19 October 2011

The Blue House

Me in front of the "Blue House"
Today I visited the Blue House—the official residency of the Head of State of the Republic of Korea. The Korean name for the Blue House is Cheongwadae 청와대, which literally translates to blue tiled pavilion, referring to the conspicuous aqua blue colour of the tiles of the Reception House (영빈관). While only three buildings, the Reception House and its two adjacent buildings, have blue tiles, the whole compound and a complex of official buildings are all collectively referred to as the Blue House.

The Reception Hall at the Blue House, with its two adjacent
buildings: "Choongmoo" and "Sejong".
ITF Taekwon-Do practitioners may find it interesting to know that the two buildings adjacent to the Reception House are named “Choong-Moo” and “Sejong”. There are two ITF patterns with the same names, referring to two illustrious historic Korean figures.

A statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin,
at Gwangwhamun Plaza, Seoul.
Choong-Moo, of course, refers to Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, the naval commander that protected Korea from attempted Japanese invasions during the Imjin War (1592-1598). Admiral Yi Sun-Shin's strategic naval defence was so ingenious that he even gained the respect of his enemies. The title of “Choong-Moo” was bestowed upon Admiral Yi Sun-Shin posthumously. The title has been given to only nine people—all known as “great generals” or Choongmoogong (충무공 / 忠武公). The hanja characters roughly translate as loyal-martial-male.

A statue of King Sejong the Great,
in Gwanghwamun Plaza, Seoul.
“Sejong” refers to King Sejong the Great (세종대왕 / 世宗大王). There are only two “Great Kings” in Korean history, King Sejong the Great and King Gwang-Gae To the Great. Both have ITF patterns named after them. Probably King Sejong's greatest contribution to Korea is the creation of Hangeul, the Korean phonetic alphabet. At the time of his reign in the early to middle 1400s most of East Asia, including Korea, used Chinese characters, which is actually a very difficult writing-reading system to acquire. It is said that one has to master around 4000 characters before you can read a Chinese newspaper. For this reason the literacy rate in Korea was terribly low as most peasants did not have the time and luxury to devote to the study of Chinese characters. King Sejong's introduction of Hangeul changed all that and brought literacy to the masses. Hangeul is an extremely easy alphabet. There is a Korean saying that a wise man can learn Hangeul in an afternoon, a fool can learn it in a week. King Sejong also contributed greatly to Korea's advancement in science, technology, literature and the arts.

Another martial art related thing at the Blue House is probably the awful incident that occurred in 1968. Thirty-one North Korean assassins infiltrated the Blue House, purposed to murder then President Park Chung-Hee. The commandos were highly skilled combatants, trained in various skills, including martial arts. During the ensuing conflict with Blue House security 28 of the 31 commandos were killed, one escaped and one was captured. South Korean casualties counted to 26 deaths and 66 wounded—mainly police and military, but also some civilians.

Kim Shin Jo, the North Korean commando that was
captured during the "Blue House Raid" of 1968.
The captured assassin, Kim Shin-Jo, is particularly intriguing from a martial art point of view. After his capture he was often forced to fight South Korean soldiers one-on-one. Much was learned about the hand-to-hand combat ability of North Korea's elite soldiers at the time. I plan to write something about Kim Shin-Jo and how his fighting against South Korean soldiers caused a reformation to the hand-to-hand combat trained by South Korea's special forces. It also gives us a strange glimpse into the possible changes that came into ITF Taekwon-Do when it was taken to North Korea.

Kim Shin-Jo, South Korean citizen and Christian pastor.

"I tried to kill the president. I was the enemy," Kim said. "But the South Korean people showed me sympathy and forgiveness. I was touched and moved." -- CNN Article
Some interesting facts about Kim Shin-Jo: he is still alive. He is around 70 years old and lives in South Korea as a South Korean citizen. He has converted to Christianity and is actually a pastor of a protestant church in Seoul. While the martial art connection interests me, I'm equally intrigued by the power of the Gospel: what an amazing power that can disarm a hardened killer at an intrinsic level, by changing his life, his way of thinking—turning hatred into mercy!


Ben said...

awesome post. good history lesson and interesting stuff! never made it onto the Blue House grounds myself, how was it?

SooShimKwan said...


It was quite restricted and very controlled. If you ever come back to Korea and plan to visit, be sure to book in advance. I think you need to indicate at least ten days in advance your intention to visit the Blue House.

Stuart said...

The power of gospel?
He was a soldier, not a sociopath (though the two are not mutually exclusive).
He was interrogated (deprogrammed? educated?) for a year, then set free in south Korea, having been raised in the most oppressed country on the planet. No hope of going home, and the rest of life to be lived in a land of opportunity, relatively speaking. Theres a lot more there than the ethereal power of gospel.

SooShimKwan said...

Hi, welcome Stuart!

I guess that's why they say don't talk about politics or religion--and this post touched somewhat on both... At least it got you to comment! ;-)

The "ethereal power of gospel" aside -- I don't think South Korea was such a happy place at the time. It was suffering under a dictator of its own, Park Chung-Hee (and would be followed up by yet another brutal one, Chun Doo-Hwan, before proper democracy was realised). Also, North Korea was economically better off at the time and ahead of the South with regards to infrastructure and technology. While South Korea was catching up under President Park's dictatorial leadership, which included serious freedom of speech restrictions and other human rights violations like torture, the country only really became a land of opportunity some time later.

And for the sake of 'authorities' reading my blog, I want to make it clear that given the choice between communist North Korea and democratic South Korea, my affinities lies definitely with the Republic of South Korea.