2019 Korean Trip — Notes from the group

Joon Chi has sent notes from the attendees sharing their wonderful experiences, and there is a facebook page with more photos.

From Brian No:

My experience, while training at Gyung Min High School, was unbelievable. Although transitioning from California time to Korea time and training from one and a half hours a day to six hours a day was difficult, I enjoyed my stay. Making new friends and training with skilled judokas has helped me evolve as a judoka and as a person. Because the guys at Gyung Min High School were so welcoming and nice, it was easy to make friends and get along with them. I have experienced that, instead of scolding someone for not being able to complete an exercise, we need to encourage and motivate them. Not to mention, my judo has gotten a lot better. Coming back to my judo club, I was able to stand my ground and sometimes even beat opponents I wasn’t able to beat prior to going on the Korea USJF trip. All in all, the Korea trip was amazing and I would love to participate in the training again next year.

From Andy Paguay:

I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to train in South Korea at Kyungmin high school. This experience has made a huge impact on my skills and it has helped me see what it takes to be really good at Judo. I appreciate you and coach Alex for guiding me through my training at the school. I had a great time from start to finish. I met great people and everyone was very kind and respectful to me. I made a lot of friends and I felt comfortable being at Kyungmin. It was amazing meeting two Olympic medalist from Korea at the high school and I got to learn a lot from the coaches in Korea. Overall I feel blessed to have been a part of this experience with all the Americans that came with because I had people to talk with and translate and become friends with. I highly recommend any Judoka to go and train in Korea, it is an eye opening experience that teaches you a new way of training with very disciplined, dedicated, respectful, friendly, and hardworking people. Thank you Mr. Chi for inviting me to the Special Hard Training Camp In Korea!

From Joshua Yang:

The USJF trip was a fun yet motivational experience. We had three training sessions a day. Each session had its own focus and was very demanding and involving. For the morning session we would run up hills, stairs, do buddy carries, and etc. This training not only built up my stamina but also built on my sense of teamwork and encouragement because we had to run together and would not finish until the last person made it on time. The mid-day session consisted of randori (both newaza and tachi waza) and uchikomi. I felt a sense of motivation because there was no easy opponents. After sparring with the Kyung Min team I realized where I was skillswise and what I could do to improve my game of judo. The afternoon session consisted of newaza practice, uchikomi, and throwing. In this session I became closer with the Kyung Min team through judo as we exchanged different techniques, I personally learned many new techniques. The students there were so kind and we usually had conversations building meaningful relationships. Through these conversations, I learned a lot more about Korean culture and the social norms in the country of Korea. What I remember most from this trip was going to the Korean OTC. It was such an honor to be in the same room as athletes that are on the highest level and even being able to eat with them. Through this trip I realized what it takes to become a professional athlete and it motivated me to try my hardest in everything I do. We also had a great coach. He would watch over us and give us evaluations. He had to make so many sacrifices inside and outside the tatami and I appreciate him so much for that. All in all, demanding training sessions and generous and kind people made for an unforgettable experience.

From Iain Berliner:

This year, as well as last year, I had the honor of being able to take a training trip to Kyungmin University, courtesy of the USJF High School training program, and accompanied by Sensei Joon Chi, who personally welcomed, and escorted all of the US participants. The Korean coaches, like last time, were all very gracious and provided us a great cross-cultural experience.

Sensei Wong, as well as driving us to a sauna multiple times, one day drove us to the movie theatre; although I thought that it might have been more fun to see a Korean film, the group decided to watch an American movie. During my visit I got to tour the Gyeongbokgung Palace for my second time. Not a single day went by that I didn’t go out for Korean food, which I enjoyed very much. One of the other coaches, often after the night practices, gave us Korean soda/pastries, and even accommodated me when she knew that I don’t eat pork. I appreciated this greatly, and overall thought that the coaches were very kind to us.

The Korean cultural experience was very positive, although the cultural exposure was not the sole reason why I decided to return for a second time. The Judo training, was very educational, and intense, but also balanced. I would like to say that I benefited from technical training, but also from the light cool-down exercises involving the upper body muscles, as it made relaxing after a long, hard work-out, much easier. I think that, even though I was only there for a short 10 day period, my cardio still improved, mainly due to the intense morning practices.

After getting off the plane, I rendezvoused with Alex Murray, and took a bus with Sensei Chi and 5 others, to Kyungmin University. After sleeping, I got up at around 6:30 AM; I knew from my previous stay that they hold their morning practice at that time. During the morning practice, they do a variety of exercises, ranging from light jogging to carrying other people up stairs. On that particular day, I remember us doing sprinting exercises coupled with a running.

Over the course of my 10 day stay, I did a lot of randori; I also became better at performing my hip throws. Me, not being especially sophisticated in my choice of hip throws, mostly practiced Ippon Seoi Nage. The players at the college, and their high level of experience in blocking hip throws, helped me improve mine as well as helped me to understand how to block others’. During the night, they would practice throwing in groups of three. One training partner would weigh a second down, and the third would try to pick the second one up. I frequently found myself having to slide out of their throws completely or get thrown straight on my back; there was no shortage of experienced training partners whatsoever.

During the night practices, they split the workout. Some students would perform slow, technical throwing as well as newaze uchikomis, while some of the heavier players alternated between weightlifting and technique. I, weighing only 60 Kilograms, did not weightlift. With respect to newaza, most of the players at the university focus on turnovers/pins such as sankaku, while I personally preferred to practice chokes such as the British roll. During the afternoon practice, I would have a chance try these moves in newaza randori. Because of the strength and body-type of the players at Kyungmin University, I had difficulty in pinning many of them, sometimes having to resort to defensive tactics; however, I was occasionally able to surprise some of them with chokes performed from the bottom position. Many of their pins were hard to get out of, and I did my best to avoid them entirely.

At the end of my stay, I was taken to a delicious buffet dinner by Brian Jeoung and Professor Noh-Suk Park from Yong-In University. Sensei Chi and Sensei Wong accompanied us. Professor Noh-Suk Park is the national Head Coach for the Korean Visually Impaired Judo Team. Mr. Brian Jeong is the Sports Director for parlympic judo. Professor NoSuk Park had just gone through a 90 hour debacle, returning from a Paralympic qualifying event in Indiana, involving multiple delayed flights just to get back to Korea. After that, Mr. Brian Jeong and Professor Noh-Suk Park then also decided to drive for 3-4 hours to see me, and the rest of the remaining people on the trip, before we left on our own respective flights for home. I would like to thank Professor Noh-Suk Park for doing that, because I’m sure he is an extremely busy person and that his was not an easy ordeal at all; I also thank him because, even though he doesn’t know a lot of English, he took a few minutes to try and talk to me using a translator on his phone. Overall, it was a very pleasant evening, and I think that everyone enjoyed the choice of restaurant.

A day afterwards, Sensei Chi, and Alex Murray took me to Inchon Airport, and I left on my own plane flight back to the United States. I had a really good experience at Kyungmin University, during the USJF Judo Training Trip and I would like to thank USJF, and Sensei Chi, and our Korean hosts, for providing it to me a second time.

From Alex Murray:

Before anything else, I would like to thank everyone involved in making possible this year’s USJF high school training camp at Kyungmin University, South Korea. From the United States Judo Federation and its continued funding and encouragement to our caring and gracious hosts in Korea, from the American coaches and athletes who continue to attend and support this program to Sensei Chi and everything he does to make this possible, I am sincerely grateful for having had this opportunity to coach and lead an amazing group of young men once again. Under the guidance of Sensei Chi, I find myself in a unique position having travelled to and trained in South Korea as a junior competitor myself. Attending now over a decade later as a coach myself, I am amazed to experience and see the lasting impact this camp has on young judoka. This year was a very special year. I had the opportunity to arrive in Korea immediately following a major US junior tournament. There I met with players I had coached in Korea the previous year, elated at our seeing one another again and the prospect of training there again. The camp had visibly changed these young men and their enthusiasm for more was palpable. Upon arrival, the boys were ready to hit the ground running, eager to experience everything they remembered, and make new memories with new teammates, Korean and American alike. What sticks with me most was watching the camaraderie of these young men through thick and thin. Beginning with every morning conditioning practice at 6am, the difficulties were literally an uphill battle. At each obstacle, the boys encouraged one another never allowing the team to divide into individuals. I think of the cheers bringing the best out of Andy and the team running with Ian. I think of the afternoon randori sessions where the bangs and bruises never slowed down Josh and Brian as they pushed each other, further encouraging Brenan and Tae. I think of Matt’s stoicism leading everyone through the hardships he had experienced walking in their shoes years before. None of this could have happened without our American team training specifically in Korea. What makes this camp so special is certainly the young men that attend it, however none of that would exist without the unique context that is Korea. While there, all of us experienced what it was to live the life of an elite Korean high school judo player. The grueling schedule, training three times a day, surely put all of our previous training into perspective. Shaping every moment were the amazing social dynamics of experiencing team building with Korean players with whom the American players may not have shared the same language but clearly shared identical emotions, struggles, and joys. Beyond the rigorous randori and exhausting conditioning were the outings that really brought two worlds together. What sticks out to me most were two side trips that were uniquely Korean, but could not have exemplified shared purpose and goals more appropriately. After morning conditioning about halfway through our trip, the American team set off for the newly inaugurated Korean Olympic Training Center. While there, we met with the facility’s vice director, a Sydney Olympic Bronze Medal judoka herself. With her unique position and life experiences, we were guided around the camp facilities and saw everything provided to assist and produce world class athletes, something every boy on the trip aspires to be. Later during the camp, the boys and several Korean high school teammates took a trip across town to watch none other than Marvel’s newest Spider Man film. Together, boys were boys and enjoyed an American film in a very Korean context. Whatever may have mentally separated these young men only weeks before vanished in an instant. By the end of our trip, only elite, young judoka stood side by side, grateful for everything they had shared, excited to carry that with them for a lifetime to come. I could go on and on listing example after example of everything that made this year’s USJF high school training camp in Korea so unforgettable, but it would surely be a never-ending endeavor. I could reflect on the growth I saw in each young man as reflected in practice with former world champions and currently IJF stars. I could illuminate the cultural impact a place like the ancient capital of Korea has on such modern young minds. I could run down the list of influential and accomplished judoka that Mr. Chi introduced to all of us. What I would prefer to do is do it all again, year after year. This opportunity changed my life years ago. I was there again this year and last where I witnessed firsthand how it has positively changed the lives of so many. Thank you, Sensei Chi. Thank you, USJF. Thank you, Kyungmin University. Thank you, athletes and coaches who continue to support this program. Though things will certainly change as everything in life does, it is my sincere hope that this program will continues years into the future. Ideally that continuity will last decades to come so that today’s athletes will have the opportunity that I now have, to coach and lead others through an experience that indisputably changes lives for the better. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible.

From Brennen Hong:

This was my second year in attending the Judo Training Camp in Kyungmin University, and it was as unforgettable as the first year. I saw a few familiar faces at the camp, as well as some new people that I was eager to introduce myself to. Though I knew what to expect, and though I had experienced the intensity of the training in the past, I felt as if I were testing the very limits of my physical capabilities. For me, it was comparable to returning to school after summer break, for my body had long forgotten the experience. In addition, not only was I familiarizing myself with the physical rigor once again, but I also had to adjust to the high skill level and experience of the Korean students that we were training with.

Aside from all the training however, I bonded really well with the new people, for I remember that as we spent an entire week training, eating, and sleeping together, it was inevitable that we were to develop camaraderie among each other. Sensei Chi and Sensei Alex were also very generous to take us sightseeing in Seoul, drive us to the sauna in the evening, and even let us go to the cinema. One day we were also taken to the Korea Olympic Training Center, where we could tour the center of where Korean Olympians train. We were even able to meet one of the +100kg judo Olympians, Kim Sungmin.

Overall, I learned so much at this camp; I greatly improved my judo and conditioning, and I bettered my training discipline. More importantly however, I had fun in all the while, and I would very much like to return next year.

From Matthew Bata:

For the third successive summer in Korea and once again the combination of personalities in our group and strenuous training made the whole experience one I will never forget. Considering that this was my third time coming to Kyungmin for training, it was no surprise that I recognized many of the Kyungmin Judokas as well as some returning USJF team members. As always, the Kyungmin Judokas were as welcoming and offered their continuous support throughout the training and developed interesting conversations with us. This support carried onto the mats when several of the Kyungmin Judokas were willing to take part in Uchikomi, Newaza Randori, and Tachi waza Randori. Though we did not take part in many activities with the Kyungmin Judokas off the mats, I found that the introduction of more Korean speakers on the team made conversations more meaningful. On the topic of training, I do have to stress the difficulty of the daily 3 practice rotation. In my opinion, the obvious outlier in terms of difficulty was the 6:00am morning training. After 3 years of coming to Kyungmin, there is no practice that gave me more satisfaction when completed. This practice would often feature some sort of cardio based workouts such as sprints, intervals, or incline running, this would then be followed by some sort of strength exercise such as varied fireman carries or incline leap frogs. Nevertheless, this practice was very rewarding and it has helped me continue an early morning workout regiment back at home. As for the other practices, the 3:00pm practice was my favourite as I was given the opportunity to train and fight some of the Kyungmin Judokas. This practice also allowed me to learn some new techniques as well as practice already known techniques. Lastly, the 8:00pm training consisted of mostly Uchikomi whether it was 3-man Uchikomi or speed based Uchikomi. This would then be followed by a period designated to improve the countering of poor Drop Seois or poor Kata Gurumas. Overall, the training regiment was tough and rewarding. Regarding the accommodations, mattresses, pillows, and blankets were provided by Kyungmin to ensure that we would be comfortable, and nearby convenience stores made in-between practice periods more enjoyable. For recreational activities, we were taken to the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the National Folk Museum. This visit allowed for some down time as well as an opportunity to appreciate Korean culture. This visit to the palace and museum was then followed by a period of shopping at the Doota Mall. Another notable non-training activity were the visits to the nearby Jimjilbangs. These were treasured visits as the Jimjilbang would have us feeling fresh for the next day. To conclude, accommodations allowed for a comfortable experience and recreational activities enabled us to wind down. In conclusion, I would like to thank Sensei Joon Chi for allowing me the opportunity to come for the past 3 years, as this has become a very memorable part of my life and a part of new growing up. I really think of Kyungmin as a second home at this point and I am always looking forward to coming back.

From Tae Yeon Paik:

The Kyungmin Judo Camp was my first judo camp. I remember hesitating on whether I should go or not, but after finishing the camp, I actually wish that it was much longer than 8 days. Before the camp, I thought that 8 days would take years to pass, but looking back at my days at the camp, 8 days really felt like a few days. Going to a judo camp in a country where great judokas been nurtured, I knew that it was a great opportunity to improve my skills and get a chance to see how great judokas are really made. At the camp, I nearly did twice as much as I would normally do in 8 days. There were also many chances to experience Korea outside of Kyungmin. We went to a movie theater, museums, malls, and most importantly, the sauna. In between our training sessions, we also had time to interact with the people training at Kyungmin. I can see why the judokas in Kyungmin are like family. After the 8 days at camp, I found it hard to leave Kyungmin. My overall experience at Kyungmin was a great one. Although training sessions were longer and tougher, I was able to find enjoyment during training. I am really looking forward to going to Kyungmin next year.