I met Michael when he attended my ninjutsu classes at college. He has a long history of Taekwondo, so martial arts was our first common denominator. Since South Korea is the country of taekwondo, it makes sense that we should also take a closer look at it here.
Michael found out that there is a monastery here where you can live and participate in the training of the monks. A special kind of Taekwondo, the Sonmoudo, is taught in Golgusa. By train, some buses and finally on foot we get from the Land of Buddha and register.
We pay an admission fee and receive novices’ clothing. We also get the timetable for the coming days: At 5 a.m. the day begins with meditation in the temple on the mountain, followed by breakfast in the common room at 6 a.m. This is followed by the morning sonmoudo training sessions until noon. Flexible units follow in the afternoon, such as other types of meditation and Zen archery, until the early evening rest.
Demonstrations of the monks’ skills are held regularly on weekends.
Since it’s the weekend right now, we get to see what you can expect after a long training session.
Our room is modestly furnished. In fact, not at all. There are two bamboo mats on the floor. Finished. Accordingly, we quickly settled in, we slip into our new robes and explore the monastery complex before going to bed early.
Our alarm clock doesn’t just ring in the middle of the night. We don’t need it at all, because a loud gong calls from the mountain half an hour in advance to meditate. Like zombies, the novices shuffle up the mountain in the dark. Including us.
An older monk sings and speaks sacred texts. monotonous. For half an hour. We do our best not to meditate straight back into deep sleep. We succeed, but others, even enduring disciples, fail. You can always hear a light, satisfied snoring from one corner or the other. I feel a little non-Buddhist gloating. My karma is going down the drain.
The breakfast is remarkable. From a shelf we take three bowls and chopsticks stacked inside each other. We sit cross-legged in a row next to each other on bamboo mats on the floor and wait. Two long-time novices, just kids, come by and divide kimchi and soup into two bowls. An adept comes to us and explains how breakfast works:
“Drink the soup, but leave a sip. Eat the kimchi, but leave a leaf. Take the leaf and dip it into the rest of the soup. Use this to first clean the bowl that the kimchi was in. Then drink the rest of the soup and clean that bowl too. Everything must be restored by you. You put the bowls back in each other and back on the shelf. The beginning and the end must be one.” Even the first meal of the day follows the yin and yang.
The training is hard, even the warm-up training and the basic exercises demand a lot from us. But I also recognize a lot. It is gratifying to see that the katas and exercises do not differ much between here and at home and between the different martial arts.
We learn a lot over the days and also have some time in the afternoon to see the neighboring monastery. Zen archery is very different from the traditional archery that I practiced in Germany for years, and my experience here stands in my way of learning something new unaffected.
Before we leave the area with all our experiences we visit the coast. It’s not touristy. Apart from us, we only met one Australian traveler.
South Korea doesn’t seem to rank very high on Lonely Planet.
Our journey continues to the metropolis of Busan.