Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I'm currently between Major Cultural Events right now.

Just spent a jolly hour in the Kangnam area at the Gukgi-weon, the world headquarters for Taekwondo (TKD). Watched part of the Hanmadang, a demonstration/competition event which kicked off today. While a lot of people disparage TKD as a fighting art (the over-emphasis on kicking is a common sticking point), it was nevertheless impressive to watch some of the breaking (gyeok-p'a) demonstrations, which are all about precision. Lots of kick-breaking, and plenty of gyeok-p'a done from solid standing positions (fist or elbow, not open hand). One Korean dude nailed every single board during a round of kick-breaking; a burly African guy had no trouble smashing through his allotted tiles during a standing break.

I was surprised to see some changes since the last Hanmadang I'd seen, about five years ago. The forms competition included a lot of silly dance-style p'oom-sae (forms), which I found corny and commercial-- obvious evidence that TKD is being marketed primarily to Korean kids the way we Americans market league soccer to our own kids.

Another surprise was the roofing tiles used during the standing breaks. Instead of boards or bricks or good old temple roofing tiles, the officials had switched to those goofy, pre-broken, plastic roofing tiles-- the kind I see being used on the street by vendors who'll offer you "prizes" if you can smash a certain number of tiles after paying a fee. I suppose the street vendors got the tile idea from TKD, but in my mind it's the other way around, because I saw the vendors first.

I'm about to head off to see "The Merchant of Venice" for my once-per-decade dose of Shakespeare, then maybe I'll huff up the side of my favorite local mountain. Might head back to the Hanmadang tomorrow with the camera. If so, I'll be sure to Photoshop myself onto some of the real athletes out on the mat. CGI glory will be mine!

More later.


1 comment:

Kevin Kim said...

I've been trying to figure out why they're using the plastic. My guess is that these tiles are reusable, and that's the big deal: safer for the environment, cheaper for TKD organizations that need to purchase props, and hell-- just plain fun.

You know how temple roofing tiles are: they look like part of a cylinder. These plastic thingies come in halves; the halves lock together at a seam running down the center of the tile's long axis. To split the tile, you have to apply X amount of force, and that, I assume, is where the tile's engineering supposedly simulates wood or whatever.

Having never attemped a plastic tile, I have no idea how hard or easy they are to break. They're thin; I can tell you that much. And they're loud when they snap in half under impact. But they give the competition a plastic-y, artificial feel.

Alas for TKD...?