Tour Through Time: Stop 12: Sonjuk Bridge

After a brief 6 miles from the North-South Divide we arrive at Kaesong’s Sonjuk Bridge. This stone bridge was built in 1290, is 8.35m long and 3.36m wide. It was originally called the Sonji Bridge and is the assassination site of Jeong Mong-Ju.

Jeong Mong-Ju was born in Gyeongsang in 1337 during the Goryeo Dynasty. His pseudonym “Po-Eun” means “hidden treasure”. In 1350 when he was 23 he became a civil servant, passing his exams with the highest marks achievable. In 1367 at the age of 30 he taught Neo-Confucianism at the Gukjagam as well as holding his position in the government and being a servant of King U.

As King U had been placed on the throne by an anti-Ming group led by a High Government Official who had assassinated the former King, the Ming Dynasty became suspicious of the legitimacy of King U. 14 years into his reign the Ming established a command post in Northeast Korea which Goryeo saw as a threat. Soon a Ming envoy entered Goryeo and demanded a large area of territory be returned to them. General Choi-Yong convinced King U to send General Yi Seong-Gye and his army to attack the Ming’s, despite a previous government policy of never attacking neighbours. General Yi marched to meet the Ying but when he saw the size of the opposition he decided to turn them around. He marched back to the capital, stormed the palace, de-throned the King and banished General Choi-Yong. After using, exiling and murdering a couple of puppet Kings, he finally installed himself as King, thereby ending the Goryeo Dynasty and beginning the Joseon Dynasty.

Jeong Mong-Ju was fiercely loyal to the Goryeo Dynasty but King Yi Seong-Gye still thought highly of him. The King’s son, Yi Bang-Won, held a banquet for Jeong Mong-Ju to convince him to forget his loyalty to the former Dynasty. He recited a poem to him, saying “What if one goes this way, or that way? What if arrowroots of Mt. Mansu be tangled together? Tangled likewise, let us prosper for hundred years”. However, Jeong Mong-Ju replied “Though I may die and die again a hundred times, That my bones turn to dust, whether my soul remains or not, Ever loyal to my Lord, how can this red heart ever fade away?”.

Yi Bang-Won ordered his assassination, and on his way home from the banquet, on 4th April 1392, Jeong Mong-Ju was ambushed by five men and brutally murdered with an iron hammer. King Yi Seong-Gye is said to have lamented his death and rebuked his son for his actions because Jeong Mong-Ju was highly regarded by the common people

His death later came to symbolise unwavering loyalty. A brown spot on one of the stones is said to be his bloodstain and becomes red when it rains. Bamboo also grew at the site where he was killed. As “juk” is the Korean word for bamboo the bridge was renamed the Sonjuk Bridge and was closed to traffic in 1780 as a national monument. Over the years various other monuments have been erected near the bridge including two lion-turtles in the Pyonchung Pavillion opposite, one erected in 1740 by King Yeongjo and the other in 1872 by King Gojong, both housing a stone tablet (stele) upon its back.

We mark our arrival with 6 glute bridge variations before continuing 27 miles south to a burial site.

Tour Through Time: Stop 11: Kaesong Checkpoint

We have completed our 102 mile run along the North-South Divide and have reached the Westernmost checkpoint at Kaesong.

General Choi always dreamt of seeing his country reunited; despite being born in North Korea he always saw himself simply as “Korean” and deeply hoped that the Tae Kwon-Do he developed would play a part in Korea’s unification.

Pattern Tong Il was created in Malaysia in the early 1960’s as the final pattern of Ch’ang Hon Tae Kwon-Do, representing the unification of North and South Korea into one nation. Some of the movements of this pattern are said to be significant; the first two moves symbolising the two Korea’s being divided for too long, the third move and change in tempo supposedly representing North Korea’s instigation of the Korean War, the various stamps symbolising Choi’s anger and frustration, and the high twin vertical punch with stamp on move 38 representing the breaking of the 38th parallel. Interestingly, pattern Tong Il had the highest number of revisions out of all the patterns. Perhaps it was Choi wanting it to better represent his dream, perhaps it was just due to technical advances in Tae Kwon-Do, we will never know for sure.

Sadly, Choi passed away on 15th June 2002, with his dream remaining just that; but the patterns remain a reminder that he was not alone in his dream. From the creation of the world and the formation of the Korea in Chon Ji and Dan Gun, through Korean history, it would seem poetic to finish on Tong Il; but that it neither the final pattern in our Tae Kwon-Do, nor the end of our journey.

We are celebrating our arrival at the last checkpoint of the North-South Divide with 102 Ab Splits and continue a very brief 6 miles north to visit Kaesong’s famous bridge.

Tour Through Time: Stop 10: Mount Kumgang Checkpoint

It’s been a delightful 154 miles; the weather has been lovely (mostly) and Rich has finally found his trainers! We now arrive at the Eastern side of the North-South Divide, at the Mount Kumgang Checkpoint.

When Japan withdrew from Korea in 1945 following their surrender at the end of World War II, the USA, Soviet Union, China and Great Britain decided to run Korea for 5 years under a Four Power Trusteeship, after which Korea would become independent again. The country was divided into two halves along the 38th parallel, from Mount Kumgang west across the country, with the Soviet Union occupying the North and USA occupying the South. General Choi chose to join the South Korean army because of his opposition to communism, and in 1946 was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

The Soviet Union withdrew most of its forces from North Korea in 1948 and unification talks began, but South Korea’s new President, Syngman Rhee, was a hard-line anti-communist and wasn’t keen. Both sides began to fear the other’s true intention was to take over the other with their own government, and talks remained unsuccessful.

Despite withdrawing most of its forces from North Korea, the Soviet Union left many tanks, aircraft and heavy weapons, unlike the USA, who feared any heavy weaponry left in South Korea would not be used solely for internal peacekeeping. This notably weakened South Korea, and led to Kim-Il Sung’s forces invading South Korea on 25th June 1950 in the start of the Korean War. The Korean War lasted for just over 3 years, during which time General Choi had reached the rank of Brigadier General. The United Nations intervened in the war, allowing the US Navy and Air Force to assist South Korea. Eventually an armistice was suggested by India and ceasefire finally ensued on 27th July 1953. Battle lines were drawn approximately where they had begun along the 38th parallel and so around this the Demilitarized Zone was established, 2.5miles wide.

We will mark our arrival with 154 Bulgarian Split Squats before continuing 102 miles west along the North-South Divide.