First things first: I want to make it clear that I'm not a violent person. I've never been in a fight before, not even with my little brother. The only fighting I ever do involves video game characters and button mashing. I have no particular interest in violent sports such as boxing or MMA (mixed martial arts), so I had absolutely no clue what I was in for when I bravely stepped up and volunteered to try out taekwondo for this story. Seriously, I couldn't even tell it from judo.
But I quickly found out when I stepped foot in the dojang (the training hall) at Polytechnic University.
PolyU's taekwondo team, led by senior instructor Sunny So Shing-lai, has been inter-university champions for the past five years, so they definitely knew what they were doing.
After a brief introduction to the class, the master threw me into the fire and I joined the rest of his team of about 30 athletes to warm up. We went through some running and stretching exercises before moving on to sit-ups and push-ups. It was intense and military-like as we repeatedly performed the move that So Sir assigned.
Then the real fun began. The kicks started flying. First, it was one kick, then two, then three. Next, other combinations were added, such as knees, spinning roundhouses and jumping back kicks. It went like this for what seemed like forever.
After keeping up for the first hour of the two-hour practice, my legs began to feel very heavy. My kicks gradually became slower and lower. I had to step out of the line so I wouldn't slow down the serious athletes awaiting their turn. My training partner for the day, Logan Lau Bing-wang, the black belt champion (bantamweight class) in Hong Kong, explained some of the finer points of the sport.
Taekwondo is a sport of discipline, dedication and concentration. Although it's normally safe, there are elements of danger, especially if you lose your focus in practice and in tournaments. I experienced the importance of this when I had to hold the training paddle for Logan to kick. If I absent-mindedly moved the paddle just as he was about to kick it, he would've undoubtedly shattered my wrist. Even though it was just a practice, everyone was kicking with all their might.
After my breather, it was time for some sparring. My first session was against Logan and I pretty much held my own (OK, yes, because he held back). Then So Sir decided that I should go up against a girl. Before you guys think "Oh, Leon's such a terrible guy for fighting a girl", this was no ordinary girl. The first thing I noticed was that she was a black belt, so I knew not to take her lightly.
She was definitely more aggressive than Logan, and went at me like I had just told her that the dobok (uniform) made her look fat. She pulled off a turnaround reverse hook kick that took me by complete surprise and I couldn't do anything except to take the hit. Luckily I was soon saved by the bell as practice was finally over.
Now if anybody asks me about taekwondo, I can confidently tell them that there are rarely any punches or throws - you primarily use kicks. I would also tell them that it's definitely not a silent sport. People were screaming their heads off throughout the entire practice. This is actually encouraged as it can scare your opponent, as well as unite the team (I was silent because I was too freaked out by the screams).
Lastly, it's not just a sport for boys. Among the 30-odd members of the team, about one third was female. And they came in all shapes and sizes. Some were obvious athletes, while others, you would think, would be better suited for the mall than the dojang. But you'd be so wrong.
Although I don't enjoy fighting, I must say that I did feel very cool throwing kicks around. I felt like I was in Street Fighter. I was doing high kicks, kneeing my opponents, and everything. I didn't even know my foot could go that high. Apparently the timing of some of my kicks was pretty good, so maybe I have a future in the sport. I've already got the dobok, so all I need is to work on my screaming.
Taekwondo in Hong Kong
Wan Kam Leung Practical Wing Chun Kung Fu International
Address: 1/F, Front, 456 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
Telephone: 8197 3297
International Wing Chun Organisation
Address: M/F Hong Mei Building, 135 Lai Chi Kok Road, Kowloon
Telephone: 8100 3137
Korea Taekwondo Cheung Do Kwan
Address: 3/F Concord Commercial Building, 155-157 King's Road, North Point
Telephone: 3482 8461
-58kg medal event: August 8, 10.30pm (August 9, 5.30am in HK)
-68kg medal event: August 9, 10.30pm (August 10, 5.30am in HK)
-80kg medal event: August 10, 10.30pm (August 11, 5.30am in HK)
+80kg medal event: August 11, 10.30pm (August 12, 5.30am in HK)
-49kg medal event: August 8, 10.15pm (August 9, 5.15am in HK)
-57kg medal event: August 9, 10.15pm (August 10, 5.15am in HK)
-67kg medal event: August 10, 10.15pm (August 11, 5.15am in HK)
+67kg medal event: August 11, 10.15pm (August 12, 5.15am in HK)