Mr. Kim’s Lonely Fight to Preserve a Korean Tradition

Kim Sang Hyun is 56 years outdated, lives in a basement residence in Queens and recurrently drives to Florida and once more to get crops for retailers in New York.

He may be a man with an imaginative and prescient.

For the ultimate 30 years, he has almost single-handedly labored to carry the sport of ssireum, a 1,700-year-old kind of Korean wrestling, to the United States. In this course of, he has been undaunted.

“So many Korean-American kids who are born in America or come when they are young don’t know much about Korean culture,” he said. “Even if there is only one student who wants to learn ssireum, I must be there for them.”

Ssireum (pronounced SHEE-rum), which boomed in 1950s Korea after its civil battle sooner than truly fizzling out throughout the 1990s, is a low-impact contest of energy and expertise. Contestants face off in a ring of sand, each sporting a band referred to as security throughout the waist and thigh. Each grabs the alternative’s saba with every finger, locking the 2 in a type of hug, and tries to drive one a part of the alternative’s physique above the knee to contact the sand.

In distinction to Japanese sumo, opponents do not score elements by muscling an opponent out of the ring. There is not any hitting or kicking, and for the reason that wrestlers are under no circumstances higher than a few inches apart, few accidents.

A fall for one often brings down the alternative as correctly. At the highest of a match, the opponents brush the sand from each other’s sweaty our bodies.

“It’s a very gentlemanly sport,” Mr. Kim said.

Ssireum was as quickly as strictly for males, who liked hero standing in its heyday. Women made undergarments from wrestlers’ database to improve their chances of bearing sons or put sat as shut to their beds to improve fertility. But now girls’ teams are frequent.

Even toddlers are taught the sport in Korea, pressing their backsides in opposition to each other after which using their legs to drive the alternative toddler out of the ring — like sumo, solely behind-to-behind reasonably than belly-to-belly.

It’s pretty cute.

But once more to Mr. Kim.

Between runs to Florida this May and June, he taught the sport to children at a church in Great Neck, Long Island, and to youthful children at a church camp in Palisades Park, N.J.; he organized an exhibition of wrestlers from Korea in Queens.

“Look at these kids,” he said, all through a lesson in New Jersey. “They are learning Korean culture and ssireum can’t be missed. I must continue.”

Jaewoo Park, 16, of Fort Lee, N.J., started discovering out with Mr. Kim a couple of years up to now, drawn by the competitiveness and the satisfaction of beating opponents who’ve been higher than him. He said that almost all of his buddies did not discover out about ssireum, even these from Korean households. Many laughed as soon as they heard about it. “But once they saw it, they were amazed,” he said.

Still, he added, most have been busy discovering out for the SAT take a have a look at. “They don’t have time for this,” he said.

Mr. Kim has had a lot of causes to stop. Most years he spends $15,000 to $20,000 of his private money attempting to kindle curiosity throughout the sport. He gives the entire indicators and shovels sand into the ring.

“He is a very special person,” said Il Tae Kim, president of the Korean Sports Association of New York, which runs weekly programs in ssireum that draw a median of 10 of us. “To teach ssireum well and systematically costs a lot of money. Not many Korean immigrants have enough financial stability to invest their time and money into ssireum. But if it doesn’t get caught, it will be forgotten. He has the passion to keep it going more than most people.”

Lee Tae Hyun, a professor at Yong In University who brought the Korean wrestlers to Queens for the exhibition, saluted Mr. Kim’s efforts over the earlier 30 years, though, as he said, “there has been little interest to keep the ssireum here in New York City.”

The work makes requires. If it weren’t for ssireum, Mr. Kim said, speaking in Korean, “I’d probably have two big houses already.”

His partner, Kim Hee Soo, who helps at events, said that all the time of us did not admire the sacrifices her husband made for ssireum. Instead, they said he was in it for the money. “It really hurts me to watch him being taunted by people like that,” she said.

“He dedicated his life to ssireum, and he deserves much better than that.”

Mr. Kim, too, has had his moments of doubt. One night time time, shoveling sand at 4 a.m. sooner than an exhibition, his fingers cracked and blistered, he broke down in tears, questioning why he was inserting himself by means of a lot torment. “For whose benefit?” he said. It was the first time in his life he had ever cried, he said. Ms. Kim, moreover crying, hugged him.

But then the second-handed. He knew why he was doing what he did, he said, and for whose revenue. What was a little sacrifice in distinction to a custom-like ssireum?

The day after the exhibition in Queens, the Kims set off on a 5,700-mile drive to Seattle and once more, for a Korean American sports activities actions competitors there. For the couple, it was motive enough to preserve going.

“Even though I feel so tired and rewardless many times when I prepare ssireum events,” Mr. Kim said, “once I get there and see students’ excitement on their faces, I forget about everything and get excited too.”

Sometimes, he said, his partner implies that he stop the mission, that it is too arduous on him. But she may be his biggest supporter.

“Ssireum is like a child to me,” he said. “I know I should have done more for my wife, but if I don’t take care of ssireum, who will?”

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