MUJU, South Korea- Repetitive punches and high-kicks between two nations were a part of a cultural exchange event honoring South Korea's martial art known as Taekwondo.The Republic of Korea (ROK), Ministry of National Defense hosted a Taekwondo Camp for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) personnel and the ROK Army Taekwondo team at Taekwondowon, April 9-11. Taekwondowon is located in Muju, South Korea, and is a state-of-the-art facility for training and the mastery of this martial arts form.The ROK Army Taekwondo team is comprised of highly skilled and accomplished practitioners, who demonstrated their talents and assisted the U.S. service members with learning the fundamentals taught during the event."These events are important for us to enhance service members' understanding of Korean culture," said Chong Hyonsuk, USFK community relations specialist.According to Chong, there are about six different cultural exchange events per year, and USFK is looking at adding two more next year.
Taekwondo is more than just a past time here in South Korea. Since its formal inception in 1955, the martial arts form was introduced to the world. Taekwondo is a total concept incorporating physical abilities along with mental resilience.Chong stated that by mingling with the ROK soldiers, the intent is that U.S. service members will be able to understand how their Korean contemporaries interact and they'll learn more about the culture through the interaction.This program is offered to all USFK personnel. Amongst the U.S. service member attendees were a New Zealand service member and myself, a Department of the Army civilian. Korea is often referred to as the assignment of choice, and having the ability to learn about the local culture through organized programs, such as this, adds to the appeal.I've had some experience with martial arts in the past, however nothing really in depth. Although this program was an accelerated crash course into the basics, I felt as though I'd trained all week.The stiffness of my back and tightness felt through my hamstrings after the first day was a bit debilitating, however, after lots of stretching and another intense warm-up round, I was ready for the second day.Although Taekwondo is challenging, there's always a portion of training incorporated to calm your mind and affords you the opportunity to recharge.Midway through the second day of training, we gathered and trekked up the side of a small mountain to Taekwondowon's observatory tower. The observatory offers breathtaking views of lush green mountains circling the vast training campus. The crisp air fed into the tranquil feeling of mindfulness.Throughout the two-day training the ROK Army team and other Taekwondo teams displayed their techniques during well-choreographed routines. The shows were full of high-flying kicks with the intention of kicking through wooden boards, and once they were struck by powerful thrusts, tiny pieces of wood exploded off the stage.Overall the experience was a great way to see firsthand how important these cultural events are to the continued partnership of USFK and South Korea. It provides a deeper understanding and context to the local society and their traditions."Every time I do these events I want the participants to leave here and go out there to spread the word, so that other service members will participate and we can help them learn more about the culture during their time here, said Chong.