Two summers ago, I returned to my roots in South Korea for an amazing opportunity–a one month stay at a Korean Buddhist Temple.
Then again, I was 15, and not entirely equipped to enjoy the experience to its fullest. I was going through a lot of uncomfortable personal issues that made the timing of the trip less than ideal, but the temple stay is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever had the chance to do abroad. [So far!]
I ended up traveling with a girl I’d never met before named Gyungbaek, the daughter of my dad’s former business associate. (After Korea, she came back to Cali with me and I showed her some of LA.)
I’ll try to refrain from talking about that entire experience here, though! Basically, there was a schedule of activities for temple-goers to participate in that spanned around the clock—and on the first night we arrived, for the evening workout, some of the younger monks were handing out gloves and sparring with us.
I’ve practiced various forms of martial arts and self defense over the years. The trainees there practiced Sunmudo, a Korean Buddhist martial art that I would practice extensively over the next month.
However, at the time, I had just set up the room I’d be sharing with my new friend for the next month, and I was more than a bit cranky from the one hour drive up into the mountains and all of that personal drama. When one of the monks asked for volunteers, I put myself forward.
The game was this: lands three hits to win.
The minute I dropped into fighting stance, there was an audible gasp from the kids sitting on the sidelines and swatting mosquitoes away from their legs. The monk supervising shouted for me to feint for the face and then punch him in the gut.
My opponent was a soft-faced man in his early-twenties who seemed to think that it was a hilarious that a twiggy fifteen-year-old girl was his opponent, but the smile quickly dropped off his face when I started throwing hits and chasing him across the deck we were using as a ring.
Before long, he was basically running away from me while I took out all of my pent-up rage on him.
My third successful hit clipped the side of his jaw as he ducked, and I was proudly declared the winner, with the grand prize of a rare, non-vegan ice cream treat for me and my friend. It was the first time I’d felt good about myself since my break started, even if I had scared most of the Korean high schoolers watching into submission, and it was a killer start to a month of the temple life.