Have you ever wanted to see the Korean Top Team Gym in Seoul, Korea, home to the likes of The Korean Zombie, Chan-Sung Jung & Dongi Yang? Well I have too so when I had an opportunity to head to Seoul in March, I made sure to make plans to drop into the internationally known gym.
In making plans, the first thing I did was try to google map the location of the gym so I could book hotels in the general vicinity. When I googled in english, try as I could I couldn't find out WHERE the gym was located. So I reached out to the Korean Zombie's manager, Brian Rhee for some help. He helped me to find a suitable hotel close to the gym; I would arrive there on Monday after I went to Road FC and spent sunday with the Kangs; Denis was out there to corner Tommy Kang in his first MMA fight, and Julien Kang and Mr Kang live in Seoul.
Brian picked me up on Monday morning from the Road FC Fight hotel and took me over to Yeongdeungpo-gu, the district where both my hotel and Korean Top Team were located. I had already been in Korea a couple days and by then I was comfortable with Korean Currency, the Won, and had already been shopping in one of the biggest markets in the city. The weather was quite cold and overcast which I was only somewhat prepared for.
I checked into my hotel and we grabbed some bulgogi for lunch before heading toward the gym. Afternoon Pro Practice started at 3pm and we pulled up a few minutes prior; Brian parked directly on the sidewalk which I was beginning to see was a common practice in Seoul. We descended a level below the streets and I took off my shoes in the foyer before stepping into the team's brand new facilities.
The 5000sq foot location was only a few months old for the team by then and apparently was a huge change from the old location they had brought up their fighters in. The mats were brand new, as well as all the workout and training equipment that lined the outer part of the gym. They have a wall lined with treadmills, and a row of heavy bags that separate the mat area from the weights and exercise equipment.
Chan-Sung Jung was already there by the time I arrived. Apparently he spends most of his time there at the gym. His greeting is always with a hello, a hug and a big smile for me. A short amount of small talk and then the extent of our communication ends there. His english understanding is coming along, but I know no Korean at all! The guys on the pro team started arriving not long after me and coach Ha introduced me to the team and let them know I was there to shoot photos that day.
Pratice got underway and I started shooting photos as they warmed up and ran strength and conditioning drills. Their drills were a lot different than I had seen in other gyms as they used each other to run them. They ran circles around the gym and each drill involved crawling, hurdling, and jumping over or under the next. They ran these drills in circles around the gym.
In the next hour or so, the guys each wrapped their hands and then held pads for each other. This segued into sparring where the guys used headgear that protects slightly different than the ones guys use in the states. The fighters sparred until about 5:30pm. To finish off their training for the day, they progressed into doing a few crossfit style exercises and then finished by stretching out. The full propractice lasted over 3 hours.
After I shot a group photo of the team, their laundry was brought in and dumped in the middle of the group where they sifted through and found their own items. The have laundry service that takes care of their work out gear for them.
Now when I arrived in Korea, I had received a Facebook message from Sergeant Bradley Cannon. I had met him at Fort Hood in Killeen,TX where he was involved in training the Army Combatives team. Turns out he had been stationed out at Camp Red Cloud to initiate the Army Combatives training in Seoul. He made plans to take a train into the city to meet me at KTT as soon as work was done for the day.
Brad, Yazmary Franco, and Henry Hall from his unit came and joined us as we were heading to the chinese restaurant located 2 stories above the gym. My Instructions to them on how to find the gym? Get off the train at the Daerim Station, exit 11. Go straight out the exit about half a block and the gym and restaurant would be on the right. I had learned that normal addresses don't work quite the same in Korea.
Our group included both coaches, Brian Rhee, Korean Zombie, Dongi Yang, and one of the team's welter weight up and comers, Hyun Gyu Lim, as well as myself and the three american soldiers. We enjoyed translated conversation over a delicious and enjoyable meal. It was a treat to have the friends I had made in Killeen join us, and they were thrilled to meet Zombie and Dongi.
We headed back down to the gym where the normal classes had started. My friends grabbed some training clothes that the gym has available for their members and joined the classes on the mat. All the while, Chang Sung Jung had headed over to the weights area and begun training some more.
It was close to 9pm by the time I wrapped up my visit to Korean Top Team. Zombie and Dongi had been there from the time I got there, to after I left. Between fight training, zombie's crossfit training outside of the gym, and his determination, we are sure to see some exciting performances out of these two tonight. I appreciate the coaches, the team and Brian Rhee for welcoming me into their gym. If you're in Korea, make sure to follow my instructions on finding the gym!