Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

Arrival and Accommodations
Well, we've been in Daegu for about five days now. We received a phone call at 2:00 pm on Thursday telling us we had to be at the airport at 4:00 am the next morning to leave for Korea. We knew it might happen and luckily we were already packed and ready to go. Our arrival was surprisingly without incident considering we had to take two planes totaling 17 hours of flying time, a bus from Seoul to Daegu and meet up with someone to drive us to our hotel. Seems easy but is much more difficult when you can't speak the language or read the signs. Our hotel, where we stayed for 3 nights, was something to see. In Korea they are known as "love motels". They're not as dirty as they sound but they do have some interesting "features". Ask me about them sometime. We moved into our permanent apartment yesterday. We were led to believe that we'd likely be staying in a small box suitable to house a toaster oven. The apartment is actually not a bad size (quite big by Korean standards). We have a bathroom, bedroom, lounge room and a combined kitchen/dining room. Living large, some might say.

Korean Traffic

Traffic in Korea is insane. Lots of streets don't have names. This obviously makes giving directions tough. Especially when your cab driver doesn't speak English and you don't speak Korean. Red lights are a suggestion; feel free to blow through, just make sure to honk so everyone knows you're coming. We think that Canadian cabbies are crazy but they don't even play in the same league of crazy as Korean cab drivers. These guys can squeeze a full sized car through an empty toilet paper tube at 90km an hour while watching their favourite Korean game show on the TV installed under their rearview mirror. Close your eyes, it's best that way.

Parking anywhere you can fit your car is fair game. On the sidewalk? Ok. Front end of the car in a parking lot and back end blocking traffic? Not a problem. Parking on a traffic island between east and westbound lanes? Sure. Double parking? Yep, just leave your phone number so the person you blocked in can call you. Parked on the side of the street facing the wrong way and blocking an entrance-way? No problemo.

Motorcycles have a completely separate set of rules, by which I mean they have absolutely no rules. Motorcycle riders can drive in a regular lane with the rest of traffic. If traffic is heavy they just hop up on the sidewalk and weave in and out of the pedestrians. I've already seen one rider riding next to the curb going the opposite way of traffic in his lane. Through parks, over curbs, across lanes.. wherever your bike can take you, you can go.

The subway system in Daegu is good. I live on one extreme side of the city and being on the subway line means I can get to the other side in about half an hour. Keep in mind the city is 2.5 million people... sometimes it takes that long to get from one side of Sault Ste. Marie to the other; population 75 000. The subway also takes me directly from my appartment to Daegu MMA, where I will spend a lot of time training.

Daegu MMA
Going to a new MMA gym or jiu jitsu club can be a little strange. Every club has its' own protocol and rules, much of which are unwritten. Nobody ever wants to be the guy who shows up and looks like he has no clue what's going on. Just as bad is showing up and being the guy who goes too hard and is trying to prove how tough he is. It's a delicate balancing act to show that you are competent but not an ego monster. It often takes months to be fully accepted at a place like this. Luckilly for me, my brother Mitch has been in Daegu for a year and training at Daegu MMA for just as long. Mitch did all the hard work and they obviously love him there. Mitch brought me to the club to meet everyone on one of the first nights we were in town.

When we walked through the doors Mitch got a very warm reception from everyone who was in the gym at the time. The owner of the club came our way, pointed at me and said "Mitchie brother?" My answer was followed by a very large and very unexpected bear hug, which speaks to the reputation that Mitch has built at Daegu MMA. Every person I met asked the same question; "Mitchie brother?" and saying yes was the secret passward into the club. The club has extremely good jiu-jitsu (it is a J.J. Machado affiliate) and good kickboxing. Their weakest point seems to be wrestling which explains why Mitch was so popular and why I was welcomed so quickly. Mitch has been helping some of their fighters, like Un Sik Song, with their wrestling. He also dislocated his elbow recently but assured everyone at the club that his brother would be soon be in Daegu to teach wrestling.

I met and rolled with a lot of really good guys; Yung Gul, Bogu, Superman and John, who has an English name because he went to an English school. I was pretty nervous as my first live scrimmage was with Yung Gul... John pointed towards him and said "you go master". Scary. How hard should I go? %100? Russian drill? Light scrimmage? I decided to hit a quick takedown and then feel things out. The takedown came quick and I heard some "ohhhh"s and quiet murmuring in Korean. We got into a quick scramble which I wrestled my way out of, ending up in top open guard. More murmuring and some "Ahhhhhh"s, this time a little louder. Looking up, I saw that everyone had stopped rolling and was watching us. We had pretty much the whole mat to ourselves. The rest of the 5 minute scrimmage was me trying to pass his guard and defend submissions while he threw all kinds of submission at me. I was barely staying alive to be honest and eventually fell into a well set up triangle. I knew it was coming but couldn't stop it. While the rest of the class finished with conditioning I rolled with Bogu, an 81 kg. competitor. I got tapped a lot. He was big and strong but wasn't using size or strength, he was just good.

I went back to Daegu MMA on my own two days later. It was a Gi class, which was great. I approached the class as if I knew nothing (which in the Gi is pretty much true) and was able to get some good work in Gi fundamentals during the technical portion of the class. We did some hard sparring at the end of class. I was able to handle most of the people in the class as they were all whitebelts. At the end of class I got some good sctrapping in with John and Yung Gul which quickly put me in my place. I think in the two days I've been at the club I've been tapped out 15 times. This tells me I'm in the right place... I'm not sure if I got tapped out 15 times in the last 6 months.

Any of you LU wrestlers remember doing Korean pushups? Well here they just call them pushups. (Ha! Fran would like that joke.) We did 130 of them AFTER 25 minutes of sparring. Talk about bulletproof shoulders.


  1. Loving your posts brent, keep them coming. Sounds like you're in a great place to develop as a fighter. Hope to hear soon about the school that you'll be teaching in. - Andrew

  2. "These guys can squeeze a full sized car through an empty toilet paper tube at 90km an hour while watching their favourite Korean game show on the TV installed under their rearview mirror." I nearly peed myself laughing at this. Vikki

  3. Brent,
    Great to hear that you have gotten into MMA and put all of that wrestling skill to use. Do you still keep in touch with Trevor, Brock, Fran and the rest of the guys at all?
    If you need anything in terms of looking for fights etc let me know and I may be able to help

  4. You've got style and a way with word's Brent. Thank you for sharing with us all. We are living through you vicariously.
    Tickle Monster

  5. Great to see your having fun and getting challanged finally. ha ha Good luck at everything you do over there. E tay won is the party place to be my roommate always said about over there. Take Care. Tim, Steven and Mike K.

  6. Brent,

    I would also like to know how to get there.

    My name is Aquila. I'm in the Army and I'm moving to Daegu next week. I wrestled in College for 4 years and I've been doing BJJ/MMA for the last 8 years off and on. I'd really like to go and work out at your club. Can you e-mail me directions? I should be in Daegu for 1-2 years. aquilak@yahoo.com