As most of you Dear Readers know, one of my main goals upon returning to South Korea was to give the martial art known as hapkido a try. When I was here last time, I tried my hand at Korea’s national sport of taekwondo and it was great, but I wanted more. A student from my old academy was also a member of my taekwondo gym which was right across the street. He was actually one of my worst students but warmed up to me as soon as he found out we studied taekwondo at the same gym (if only I had known it was that easy to control the unruly boys in my class). One day he asked me if I knew about hapkido and I told him no. He explained that it was like taekwondo but with more arm and hand moves and more self-defence than in taekwondo, which is mostly leg work and kicking moves. Sold.
I was in. When I got back to Ontario and eventually out to Toronto, I searched for a hapkido gym several times but they were few and far between. Mixed martial arts had peaked in popularity due to UFC, so those gyms were everywhere but specifically hapkido? No luck for this lady. Flash forward to 2013 when I was back in Korea. The only male co-teacher that I worked with knew that I was interested in hapkido and thought it was pretty cool. He volunteered to help me find a gym in the area and help me to enroll. He found two locations in my neighbourhood and took me to both and acted as translator on my behalf. The first gym was small and stuffy, with no female students. The second gym was bigger, with some female students and also a female junior master, which instantly made me more comfortable. I joined that gym in May of 2013 and my hapkido classmates quickly became like my second family. Despite the language barrier, we communicated through my expanding Korean and my junior master’s expanding confidence in her English. Body language also filled huge gaps in our conversations so we ended up miming a lot and using copious amounts of sound effects which was and still is, hilarious.
A year later, it was May of 2014 and I found myself in my master’s van on my way to my black belt exam at the Hapkido Federation of Korea. Off we were to one of the Hapkido Federation’s testing centres to show off our skills in exchange for our first degree black belt.
Now: When I tell people I got my black belt, many reply, “Already?” So allow me to clarify. After one year of training, it’s expected to be achieving your first degree black belt. There are nine levels of black belt to achieve, so it’s not like you get your first degree belt and walk away knowing everything. After one year and your first degree, you should know the fundamental basics of hapkido. It grows from there and it’s after the first year that expectations get higher and the skills learned get increasingly difficult.
That being said, I was still crapping my proverbial pants while waiting my turn to show the judges my mad skills. I’ll let the pictures tell the story from here. Let it also be known that I was the only foreigner in the room. Everything was said in Korean and although I understood most of what was going on, most was not enough. I had my junior master whispering the English translations in my ear and without her I would have been a deer in the headlights. Many thanks go to her.
Finally the four judges arrived, were introduced, seated and ready to judge. Here are some of my shining (and by shining I mean sweaty) moments.
After my portion of the test was over, I was able to sit down and calm my nerves while the next group of ten got up to do their thing. Almost two hours went by of first degree students earning their belts. After that, we had the pleasure of watching some second and third degree contestants prove their skills to earn their respective belts. The third degree students looked like they were in a Jackie Chan movie, it was very cool to watch. If I am able to study for 3 years, I hope to be in their position some day.
A couple weeks later, my belt was presented to me back at my home gym.
I am quite proud to have earned this accreditation and to have achieved this goal. I feel that hapkido keeps me young, gives me confidence and makes me feel like a modern day warrior. I will continue to study this year and if I am able to stay in Korea next year, I hope to be taking my second degree exam in May of 2015. Stay tuned! Until next time Dear Readers, be well.