Roosters rumble, but all walk awayIt was like a scene out of the movie “Rocky”: “This Dude” and his opponent, “Dragon Ball,” started the match by giving each other the “stare.” The two roosters stood beak-to-beak, spreading their neck feathers wide like fans, tails soaring.
Strutting obliviously around was the prize for the two males, a hen. Upon the arrival of the female, the instinctive battle between the two males began, a ruffled feather bumping and flapping that ensued before excited onlookers.
The match was one held during a recent rooster fighting tournament in Bongpyeong, Gangwon province. The city, which is well-known for its abundant buckwheat and native Korean breeds of chickens, started the official rooster fighting event last year with 32 roosters. In this tournament, the owner of the best fighter received a calf worth 2.5 million won ($2,400).
Rooster fighting is a sport notorious for its cruelty and brutality and has been banned in many countries after opposition by animal protection groups. In many countries, rooster fights are held in dreary indoor venues with smoking gamblers and a blood-stained stage. With feathers flying and birds soaked in blood, the fights usually end in death.
In countries such as Mexico or the Philippines, the roosters are armed with sharp blades and long metal spurs on their feet. But rooster fighting in Korea ―usually held in the southern parts of the country ― doesn’t involve blood or the death of the combatants. It’s not as adrenaline-pumping as the deadly matches in other countries, but it certainly is pleasant competition.
Farmers from neighboring towns and villagers close to Bongpyeong brought their roosters. They were not a special breed of “game-cocks.” The tournament had a mingling, family feel: groups of ajumma dropped by along with kids and their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. To the beat of ppongjjak, the typical fast-beat music one can often hear on the bus or in a cab, families and children won gifts during dance competitions and other games in between rooster-fighting bouts.
The event’s host kept complementing Korean native chickens over the microphone. In a true sense of nationalism, only Korean native roosters can participate in an effort to promote home-country chickens who are apparently facing an influx of foreign chickens into the country.
“Tojongdak (Korean native chickens) are the best of all other chicken breeds,” the host cried out. “They look better. They fight better, and they taste better!”
The host also continued by analyzing the combatants. “Roosters with shorter legs tend to persevere,” he said. “Since their legs do not make the best weapon, they tend to have stronger wings, you know!”
Before the battles begin, people can check out the caged combatants, many of whom have scars on their crests from past battles. The roosters ― black, white and orange colored ― squawk kkokio, the Korean term for cock-a-doodle-do.
The roosters have their own unique charisma and beauty. With crown-like crests on their foreheads and long, elegant tails, the roosters are just as elegant and beautiful as exotic Amazon birds. But their beauty has been usually ignored since they are usually considered food. But the birds showed that they actually could be more than meat in the match.
When the action started, This Dude and Dragon Ball flew up in the air. With their claws aimed at each other, the two looked like eagles. They then jumped on each other’s back and bumped at each other, constantly flapping their wings.
Their orange and black bodies ― covered with waterproof feathers ― shined colorfully. But after a while, the roosters tired, changing their strategy to pecking rather than flying. It ended up a chase. Dragon Ball took off after This Dude, and the two ran a good 30 laps in the ring.
But all of a sudden, This Dude had enough. He turned around and jumped on Dragon Ball’s back. This Dude emerged victorious when Dragon Ball walked away. As soon as one fighter gives up, the match is stopped to prevent injuries. No bloodshed, no tears.
“I didn’t know roosters fought so tactfully,” commented Choe Don-suk, 52, from Gangneung, a neighboring city, who said she stopped by on her way to visit her brother.
Ham Jeong-shik, an 11-year-old boy, said that he brought his rooster to rumble, but it couldn’t make it to the quarterfinal because it hurt its eye.
“My rooster fought well until it got hurt,” said the boy sadly. “It’s my first time to bring my own rooster to the match. My father even fed my chicken Korean ginseng for this match. Still, the matches are quite exciting.”
Gwon Sun-jin, whose rooster won the quarterfinal that day, was smiling proudly. His fighter, “Taebaeksanmaek,” is named after the longest mountain range in Korea. Mr. Gwon said his bird seemed to have strong ki, or inner strength.
“My neighbors, who participated in the matches, are all jealous of me,” Mr. Gwon said.
Kim Jeong-hwan, head of the town’s elders’ association enjoyed the day, watching matches and drinking makgeoli, Korean rice wine.
“I brought two roosters,” he said with a chuckle. “But I don’t know where they went.”
by Choi Sun-young