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Korea Trip 2004 ~ Testimonials

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The Hwa Rang Do Korea Trip has been one of the most memorable moments for Hwa Rang Do practitioners since the art was founded in 1960. Throughout the stops, flights, bus rides, and 5 star hotels, there were so many sites, sounds, tastes, culture, and inspirational moments. There are sure to be more frequent trips now that there are many with the taste of Korea lingering in their mouths and souls. Accounting for the entire trip, it was also special because a collection of people from all across the world, of different backgrounds and beliefs, came together and felt the common bond of their martial way, its historical roots, and the opportunity to return to a common home together. The Hwa Rang Do Korea trip was truly an unforgettable experience!

To add a testimonial just fill out the below information and upon review it will be posted below. Feel free to add a short or long comment, we look forward to hearing what you thought of the trip. Thanks and see you in Korea next time!!!


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From: Instructor Dylan Sirny
3rd Dan Black Sash ~ Minneapolis, MN USA

Near the end of the summer in 2004, the World Hwa Rang Do® Association arranged a jam-packed nine-day tour of Korea to explore the birthplace of the art, and to experience its culture, history, and people first hand. Practitioners representing North and Central America, as well as much of Europe converged on the country to connect their own lives with the lineage of Hwarang knights that has shaped Korea for centuries. This trip marked an historic occasion, because after 40 plus years since Hwa Rang Do® was founded and began traversing the globe, this was the first major collective return for the art to Korea. Over 100 practitioners, instructors and masters participated in this extraordinary experience that both opened their eyes to the immensity of Korean history, and also inspired the group to strive harder to attain the ideals of Hwa Rang Do®.

As many martial arts practitioners know, Korea is a land built on a warrior tradition epitomized in the elite youth corps of the Shilla dynasty Hwarang Knights. These youths formed the warrior class of Korea and strove to be men driven to fulfill the universal ideals of strength in mind, body and spirit. As military and political leaders, the Hwarang led the kingdom of Shilla to unify the Korean peninsula, and maintained it against assaults and inner strife for centuries. The institution continued through the Koryo dynasty, and survived the centralization of government during the Neo-Confucian period of the Chosun era. Hwa Rang Do®, founded in 1960 by the 58th generation Hwarang Dr. Joo Bang Lee, student of the monk Suahm Dosa, is the modern and publicly-accessible continuation of the Hwarang lineage.

As Hwa Rang Do® has spread throughout the world, students of the art have naturally become very diverse. What this recent trip to Korea illustrated first and foremost, however, was how easily this diverse group of students connected with one another. Through martial art training in Hwa Rang Do®, and the values it teaches, a common mentality of respect, strength, honor, and loyalty was clearly shared among this international body. Just as the ancient Hwarang warriors developed and refined themselves to be strong leaders and role models for society, so too was this drive evident in the practitioners on the trip. Through exploring the history of Korea, and learning stories of how Korean armies have defeated seemingly overwhelming odds time and again, it became clear that while Korea is a small country compared to its neighbors, it has survived because at its heart this Hwarang drive for strength and perfection has prevented its collapse. It has pushed Korean culture to survive the trials of the first half of the century, and has transformed the country into an economic powerhouse in the second. It was amazing to see the spirit of the Hwarang, no matter how times have changed, continuing to flow in the country.

The trip itself started in Seoul with a bang. A large banquet and demonstration was held in honor of this historic return visit with speeches and presentations highlighting the development of Hwa Rang Do’s® global expansion for the attendees and special dignitaries. Following these was a demonstration that left an indelible mark on the assembled guests. While there were many spectators used to the intricacies that Hwa Rang Do® has to offer, there were many who witnessed their first Hwa Rang Do® demonstration that night and were amazed by the art’s complexity and the overall comprehensiveness. Witnessing the joint manipulation, weaponry, full-contact applications, and grappling techniques illustrated why Hwa Rang Do® is also known on one level as the “Way of Unlimited Possibilities.” The banquet was a great success, fulfilling another goal of reestablishing Hwa Rang Do® in its place of origin.

After this auspicious beginning, the participants of the trip were energized and ready to move on and see more, and move on they did. The trip moved to the east by bus to Oh Dae Mountain, turned south to KyungJu and the historic lands of the Shilla kingdom, hopped a short flight to the resort island of JejuDo, then flew back up to the west coast of the peninsula to the lands that were once held by the Paekche Kingdom. Finally, the trip ended back where it started in Seoul before heading home. If nothing else, the participants truly experienced the diversity of Korea’s landscape and people as they cruised around the “Land of the Morning Calm” on such an exciting trip.

Yet the purpose of the trip was more than just a tour of Korea’s extensive natural beauty and diverse populace, it was to witness first hand the places that birthed Hwa Rang Do®. Within this breathtaking land, with its winding streams and lush mountains, the Hwarang tradition was born and maintained for a millennium. One of the highlights of the trip was the visit to Oh Dae Mountain, the place where Dr. Joo Bang Lee and his brother learned the Hwarang skills from their master Suahm Dosa. After exploring the Buddhist monasteries still active in this range, the group took time to train in a mountain clearing and meditate along one of the mountain’s rivers, allowing us to connect with the Hwarang spirit just as the brothers did with their master 50 years ago.

As the tour continued, the legacy and depth of Korean history became apparent. From the famous Sakkuram Buddhist stone grotto to the Bulguksa temple grounds, and many other famous Korean landmarks – not hard to miss in a country with 5000 years of continuous living memory – we witnessed a link to a different kind of life from that in modern, western cities. Dedication to the deeper realms of existence and understanding is rare nowadays, even in Korea, yet there are still places in the country where this ideal exists, and the Hwa Rang Do® trip made careful effort to seek out and explore them. Among other highlights of the trip, we saw the tomb mounds in KyungJu where courtiers were buried, royal palaces in Seoul that were comparable in scale and complexity to Versailles and Buckingham palace, and many recent monuments to the hardships Koreans have endured throughout the 20th century, such as the Japanese occupation and the Korean war.

One stop in particular evoked great feelings for the group, however. We had the special treat to stand in front of the tomb of General Kim Yooshin to pay respects to the most famous Hwarang to ever have lived. As all 100 of us stood and bowed before the burial mound and repeated the Hwa Rang Do Meng Sae (the moral code and doctrines that guide all Hwa Rang Do® students through their training and lives), we reflected on the significance of this giant figure in the history of Korea. It was General Kim who, during the 7th century A.D., first united the three kingdoms of Korea. And it was the strength of the Shilla dynasty that still dominates Korean history and psyche. As an example of how this was evident, as the trip proceeded, it was Shilla kingdom history that dominated the landscape, while Paekche and Korguryo kingdom remains were practically non-existent. Aside from Shilla artifacts and history, only Chosun dynasty remains, being the last intact dynasty to rule Korea, were clearly apparent. What this taught us, in subtle ways, was that while Korean history has produced a wide variety of kingdoms and rulers, none could compare in strength to the Shilla dynasty rule. Only the Chosun dynasty, being the most recent to rule Korea, still has a historical presence in the country. History is written by the conquerors, a fact we experienced firsthand, and which was another lesson in the strength of the Shilla and the Hwarang.

Of course this was not always true, other kingdoms were not erased from the face of Korea, merely reduced a great deal, yet there was still much insight to be gained from exploring them. At Nakhwaam, in particular, a pagoda stands at the spot where, when faced with the prospect of capture by General Kim’s army in 660 A.D., 3,000 concubines of Paekche’s King Euja jumped off a cliff, demonstrating their loyalty to their king just before the fall of his kingdom. This is the only remnant of a kingdom that once ruled a third of Korea, and a powerful reminder of the enormous cost and struggle required of Shilla, and Koreans, for the country to be unified.

In another important stop, we visited Kyungju, where visited the Hwarang House, an institute for leadership that teaches junior high and high school students. This was a rare honor, as we were greeted by the institute’s president and given a personalized presentation and tour of the grounds. The Hwarang house was an awesome site to behold because in many ways it captures the ideal of the Hwarang – it seeks to imbue them with the ideals of the Hwarang so that they may become more virtuous, yet still strong and unconquerable, leaders for Korea. Additionally, we went to the birthplace of General Kim, and while standing in front of the place where his placenta was enshrined, we were honored by a visit from the mayor of Jincheon, where General Kim’s placenta chamber was located, who took time out from his busy schedule to greet us and honor us with his presence. In this short historical meeting, our Founder Dr. Joo Bang Lee, Chief Master Taejoon Lee, Master Yong Suk Kim (Korean Hwa Rang Do Association Chairman), Chief Master Kwon Lee (Master in charge of Korean Branches), and the Mayor of Jincheon discussed the possibility of developing the birthplace of General Kim as a modern sanctuary for the preservation of the Hwarang legacy. These two great experiences served to connect the past Hwarang with the future, and was a truly rare pleasure.

On a lighter note, for the first time for many of us, we were able to immerse ourselves in the unique food of Korea. The health and flavor of the Korean diet is renowned, and to live off of it for even a short period will make one feel more energized and alive. Getting used to the all the options of panchan (side dishes) that accompany the main course gave enough variety for any pallet on the trip, and the diverse places that we visited allowed us to sample famous cuisine from all over the country. At one point on the trip, we were even fortunate enough to spend the day having lunch and dinner at a Buddhist temple! While monk food, as we euphemistically called it, did not sit well with everyone, it did provide an opportunity to reflect on the importance of food in defining Buddhist and Korean culture. As we ate the vegetarian meal, we were forced to think of the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, whereby killing and eating living things builds karma, thus preventing our attainment of enlightenment. Similarly, as the food we ate had no meat, it helped us consider how expensive and opulent eating meat really is, especially in a place like Korea, which has to import most of it. As we sat in silence, having to finish all of our food and then clean out our own dishes in reverence, we were given the time to contemplate how food is so important in our lives and for a culture. Korean culture, being highly fiery, is reflected in its pungent and spicy food, and the filial nature of Korean culture is equally reflected in the practice of sharing most of the meal at the table. The experience of eating food at this Buddhist temple gave us the chance to think about all of these concepts, and we were grateful for the chance to reflect on the value of food in our lives. Of course, we were equally grateful for the next day’s steaming pile of Bulgogi (Korean BBQ beef), which certainly brought thankful smiles all around!

Finally, the kindness and vibrancy of the Korean people was truly impressive. On our stops throughout the countryside, the population was always quite welcoming and down-to-earth, and the dynamic upbeat nature of city life in Seoul is something many wished to take back home with them. Also, as we traveled the country paying our respects to the warrior founders of Korea, we noticed that Koreans themselves began to take note of our actions, some expressing surprise at the fact that foreigners paid their own culture more respect then many of them did. Yet this shows that the spirit of the Hwarang, especially for the older generations, still flows through the populace of the land. And why should it not? While the international community has lived with Hwa Rang Do® for merely 50 years, the Hwarang spirit has soaked into Korea and its culture for more than 50 generations!

In sum, traveling to Korea this past summer was a truly unforgettable experience for all Hwa Rang Do® practitioners who took part. Throughout those nine days, we truly experienced the range that Korea has to offer, and developed a deeper connection with the culture that gave birth to our art. While the pace of the trip certainly left much to be explored, the range of experiences we had gave us a sampling of the full flavor of Korean culture, history, and people. More importantly, however, the whirlwind trip illustrated how people from all across the world, and of different backgrounds and beliefs, can unite under the banner of Hwa Rang Do’s® martial way.


From: William Wright
Brown Sash ~ Los Angeles, CA USA

It has now been just over two months since our Hwa Rang Do trip to Korea, but the memory has far from faded in that time. Like a great meal, Korea lingers on in my thoughts and on the edge of my senses as only a truly exhilarating experience could. In fact, in many ways, I have gained so much from Korea that I am almost ready to call it the start of a new chapter in my life: My Life After Korea.

But I will not go that far yet. It has, after all, only been two months.

After this time, however, I do understand that I have gained immensely from the Korea trip. Traveling to the country with my fellow Hwa Rang Do brethren taught me more than just how to read Hangul, the difference between Koryo and Silla dynasty Buddhist architecture, and what goes in (or more appropriately does not go in) to making kimchi. It taught me about national identity, and how one culture from one country can unite national identities from around the world. It also taught me about cultural identity, and how, for better or for worse, we lack such a concept in America while Korea has it in spades. Finally, and most importantly, the Korea trip taught me about myself, as the experience of representing Hwa Rang Do in its homeland tested my character to its limit - not to mention the long days touring and late nights of drinking and singing, as those were tests as well!

The trip started innocently enough, with introductions and jokes typical of such a trip's beginning, but as soon as we were off the plane the frenzy began. No more than an hour after we landed we made our first tour stop, Kyungbok Palace in Seoul, a grandiose and sprawling complex reminiscent of the massive chateaus of the French countryside. Such cultural stops on such little rest, while disagreeable at first, were the norm for the trip and their necessity soon became apparent. How else could we learn about 5000 years of Korean culture in eight days? But before I go on, I should mention that before we really got to touring, we had to prepare for the banquet and demonstration.

The demonstration was a fantastic display. Not so much because it was otherworldly, such as the wirework of today's martial arts movies, but precisely because it demonstrated the human and physical potential that Hwa Rang Do taps. From my own perspective, the demo was a blur, but a glorious blur, of adrenaline and pride, especially for my fellow demo team members from around the world. Yet after the demo, there was little time to revel in its glow as the tour moved on just as quickly as it started.

The trip covered the range of the Korean experience. From going to the "Hawaii" of Korea, Jeju, and staying in the finest hotels the country has to offer, to eating food from Buddhist temples that, euphemistically, I believe was intended to inspire a holy life by punishing us for the sins of the past, we saw a lot of the country. If anything, I came away from the trip feeling like I was offered a peak into the place, only to be quickly pushed on just as my interest was building. Because of this, I have come to understand what an enormity 5000 years of history is, a concept that as an American with only 250 years to comprehend, I had scarcely conceived.

If anything, I feel that I need to go back to Korea. I am fascinated by its small geographic size, yet enormous people. Korea, I was forced to recall, was rubble 50 years ago, and now it is poised to be an economic leader of the world. What's more, the trip made me want to connect further with Hwa Rang Do, as I saw how much even the Koreans stopped to remark on our international group. Finally, I found the country, with its dense forests and mountainous terrain, to be extremely beautiful. I am certainly looking forward to another trip in the future!


From: Kim Buch-Madsen
1st Dan Black Sash ~ Denmark

Once again, my strongest feeling was proudness. Proudness to be a part of such great family and happiness about the decision I took back in 2000 when I decided to join it for life.

To me Korea was the country of history, symbolics and aestetics. I was impressed of the historic thinking putting everything in a historic context and honouring great people of the past. I was amazed of the complexity and richness of symbolics of the Korean culture. So many layers and meanings of everything. A friend told me of a saying which goes like “Asian culture is like reading a very long and very exciting book, except you will never get to the end”. Aestetics down the details, which I noticed as I was never a detail guy myself. First impression of that was at the Asian Airways plane. I never saw an airplane restroom that nice or smelling that nice!. Toothbrush, skin lotion and other hygiene stuff available. In general the Korean caring for the details made me think about my own attitude toward those things.

This was a tour very high on experience, impressions and family feeling, very low on sleep and time! One or two cosy, laid back danes were quite surprised about the speed, another one with a little experience on the gear hwarangdo people usually move in and were not quite as surprised…

I was surprised about the food. I would not have expected to like it that much and it filled me with energy. I got a new glance of the truth that “you are what you eat” which is what any Dane are taught in school, but many of us (including me) tend to more or less forget along the way. At last years black belt seminar my eating habits moved a lot towards more vegetables. This trip was another step in that direction.

Meeting a lot of smiles. I read about the friendliness of Koreans, but of course that friendliness grew even stronger by the fact that we were a group of visitors but exposing and promoting an ancient Korean martial art. The importance of everybody wearing the same T-shirts became even clearer. That made a very big difference and contributed to the proudness of being a part of this trip.

I was proud of being a part of Hwarangdo´s return to the home country. And I hope we established some traditions. Like singing in the bus (or telling one´s favourite joke?), claiming “Hwarangdo forever” from a top of “Magic Mountains”, honouring the roots of Hwarangdo including Yu Shin Kims place, Do Joo Nims temple, capital of Silla and so on.

Two things dominated my memory of Korean landscape. One which was very different to me – a person from a country without mountains. Namely the sight of misty mountain tops anywhere you go. The other was the incredible greenness of the rice fields. I have only seen one thing quite as green, and that is the leafs of the trees in my country during springtime.

Highlights

• Meeting everybody on the morning of the first day.

• Reunioning with some Hwa Rangs and meeting others for the first time.

• The contrast of Seouls ancient kings palace in the middle of Seoul and the shape of modern Seoul in the background.

• First nights banquet, the slide show about Hwarangdo decades, meeting the top Korean Hwarangdo people. Missing out on most of the splendid food because of an all to good demo ? which made everybody feel proud about being a part of this family.

• 78 people meditating together by the river bank for about an hour. Experiencing Dojoo Nims words about “feeling the mountains and taking in the strength and energy from the mountains”. A beautyful strong singing from the woods gave the situation an intense touch of soul and greatness. I thought it to be some of the monks from the temple until I found out afterwards that it was not the monks, but Dojoo Nim and instructor Garcias!

• The fun and joy of Sundays singing in the bus. Let us make that a tradition!

• Doing the Meng Sae for important Korean people, for instance the Mayor of Yu Shin Kims area. As I see it, that is the way to go! Let us show people respect and at the same time our proudness of who we are and what we believe in.

• The colours, atmosphere and harmony of the temples. I was amazed by the details of the architecture reminding us that somebody had the patience, passion and care to paint and cut out all those fine little details. The temples left me with the same spiritual feeling as walking into a Christian church but so very different. The sound of monotonous drumming or humming. As I was told with the purpose of driving out the noise of ones mind or the setting a harmonous spirit.

• Hiking to a top of magic mountains. Joining and enjoying the proudness and spirit of about 70 strong voices shouting “Hwarangdo forever” from the top.

• Seeing original Hwa Rang weapons at the War museum. We all practised some Hwa Rang do weaponry and watching the real thing was great. It was a special feeling to look at some weapon and realize that unce upon a time that weapon had been a part of some ancient Hwa Rang warriors life.

• The beauty of the Hwarangdo University: The idea itself is one of beauty and proudness to Hwa Rang do people and I was amazed by the beauty of the buildings (among the most beautyful we saw I think) and the surroundings. I did not know about such university and I was surprised about of its existence but most of all of its beauty.

• The drive from Yu Shin Kims place to the hotel. The most beautiful drive of the journey in my memory and one of the areas I would very much like to go back to.

• Getting up early in “Land of the morning calmness”, having a quite hour, enjoying the cool morning air, the sight of misty mountains and the Italians practising by the other side of the pool.

• The food. I do not remember having eaten so many different kinds of foods which I did not know what was! And I still do not. But what I felt very clearly was that it did something very good to my energy and body. Because of to little sleep I now and then had some short periods of “crisis” around midday. But the lunch was like a fix of energy which filled me up and got me ready for the rest of the day. I am eating a lot more rice and vegetables than I did before Korea and my energy is better.

• Meeting new Hwa Rang Do people and seeing the people I already knew again. It was my goal to talk to everybody and learn everybodys names. I missed out on 4 and I intend to get to know EVERYBODY on my next Korea trip!

• Saying goodbye and thank you to our splendid tour guides Murphy and George in the Hwa Rang Do way!

My hopes and suggestions for a possible Korea trip to come:

1. As far as I remember the original plan for the journey included living and practising in a temple for some days. I have no doubt that there were some good reasons for leaving this part of the journey out. But anyway that is my number one hope for my next Korea Journey.

2. My stronges memories of the trip was the feeling of the Hwa Rang do soul and heritage that I got when we visited important places Hwa Rang places. I would have loved to practise there. Practising in the mountains were Do Joo Nim used to practise or by Yu Shin Kims birthplace where he used to practise – that would be a never-forgetting experience and I think an experience of feeling connected to the original soul of Hwa Rang Do.

3. As the mountains are so beautiful and a very important part of Korea I would love a hike in the mountains or to experience the beauty of the mountains even more in some other way. To practise in the mountains would be great.

4. We all got to know new Hwa Rang Do family. I would have loved to say goodbye in a better way than I actually did. Perhaps one day at the end of the journey for saying farewell, relaxing and just enjoy the good company of each other. Like the Sunday-barbecue in Do Joo Nims home after a good test or seminar ?

Thank you for making this trip possible! I will always remember.

Hwarang forever!



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