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Korea Travelogue: Our True Test – The Kukkiwon

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

Master Erica Linthorst and Master Doug Cook

After a splendid dinner of the finest Korean delicacies at The Korea House, we awake next day eager to get on with what we expect to be a very special day.

We see a bus poster “Korea Run Ahead” we move through the streets of Seoul toward today’s training. The sign is a testimony to the unrelenting determination of this country and its people to forge ahead and stand out among developing nations. With North Korea a mere 22 kilometers from where we are, there is good reason to become and stay strong, persevere diligently, and never give up.

We arrive at the awe-inspiring, world-renowned Kukkiwon. This huge arena plays center to the TKD world where amateur and elite alike meet throughout the year to train, to compete, and to test.

We, a small group of 20, now gather on one of the largest floors in the world to absorb the spirit of TKD and practice this art that has been passed down through generations and now boasts over 70 million practitioners of the form known as Koryo alone.

As we enter this illustrious site, preceding us today is the famed Kukkiwon Demo Team. It’s comprised of perhaps 20 twenty-somethings (only 2 of whom are female) who jump higher than you can imagine, break faster than you can blink – and all with uncanny precision. And that’s just the training session! Their stern director looks on and I think to myself that during their actual performance some of them may be nervous about forthcoming criticism at the end of their day. The quest for perfection is their daily grind and goal and they must live up to high expectations.

Training Instructor, Master Park, Erica Linthorst

Prior to departure, we gather on the steps outside to meet President Song, Bong Sup, President of the World TaeKwonDo Academy who has provided our training today and Kukkiwon President Won Sik Kang. We are ceremoniously honored to be awarded both a Training Certificate and Diploma. This has definitely topped off our day!

Grandmaster Richard Chun (NY, USA), Kukkiwon President Won Sik Kang, Erica Linthorst

Commentary from my fellow travelers includes:
  • “Just training here is so special.”
  • “The training is excellent especially when the master points out subtleties during our poomse practice. Retaining the corrections will be a huge task. Staying in that moment to also continue the form is an enormous hurdle.”
  • “It is so unusual to train with masters in our own group who are students side by side with us. That is an experience I truly appreciate.”
  • “It’s going to the heart – the essence of the art [in the Kukkiwon]. It’s really special to be where passion is expressed with such fervor.”
  • “It was fun – and I really like being corrected by the head instructor here.”
  • “The instructor is very planted; centered. The demo team is awesome.”

It is easy to draw a simple conclusion: if you practice TaeKwonDo then you must make this pilgrimage.

Korea Travelogue: Getting down to Business

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Master Erica Linthorst and Master Doug Cook

July 12, 2010 marks the beginning of our TKD immersion program. We board the bus at 8am to travel across Seoul to the International Kumgang TaeKwonDo Center run by Master Byeong Cheol (Ryan) An. As we walk down a few local market lanes to reach the dojangs we take in the sights and smells of the local area. While we’re distracted momentarily by the fresh fish displays and colorful, small markets, our feet move us toward a full training day. We’re ready!

Here we go: we’ve arrived at the dojang ready to give the session today our all. And Master An and his two assistants are well-prepared.

While the warm-ups already hved us sweating, combination kicking drills abound and are differentiated for black and color belts. This is definitely a no-discrimination lesson, with challenges for all!

Poomse, sparring drills, and self-defense are also included in the program and by the end of the morning and afternoon sessions (totaling about 7 hours), there is not a dry spot on any piece of clothing to be found. Corrections are many – based on 2010 WTF rules and applications so our learning curve is quite high and greatly appreciated. It seems that no matter how many classes a week, month, or year one attends, there is nothing just like the experience of being “on-site” in Korea where decisions are made that affect our TKD lives. (That is said with utmost respect for all our masters and instructors who strive to provide us stimulating curricula with sincerity and dedication each and every day.)

Lunch is extraordinarily special – not only because it is delicious but also because the restaurant is owned by the famous actor, Kim Jong Kyul who actually stopped by our tables to make sure everything was in order. With a smile he allows us to take pictures with him!

We return to the dojangs replenished and refreshed. The afternoon session leaves us panting for air and truly spent – we’re exhausted and proud to have maintained the pace. So,as we bid farewell with generously gifted new doboks and great feelings of accomplishment, we straggle back to the bus for our return to the hotel – swimming and showers for all!

Fortunately, we have time for R&R before we had to travel once again, this time to The Korea House for a beautiful and large buffet of numerous Korean delicacies. This topped off a super day and left us tired and glowing with good feelings about Korea, TaeKwonDo, and the new sites and skills we were able to taken in and absorb this day.

Korea Travelogue: The Journey Begins

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

Master Erica Linthorst and Master Doug Cook
Photos:  Patty Cook

As the clock ticks down to the next day, fatigue sets in on top of the excitement.  Where else but at a major airport would you find a group of travelers readying for a 12:50am (yes – that’s morning!) departure?  We’re sitting, waiting, pacing at JFK airport.

Who are we?  None other than eager and avid TaeKwonDo students about to embark together on the journey of a lifetime.  We stand out among other voyagers as we wear training suits boldly proclaiming the Chosun TaeKwonDo Academy Korea 2010 Training Camp.

As we fly through the night crossing time zones the sky lightens, darkens then saves the best for our early morning arrival in Seoul: sunrise over the Land of the Morning Calm once we have landed.  Naturally, arriving at 3:30 in the morning has its own sets of issues but we address them with good cheer, looking forward to the rest of what will be one of the longest days of our lives (minus melodrama).

First stop:  Cheongyecheon, the lovely stream faithfully recreated yet with a modern twist from the terrible slum it had become following the Korean Conflict.  It runs through the center of Seoul where the waters from Namsan, Inwagsan, and Bukansan mountains flow peacefully offering the casual stroller a refreshing, reflective time out from the bustling city life shared with 10 million people.

Next, we’re off to the famed Blue House, equivalent of the USA White House.
The fabulous backdrop, Pukak Mountain, rises to protect the country leader.  Tired though we are, now we’ve been re-reinvigorated and begin the inevitable TKD warm-ups so we can practice some forms.

Cultural immersion continues when we pass through the gates to Geongbokung Palace where we will also visit the National Museum.  It is amazing to think that kings and queens, emperors and empresses have walked these same paths and lived their daily and political lives here where we are today.  The outstanding displays and dioramas illustrate the history and traditional lifestyles of Korea of old.

    We begin to lag but it is not yet time for check in so we break for lunch.  The trip is now over 30 hours underway, we haven’t slept but eating is one way of propelling us through this very long day.  Finally, check-in and dinner bring day #1to an end.  Bedtime now to prepare for the full day of training that lies ahead.

And, in this corner..Eleni Koutsilianos visited

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Erica Linthorst

I found  heavily-medaled, Eleni Koutsilianos, somewhat unexpectedly, in a small ethnic corner of (Astoria) Queens, NY, where Opa! Opa! Restaurant is practically across the street from Taiwan Union Christian Church.  Now, she is working quietly in the fitness industry.  This almost- 23 year old has a noteworthy and lengthy TaeKwonDo resume to rival many others.  Her credentials, in short are

Competition Record

2008  U.S. Open (Bantam): SILVER

2007  Sr. National Team Trials (Bantam): 1st

2006  Pan Am Championships (Bantam): GOLD

2006  German Open (Bantam): SILVER

2006  Dutch Open (Bantam): BRONZE

2006  Sr. National Team Trials (Bantam): 1st

2006  U.S. Open (Bantam): GOLD
2005  British Open (Bantam): GOLD

2005  U.S. Senior Nationals (Bantam): GOLD

2005  World University Games Trials (Bantam): GOLD

2005  U.S. National Team Member

2005  U.S. Open (Bantam): GOLD

2005  U.S. National Team Trials (Bantam): 1st
2004  U.S. Senior Nationals (Bantam): GOLD

2004  Pan Am Championships (Feather): GOLD

2004  U.S. Open Jr. and Sr.: GOLD

2004  German Open: GOLD

2004  Junior Olympics: GOLD

2004  Belgian Open: BRONZE

2004  Jr. Team Trials: GOLD

2004  Canadian Open: GOLD
2003  U.S. Senior Nationals (Fly): GOLD

2003  Team Trials: BRONZE


    With teammates at Pan Ams (right;  third from right kneeling)

We spoke frankly about her personal development, training, and mind-set about her life.  As a child, this charming young woman was a determined fighter – learning first from a neighborhood friend then going on to train seriously with her first coach, Master Jin Suh.  (She would later train with Master Peter Bardastos.) After her early preparation and tournament rounds, she was ready to take it to the next level and went to Texas to train with the world-renowned Lopez family.

Competition was high within that circle but she remained determined and was inspired to train harder than ever and perform in larger world arenas.

I asked her which, among all her training and competing trips had been her favorite and she said, “It has to be France because we had a great exchange there with other TKD groups.  I found we trained harder, but together we had a lot of fun.”  There was also a worst trip recollection:  “It was Thailand; my first World Cup fight.  I was only 16.  I was sure the fight was mine but in the last second, my opponent was declared the winner.”  I wondered how that affected her.  Eleni said “I just got back in the ring [in training] and re-applied myself.  It was important to lose because I became stronger as a result of that experience.”

When she looks back, she concludes that although she entered the competitive circuit when she was about 12 years old with complete family support, it was not until a few years later that she began to understand strategy and learn how to control a fight.

Looking forward, Eleni sees dance in her future and would like to do it professionally.  She continues, “Who knows?  Maybe I’ll find a way to combine TKD and dance in the future.”  With a twinkle in her eye as a little smile creeps onto her face, she reflects on the upcoming National Trials and says – “The only thing missing for me is being in the Olympics.”  So – keep your eyes open…who knows who or what is right around the corner?!

TaeKwonDo – In Good Form

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Erica Linthorst

Many people have many questions before embarking on the martial arts journey.
One of the big concerns that may arise has to do with the anatomical wisdom of such an undertaking – what participation could possibly or is likely to do for one’s health, fitness, and general well-being.

I had the privilege recently of consulting a friend and fellow-traveler of mine about just these issues.  Dr. Kathleen M. Favaloro of Great Barrington, MA. has some impressive credentials. She is both a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) and Physical Therapist (P.T.), in addition to being a black belt in TaeKwonDo.


From her professional perspective she sees “grace and balance come into previously uncoordinated and flailing extremities.”  From a personal standpoint she states:  “TaeKwonDo has helped me to achieve physical strength and flexibility, as well as better joint stability.”  Most astoundingly, what she is referring to in herself is a long history of a broken neck (2 times), broken ribs, and a broken back in several places plus a broken tailbone.  All these incidents occurred prior to her initiation into TKD which she entered into gingerly yet trustingly with her Master Thomas Brown, 5th dan (owner and Master Instructor at the Martial Arts Institute of the Berkshires).  After so many previous physical set-backs she joined his dojang because she “felt safe” with him.  She was rewarded with the confidence and compassion he exuded while cheering her on.  Initially, Master Brown modified every part of his program to accommodate her (then) limited abilities while helping her build strength, endurance, and agility.

Having undergone numerous days, months, and years of therapy herself, she was determined to overcome those obstacles that loomed extra large on her horizon.  For her 1st dan test she wrote the following:  “It has been a long, rocky and somewhat difficult road back to wellness [for me} but thanks to [my] determination, and the patience and many long hours of instruction from Master Brown…[I am] here today to fulfill [my] lifelong goal of becoming a Black Belt.”

Personal goals and reflections aside, as a professional she states that as more and more adults over 30, 40, and 50 become involved in action-oriented endeavors, she would highly recommend TaeKwonDo as a means of regaining and preserving strength, flexibility, endurance, and overall wellness.  She states: “It’s good for focus, concentration, memory, and cardiovascular conditioning as well as balance, coordination, and posture.”  She goes so far as to favor it over yoga  which she feels is too slow and often focused more on stretching than strengthening.”  She stresses that both youth and adults benefit in the same ways from the practice and generally sees “growth in every aspect of the future of TaeKwonDo.”

For more information:  Dr. Kathleen Favaloro, D.C., P.T. can be reached at 413-528-5535. You may also contact her directly at  or go to her website

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