On our second day in
During the 2002 World Cup the Nation of Korea went 100% bat shit crazy for football, the stadium was packed with fans for every match, people would be walking around draped in flags with painted faces, cheering on the hometown heroes. The stadium’s subway station opens into a sprawling, amphi-theatrical set of stone and steel staircases and the sight of the building loading into view, piece by piece with each progressive step taken is truly awesome.
The awesomeness ends there however because the Koreans are a tremendously fickle people that, as it turns out, don’t actually like football all that much. With a multi-billion won, monstrous steel and concrete donut occupying a piece of fairly prime real-estate in the Nation’s capital, it was decided that the best course of action would be to turn it in to a shopping mall. A shopping mall which almost nobody actually goes to. Much like ‘Hot Buns’ the place was eerily reminiscent of a zombie film. The shoppers seemed to be matched on a 1 to 1 basis by shop workers.
We had a quick walk through the impeccably clean hallways, noted the flashing lights of arcade games and the smell of popcorn coming from the cinema and made our way back outside. Our next stop the, Korean independence war, torture museum.
The museum is housed within the various buildings that constituted Seodaemun prison (서대문 형무소), a facility built in 1908, at the end of the Joseon (no, not Joe Son) dynasty, by the Japanese, to torture members of the Korean independence movement. The greyness of the day added to the overall sense of tranquil, sadness found within the prison’s walls. The complex is made up of a series of separate red brick buildings all contained within high brick walls and set amongst an open gravelled park, dotted with benches, trees and water fountains. It actually had something of a feel of a Victorian era public school to it.
After a brief stroll around the grounds we made our way through the designated route, starting with a series of detailed panels filled with information about the prison’s history and then moving on, down a set of basement stairs, to the first of the cell blocks.
Although the presentation was a little ‘over the top’, featuring screaming, blood covered, mannequins and 3d cinema projections of Koreans throwing bombs at the Japanese during a procession; the museum served as an insight into Korea’s history as well as their clear distaste for the Japanese. The two nations have been at war many times throughout history and there is certainly no love lost between the two, even now.
We headed back through the vibrant streets of Hongik to get some rest in our hostel before the evening session at Frankl BJJ, but not before consuming a pre-workout sweet potato latte, at our local, ruthlessly clean and efficient coffee-shop. It tasted exactly like Horlicks with just a hint of extra potatoey goodness. After so many weeks away from
John Frankl has two academies in
The number of purple belts, including the teacher that night, was a lot higher than what I was used to seeing during training in the UK. There were around 7 or so in this particular class and most of them looked to have held the rank for some time.
It is always very interesting to see the differences between academies when fundamentally, with BJJ, we are all learning the same thing. In this particular school there seemed to be a real emphasis on conditioning, something which I was particularly happy about since I hadn’t had the chance to really work on cardio for a long time. Our warm up involved countless breakfalls, rolls, shrimping and crocodile walking. All of which were made tougher by the fact that, due to the size of the mat space, each exercise was done in both directions thereby eliminating the restful walk back to the beginning of the queue that you see in almost every other academy.
The final part of the warm up included a typical layout of everybody in a circle following the instructor’s direction. We jumped, did push ups and went through an ab circuit. The final piece de resistance was a set of 90 ‘crotch thrust’ squats. Which are more or less exactly what they sound like. Squats that end with you thrusting your groin forwards much like this.
After completing this portion of the class we moved on to the technique. All of which worked from the turtle position.
The teacher made the point that if you play turtle position, it is really a neutral position from which both the top and bottom man have the opportunity to impose their game. We initially worked a drill where the top man attempted to maintain control while the man on the bottom would attempt to either sweep or escape to guard.
After this we went through some of the fundamentals for the top man.
- Maintaining hip to hip pressure when in a side ride
- Not linking your arms around the opponent
- When circling the opponent, maintain chest pressure
Applying these fundamentals made it much harder for the bottom man to escape when we tried the drill for a couple more rounds.
After this we worked the bow and arrow choke from the back.
- Top man begins in a side ride to opponent’s left
- Places right shin across opponent’s back and posts on left leg
- Right hand comes over opponent’s head and grips his left lapel
- Left hand grips opponent’s right knee
- Roll backwards and drive left (posting) leg into opponent’s side whilst pulling grips
After drilling the choke for a few minutes we spent a couple of rounds sparring from the turtle position and then progressed to full sparring for around another 20 minutes or so.
The idea of specific sparring where you attempt to perform the day's technique against resisting partners is one that I found worked very well. Sometimes it seems like pure drilling is not enough. You often don't feel like you've genuinely learned a move until you've managed to use it, under pressure, in sparring. It is in these moments that your 'true' jii-jitsu is programmed in to you. The jiu-jitsu that you can rely upon when it really matters, in competition.
Although it would be great if we forced ourselves to just use the day's move in sparring ourselves, sometimes your ego will get the better of you or you'll find yourself playing against someone who always rushes to pull guard etc. This class' specific sparring really helped to avoid that.
The mixture of different abilities and styles was very good, something you don’t tend to see outside of large ‘international centres’ such as Seoul is the variety of training partners who often have trained in one or more other countries, with different instructors before coming to their current gym.
A couple of the guys had wrestled in college in
Another benefit of Frankl’s places is that there are loads of classes, if you come to visit you can train multiple times every day and train hard when you do. On the other hand at $25 a session, the mat fee was by far the highest we saw on the whole trip, although I’m sure if you plan on training more than once they would arrange some form of short term membership for you.
After training there was only one possible dinner option: more Korean barbecue. This time we headed in to Hongik with its seemingly non-stop party atmosphere. The streets were filled with University students eating, drinking and shopping (at intellectual property disrespecting establishments) and in many cases looking exceptionally hot. Seriously, on multiple occasions we saw women who were double-take, stunningly attractive, this place was at least on a par with
This time our barbecue joint was more trendy and modern, we had a brushed steel extractor fan that could be adjusted to hover directly over the top of particular sections of our grill and we sat in chairs that were raised up from the ground, whilst still wearing our shoes. What we really cared about though was the meat. Which in this case was completely awesome. We ate skirt, sirloin and fillet of sweet marinaded beef as well as pork and chicken.
On the walk home we saw a fairly inventive get rich quick scheme set up by an enterprising local. A tower of plastic taekwondo boards was set up on the corner of 2 streets and a cash prize was offered to anybody who could chop all the way through them. Many people tried and nobody succeeded, one girlfriend looked particularly irate at her newly emasculated boyfriend, the enormous stuffed toy she was already carrying evidently not enough to placate her. The guy’s throbbing, injured hand probably incapable of satisfying him that night either.