Monday, January 10, 2011
South Korean Soldiers: Winter Training
I came across this photo essay in "The Huffington Post", showing South Korean soldiers in winter training. It brought back lots of memories, as my first martial arts master was Tae Hong Choi in Portland Oregon. I have lots and lots of stories about training with, drinking with, and working for Mr. Choi to pay for tuition and Black Belt tests.
Back in the 1970's, Tae Kwon Do was a little newer and slightly more exotic than Japanese Karate and Judo. I had been a gymnast in high school and took well to the crazy spin-kicking as well as the Hapkido-type stuff. Mr. Choi had trained South Korean and South Vietnamese military along with American special forces in Vietnam. He later went on to train Secret Service and CIA agents in Washington DC.
Journalist P.J. O'Rourke called the Koreans "The Irish of Asia". He suggested they had drinking and fighting in their DNA. I think I can attest to that. We heard many stories about the R.O.K. Rangers and some kind of feared "Tiger Squad"
that operated with the U.S. military in Vietnam.
But one of the guys in our school was a Special Forces guy that went on missions on the DMZ, the border between North and South Korea. Stuff happened that he wasn't supposed to talk about. Guys got killed in firefights as they probed the border, and this was in "a time of peace".
But he saw a lot of South Korean soldiers training, and he said the American Special Forces guys were actually much better in hand-to-hand combat. The U.S. has a volunteer Army (for now), and the South Koreans have mandatory military service. They would rotate out of college, pull two years in the military and go back to college. The American guys were in it for the career. This could have simply been his bias, but he saw lots of demonstrations. He implied that the Korean army kind of "handed out Black Belts".
Before people get pissed at me, keep in mind this was told to me by a Ranger who served and was under fire on the Korean border.
This doesn't affect my early love for the Korean martial arts. They provided me with a strong foundation and a tremendous sense of camaraderie with Master Choi and my fellow students. Many people simply believe that the Olympics probably ruined aspects of Tae Kwon Do by turning it into a sport.
Looking at this picture it appears that the Korean military may have altered some of it's technique to resemble a boxing posture. This is a welcome sight, as Korean fighters play such a kicking game they keep their hands too low and risk getting punched in the face.
One of these days, I'll put together a good article about my experiences with Mr. Choi, a man of strength, humor and compassion that helped me keep my young life together.