Kian in Korea

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

First Taekwondo Class

Yesterday was one of my first real experiences here where the language barrier was completely standing in the way of my getting what I wanted. I found a Taekwondo place near my house but neither of the guys running it spoke any English. To save myself a lengthy explanation, say the following sentences out loud.

1. How much do classes cost?
2. How many times a week do I come?
3. What time is class?

Now imagine that you need to ask someone from Mars these questions.
OK, are you imagining? That's how long it took. Like twenty minutes.

Fortunately, your narrator is really good at this kind of thing by now. Finding out the cost was easy enough- "How much?" is right there in my Korean phrasebook. "How often are classes?" wasn't, though, and for this I needed to be creative. I took a nearby calendar and touched every day of the week. Sensei caught on (Actually, you call him Sonsangnim, which literally means "high person" and "teacher," and it's what the kids call me at school, too), and pointed to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Score. That's a lot of Taekwondo for your buck. I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote "7:00 --> 8:00 ?" on it, as my way of asking when the classes were. He nodded, and wrote the actual class times.

Please don't let the above paragraph fool you. There was lots of stuttering, sitting quietly and looking at each other befuddled, and then finally calling in a boy who spoke maybe seven words of English to translate.

Finally, Sonsangnim looked at me and said "Uniform!"
This was going to be trouble, I could tell. If I remember anything about sports, it's that buying the equipment for and subsequently giving up every single sport I'd ever tried would bankrupt many people. But then, he elaborated: "크기!"
Although I had no idea what "kugi" meant, the motions he was making with his hand indicated "size?"
Personally, I identify as a "medium," but he wanted to know my height in centimeters. As if. So, on top of challenging me linguistically, this man wanted me to do math, too. After converting my height in inches to 400 centimeters and realizing that that was definitely wrong, I asked for a calculator and I am a size 170.

How much was the uniform, you ask?
Free.

So, I went back today for my first class. The classes aren't organized by age or level or anything- there were kids that looked like third graders all the way up to high school age boys and girls, and then me. Class is in Korean. Fortunately, when the teacher says "Bla bla bla" and everyone kicks, I can figure out that it means to kick. In addition to kicking a few things, I learned that it really sucks to do pushups on your fists instead of your palms. I imagine that this will make my fists really hard-core so that I can punch things more easily. I did pretty well all in all, and the kids in the class kept saying "wow" and clapping.

That doesn't mean that my Ninja Skills are fully developed. It means that they are amazed that American people can do anything other than eat white bread and ask for the restroom (our stereotype, as I've learned).

Anyway, after an hour of kicks, punches, practicing my stances, and doing cartwheels (one-handed cartwheels, thank you, and I did them well), I was pretty beat and class was over. It was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

3 Comments:

  • Oh man, you are so funny, thanks for making me laugh mate. :D

    By Anonymous Scott aka K-KAT, at 3:26 PM  

  • You know where you can read up on new skills? US WEEKLY MAGAZINE!

    By Anonymous Golmar, at 10:58 AM  

  • Your writing has gotten much clearer since your days of 17th-century dialogue with your butt.

    By Anonymous Lawrence, at 3:39 AM  

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