World Martial Arts Festival

The Martial Arts Park is bustling with tourists and locals as the festival gets into full swing. Chungju hosts it every year, on a sprawling set of grounds just outside the city. There's no entry fee, so we head straight inside. I pause to grab a picture of the dedication monument.


Erin leads me toward a row of paper mache tigers, locked in martial arts poses. "Oh! Get a picture of Kazakhstan!"


I chuckle, "Hey, check out Brazil. He looks like an adorable, furious math teacher."


Erin laughs, then points at the next one. "Is that Uzbekistan?"

I read the sign. "Why yes, yes it is. I think each participating country has their own tiger."


I frown. "Hey, should I get a shot of Russia, or China or something?"

Erin shakes her head. "Naw... but you have to get Korea."


Erin smiles. "Awesome. Thank you!"

"You're welcome. Where to?"

"How about over there! Where the music is coming from."

"Sounds good," I say.

After a short walk, Erin grabs my arm. "Where's the camera? You have got to take a picture of this."


"That... doesn't sound like native American music," I say.

"It isn't. It's Simon and Garfunkel," Erin replies.

I watch for another minute, then say, "I wonder if this is what Americans look like to Irish people when we try to form Irish bands."

Erin gives me a look. "I didn't need to think about that."

"Oh, check out the shop!"


"... and the dreamcatchers."


Erin and I poke around for a few minutes, before wandering toward another set of tents. We cut through a gorgeous arbor, with plump squash hanging from vines over our heads.


When we get to the next stage, a camera crew has set up and appears to be filming a live broadcast for Korean television. I snap a couple of pictures as the announcers do their thing.


Then the VIP's come on.


They pause in front of their drums, looking staid and business like. Then, by unspoken signal, the men discard their jackets, grab their sticks, and begin wailing away with all the glee of a group of five-year-olds on Christmas morning.


Then the professionals join in, and they make some music for the film crew.


We watch until they finish their song. The crowd explodes in applause and we join in.

As we reach the next stage, a group of Brazilians in white shirts is just coming on. We sit down as they start flinging themselves through a dizzying capoeira demonstration, one that I can't adequately capture in pictures. This does not keep me from trying.


Erin grabs my arm, "Oh my god!"


"Over there! No, THERE! Under the tent! Get a picture!"


"Is... is that a group of burly men in blue diapers?" I ask.

Erin nods slowly. "That's what it looks like."

The Brazilian team exits the stage, and our beefy friends climb up after. "Uhh..." Erin says, as the mostly unclothed men begin prancing in a circle, waving their arms.


"Huh..." I add, just to keep the conversation on an intellectual level.

Then a singer starts wailing over the speakers, a violin begins playing, and beefy guys start wrestling.


"Holy crap! They're just tossing each other around like rag dolls up there!" I say. "And that one looks  pissed!"


"I think this is traditional Mongolian wrestling," Erin says, growing excited. Then concern takes over. "Oh... he looks very frustrated with that other man's underwear."


The crowd of watching Koreans swells, applauding as each fall sends a small earthquake through the stage. Twenty minutes pass... twenty minutes of Mongolians tossing each other like salad, against a surreal backdrop of a wailing musician. Then the men bow, take a celebratory prance around the stage, and head off to find some shirts. The crowd disburses.

Erin and I sit in stunned silence, trying to decide what could possibly top that, when we spot a poster that refuses to be ignored.


We head inside the tent chasing the promise of Kung-fu robots, and find a group of very, VERY happy Korean boys piloting a pair of the most awesome rock-em sock-ems ever.


A hydraulic fist sends one of the robots tumbling, and the crowd breaks into enthusiastic cheers as the loser frowns over his remote.


Outside again, Erin stops dead and stares, shocked. "Sam... there are Rennies!"

"What? Now you're just making stuff up." I turn.


"What the heck is he doing in Korea?" I frown. "And why is he bowing?"

"I think we just missed the end of a sword fighting demo," Erin says.


I sigh. "Now I'm having flashbacks to working security for Renn Faire. Come on. Let's go somewhere else."

Erin checks a nearby map. "The children's stage is just over there."

"Cool," I say. We walk over, and we find a group of the littlest martial artists ever, giving a very determined Hapkido demonstration.


We watch for a half-hour or so, but adorable as it is, tiny kids doing martial arts isn't that much different from tiny kids wailing on each other in school. We're about to leave when Erin stops me.

"No... wait. We have to watch this next one."


She points. "Someone gave them sticks!"


Thankfully, nobody looses an eye, but there are a few tense moments. We wander over to the fun faire and ogle the bumper car pedal boats for a while.


Exhausted, with a long day of awesome behind us, we begin heading home. But I can't help stopping to catch a last shot of a performer going through their warm up routine on the lawn near the main stage.


All in all, a very good day.