One of the things I loved about Korea were the temple stays. I had participated once before at Sudeoksa when I was still living there, but I wanted my friends to experience it too. After a bit of research, I encountered Golgulsa, a temple in which also hosts a sunmudo school, a type of meditative martial arts. I was psyched!
Once we arrived in Gyeongju, we took a taxi straight to Golgulsa and 40 minutes later, we were there. We got settled in and we were assigned a room as well as a set of clothes.
I would like to add that I love the temple stay outfits they lend you – I especially love the pants. They’re formless, overly large, gives you a “pouch” in your lower abdomen from all the excess cloth, and it feels as if you’re wearing nothing, but they’re amazing! Anyway, after a bit of a ‘walk’ up the road, we arrived just in time for archery.
Archery is a skill that I have never mastered, beginning with my first exposure to it at the Renaissance Festival in middle school and now. I was great at shooting my arrow into the hill, but then we had to go up this treacherous hill to retrieve them. Here, we were exposed to the other temple stay members, though they were all long-term and most of them were from Europe – predominately Germany. After an hour of basic training, shooting, and retrieving, it was time to do the ‘chores’ except they had enough people to complete the chores so us short-term people were given time off to do what we wanted while nursing our practice wounds; bruised forearms, skinned knuckles…
During our exploration up a steep road, we met the cutest dog and found that there was to be a sunmudo demonstration, which we all decided to attend. After all, we wanted to know exactly what kind of training we were going to be subjected to later that day.
Before I move on, yes, that banner is declaring that Dokdo, the disputed island between Japan and Korea, is Korea’s. The demonstration itself was pretty cool. There were the exciting moves but it was also a lot about control and flexibility. I always liked the idea of monk warriors.
Afterwards, we finally headed to our official orientation. Here, we were given the 411 on what was expected from us and what we should expect from training and prayers as well as the correct way to bow. Directly following this, we had dinner, a short break, then sunmudo training for 90 minutes before bed. The training itself was fun and challenging, but my previous taekwondo training prepared me for most of the moves. It actually made me miss taekwondo again and I suddenly wanted to take it up. However, sunmudo is truly a mixture of different martial arts: yoga, taichi, and your usual blocks, punches, and kicks.
And so ended our first day there. The next morning, we woke up at 3AM to get ready to arrive at the prayer hall by 4:30 for the morning chanting.
I’ve been to a temple stay once before, but there, we weren’t told what to chant – we were just told to bow when the others bowed. At Golgulsa, we were given books and even romanised chants to follow and chant along as well as bow, which I loved. It was as if we were truly living life out on a temple and not only visiting to get a mere taste, though that was exactly what we were doing.
Afterwards, we did a series of meditation – walking meditation. In a sense, it was sort of like a morning walk… an early morning walk where you could barely see the person just 2 feet ahead of you and up and down these steep roads with barely any light to light the way. Not to mention how chilly it was up in the mountains. At the end, we had a small stretching exercise before we were dismissed.
After that, we had breakfast and a small break – just enough for a nap. Waking up at 3AM doesn’t really do it for me… and it was great that we had time to try to get more sleep. Then it was time for our second 90-minute training session. The morning session, however, is based on forms and actions that are more slow going like stretches and yoga/taichi. It was interesting and I did stretch myself out thoroughly, but I admit I like the more rigorous moves.
Once we finished, we had a small break before doing the 108 bows outside. That was interesting, but I greatly regretted it when my mat was situated right under the sun. They also prepared a translated note for exactly what each of the 108 bows represented. I honestly want a copy of it; perhaps I will try to get in contact with them to get one. My legs definitely got a work out with the constant bowing, one after the other. I didn’t allow myself to stop and the automatic movements helped pass the time fairly well.
By this point, we were nearing the end of our stay, but we had enough time to watch one more sunmudo performance before catching lunch and packing up. Following the demonstration, a quick photo op, and a ‘run’ down the steep road down towards the cafeteria (at one point one of the teachers Gangnam-styled his way down but following a much faster rhythm), we were eating and next thing you know, we had grabbed our things for the next leg of our adventure – and the last part of my friend’s trip.
I was seriously tempted to stay at the temple for longer and the other temple stay participants (and the trouble students present that were signed up by their schools – Korean version of boot camp for juvenile delinquents, perhaps?)… perhaps a week or even a month! Interestingly enough, though, the food served here does include onion and garlic, but they were rather accommodating by bringing out additional food from the back that lacked those ingredients. I was always more partial to life outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.