The SO-KO Road Trip Blog series is a 5-part guest posting series by UK travel and lifestyle journalist Jonathan Thompson on his 9 day trip through South Korea. Jonathan regularly writes for leading UK media and was recently honored with the ‘Travel Writer of the Year Award’ by the British Guild of Travel Writers. Connect with Jonathan on his social media accounts: Instagram, Twitter
All photography was done by London-based photographer Mark Chivers. Visit his website!
There’s a reason why Taekwondowon is located so near the geographical heart of South Korea. It has nothing to do with proximity to the town of Muju or the history of taekwondo itself – and everything to do with Olympic ambition.
A $228 million temple to taekwondo, this shiny, state-of-the-art complex opened in 2014 with two clear missions: to become an international centre for the discipline, and to train South Koreans to once again dominate it on the world stage.
To do that, authorities decided to construct the centre here at Muju – equidistant from South Korea’s two major cities, Seoul and Busan and at the centre of a triangle of important towns at the country’s core: Daejeon, Jeonju and Daegu. Wherever you are on mainland South Korea, you can drive to Taekwondowon in under three hours. And if there’s one thing South Koreans like as much as driving, it’s taekwondo.
“It’s great for taekwondo to have such a wonderful international headquarters, and for us to be able to use it to share our national sport with so many foreign visitors,” says Yeon Ho Yoo, one of Taekwondowon’s instructors as he shows us around. “Hopefully in the future this will help South Korea gain more medals too.”
We’ve arrived at Taekwondowon on the fifth day of our epic South Korean road trip, marking the 25th anniversary of Kia Motors UK. Getting to grips with the new Kia Niro en route, we’ve been particularly impressed with its multiple driver assist features, from the Lane Keep Assist system on the longer legs to the Hill Start Assist Control up here in South Korea’s undulating green centre.
Back at Taekwondowon, I’ve got some seriously hard work ahead of me. Specifically, a number of hard wooden blocks to smash with my appendages.
Fortunately Yeon Ho Yoo is excellent at explaining the principles. The secret to smashing the blocks – and the colourful practice plates which come before them – is a combination of focus, breathing and connecting with a precise part of your body, he says. In this case, it’s the lower knuckles of my right hand.
After a number of dummy runs, a piece of wood is finally held up in front of me. “Three-two-one-smash,” says Yeon, matter-of-factly. I take a deep breath, centre my balance and then – with a rather terrifying crack – the lower knuckles of my right fist go straight through the wood. I look at the results in both shock and jubilation. “With belief, you can do anything,” says Yeon. It’s impossible to argue: the evidence of that truth lies in the shattered pieces of wood littering the ground beneath me.
This story is the second of a five part series. Don’t miss out on the other stories about travelling through Korea in the coming weeks!
▶ Read Part 1: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #1: INTO THE SOUL OF JEJU
▶ Read Part 2: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #2: KOREA’S FORGOTTEN CAPITAL
Kia Motors America at SEMA 2016 – TEASER VIDEO
Kia Motors America at SEMA 2016 – TEASER VIDEO 2 »
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