Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Apartment

I've been neglecting my blog for the last couple of weeks, because I have been in the processes of moving.  The process of renting an apartment here in Korea is so different from any other other place I have lived, that I just had to write about it.

In the U.S. and Europe, you find an apartment usually on-line (I found my last apartment onCraig's List), by word of mouth, or you can simply visit the office of the apartment building you want to rent to see if there are any vacancies.

                                         My old apartment in Austin, TX

You pay a deposit, anywhere from $300.00 to $1,000, pay your first month's rent, and voila, you move in.

    View outside my room in Chaumont, France

Here in Korea, the process is a bit different.  First, you have to find an a place you interested in.  A friend of mine told me that he found his place on a website on the internet.  I called a couple of places that had some pictures of some properties that I was interested in, but quickly learned that this is pretty much futile.  Most places post pictures of nice places, but once you show up to look at the place, they take you to a completely different place.  They use pictures of  nice places to get you in the door, and then show you a dump that they are trying to unload.   I got the typical, “Well, there isn't anything nicer than this...”.

The next option was visiting a boo dong san (부동산) or leasing office.  There are literally five or six  on every corner here.  A lot of places used the same tactic as the internet sites.  Posting places on their windows, but when you go in they don't have the place you want, just an apartment that looks like a toilet.

Finally, I realized that the way to go is to find an apartment building in a neighborhood you like, and then visit a boo dong san that will have properties in that building.

                               My new apartment

Here is where it gets interesting.  Almost everywhere you rent will require something called a key money deposit and monthly rent.  The lowest key money I have seen is three million Won (about $2,260).  For that money, expect a very small efficiency in an pretty old building.  If you want anything half way decent in a fairly new building, expect to pay between fifteen to fifty million Won ($14,000-$47,000) plus monthly rent. The higher the key money, the lower the monthly rent.  There is also something called jun sae (전세), where you pay anywhere from one hundred to three hundred million Won ($95,000-$290,000) and then don't pay rent for the entire year.  Yeah, read all that again.  It's not a typo.  Here in Busan, we are lucky.  I have heard from many Koreans that property prices in Seoul are astronomically high, and that many young, married couples and young professionals have a really hard time finding anything remotely reasonable.  

The building owner takes your key money and invests it.  When you move out, they give you your key money back.  If it makes you nervous handing over $20,000 dollars just to rent an apartment, don't worry.  You can go to the local district gu (구) office and get insurance called a  hwak jung il ja (확정일자) that insures your key money up to a certain amount in case the landowner can't pay you back.  In Busan, you are insured up to seventeen million won.  You should also check your landlord's equity and make sure that he/she hasn't borrowed more than eighty percent of the total cost of the property.  Some people try to let a place, then declare bankruptcy.

Just like you, I was left scratching my head trying to figure out the logic of all of this.  Not to mention, there are a lot of fake realtors, who try to pass themselves off as realtors and cheat you (you can check at your local neighborhood office and see if your realtor is licensed).

My employer was gracious enough to put up part of my key money, and I paid the rest.  In the end, I was able to find an awesome place in a neighborhood not too far away from my old place.

                               View outside my living room-27th floor

One of the great things about my new neighborhood is that I practically live right across the street from one of the nicest bath houses I have ever been to (here and in Japan) and about ten minutes from a beautiful mountain that is great for hiking.  Now if I can just get my A/C problem taken care of...Here are some pictures of my neighborhood.

                               Beer garden

                                         A couple of izakayas

                                                   Cow intestine restaurant in case I get hungry

                               Street food stalls across the street from Heoshimchung bathhouse

 I like this statue.  You should, too.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


About a month ago, I tore my MCL.  It was a freak accident.  Someone was holding my foot, I twisted the wrong way and...pop.  The first thing I thought about was the pain.   Like any sane person, the second thought that immediately went through my mind was...How long am I going to be out from BJJ?

I hobbled my way back home that night, but the next day I couldn't walk without assistance.  I was pretty scared, because even though I  have injured both knees pretty bad in the past, I have never hurt myself to the point where I couldn't walk.  I took a taxi to the hospital.  Four hours, one giant sized needle injected straight into my knee, and one HIV test later (it's a long story), the doctor told me to come back on Monday for a MRI.

                                         Look, a real Korean hospital...wow!

On Monday, I showed up to see the doctor, and he tells me that I have a level 1 MCL tear.  The good news is that I  didn't need surgery or an expensive MRI.  A wave of relief rushed over me.  It wasn't as serious as I had thought.  My immediate response was, “When can I start training again”?  He just gave me a deadpan look and started laughing.    He said it would be awhile before I could start training again.  Then he hooked my leg up to some funny gadget that tickled.

                                                   Behold...my leg

“Who do these doctors think they are”? I thought.  With their fancy medical jargon, modern science, and nice hair cuts.   In my four plus years of training, I have never gone more than a week or two without training.  I was pretty depressed.

This last month I've still been going to my gym to do weight training (which the doctor said was okay).  After about a week and a half I started to doing the stationary bike, so I could keep my cardio up.  After about three weeks, I started drilling very lightly.  No sparring though.

                                                   My training partner for the last month

This week, my leg has been feeling pretty good, although I am going to be extra careful not to push it too hard.  I had good training sessions and hopefully I will be 100% soon.

                               Monday night gi class

                               Thursday night no gi


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DOM belt

So, my instructor has been using a Judo belt ever since he got promoted to black belt.  I decided to surprise him, and buy him a DOM belt as a present.  All our belts have our school name in Hanja (old Korean characters based on Chinese writing) embroidered on them.

                                                   My belt

I decided  to take a trip to Gukje market in Nampo-dong (a big international market) to see if I could find a ja soo sil (an embroiderer) 자수실 to sew the Hanja characters on some belts.  Gukje is a huge market place where you can find anything from Cuban cigars to boiled pig′s feet.   I got off at Nampo-dong subway station and met my friend Meung.

                                            Gukje Market

  Meung was feeling shy that day and didn′t feel like taking any pictures...

We wandered around the market for about an hour, but didn′t have any luck finding anything.  Everything was closed since it was Sunday.  I should have known better anyway.  By chance, we  ran into one of the blue belts from the gym.

 The next day, I decided to try and find something closer to my house.  I live near Pusan National University, and I figured I could find something easily.  I went to a couple of places, but they said they couldn′t do it.  I finally found a  ja soo that was willing to try.

Busan is quite well known for it′s unique dialect here in Korea.  Whereas the Seoul accent sounds a bit soft and poetic, the “Busan” accent is actually loud and abrasive.  People shout when they speak.  Sometimes, it may sound like two people are arguing when, in fact, they are just discussing the weather.    The ja soo was very nice, but informed me (in a Busan accent) that the belt was too thick, and that he wouldn't be able to do it.  He suggested that I try Busan-jin Market (부산진 시장).

I spent my morning at Busan-jin looking for a ja soo, but every place I went told me that the belt was too thick.  One ja soo decided to give it a go.

After about five minutes, he told me that...you guessed it, the belt was too thick.  I told him that I had been to several places and asked him if he knew a place that could do it.  He said that the thickness would be a problem no matter where I went.  If anyone is wondering a DOM belt is probably about two times the thickness of the belt you use.

                                         Original belt on top and DOM belt on the bottom

To be continued....

Update 9/29/12:  Neither my instructor, one of the guys at the gym, or I could find someone to embroider the Hanja onto the belts (too thick).  The belt is great, but I will probably end up ordering  another thinner gi material belt (maybe Killer Bee), so that I can put my team's name on it.     


Let's face it.  Good music makes rolling a lot more enjoyable.  It was hard narrowing down five artists that I prefer to listen to while I practice BJJ, but I was able to come up with a clear cut list.  It was kind of fun to do, especially since what I want to listen to when I am rolling is not exactly what I want to listen to at other times.  It was sort of similar to those, “If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you bring with you” questions.   In no particular order:

1.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

You Neanderthal...yeah, you!  Make your sparring session more uplifting and become cultured all at the same time!
                   2009 Christmas Eve Mozart concert at St. Stephens Cathedral-Vienna, Austria                    

    Schonbrunn Palace-Vienna, Austria

2.  Gang Starr/Guru

Practice BJJ while gaining knowledge.  It′s a win win situation.

3.  The Pixies

One of the most awesome sights I ever beheld at a concert was a bunch of middle aged, balding nerds head banging, fist pumping, and singing along to Crackity Jones (some with their little kids with them) in unison.

4.  Daft Punk

I remember putting Daft Punk on in the gym one time.  In between rolls, I stopped to look around and everyone was bobbing their heads in unison unconsciously.

5.  The Ramones 

No explanation necessary.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jean Cousteau-Achilles Catarata

“Hello, dear viewers and welcome to the amazing and exotic world of leg locks.  I am your host, Jean Cousteau.  I will be your guide and companion, and together we will explore places beyond your wildest imagination”.  

                                                    Jean Cousteau

“Today, we will examine a common, yet fascinating species:  ze' Achilles Catarata, commonly known as ze′  Ankle Lock.  With us today to study this fascinating beast is ADCC Asia Trials Champion Jeon Doo-gwang (전두광).  He is somewhat of an expert in ze′ field and has been working extensively for ze′ past six years cataloguing and gathering vital information”.

 “Come, let us delve further into this exquisite creature”.

1.  Leave no space between your arm and your opponent′s ankle.

2.  Keep your legs closed to control your opponent′s leg.

3.  Fall to your side

4.  Your elbow should be behind your back

5.  Touch your head to the mat and arch your back.  You should have to use very little power to finish.

*I like to grab the ankle first, then tighten my legs around my opponent′s leg.  I use my inside leg as a shield when I am on my side, so that my opponent can not stand up and grab the back of my head.

                                         Your host encountering the Achilles Catarata in the wild

“Make sure to tune in next time for more adventure.  Thank you dear viewers, and until next time, I bid thee a wonderful evening”.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Park Jun-young 박준영

Being the first person to achieve something that no one else has ever done is an amazing accomplishment.  Park Jun-young was the first Korean to be awarded a black belt in BJJ.  He has taught me a lot about BJJ and is the person who awarded me my purple belt.  Getting one from him meant a lot to me, and I really felt like I earned it through hard work and, of course, his guidance.

                                           Park Jun-young CBJJE Mundial-Brazil

Here’s an interview I did with him for an article in Busan Haps magazine:

Busan Haps: When did you start your BJJ training?
Park Jun-young: I started in 2002.
BH: Generally, it takes ten years to receive a black belt in BJJ. How long did it take to get yours?
PJY: It took me five years to get my black belt. I got it in 2008 from Roberto Tozi.
BH: Five years! That’s pretty quick. How did you get it so fast?
PJY: Well, most people have 9-5 jobs, but Jiu-Jitsu was basically my job. I trained everyday, six days a week, sometimes even seven, for hours and hours just like a real job. I was persistent.  
BH: When was the first time you went to Brazil?
PJY: The first time I went to Brazil was in 2005.

BH: So you were a foreigner living in a different country? What was the experience like?
PJY: When I went to Brazil, it was the first time I had ever been out of Korea, so it was pretty eye-opening. All I had ever known was Korean culture, and Brazilian culture is quite different.  
BH: What are some differences?
PJY: Well, the way younger people interact with elders is the biggest difference. Brazilians are very respectful, but it’s just different. Also, drivers in Brazil are crazier than in Korea if you can believe that.
BH: What did the Brazilians think of you at the competitions?
PJY: It was funny. I really stuck out. Many of the Brazilian guys looked at me and thought they’d just tear through me. That I’d be a cakewalk. I think people were a little surprised when I kept winning and submitting people. Everyone was very accepting and friendly though.  
BH: What is the best thing about Jiu-Jitsu?
PJY: Definitely the challenge. There are so many difficult aspects to Jiu-Jitsu. It also takes dedication to excel in this art.
BH: What is the most important thing you want to teach your students?
PJY: Well, training hard develops not only physical attributes, but mental ones as well. Things like discipline, respect, and humility. I also think keeping an open mind is important. Not only in the gym, but outside the gym as well. I hope that when I’m dead and gone, my name can live on in my students. Someday they’ll leave, and maybe open their own gyms.
BH: There are a lot of Koreans at the gym that do not speak English, and many of the expats (girls and guys) who train aren’t necessarily fluent in Korean. You speak both languages, but is this a problem when it comes to teaching?
PJY: No, not at all. BJJ is very hands on. I didn’t speak any Portuguese when I first went to Brazil, and I was able to understand my instructors perfectly. BJJ is really able to transcend language and cultural barriers. Also, we’re a family here, and everybody is treated with respect.  We’re not Korean, or American, or Canadian here, we’re all the same. Also, having foreigners train here is great, because we can share each other’s cultures.  
BH: What would you say to people, specifically foreigners, who want to start training BJJ, but are nervous?
PJY: Well, first and foremost, we’re all here to learn and help each other progress, not to hurt one another. Jiu-Jitsu is one of the few martial arts where we spar everyday, and you’ll be on the mat rolling (sparring) on your very first day. Being nervous is okay. Everyone is nervous the first day they start something new. For most people, BJJ is mind bogglingly hard at first, but it’s important not to give up and most importantly to have fun.  
BH: In North America, BJJ is well known because of the UFC. What do Koreans think of BJJ, and do you think it will grow here?
PJY: I definitely think BJJ will grow here in Busan and in Korea. Wrestling, and of course Judo, are quite popular here and BJJ is very similar. Koreans also know about BJJ through MMA, and they like it. There is an MMA fighter from Busan who fights in the UFC named Kim Dong-huyn. He is undefeated. His trainer is actually a purple belt student of mine. Once Koreans latch onto something, it usually becomes an obsession, so that is a good thing if it involves Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu itself is addictive once you get into it.
BH: How does it feel being the first BJJ black belt from Korea?
PJY: It was amazing. I worked so hard to get my black belt. I was happy of my achievement, and very proud to represent Korea, however, I also felt, and still feel, pressure to always keep progressing, because people in the BJJ community here know who I am and expect me to perform well.  
BH: Okay last question. What’s the best thing about BJJ? The fame, the money, or the girls?
PJY: (Silence. Looks at interviewer like he’s stupid.)
BH: Thank you Park Jun-Young

So, those are the three black belts here in our little corner of the world.  Here are a couple of interesting pictures.

                                         Chae In-muk  third from right (white belt)

                                         Sung Hee-yong second from left, Park Jun-young third from left (as blue belts)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Won-sik Park & Submission DOSA X Black Mamba

I got two awesome new t-shirts today.

I guess people usually write a review or something when they post pictures of stuff.  Well, there′s holes cut out at the arms and neck, see.   This makes it easier to put on your body.  They also cover your body, too, so you can wear them outside and not be naked.  They are made out of a material called “cotton”, so they won′t be uncomfortable like the potato sacks you are used to wearing.  Finally, there are some neat designs on the front, so others can notice you and perhaps distinguish you from other people.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Germ Warfare

                                         War Memorial Museum-Seoul, South Korea

The Korean War lasted from June 25, 1950-July 27,1953.  I majored in history in college, and I am a huge WWI and WWII history buff.  If you don′t know about the Korean War (also called the Forgotten War), read up on it sometime.  It is a fascinating war and period of history.  The battle went back and forth, with both sides on the verge of defeat on more than one occasion.  Seoul changed hands no less than four times (if I recall correctly, it′s been over six years since I studied about it in depth in college), and the Soviets would disguise their fighter pilots in North Korean and Chinese uniforms when they went into battle.  It was also an opportunity for American and Soviet forces to test each other in conflict without actually having to officially go to war, and gave China the chance to assert its power and influence on the world stage.  My grandfather was a veteran and was actually stationed in Daegu during the conflict.

                                          My grandfather Raul Rivera during the war

Sometimes I forget that I am living in a country that is still at war.  An armistice was signed between the two countries but never a peace treaty, so technically the war never ended (although North Korea claims it won).It′s actually extremely safe here in Busan and Korea in general, but sometimes I will see something that makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

This gas mask case is located on one of the subway stops I take to get to BJJ.  I′m not sure how you are supposed to get it open in an emergency though, since it is locked and made out of Plexiglas.

Chae In-muk 채인묵

Over the last three years, I′ve had the honor and pleasure (and I sincerely mean those words) to train with Chae In-muk.  He is not only an amazing instructor, but he is also someone I look up to and try to emulate in my personal life.  Recently, he moved his gym to a  new location near Kyungsung University in Busan, and last week, opened up a second floor to his gym.  I believe that, generally, you get back from the world what you put into it.  The more negative energy you put out there, the more you will get back.  I don′t know if I′d necessarily call it Karma, but you get the idea.  My point is that I believe Chae′s success is largely contributed to the fact he is such a positive, genuinely kind person.  Here′s an interview with the coolest Zen Buddhist I′ve ever met.

                                         Brazil-2008 CBJJE Mundial  (brown belt division)

Interviewer:  When did you start training BJJ?

Chae In-muk:  I started in 2003

Interviewer:  How did you discover it?

Chae In-muk:  I got my hands on a VHS tape, called Death Match. *laughter*  It had UFC 1 on it.  I loved it.

Interviewer:  What are some changes that you have seen here in Korea over the years, regarding BJJ?

Chae In-muk:  Well, in the beginning there were no instructors to learn from.  Just John Frankl in Seoul.  In 2002, a man named Mr. Jung started teaching BJJ at Pusan National University.  He trained and earned a blue belt from Lee Hee-sung who was just a purple belt at the time (he is now a black belt under Axis).  He started teaching for free and called his club Conde Koma.    

Also, when we first started BJJ clubs here in Busan, we all trained MMA and BJJ together.  A lot of guys at our gym were fighters like Won-sik “Parky” Park, Heo Min-suk, and the Team MAD guys.

Interviewer:  How was it training under Mr. Jung?

Chae In-muk:  Well, he was a very nice guy, but a little crazy.  He was really into religion. I remember starting BJJ for the first time at his gym in my thirties.  The first day,  I was getting tapped by high school kids half my age.  

Interviewer:  You are not a big guy at all.  What advice would you give to smaller guys that train BJJ?

Chae In-muk:  I think small guys can do a lot of things bigger guys can′t.  For example, I think a small guy can stay in a ball more, and I think the concept of being in a ball is very important in BJJ.   Ultimately, BJJ is a challenge against yourself as much as it is a challenge against an opponent.  You are only limited by how much you practice, and how much you put into it.  Don′t worry about size.  It′s not like we have to roll against elephants and tigers.  You couldn′t win against one of those.  Remember, the big guy is only human and beatable.

Interviewer:  I′d like to talk a little about your Kung-fu background, because you are also a Kung-fu master.  Some people that have done traditional martial arts, later shun them when they discover BJJ, saying that they are useless.  I find it very interesting that you still really love Kung-fu and have a deep respect for it.  *There is a large collection of swords at the gym and, from time to time, I see Master Chae practicing with them.

Chae In-muk:  Yes, I still love Kung-fu.  I think it is beautiful, and I love the theory of Kung-fu and the tradition.  Although, I see a lot conservatism in it that I really don′t adhere to.  My Kung-fu instructor used to tell me to go to the cemetery here at night to sleep.  I was scared and didn′t want to do that, because there were wild boars running around there at night! *laughter*  He told me to do it, and to not to be scared. *more laughter*  It sounds funny, but this helped me formulate my ideas about self defense BJJ (and martial arts in general) and sport BJJ.  I see martial arts and sport BJJ co-existing as a Yin and Yang.  I see martial arts having inner quality that should be used to protect yourself, while sport BJJ has a more outward purpose that serves for people to have positive, social interactions with each other.

Interviewer:  Can you tell me about your MMA fight?

Chae In-muk:  Yeah, sure.  I had one MMA fight.  I had only about three months of BJJ experience, but Mr. Jung told me that I would win.  This was back in 2003.  I got knocked out in about a minute.  *laughter* My opponent was a famous American fighter from Hammer House.  I was about 60 kg at the time, and he was 80 kg.

Interviewer:  How many times have you been to Brazil?

Chae In-muk:  I have been to Brazil once.

Interviewer:  Where did you train and how was it?

Chae In-muk:  I trained in Sao Paulo at Barbosa Academy.  I was a brown belt at the time, and everyone was very friendly.  The only crazy thing was, was that there were so many black belts!  It was just an ocean of black belts, with maybe two or three white belts per class, and maybe four or five blue belts.

                                         Chae In-muk receiving his black belt from Barbosa

Interviewer:  Did you compete in Brazil?

Chae In-muk:  Yes, I competed in several competitions over there.  I did a few big tournaments, and one small local competition.  I won two gold medals, a bronze in absolute, and a bronze in an adult division.  

Interviewer:  A lot of guys get nervous before competitions, and have performance anxiety.  What advice would you give to guys that get nervous before competitions.  How do you relax?

Chae In-muk:  I don′t! *laughter*

Interviewer:  Thank you very much for taking the time out to do this interview.

Chae In-muk:  You′re welcome.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sung Hee-yong 성희용

Sung Hee-yong is one of three black belts here in Busan, Korea and one of my instructors.  He earned his black belt in 2009 from Marco Barbosa after about six years of training.

I sat down and did a video interview with him today, but I couldn′t get the video downloaded and edited correctly.  I′ve never edited anything before, and I felt like one of those primates from 2001:  A Space Odyssey seeing that monolith thing for the first time.

It′s really short, but it was the best I could do with the language barrier.  Anyway, hopefully it adds a little insight to those curious about BJJ here in Busan and Korea in general.  Next week, I will have a more in depth (and hopefully longer) interview with my other instructor.  Enjoy.

Interviewer:  I′m here with Sung Hee-yong, a black belt in BJJ and an instructor here at East Heaven White Mountain Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (동천백산).  When did you start training BJJ??

Sung Hee-yong:  I started BJJ in 2003.

Interviewer:  How did you become interested in BJJ?

Sung Hee-yong:  Well, back in 2003, I went to Seoul with a friend of mine who was a representative for Korea in Judo and an MMA fighter.  I am also a black belt in Judo.  When it was time to do ground work, he was able to dominate me using the guard.  I became instantly intrigued and decided that I wanted to learn more.

                                         2009 Campeonato Federacao

Interviewer:  How many times have you been to Brazil?

Sung Hee-yong:  I have been to Brazil three times.

Interviewer:  What level were you when you first went?

Sung Hee-yong:  I was a purple belt.

Interviewer:  Can you describe your style of BJJ and what techniques you like to use?

Sung Hee-yong:  Of course.  Well, I am a big guy.  I like to use my hip bone and upper body to create  pressure on my opponent to make them uncomfortable.  Also, I think that one of the most important things in BJJ is to create leverage whenever possible.  It′s one my philosophies.  Whenever I′m doing BJJ I′m always thinking of two things:  First, controlling my opponent′s neck, and, second, using my own body to create leverage to control and manipulate my opponent.

Interviewer:  Well, thank you very much Master Sung for taking the time out to do an interview today.

Sung Hee-yong:  You′re welcome.

                                         Sung Hee-yong receiving his black belt in Brazil