Choongho told them to wait before leaving. Maru and Bangjoo looked around while drinking the energy drink they were given. They were inside a container within the building that was set up to look like an office. On top of the door was the character 武 (Martial Arts) that was framed. There was a half-open cabinet in the corner, and there were various pieces of protective equipment inside.
“The ones that will take the test will arrive soon. You should look around until then.”
It seemed that the scheduled time had been delayed. They were led outside by Choongho. Right at that moment, a man rushed across the top of the mattress right in front of them. He drew a sharp arc in the air and curled himself up before landing on the ground with his right arm and shoulder and then rolled on the ground. Maru looked at the spot that the man jumped off from. It looked like he fell four meters at least.
Behind that, he saw a man standing on top of parallel bars. He was doing a handstand with his hands grabbing the bars, and he slowly rotated downwards as though climbing stairs. Whether he was a gymnastics athlete or a stuntman, he was amazing either way.
“So, I heard you did some sports,” Choongho asked Bangjoo.
Bangjoo replied that he did Taekwondo when he was young and that he was learning Judo right now.
“Then care to show me some falling techniques?”
When Choongho pointed at an empty mattress, Bangjoo stood on top of it.
“Show me the ones you’ve learned. Sideways, front, back, front-spin, and whatever else you have.”
While Bangjoo fired himself up and continued to fall onto the mattress, Maru walked away and approached the people that were in a group fight. They were acting out a group fight with rods that were made out of styrofoam. They signalled each other before violently rushing at each other and started to kick, punch and swing their rods at one another. When the one that looked like the main character punched, the opponent collapsed at just the right time. The gap between the fist and the skin of the opponent was so narrow that it looked like they were hitting each other for real. People started falling over one by one, and when the last one was thrown over the shoulder, all of the people on the ground stood up and dusted off their clothes.
Even though the motions looked very dynamic and violent, their breathing hadn’t wavered at all. They gathered around in a circle to exchange opinions before doing the same thing again. This time, the actions looked much sharper.
The action was like a fine mesh without any gaps. They swore at each other like they were fighting for real. Just then, one man covered his mouth and raised his hand. When Maru looked closely, he was bleeding. It looked like he cut his lips when he was ‘hit’ by the spinning crescent kick. After touching his lips for a while to see how it was, the man said he was okay before getting into position. Then, they resumed punching each other as though they had forgotten about the fear of injury.
“They’re good, aren’t they?”
Choongho had approached him. Maru could only nod his head. At this level, it was sufficient to be called art.
“The reason I set this place up is for people like them. You need to be taught to learn techniques. But there aren’t that many schools that teach such a subject so I had no choice but to make one myself.”
“You set up this place yourself?”
“I had a few colleagues. But now, they all became chubby men and quit, leaving only me left. Hey! Over there! Watch out for your hand.”
Choongho shouted at the man in front. The man replied ‘yes’ before moving again.
“They all look like they did some form of sports.”
“Some did sports, and some were just back alley thugs. Whatever the case may be, they are more adept at using their body than their brains. Of course, some of them came because they wanted to learn action acting for real. This is the only place in the country that teaches action rather than martial arts.”
Choongho’s eyes were filled with pride as he watched the people practice with his arms crossed.
“Is that a wire over there?”
“Yeah. Wanna try?”
At that moment, a man wearing wires floated into the air and spun twice before coming down.
“I don’t think I can do that.”
Choongho no longer said anything as though he was joking. Listening to the shouts from all around, Maru’s body heated up slightly. He liked sports, so he wanted to run around to his heart’s content whenever he came to places like this. After all, there was nothing more refreshing than moving around violently and getting some sweat out.
“I like how he doesn’t get scared.”
Choongho spoke as he looked at Bangjoo standing in front of the sandbag. Maru turned his gaze that way. Bangjoo kept looking at the sandbag. Then, he tapped the sandbag with his left hand twice before punching out with his right. After a low thud, Bangjoo turned around while shaking his right hand. From his expression, it looked like it was quite painful.
“It’s not foam inside.”
“This is not a diet gym after all. Hey, is your wrist okay? Oh, and also, you’ll rip your skin if you don’t punch with gloves on. Be careful.”
Bangjoo, who was standing afar, replied yes. He put on the gloves placed next to him and started hitting the sandbag again. His posture as he punched the sandbag that swayed around was a little awkward.
“Hey, you said you did boxing, right?”
“I just followed my father to the gym from time to time.”
“So you know what it’s like at least. Why don’t you try hitting it? There’s nothing to do until everyone else arrives, right?”
Choongho pushed his back. As he said, there was nothing to do until then so it wasn’t a bad idea to spend some time hitting the sandbag.
“Seonbae-nim. This is really hard. It looked really easy in the movies too.”
Bangjoo hit the sandbag once again. He stood with his feet parallel like when doing a straight punch and punched out with his right hand. The red sandbag made a low thudding noise again as it was pushed back. Maru caught the sandbag that returned from the rebound.
“You’re going to try?”
“It’s been quite a long time, so I don’t know if I can do it.”
He glanced back at Choongho, who was watching him, before getting the gloves from Bangjoo. As the gloves were made for practice purposes, it wasn’t that good. It had minimum protection against the skin. It was no different from taping.
He clenched his fist slightly. The sensation of leather being stretched out was quite good. Before his father became busy with work at the factory, he used to go with him to the boxing gym and practice together. Thinking about it now, his father’s punches were so smooth because he once aimed to be a pro boxer.
Maru did some boxing steps and did a full turn around the sandbag. The rhythm that he had forgotten about until now became vivid again. He thought that he should visit the boxing gym again when he had some time.
Although he hadn’t warmed up properly, he still did a light jab. Ever since his boxing teacher told him not to punch sandbags without warming up, he always warmed up before punching sandbags.
Thud, a quiet sensation spread out through his knuckles. It felt quite good. Then, the left hand. The left hand moved forward slowly until it reached the sandbag. He moved just a little further back. He did light jabs with his left hand and made a full turn around the sandbag once again. As he hadn’t hit sandbags in a long time, he wasn’t familiar with the distance.
When he got into a suitable distance, Maru started hopping in front of the sandbag. As he hopped, he calmed his breathing and punched out with his left hand again when his feet touched the ground.
Thud - he was still a little too close. His hand reached its target before his shoulders could drive enough power into his hands. He punched with his left hand again at the sandbag that was pushed back with a low sound. Tang. There was a decent sound this time. Maru thought of his figure in front of the sandbag before punching out again.
‘One, two, slip.’
Left, right, then a light duck. He followed the swaying sandbag with his eyes and sprung back from having ducked to the left with his waist and followed it up with a left hook and a right cross. Bang bang, this time, the sound was much more pleasing. He chased the sandbag that swayed backwards and ducked again. This time, he did a left jab and a right hook.
The rhythm slowly came back to him. His boxing teacher always told him that rhythm was important in boxing. He chased the sandbag with a right step. Then, he did a combo again. He hit the sandbag so that it wouldn’t start going in circles as he punched out. He started exerting more power into his hands. Maru smiled whenever he heard the leather popping sounds.
His breathing started quickening, and just as his knuckles were starting to ache, Maru stopped the sandbag before heaving a deep breath out.
“It’s quite fun to hit it after such a long time,” saying that, he turned around.
The first thing he saw was Choongho, who was smiling and nodding. He was saying ‘I knew it’ with a small voice. Bangjoo, who stood next to him, approached him and spoke,
“Seonbae-nim, you learned boxing? You were really good just now.”
“I’m just a beginner.”
Maru took off the gloves. The slight ache that remained in his hand and wrist made him smile. This sensation was what made him like boxing. This was what made him follow his dad to the gym.
“You didn’t just quit after a month or two,” Choongho spoke.
“You learned properly. I’m not a boxing expert so I can’t judge you properly, but your punches were really clean. Do you really not have any intentions to work under my wing? I think you’ll get used to stunts quite easily.”
“It’s just hitting a sandbag. I don’t have any talent.”
Just as he put down the gloves, some men entered the building. They all seemed to be students.
“Well then, let’s narrow people down then, shall I?”
Choongho signalled everyone to gather round. The students that just entered stood in front of Choongho. Maru and Bangjoo joined them.
“I don’t like dragging things out so I’ll get straight to the point. I’m going to pick a few of you here and meet the director. The director wants someone young who can do proper action so do your best. I’m going to have a look at your basic posture. There’s not much time so look carefully for now.”
Choongho called a man wearing black training clothes.
“I’m going to show you the basic choreography. Here, punch like this, and grab his collar. It won’t sound fun without any lines, so let’s go with ‘you bastard’ as the line.”
Choongho did a demonstration. He punched out at the right shoulder of the man in front of him. The man deflected Choongho’s punch with his left arm. At the same time, Choongho grabbed his collar and shouted ‘you bastard’. It was a short scene.
“The hit point is the right shoulder. You have to grab his collar violently. If you hesitate, then that’s the end. You have one round of practice and one real deal. Everyone got that?”
Choongho then proceeded to pick the student standing on the far right. The one that got picked came out without hesitation and greeted the man wearing training clothes.
“Then here I go.”
The student then tried doing the choreography that Choongho showed them. He approached the man, punched, and grabbed the man by the collar once his punch was deflected. After that round of practice, the student said he’d begin with a resolved face.
The student started running. Then, he punched out. His hand was pushed away. He took another step and grabbed the opponent’s collar. The acting was quite clean.
“Sangjin, good. Well then. Next.”
It seemed that Choongho was acquainted with everyone here. As soon as Choongho said next, another student stepped forward.
* * *
“Let’s go with that for now.”
Maru had a look at the students that looked disappointed as they were turned away. Five people didn’t pass Choongho’s test. Although everyone looked decent, it seemed that they weren’t up to Choongho’s standards.
“This time, it’s blocking then hitting.”
Choongho did a demonstration this time as well. The difficulty rose by quite a lot. The sequence went as such: punch, then block a rod from the side with both arms and then punch the person to the left.
The rightmost student stepped forward immediately. He didn’t make a mistake in the practice round, but he was late in blocking the rod in the real deal. There was a sound signal before the rod was swung, but he couldn’t block it due to having messed his steps up. The student made a disappointed expression after getting hit by the styrofoam and stepped back.
“Don’t feel down. I’m just looking at how you do.”
Next was Maru’s turn. His developed body and nervous systems handled the action without much difficulty. He punched and blocked just like the choreography.
Bangjoo passed without a hitch as well. He was someone who wasn’t scared of anything so he looked good with stunts. Like that, they did a few rounds of tests before around 10 people remained.
“Today, I focused on how bold you were in your actions and how much trust you had in your opponent. I can’t use people that can’t look at the opponent in the eyes when doing action scenes.”
Choongho took out his phone before calling someone up.
“Yes, then let’s do that. We’ll be eating dinner then, so come by whenever you want. Yes, director. Then see you later.”
Having finished his call, Choongho spoke.
“Why don’t we get some meat?”
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Translator is not knowledgeable about any martial arts, including boxing... so forgive me if any of it sounds awkward...