Today, 저는 목표를 달성했습니다. I achieved a goal.
When I came to Korea two years ago, I wanted to learn a martial art. My first semester of teaching was busy, so I couldn't do many extracurricular activities, but by March 2013, I had made up my mind to pursue taekwondo. However, on the day I looked for martial arts gyms in my neighborhood, the only one I could find with adult classes was a taekgyeon gym. That's how I ended up training in taekgyeon every weekday night for over a year.
It's been mostly fun. Sometimes I was really pathetically confused, and at other times I became very frustrated, but I'm glad that I stuck through with it during the rough times. Even after a long day at school, when I arrive home at 8pm, exhausted, and have only an hour before I've got to trudge to the gym, once I arrive I shake off my fatigue and try to give it my all. I've grown to love taekgyeon: the graceful yet powerful movements, the useful techniques for self-defense, the way it has improved my physique. I'm fiercely proud of being a part of a relatively unknown Korean tradition and have eagerly talked about it with anyone. And after fifteen months of training, it all culminated in a short, ten-minute evaluation (심사) this morning for my first-degree black belt (한동).
For the test, I had to demonstrate the 본때뵈기 (bonddaebwegi) routine that we practice literally every single day. It's a choreographed solo routine that incorporates all the kicks, trips, and steps used in taekgyeon sparring, and even though I've done it nearly a thousand times now, I still mess up sometimes. In fact, I kind of messed up this morning because I was demonstrating it at the same time as some very young kids who were also testing for their black belts, and their rhythm was not the same as mine. Also, I was pretty nervous.
After the 본때뵈기, my sparring partner, a guy in his forties, and I demonstrated kicks (마주차기), trips (마주거리), wrestling (대거리), and sparring (맞서기). For each demonstration, I could tell that I wasn't doing as well as I had done during last week's training. Nerves really can get to me, I guess! But it wasn't so terrible that I made a fool of myself. In fact, I actually rather enjoyed it.
And that was that. I finished my test, and then I sat down to watch the kids do their evaluations. These are elementary school-aged children who are already testing for their second-degree black belts! They're years ahead of me in taekgyeon, but still so cute when they do it!
The older kids also did some demonstrations of higher-level routines and also jump rope routines, which my taekgyeon master incorporates into his training. (I suck at jump rope...) Anyway, I took some videos on my phone of the kids' portion of the test, and you can watch it below.
When the evaluation was over (all in all, it took just over one hour), the kids began running around acting like kids, and we snacked on watermelon and rice cakes before having take-out "Chinese" for lunch. I really enjoy spending time with the taekgyeon kids! They're always inexplicably excited to see me, and they're fun to play with. I'm a little concerned at how much they enjoy tackling and tripping each other, but I guess that's the only way a group of kids that trains in martial arts together know how to bond. That, and playing video games on their phones.
I then went home, took a nap, and went to church. The rest of the day felt as normal as any other quiet Sunday. But I feel... I don't know, 마음이 가볍다? A bit lighter? It's not like I've finished taekgyeon. I'm still going to go to training tomorrow (where we'll play soccer... ugh...) and probably continue right up until I leave. From now on, though, since I've reached my goal of obtaining a black belt, I guess my outlook has changed a bit. I've logged a few hundred hours developing a skill that I came to with absolutely zero experience, and now I'm proud to have passed a major milestone.
Another way in which this marks a sort of climactic point in my grant year is that my schedule for the rest of this semester is now free of anything major. I had my research report due last Sunday and just finished a week of endless speech tests for my students; now, my last big hurdle of the semester is out of the way. There's nothing big left between me and August 7th: D-Day. Departure Day. No more big projects. No more deadlines. Just wrapping up and getting ready to go. The emptiness of my calendar is a bit scary.
So I took my black belt test today. Because I want to continue training in martial arts, I hope that this was just the beginning, but when it comes to my time in Korea, I realize that it actually marks the beginning of the end.