Quitting Taekwondo

It happened.

I called Kwanjangnim back in September and told him I wouldn’t be able to attend for a while because my new job and my grad schedule were too much for me. (Which was true.) I asked him to freeze my account and told him I hoped to come back in January or May. He said he would.

Much to my surprise, considering he’s practiced some Creative Bookkeeping more than once in past, he did freeze the account. (I could only cancel it; he had to be the one to freeze it.)

And then, a few days ago, I checked my banking account and discovered that he’d drafted my account in January. He hadn’t called, texted, emailed, sent a letter, or talked to me in person to see if I’d be back.

I was livid.

I emailed him immediately telling him that I wasn’t coming back and he needed to fix the problem. When I hadn’t heard from him by the end of the day, I called the company and canceled my account. (You need to give 30-day notice and if I’d waited even one more day, it would’ve been drafted again next month.)

That was the nail in the coffin that proved to me that this “kwanjangnim” was far more interested in my money than in having me as a student. I’d let the creative bookkeeping slide in the past (surprising for me, I know) but this solidified my opinion entirely.

Of course, 15 minutes after I canceled the account, I got an email from him saying he’d fix it. Which made me feel guilty. (He drafted my account hoping I wouldn’t notice. Why do I feel guilty?)

I am disappointed and pissed, primarily because I believe I gave this school—and myself—more than enough time. I thought my original problems were because he wasn’t Master and I wasn’t in Korea. I thought my original thoughts about him were tainted by my own reverse culture shock.

But it’s been over two years, and the fact that he drafted my account without even talking to me first was final proof that the school owner was only interested in my money. (Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, well, I’m not that much of a damn fool.)

I ended up in tears, I was so upset about it.

In Korea, Master really did care about mind, body, and spirit. He cared about his students, and that’s why so many of his students were so loyal to him. He taught us all. He’d scold the boys over their schoolwork, he taught me Korean. He soothed broken hearts, and threatened to beat up bad hogwon owners. He encouraged us to do and be our best inside and outside of the studio.

I feel like I had an extremely honorable Master in Korea and I was hoping I would find that in America. I didn’t.

Two years ago, when I saw his Creative Bookkeeping for the first time, I checked out other schools around here. All of them wanted accounts, all of them had high fees. I don’t know that I can find the kind of taekwondo studio I want to find around here.

And that makes me extremely disappointed and sad—for myself, of course. But it also makes me pissed off because a whole slew of people are being brought up to believe that this is martial arts, and this is taekwondo. I know full well that it’s not.

Not Sure That Helped

I went to taekwondo tonight. On the way into the building I passed Kwanjangnim. He asked how I was. I nodded, went to shake his hand, and answered in Korean, “My stomach hurts.”

“Oh, your stomach hurts?” he asked.

Suddenly I felt intense pain in the webbing of my hand. He was pinching a pressure point.

“Oh, that hurts? Turn around, put your hands together like this,” he said, clasping his hands below his chin. I did so and he stood behind me, hugged me from behind and said, “Breathe in deeply… Now relax.” He picked me up and shook me.

I felt my spine loosen.

He put me down and continued, “Now put your hands on the wall.” I turned around, faced the wall, and did what he said. He started slapping my upper back. Hard. “This will help. Korean-style. It’s good for you.”

Sort of 한방의학, I suppose.

I’m not sure that helped.


Kwanjangnim caught me after class and demanded to know why I’m not tip testing.

“How much is it?” I asked.

“$70 and you need five before you can test for sam dan.”

I nodded. “OK, maybe, but I usually have plans on Saturday.”

“At 7:00 am? Testing for black belt is 7-9 am.” Drats. I shook my head and he went on, “You should be third dan by now. You need to learn third dan form.”

I didn’t tell him Special Forces has been teaching me the third dan form, but I did do the math in my head. I’m supposed to be sam dan, and I’m already supposed to be learning the form. Yet he wants me to take five tip tests at the cost of $70 a test and then pay several hundred for the school third dan and then pay several hundred more for the Kukkiwon (official) third dan.

Hey. Crazy idea. If I’m supposed to be third dan in your eyes, how about you don’t bleed me dry with bullshit “tip tests” and “school belts” and just make me test straight away for third dan.


I asked Special Forces what was required. I have to know the first and second degree forms (got it) and the “kicking sequence.”

I asked to see this kicking sequence. Front kick, side kick, roundhouse kick, crescent kick, high spinning kick followed by a low spinning kick, another crescent, a jumping and turning roundhouse followed by a jumping spinning kick.


I have been at this school for more than a year and never seen that sequence in my life. We’ve practiced a low spinning kick (where your hands and knees are on the ground) once the whole time I’ve been there. If it’s so important, then how come in more than a year of training, nobody has taught it to me and I’ve never even seen it?

And the worst part—the worst part—is that my experience living in Korea has molded me. It’s so hard to say “no” to him because he cornered me, he’s older, and he’s the school head.

I’ll say it again. Goddanit.

Dojang Chins: A Moment in Korea

At Grandmother’s house, the night of the jaesa (ceremony honoring the death of Good Man’s Grandfather), I slept on a “health pillow.” This health pillow was filled with short straws. When I woke up in the morning, I had a dark, honeycomb-like bruise on my chin.

I joked that it looked like I’d used a Korean name stamp (dojang) on my chin. A name stamp is a stamp that acts like a legal signature in Korea. It has your name on it in pure Korean or in Chinese characters. You always use red ink with a dojang.

Several days later, it was still there. While out with Master, he asked what it was. Good Man explained for me since I didn’t have the vocabulary, but Master’s Daughter didn’t understand. She leaned over onto my lap and poked my chin.

“아만다, 뭐예요?” Amanda, what is that?

I smiled, “도장 찍었어.” I stamped a name stamp on my chin. I started stamping my chin.

Master’s Daughter’s eyes lit up and she started stamping her own chin. “찍어요! 찍어요!”

Stamp, Stamp

찍어요! 찍어요!

Continuing Taekwondo

One of the interesting things about taekwondo is watching people react to belt tests and rank.

I still haven’t figured out how we line up at my studio. I don’t know if the highest rank stands in the front right or front left. I do know that in the classes with really little kids, we stand by height, mostly, with no regard to rank. I’ve been told to test and I’ve skipped the testing because I don’t like the faux-in-between belts tests that my school has, nor the insane rates changed for them. I don’t need tape wrapped around my belt to tell me I’ve been studying. My belt still had only one stripe on it (showing first degree black) which confuses people when they realize I’m actually second. I’ve gotten to a point where I really don’t care what rank I am compared to anyone else in the class. I know I’ll get my sam dan (third degree black) eventually. I just don’t know or care about when.

I have noticed a few trends about belts, testing, and rank. It seems that kids are always more interested in rank than adults. The lower level belts (children and adults) usually care more about advancing. Then somewhere in the middle color belts it becomes more about showing up. If the taekwondoist makes it through the middle belt slump, there tends to be a point right before earning the black belt where the adults suddenly question themselves. Are they really ready to become a black belt?

And then, the biggest question. You’ve got the black belt. Do you continue or quit?


Last week some seventh grader was whining before class. “My dad always works! I should be a purple belt and I’m still green!” He complained that he couldn’t come to the studio alone (it’s a half-mile walk from his house) and he couldn’t get a ride from anyone else, and his father works too much.

I asked him what he’d do when he finally got purple. He said he’d keep working to get black. “And what will you do then?” I asked.

“I’ll quit and do soccer because I hate taekwondo.”

Even though he’s only thirteen (and thus…well, thirteen), I called him on it. “If you want to do soccer, quit now.”

“But I want a black belt!” he whined in that pre-pubescent boy voice.

“Hey,” I said in a stage whisper, “I’ll let you in on a secret. You can buy a black belt online for about $10.”

He stared at me and then screeched, “That’s not the same thing!”

I nodded, “But the black belt isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. Of course he did. He’s thirteen.


Tonight after class an adult I enjoy training with said he was tired of taekwondo and testing. I looked at him. “I haven’t tested in more than two years. No problem with that.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I think I’m going to quit.”

“Quit testing or quit taekwondo? I mean, my taekwondo desire always ebbs and flows… Sometimes it’s just about showing up.”

He nodded. “Quit taekwondo. Think I’m going to try judo. Think I’m more built for it. Short, squat.”

I laughed. Fair enough.

But it got me thinking. Why do I still do taekwondo? When I started I had no belt goals. I’ve now gotten black. I don’t want to be a master. I don’t want my own school. I don’t think competing is a big deal (although I find it fun enough when I do it), so I’m not in it for that.

What is the motivation?

The thing is…even when I don’t particularly want to go to taekwondo, even when I’m just going through the motions by showing up, even when I’m in the ebb—I mostly enjoy it. It’s my thing.

And so I stick with it.

1,500 Reasons

Last night I got to taekwondo class early and did 1,500 turns of the jump rope before class started. That got a sweat going, but class kept it up. The cowboy instructor I don’t like, who always says, “If you’re in a bar fight…” stopped me after class and said, “It must’ve been a decent workout today if you’re sweating.” (Side: Dude. Can you come up with some un-cowboy relevant example of why we should learn this technique?)

I attended the earlier “family” class at 7:00 or 7:15, which is full of mid-level color belts and kids with their parents. There are a few adults in the class, but I’m usually the highest belt.

The later (“advanced adult”) class members keep asking me why I’m coming to the earlier class. I’ve been using my schedule as an excuse.

This is part of the reason. It is spring, and thus the most stressful time to be a teacher, and if I wait until 8:00 pm, I talk myself out of going. I prefer to get home around 8 so I can eat dinner, shower, and relax before sleeping. Now that Good Man has his permit I’m back to picking him up from class two nights a week at 10 pm. I have to be at work early on Tuesdays for a standing meeting, so I really don’t like getting home Monday night. I can list a ton of scheduling reasons.

But that’s not all of it.

At the end of the beginner class we usually do a little meditation. We occassionally get a speech of some sort. I use that time to really focus on my breathing. I consider what is said and consider how it applies to me. We almost never do that in the advanced class. I know that I could meditate alone, read books with titles such as Meditations for People Who Do Martial Arts and Want to Practice Asian Mystique-ism. But I don’t.

In the advanced class we do all kinds of fancy, multi-step drills. I like the challenge of that, but a lot of the class is spent holding the target for a partner. Sometimes I barely break a sweat, even though I am working.

In the beginner class we spend a lot of time doing solo drills. I enjoy this time. I really work on perfecting my form, on making sure I land the kick and punch at the same moment. Doing a standing side kick perfectly is actually a lot harder than doing a stepping side kick because you have no momentum. I like the check—have I gotten sloppy? Am I turning my feet enough? Am I pulling back far enough?

One of the things I like about poomsae (forms) is perfecting them. Changing them slightly as my skill or style changes. I like the meditative aspect of doing something over and over and over. And I don’t get that in the advanced class, but I get it in the family class, doing drills.

I suppose the answer is to go to one family class and one advanced class a week. That way I get the challenges both classes have to offer.

Next Time

Master’s Daughter

Thursday, Good Man and I met with Master’s family again. We had dinner and we had plans to see Sherlock.

Master’s Daughter

The kids came with us to the movie and Master’s Daughter sat next to me. At some point she wouldn’t stop whispering, even when her mother told her to. I dragged her onto my lap and whispered in her ear. “We can’t talk…”

She nodded. “OK, Amanda, but [??? request].”

I didn’t know what she’d requested, but I sort of recognized it as something Good Man sometimes says. I started patting and scratching her back. Master’s Daughter lifted us the back of her shirt and I scratched her back. Every once in a while she’d whisper “위에” or “밑에.” Higher, lower.

Turns out that the thing I didn’t understand was “scratch.”

Master’s Son

Before we went to the movies, Master said, “Amanda, you know 윷놀이? 화투?” I said that I knew both yut nori and hwa tu (go stop) but that I wasn’t good at either.

He asked which one I wanted to play. We decided on yut nori. “Next time, Amanda, we play hwa tu.”

“Next time, Master? When will that be?”

He paused and thought for a moment, “I don’t know, but we will meet again!”

I grinned. It is true.

Playing Yut Nori (Photo Taken by Daughter)

Master and his wife were one team, and Good Man and I were another. The first game, Master’s team won. Drats! We had a popcorn bet going on the game.

Master, Winning

The second game, Good Man scored four yut noris in a row. Go, Good Man!

Master, Losing

We had a third game to break the tie and! We lost.

Next time! Next time, we will win!

Master and Marriage (Again!)

Marriage, Again…
Yesterday, we went to register our marriage at the gov’t office. Good Man wasn’t sure that we had to do it, but I thought we should. In fact, before our legal wedding in America, I argued that I was sure there was something he needed to do at the Korean Embassy and he (and I!) searched the Korean Embassy website, as well as others, but couldn’t find any information.

Well, it’s a good thing we decided to register the marriage because it was supposed to be done within 90 days of marriage! Obviously we’re way past that, so he has to pay a 50,000 won fine. If he pays it before the 14th, he gets a discount and it’s only 40,000 won. Minor problem: we can’t transfer funds because both of us left our bank cards at home. Oh well. His parents will pay it for us.

We filled out the Korean form, using the sample instructions they gave us. The sample instructions were intended for Koreans marrying foreigners in Korea, and in their sample, the groom was automatically the foreigner. An American, in fact. Good Man needed his father’s birth address and he was supposed to be able to write the birth city of his father in Hanja. What? Is that like the Korean version of “Mother’s maiden name?”

It took forever to get the marriage registered because he needed to translate the entire American wedding certificate. By hand. On A4 paper. Poor guy.

When we finally finished, the clerk was concerned that the wedding certificate wasn’t valid because it said “copy.” Yeah, it says copy from the court and has the county clerk’s signature and a raised, embossed seal on it. I made that clear and luckily, the clerk’s boss agreed.

They had a sign up that they do “Traditional Korean Wedding Photograping.” (Yes.) The sign said they only did it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was Wednesday, but I asked if we could do it, since I’d seen two foreigners have it done twenty minutes earlier.

Then we were told that it’s only for marriages where both people are foreigners, because there are too many Korean-Non-Korean marriages.

I patted Good Man’s chest and said, “하지만 제 남편의 마음 속에서 미국 사람이에요.” But in my husband’s heart, he is an American.

She laughed and said since it wasn’t busy, she’d do it. So they took us over to a corner with a traditional Korean screen and put traditional Korean wedding hanbok costumes on us (one size fits all!) and took our picture.

I was thankful. A gov’t official bending on two rules? Taking a photo of a Korean and American on a Wednesday? Thanks, lady!

So now we have legal wedding photos where I’m in a cotton dress and Good Man is in jeans, family wedding photos where we’re wearing hanboks, and Korean registration photos where we’re wearing traditional wedding costumes. All that’s missing is a white dress and tux photo, which you can get done at photo studios in Korea. Maybe for our anniversary. ^^

Good Man asked if I would be put on his family registry. Nope. Because I’m foreign. So I’m not family.



Good Man and I met Master’s family last night. Of course, on all counts, it was great.

On the way to the studio I passed two of my studiomates. They walked by, not immediately recognizing me, and I turned. They turned their heads, too, and sort of slowed down. “Hey! Do you remember me?” I called out in Korean.

They looked surprised and starting hitting each other. I said, “It’s Amanda!” They nodded quickly, bowed deeply and said hello and we chatted for a few minutes. It was cute. They’re in middle school now.

We brought some small gifts for Master and his wife and some for the kids. I decided to put them in three separate gift bags. We gave the kids their gifts (a pajama set and top for each). In Korean culture it’s rude to open gifts in front of the giver so they ran into their bedroom, opened them, and brought them back out.

Master’s Son in His New PJs

Master’s Daughter in Her New PJs

He gave me a gift and asked me to open it. I did and it was another gorgeous box made out of hanji (traditional Korean paper). His mother made it. Inside? Korean socks!

We went out for samgyupsal and had soju (of course). Master hasn’t had soju in ten days because he’s been so busy. He told me that and I said, “I don’t believe it!” (I really didn’t believe it because I misheard him and thought it was ten months!)

Then we went out for patbingsoo (Korean shaved ice) and had coffee at his house.

His son didn’t remember me (of course, I wasn’t expecting him to) but apparently his daughter checks out my Cyworld all the time, so she remembered me (which was a nice suprise). At first they were both sort of shy, but they warmed up really quickly.

In fact, his daughter was hilarious. When we were eating patbingsoo, she wanted the exact same spoon I had. She looked at my spoons, looked at the rest of the spoons, and chose the one with the same handle decoration. Then she took both spoons and compared them very carefully to make sure they matched.

When I ordered a chocolate banana patbingoo, she whispered, “Amanda, we will share, OK?” (Of course…it’s Korean culture!) She wanted to sit next to me (and made me switch seats with her since she’s left handed and I’m right handed), she wanted to hold my hand, she wanted to chat and chat. She learned (sort of) how to use my camera and wanted us to take photos of each other taking photos of each other.

It was wonderful. It was like nothing had changed and I’d never been gone.

Nothing except Son and Daughter are so tall! And Daughter can write in Korean! (She wrote me a little Christmas card telling me she loves me.)

We spoke a ton of Korean (and a little English) and reminisced about different things. I was finally able to tell him how much I hated the octopus (squid?) I ate really early on in Korea after mountain climbing. He laughed and asked why I ate it. I said I didn’t want to be rude. He said he and his brother kept giving me the biggest pieces because they didn’t want to be rude. We all got a good laugh out of it.

He told me that my Korean was really good and he could tell I’d been studying in America. When random Koreans tell me my Korean is good, I know they’re just being polite. But I trust it coming from him. And in traditional form, the more soju we drank, the less Korean I spoke and the more English he spoke! I really enjoy speaking Korean with Master and his family. It’s so easy with them.

We also talked about my studio in America and I told him why I’d been refusing to test. (Too expensive, owner makes up tests to make money, not in any hurry to get another belt, etc.) He said as long as I plan on testing in Korea again one day, I can put it off. I sort of needed to hear that. Despite being at my new studio for a year and a half, still feel, in my heart, that Master is my instructor and Tongil is my home. I don’t want to disappoint him, so getting permission to put off testing was nice.

I found out some bad news. A new studio moved into the neighborhood—right at the end of the block. That’s why he hasn’t been drinking. He’s been spending his time renovating the front of the studio to compete.

We spent about four hours together and it just reaffirmed that I will always be friends with Master and his family, no matter where we all live and how long it is before we meet again.