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Mountain ascetic ideal image for urban dwellers in Korea

In order to be able to handle the pressure of modern life better, Koreans practise GiCheon: intensive exercises for body and spirit. This movement theory is based on the tradition of mountain ascetics, but GiCheon is primarily a modern urban phenomenon. This is the conclusion of PhD candidate Victoria Ten. PhD defence on 6 July.

GiCheon is one of the most influential 20th-century Korean variants of ki suryŏn (‘practices to promote life energy’). It started in the early seventies when Korean teacher Taeyang Chinin developed a series of exercises to vitalise body and spirit. Taeyang Chinin, who is still alive today, says he based his teaching on the long-established exercises of mountain ascetics. The ultimate aim of GiCheon is to transform the body to an ideal body, that of a mountain immortal. 

Very diverse practitioners

Estimates of the number of practitioners vary considerably: from a few hundred to many thousands. Victoria Ten - her Korean name is Yeonhwa Jeon - investigated the meaning of these exercises for current adherents in Korea. She interviewed some 60 Korean trainers and practitioners and concludes that they are very diverse. Christians who practise GiCheon say that they are better Christians: after doing their GiCheon exercises they pray more intensively, listen more attentively to the priest and attend church more frequently. Buddhists say that the exercises help them to concentrate better during Buddhist meditation sessions.

Distancing themselves from frantic modern life

Experiencing pain is an important element in GiCheon. The static poses are painful but they have a healing effect on body and spirit, according to the individuals interviewed. 'It helps them to distance themselves from frantic modern life, and remain more in contact with their emotions, their logic, their body, family, other people and the cosmos.’

Modern variant of Asian techniques

GiCheon consists of gym exercises, static poses, massage, breathing techniques and meditation. To conclude: the exercises and ideas are a modern variant of ancient Asian techniques and are not an exact copy of centuries-old  exercises carried out by hermits who retired to the mountains. But these mountain ascetics are nonetheless a great source of inspiration for modern city dwellers. Many practitioners go on weekend retreats in the mountains. Ten: 'The exercises in the pure environment of the mountain represent and are carried out as a counterweight to the pollution of modern urban spaces.' 

Victoria Ten is not affiliated with the University and has financed her dissertation herself. She has practised GiCheon for  17 years and also teaches it. She trains with her students in Amsterdam's Vondelpark. Her aim with this dissertation is to share her knowledge about the significance and effects of this movement theory. For more information, visit the website: GiCheon.com