look like. As for my match, well, it didn't look like this...

I had been told again and again by 사범님 and 관장님 that I should focus on defense, since my kicking isn't yet up to anyone's standards. So, I didn't attack at all, and only waited for attacks to come my way so that I could block and maybe trip, as I'd been practicing. What I wasn't prepared for was the variety of kicks my opponent (반대자) had in his arsenal: attacks that I'd never practiced defending before. So, within thirty seconds, I was kicked in the face -- in the chin, actually, and it knocked my teeth together so hard that I swore in surprise. One point for blue.

In the next round, I stayed close and didn't let him kick. This forced him to try a grapple of sorts, but because I absolutely refuse to be taken down that way, I fidgeted my way out of the hold and somehow flipped him over. He fell, and I landed on top of him quite gracelessly. But hey, one point for red! Thirty seconds later, he kicked me in the chin again. Game over, blue won.

My opponent was really gracious; he tried to shake my hand at the beginning of our match, but I was confused at the gesture -- dumb American -- and didn't take it. At the end of our match, we successfully shook hands, and he said thanks (for being such an easy opponent, I guess?) really smilingly and apologetically; my chin was slightly bleeding... Anyway, he won the gold, and because our match was technically a final round, I took silver. That's how I won without winning! At least I didn't get seriously hurt, and everyone in my dojang, including the kids and my taekgyeon masters, watched my first match ever. They were very encouraging all the way through, and I felt good, like I had actually done well and not simply refrained from doing horrendously.

That evening, we had a quick dinner, and then we watched some more taekgyeon dance performances. (If I find any more videos online, I'll share them.) Then, a really cool band took the stage for a musical performance of rock and traditional Korean fusion. I can't really describe how awesome it was, but it was loud and unlike anything I've ever heard before. I really enjoyed that. It helped me realize that this Hanmadang (한마당) was not just an athletic competition but also a cultural festival in its own right, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

The adults from my dojang ended the night with fried chicken and beer. Day two of the tournament, Sunday, was the same as day one, only I didn't participate in any events, because the sparring was more freestyle this time around, and 관장님 didn't want me to get injured. So, in a nutshell, I napped, babysat, and watched kids fight each other for five or six hours. It was actually a pretty restful Sabbath, if I may say so myself. Finally, the tournament was over; we collected our medals and trophies (second place in the elementary team sparring event, and several dozen assorted medals!) and napped all the way back to Changwon.

I feel very good about having participated in my first martial arts tournament. I have only been learning taekgyeon since March, but I've mastered enough not to make a complete fool of myself in public. In fact, it's the realization that I've improved at something that was a complete mystery a mere three months ago that really made me happy, moreso even than winning a medal. Case in point, tonight, there was a new member at our dojang. He appears never to have studied taekgyeon before, so we had to go through all the warmups and kicking exercises slowly. As we did so, I had a flashback to my first taekgyeon class, and I remembered being completely lost and rather amused by my general incompetence.

But now, I'm a legitimate fellow athlete; I'm not worried about slowing down the others who have been training far longer, and I know exactly how I need to improve and what steps to take to get there. There are just a handful of things that I am proud at having accomplished in one year in Korea, but learning taekgyeon is, without a doubt, one of them.