Wayguk Fighter – Korean Super Kids
The Club I train at in Korea is well known for producing some top notch notch jiu jitsu players, MMA fighters and kickboxers. At the same time there is a huge number of people who train recreationally. Daegu MMA has members as young as 13 and as old as 55. While this isn’t any different than most clubs, the difference in how they train is surprising. Everyone, regardless of age, gender or experience trains together all the time. There are no “advanced” classes and no “Beginner” classes, even though there’s more than enough people in both categories to make it happen. When it’s time to spar, you spar against everybody, regardless of disparities in ability or experience. The thinking is that this allows more experienced fighters to work on new skills in a live situation and gives less experienced members an idea of of what higher level jiu jitsu looks and feels like. There are always enough people around that despite a few skill mismatches, you can always get a good competitive sparring session with people of your own level.
This attitude towards training has created an interesting phenomenon that I call the “Korean Super Kids”.
In Korea, kids go to school all day and when school is over they go to another school. And then another school. And another. These private schools are known as “Hagwans” and could be for subjects as diverse as Math, English, Art, Music, Sports or Science. Many of the kids I teach attend five or more different schools throughout the course of a week. Downtime does not exist for Korean kids, as parents feel that kids should always be doing something productive. For many Korean parents who work late every night (the Korean work ethic is phenomenal to say the least), Hagwans act as a daycare with the added benefit of their kids actually learning something.
For a few kids, Daegu MMA is their Hagwan. There are four or five kids who show up pretty much everyday after school between six and seven o’clock and stay until nine, ten, eleven, or sometimes twelve o’clock. The number of hours these kids spend at Daegu MMA is staggering. It’s their playground, their school, their social life and their home away from home. They love it and, not surprisingly, these kids are damn good; hence the name “Super Kids”.
These kids aren’t training %100 of the time that they’re at the gym, but they train as much or more than a lot of pro fighters. When they aren’t training they are often working out, watching fight videos, talking about fighting or watching other fighters train. These kids train everyday with a stable of pro fighters with fantastic skills. They get personalized coaching on a daily basis from elite jiu jitsu players, kickboxers and MMA fighters. The older fighters recognize that these youngsters are the next generation of Daegu MMA fighters and give freely of their time to help the young guys with whatever they’re working on. Of course the older fighters always take the time during sparring sessions to remind the super kids where they stand in the pecking order of the gym.
From the standpoint of athlete development, there is no better time to learn fundamental physical skills than when you are young. The technical skills that these kids have already developed is exceptional. They’re technical skill, especially on the ground is already on par with many of the older fighters. I’m a little bit glad that I’ll be long gone from Daegu MMA when their physical maturity catches up with their technical ability. On the other hand it would awesome to stick around and watch these kids mature as athletes and fighters.
I am sure that they do not realize the unique opportunity or situation that they have been put in, but the super kids are certainly laying the groundwork for long careers in any of the major combat sports.
Despite the unique opportunity to train and learn at such a high level while so young, their love of the fight game and their desire to become fighters, there are a few things that could potentially derail the super kids fight train.
1) Mandatory Military Service: Every Korean man must serve a mandatory 2 year stint in one of the military branches. This service comes either right after highschool or after two years of University. Either way it takes two full training years away from athletes who are just coming into the prime of their athletic careers. Many promising athletes have gone away to serve their country and never returned to the sport they showed so much promise in. This is a major obstacle for Korean male athletes in all sports.
2) Lack of Opportunities: A few years ago there were tonnes of opportunities for Korean fighters to test their mettle in their own country. Organizations like MARS, K1 Heroes, High 5 and Spirit MC had multiple tiered amateur leagues as well as semi-pro and pro events that brought fighters up through the ranks progressively instead of throwing them to the wolves. There was even a show called “Super Korean” which was much like “The Ultimate Fighter”. The show, along with all of the organizations I mentioned, imploded, leaving travel to other countries as the only option for fighting. Rumors of Spirit MC’s resurrection and a few new organizations are giving a little bit of hope that more fight opportunities might be around the corner.
Despite the hurdles in their way, I’m confident in saying that we’ll be seeing and hearing from some of these Korean super kids in the not so distant future. I fully expect some of these athletes to make their way through the smaller Asian shows, into the mid-major shows such as DEEP and SHOOTO and eventually into the larger organizations like Sengoku and DREAM. And when they do, I’ll show everyone the link to this page and say “I told you so.”
Some Korean Super Kids in Action