The Koryo
Academy: Stage

Performing in front of an audience has never been easy

See the man with the stage fight/Just standing up there to give all his might./And he got caught in the spotlight/But when we get to the end/He wants to start all over again. -The Band, 'Stage Fight'

There is an old Korean saying that goes: “You can’t do ‘it’ well when the mat’s rolled out”. To put it another way – 'doing it', or more generally 'doing something' as the phrase has come to mean, is difficult when people are watching. Performance anxiety. Stage fright.

This saying is said to have its origins at Sokwang Temple (석왕사-釋王寺) of Anbyon County, Kangwon Province, located amidst misty hills about a one hour drive from coastal Wonsan and the sea. In days gone by, Sokwang Temple was once the site of a flourishing monastic community of Buddhist monks and nuns, albeit separated from each other in adjacent valleys and not without good reason. Despite holy vows of celibacy, there are always those who succumb to earthly temptations.

Inevitably secret meetings did occur between woman and man, and sometimes these amorous liaisons would produce a child. Forbidden from staying at the temple, the child would be left at the doorstep of a local family in the middle of the night along with precious items. In time local lore came to say that these children were gifts from heaven.

But the monastic authorities were not always so lenient and one local abbot, after catching a monk and nun in the act, decided to set an example of the pair. The abbot called the entire temple community to the square, forcing the couple to appear before them. He then unrolled a straw mat on the ground and instructed them to repeat the deed.

Needless to say it they couldn’t do ‘it’ well when the mat was rolled out in front of an audience. From this we get the saying: 지랄도 멍석 펴고 하면 잘하지 못한다.

Interested in visiting Sokwang Temple? Join our ‘Coast to Coast’ Tour (May 27-June 3/4) or book a private tour. Sokwang Temple is located a 1 hour drive from Wonsan.

The Koryo Academy is a regular posting on Korean history, culture, and language.

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