Learning Taekwondo in South Korea

by Jason -- May 3, 2010

After we decided to live in South Korea for 6 months of our trip, there were two things I knew I wanted to do:

  1. Learn Korean
  2. Take Taekwondo

This post is about the latter and will describe the experience of learning Taekwondo in South Korea.

It took me a month to find a place! Not being able to speak and read Korean made it difficult, but eventually I was successful and found a place less than a 10-minute walk from our apartment. It was an incredible deal; for $100 a month, Monday through Friday, we had class for one-hour and they even provided the awesome uniform for free. I also discovered, after a couple weeks, that you are welcome to class a half-hour early for stretching and additional practice. I had nothing else to do, so I took advantage of this.

The class was made especially interesting due to two facts:

  1. No one spoke more than a little broken English. And my Korean has a long way to go before I can have an interesting conversation
  2. Everyone but myself was a black belt

The Structure of the Class

There were about 10 core people that regularly came to class.  Despite this being an adult class, I would guess that most of the other students were between 17 and 22. There were also 5-10 additional people that would come every now and then. A few of the “additional” were little kids, around 12. Others were a slightly older and often assisted the teacher while taking the class.

There were two non-Koreans in the class, but the last two weeks they both did not come. They were both older gentlemen, probably in their 50’s – one from Ghana and one from Urguauay. Again, their English was not great either; but of course, they were black belts.

The gym facility’s floor was completely padded and was roughly the size of a basketball court.

There were two teachers for the class. We had a main teacher and then there was the master of the gym. You treat the master with extreme respect. When entering and leaving the gym, it’s customary to go to his office and bow to him saying either hello or goodbye.

A Typical Class

Each class began with reciting something in Korean. I never quite figured out what they were saying. My guess is that there are 3 core rules of Taekwondo which they recited. We would then do a warm-up jog for a couple minutes around the gym, followed by group stretching, push-ups and an abs exercise.

After these core activities, it was a complete crapshoot as to what was coming next. There was really no routine at all to the class, which was fun, because it kept the class fresh.

A common exercise involved performing specific skills across the gym floor. The skills would include running, jumping and different kicks. Another typical exercise had us split into 2 groups. One group would hold a kicking pad (picture to the right), while the other would go down the line practicing a certain type of kick. I always enjoyed this activity because you could kick the pad as hard as possible, rather than just kicking the air.

Towards the end of the month we began to spar regularly. At the beginning they asked me not to participate. They would say “Jason-she” and point to the back of the room, but towards the end of the month they let me participate. Most of the time, sparring was just practice and you didn’t make contact with your partner. But once in a while, they put on a large chest protector and helmet and actually sparred. I never got to participate in this – which was honestly a good thing. Just in practice, I could see the large difference between my ability and theirs. When I made even a small attack, they would quickly respond with a counter to an area I left vulnerable – they were impressively fast.

One of the main things practiced though was a set routine. Learning a routine thoroughly with proper form constituted moving up in belt rank. From what I gathered, there is an initial test which allows you to move from white to yellow belt. After passing the initial test, you begin learning the first of 8 tests. Passing the first 2 tests moves you from a yellow to a blue belt. Passing test 3, 4 and 5 moved you from blue to red. Finally, passing 6, 7 and 8 moved you from red to black.

I was able to pass the initial test and successfully learn the first of the eight tests and so I remain a yellow belt.

Other Random Information

  • The two teachers were violent with the kids. The master would typically slap the students on the head, pretty hard, if they did something incorrectly. Thankfully, they did not do this to me.
  • Taekwondo is known for its brick breaking, which we practiced. They have practice bricks, made of plastic which break in half. There are bricks with different difficulties and a couple times I practiced breaking the bricks (using the side of my hand). The last day though, the teacher had me punch through a practice brick. I was quite nervous, because using the side of my hand actually hurt. I made solid contact with the brick though and it did not hurt as much as I thought.
  • One of the more grueling parts of class came when a student tried to punch through two bricks and repeatedly failed, hurting his fist more and more each time he tried. I’m guessing the rule is if you attempt to break bricks, you continue to try until you actually break them.
  • Despite punching bricks, and being regularly kicked and smacked over the head, the students were “babies” in a lot of ways. They would often whine and complain about doing push-ups or sit-ups. And would often be really lazy doing the exercises.
  • Most of the students were not very strong, but all had extremely strong cores. They could hardly do 3 pull-ups but could easily do 100 sit-ups, where I would be struggling around 40-50.
  • Flexibility is an important part of Taekwondo. There was one day where we partnered up to push each other into an extremely intense stretch. This was the most painful day for me and I paid for it the next day.
  • Some of the other activities we did were:
    • Soccer
    • Dodgeball
    • Gymnastics
    • Competing to see who could jump over something
    • Practicing getting out of holds
    • Wrestling against each other
  • There were many times when the master and teacher would speak to the class. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t understand, as I’m sure this would help me better understand the thought process and methodologies behind Taekwondo.

As I’m sure you can tell from my enthusiasm, I absolutely loved the class. I wouldn’t classify it as something I was exceptionally good at it, but it was a lot of fun. I gained quite a bit of flexibility, as well as some upper body strength from the pull-ups and push-ups. Our time in Seoul is coming to an end, but I’m looking forward to continue to practice when we move south to Busan.

Be awesome and help us share:

19 Responses to “Learning Taekwondo in South Korea”

  1. wow!!! I never realized there was so much involved in the lessons! But thats good that its a 5 day a week thing. Im sure you learned more and remembered more than way! Good Job Jason-she!

  2. Sharon, will you please please please video tape him practicing. This is too good to be true.

  3. [...] southeast Korean city of Busan. We hope to rent an apartment, find a Korean language class, another Taekwondo gym and chill out for a couple [...]

  4. Hey Jason, im sure you must prob figured it out with all your training and im probably late replying to this …… oops checked the date and yes i am ………

    ……. anyways just wanted to point out that in the picture above, in order to get more height out of your side kick and more comfort, the foot thats taking all the weight (the one on the ground) needs to point away from you, so your heel points in the direction of the kick. This should help out abit.

    Good luck in your training

  5. Hi Dan, Thanks very much for the tip. I always wondering if someone who actually knew what they were doing and would look at my picture and laugh at me.

    I’ve actually stopped training for the time being, it was getting frustrating not being able to communicate. I may pick it back up though when winter rolls around.


  6. Hey no probs, we all need to start somewhere right? its a shame you gave it up for the time being, theres a buddhist saying “Never let life’s hardships disturb you … no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages.” Hahah dont worry i wont preach but just here to say, be strong, itll be frustrating i know but theres more to talking that just words. Youll get there in the end.

    Actually im quite envious, ive always wanted to go to south korea and study taekwondo there ………

    PS: id advise you to keep stretching though, while watching TV, reading a book or even eating dinner, itll keep you in good sted when you decide to rejoin.

  7. Yes, very true. To be honest, another reason I gave it up was try to save a little money. It’s not too much per month, but it’s nice to have a little extra spending money.

    And thanks for the advice on stretching. I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the stretching actually — Taekwondo got me in the best flexibility shape of my life, it was really amazing. So, I’m trying my best not to lost all of it.

  8. Hi, jason, i am currently thinking about going to Korea next summer when i finish high school. I am planning on staying in Korea for 3month to mainly learn taekwondo, but also traveling around, so would you mind telling me where is the location of your current taekwondo school?

  9. Thanks for the comment! Sounds like a great plan. My Taekwondo school was near Itaewon. But there are Taekwondo schools all over Seoul. My recommendation is to figure out where you’ll be living first and then find a school near your home. Naver Map’s (http://maps.naver.com) is a good place to look, or if you just walk around, I’m sure you’ll be able to find one. Good luck!


  10. How much did you pay for tkd course?

  11. 100,000Won (~$90) per month.

  12. I am in Okpo Korea. Does anyone know of a good place here to take Tae Kwon Do?

  13. Hey, I’m currently studying at Korea University (Anam) and was wondering what the name of your school was.

  14. Hey Michelle — Thanks for the comment. I’m sorry, it’s been a couple years now and I don’t remember the name of the school. Good luck!


  15. Hi , can you please help me to find a Tae Kwon Do learning school , focused on mental teaching?

  16. Gud day! My kids r kukkiwon blackbelt. wer planning to send my kids to south korea to let them train more n taekwondo 4 two months. So pls let me know the best taerkwondo school n soutrh korea. Hopw can we contact them

  17. I wanted to learn taekwondo as iam staying in korea for 3 months of time

    Could any one please give me information about this

    As i Stay in samseong i need nearest institute

  18. even if you work on it 5 hours per week, you won’t get all that far in 3 months. You have to have an instructor for every 4 students, or you will mostly just learn bad habits. It takes many hundreds of repetitions to adequately learn each move, and there are scores of moves to learn. If your mistakes are not soon corrected, you will not become a better fighter, no matter how many hours you practice.I was officially awarded my black belt in MooDukKwan after 10 months of training, but my instructor told me that I could pass the test after just 6 months, but I put in over 6 hours of very focused, disciplined work, every week.

  19. Thanks for the post! Just in case you don’t know, “she” is a respectful suffix for someone’s name, not an insult.

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