[FOUNTAIN]The drama and glory of cockfighting

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[FOUNTAIN]The drama and glory of cockfighting

It has a mane like a lion’s, expanding in all directions. It has sharp eyes like a snake’s, seeking out the enemy’s weak spots. With its head low and its tail high, it is ready to attack.
So begins the cockfight at Bongpyeong. There is no point system here, no weight categories. This showdown will only end when one bird flees.
One gamecock flies up, then the other. A battle in the air begins, a loud flapping of wings. Beaks, heads, wings and bodies collide, and red combs shake. Golden feathers on backs and chests glitter in the sunlight. On the ground, they toss and bite, climb and attack. It is an enchanting scene.
Just as when human beings fight, there are certain laws that tend to hold true when animals go into battle, even though there aren’t any rules. Physical strength and perseverance are deciding factors.
This is particularly true in a cockfight. A bird that isn’t as strong, that is always on the defense or that can’t endure the pain is bound to be the one that backs out first.
Besides being famous for its buckwheat flowers, and for the writer Lee Hyo-seok, Bongpyeong, in Gangwon province, is home to a traditional cockfighting tournament. A four-day cockfighting extravaganza will be held there starting next Thursday.
If Cheongdo is the birthplace of the Korean bullfight, then Bongpyeong is the home of cockfighting. Shin Hyeon-gu, the 45-year-old president of the Bongpyeong Native Chicken Preservation Committee, has revived the town’s fading cockfighting legacy.
A native of Bongpyeong, Mr. Shin says he is fascinated by these birds’ perseverance and strength, by their dignified posture and their golden beauty. To publicize the unique charms of Korea’s gamecocks, Mr. Shin has arranged for a second nationwide Korean chicken contest (the first was held last year).
Because so many Korean chickens are raised in the “free range” style, in mountains and fields, they have the smell of freedom, unlike those raised in cages. Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Shilla Dynasty, was once called Gyerim, which means a country where roosters would crow in the forest. Roosters have deep meaning in the life and culture of Korea.
The season of brilliant green has come. Take a short two-hour drive from Seoul to Bongpyeong, and visit the house that Lee Hyo-seok was born in. Then complete the experience with a cup of traditional rice wine, some buckwheat jelly and an old-fashioned cockfight.

by Chun Young-gi

The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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