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Taekwondo, the international icebreaker

Meganck, J.


Even during my vacations I cannot get taekwondo out of my mind. The last few years I have always tried to find a club and attend a class when travelling abroad. I have tried this in different countries, but did not always succeed. In Finland, however, I really redeemed myself. 

That is the place where I defied the cold for seven months just to specialise myself in sport psychology. Sports seemed to me the best way to get to know Finnish people as they are generally quite reserved. And of course I wanted it to be taekwondo. That is how I found Mukwan Jyväskylä, a club taught by sabomnim Matti Heikkinen, a dojang that proves that international borders can disappear as snow in summer.

Originally founded by kwanjangnim Jong Man Park (7th dan and now back in Korea as trainer of the KOGAS taekwondo team which received the price for best taekwondo team in Korea earlier this year and has several medallists at world and Olympic championships among its members) Mukwan is a club with an astonishing balance between self-discipline and having fun in training, between technical skills and the drive to learn more. They never hesitated for a second before welcoming me into their dojang. Seven months I have trained there, five times a week. Fortunately they used the Korean terminology as well because I did not speak one word of Finnish. And if it did get to complex sometimes both sabomnim Heikkinen and his assistant Ilja Patrikainen spoke perfect English. (The senior trainer actually has the amusing habit to quote movies and songs quite regularly.) It is these two people I have to thank for the fact that Finland, or Suomi as it is really named, has become a second home to me. The involved me in all their activities: Was I interested in a seminar for trainers? Of course, but would it not be taught in Finnish? Obviously… so they whispered me the translation. The club was visiting the Finnish championship and did I want to come along? So I got on the bus with them… 

The biggest surprise however came at the end of a very annoying day: I had had a lot of problems with my research and I was really looking forward to kicking away my frustration on a ‘lapuska’ (Finnish for kicking pad). However, when I arrived at the dojang both the teacher and his assistant had cancelled. At which point their substitute came up to me and informed that I was supposed to teach as I was the highest ranking belt present, or that I had to go home. I staid, even though it took some getting used to for everyone that the training was taught in English. It has happened a couple times more that I was asked to teach and I am still honoured by the trust placed in me.

Chung Gun [my Belgian club] will forever be my club, but they will have to forgive me a long-distance affair with Mukwan. In any case I will stay in touch. This year, for example, I was invited to teach at the course in sport psychology I took two years ago. An e-mail later I got the assurance that Mukwan had already survived all biblical disasters that year so that they were confident they would survive my visit also. The idea that I would not participate in the training (due to an injury to the hip I am not allowed to kick anymore) was immediately brushed aside: the training was adapted with an emphasis on self-defence. That way I both learned new techniques and I got to see my friends again. A good combination, wouldn’t you say?

This summer the senior trainer and his family will visit me in Belgium; hopefully some more people will stop by as well, perhaps for the Belgian Open Championship … One thing is for sure: “I’ll be back … and that’s from a movie”. Thank you, Matti & Ilja.



Both as a teacher and as a student you can learn a lot from looking outside your own club: new ways of teaching, different techniques, a change in accents…

When you try it (perhaps first in your own country) you will find taekwondo can be a true experience of life. Below a few tips that may be useful:

·        Find a dojang before you leave, for example on the internet. If you wait you may waste quite some time while abroad.

·        Contact the teacher up front and ask whether you may come and observe a class. Most often you will be invited to participate so bring along your equipment, but do not just walk onto the tatami.

·        Make sure to bring a white belt besides your regular one, and ask which one you should wear. If you have a black belt, it is preferable to use one without the markings of your dan-level.

·        Take something typical from your own country as a token of appreciation.

·        If you enjoyed it, stay in touch!!


Published in:     Taekwondo Contact, 2003, volume 8, number 4. Original in Dutch.


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