As Michael Jackson said, “I’m a lover; not a fighter.”

Yet, when you’re filming a TV show and the director tells you to get into the ring and battle a trained South Korean wrestler, you kinda have to say “yes.”

Local Ssireum wrestlers during a tournament in Yeonggwang-Gun, South Korea
Local Ssireum wrestlers during a tournament in Yeonggwang-Gun, South Korea

. . .

A Brief Intro to Ssireum Wrestling

Ssireum, also known as Korean wrestling, is the traditional national sport of South Korea.

To begin, each contestant locks their hands in their opponent’s belt (satba), which is wrapped around the waist and thigh.

The goal is to get your opponent’s body to hit the ground before yours does.

When done correctly, this folk wrestling style is intended to cause little or no harm to the wrestlers.

An advanced Ssireum takedown maneuver
An advanced Ssireum takedown maneuver

. . .

My Turn to Enter the Ring

My first opponent was a teen-aged South Korean wrestler.

We entered the ring, bowed, locked wrists in each other’s belts, smiled for the camera and waited for the whistle.

Jump. Sweep kick. Lean in. Try and pull his body up in the air. Use my considerable height difference to my advantage. We’re going down! Did I win?

The whistle blew and I was pretty sure that I had won. But alas, my knee hit the ground just before his, so the round went to my opponent.

My first round of Korean wrestling
My first round of Korean wrestling

. . .

Rounds 2 & 3

Traditional Ssireum matches follow a best-of-three system. So, I brushed the sand off, locked my wrists in my opponent’s belt and prepared for round 2.

Let him make the first move. Go left. Put my weight into it. Jump. Sweep. We’re going down. I think I actually won this one!

Yup. Round 2 was a victory for Team America: aka, me.

Time to lock wrists for the final battle.

Man, I’m getting tired. OK, one more round. This is for all the marbles. Do the same thing I did last time. This round is taking forever. I don’t know how much more I can do.

Hey, we’re falling. Did he trip? Did he let me win? Am I just that good? OMG, who cares; I won!!!

With the final whistle, I thrust my hands into the air in a sign of victory. I had won my first-ever South Korean wrestling match.

Laughter was a common sight during my first-ever South Korean wrestling match
Laughter was a common sight during my first-ever South Korean wrestling match

. . .

Now it’s Jesse’s Turn

Next up in the ring was my costar, Jesse, who fought a fierce three-round battle against a different Korean wrestler. His match-up didn’t go as well as mine.

. . .

Fighting My Costar

Jesse was a way better wrestler than the Korean I fought
Jesse was a way better wrestler than the Korean I fought

Exhausted from our previous matches, it came as no surprise when Jesse and I were ushered into the ring for one final battle versus each other.

As we locked wrists in each other’s belts, you could see the determination in our eyes.

Unfortunately for me, Jesse also had years of martial arts training to go with his determination.

Before I knew what happened, he won two rounds and it was over.

Or, I let him win. Because, um, I wanted us to leave the ring with one victory each. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Anyone buying that? :)

. . .

I really wanted to raise my hands in cheer for my moral victory after Jesse and my Korean wrestling battle.
I really wanted to raise my hands in cheer for my moral victory after Jesse and my Korean wrestling battle.

 . . .

Reflections on my Day as a Korean Wrestler

I was amazed at the pure adrenaline coursing through my veins during the match-ups.

Pretty much everyone in the crowd was smiling and laughing when Jesse and I were in the ring.

Falling on the sand cut up my legs.

I was sore for about three day after the match; good thing we had a filming break during that time.

While walking around town later, Jesse and I ran into our opponents. They had the biggest smiles on their face when they saw us and were super curious to learn what we were doing there.

While I’ll never forget my afternoon in a South Korean wrestling ring, I don’t ever need to do it again.

In case you were wondering, the wrestling match took place in the small seaside town of Yeonggwang Gun in South Jeolla Province during a traditional South Korean folk festival.

The day before, we attended an exorcism on a boat.

I love the traditional hat the ref wore.
I love the traditional hat the ref wore.

 . . .

Have you ever seen or participated in a wrestling match?

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