Culture Sports

Who are “Red Devils”? Why is baseball so popular in Korea? What is ssireum? Thundersticks?


Seoul Plaza, 2002 FIFA World Cup

붉은악마 the ‘Red Devils‘ in 1997. The name is said to have originated from the foreign media that used to call the South Korean soccer team who made it to the semifinals in a red uniform the  “Red Furious” or the “Red Devils” at the 1983 U-20 World Cup (Fun fact, the nickname “Red Devils” was first used by the Belgian national soccer team). When the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup was held, the “Red Devils” earned the nickname the “12th player” thanks to their fervent cheering. Fueled by the Korean team’s winning streak, the streets were flooded with people wearing red, and hundreds of thousands of people in red gathered at the Seoul City Plaza 서울광장 to cheer for the Korean team, creating a spectacular scene.

“Gazua Korea” Let’s Go Daehanminguk Red Devil Team Korea [Amazon]

100 Greatest World Cup Moments – South Korea – BE THE REDS!


Baseball is by far the most popular professional sport in Korea. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), a professional baseball league in which 10 teams compete, attracts more than 10,000 spectators each game as of 2017. The history of Korean baseball goes back to when Philip Gillette, an American Christian missionary to Korea, introduced baseball to the members of the Hwangseong Christian Youth Association 황성기독교청년회 in 1905.

Hwangseong Christian Youth Baseball Team. Front row to the right is Phillip Gillette. 황성기독교청년회
(Gunsan Baseball 100 Years of History)
Hwangseong Christian Youth Baseball Team. Front row to the right is Phillip Gillette.
(Gunsan Baseball 100 Years of History)

As you may know, Koreans can learn things very quickly – The Korean baseball team won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, third place in 2006, and was the runner-up in 2009 in the World Baseball Classic. At the WSBC Premiere 12 held in 2015, they won the championship and finished runner-up in 2019. They also produced numerous star players who played in Major League Baseball and the stars who played in Major League Baseball also play in the KBO. In Korea, baseball is popular as a sport itself, but it’s enjoyed more as a total entertainment experience. When you sing along to the cheering songs of your team, enjoy chicken and beer (Why Koreans love chimaek (chicken & beer), and eat pajeon & makgeolli on rainy days?, and dance with the exciting cheerleaders’ dance moves, it’s the best way to laugh your stress away.

Korean Baseball 101: Way Beyond the Bat Flips (ENG) Narration and Sub

DOOSAN Bears is one of the most popular teams in Korean Baseball League. You can get their jersey on Amazon.

Doosan Bears Pro Baseball Jersey 두산베어스 [Amazon]


Ssireum from Danwon pungsokdo cheop 단원풍속도첩 (album of genre painting)

Ssireum 씨름 is a sport known to have been handed down from ancient times on the Korean Peninsula. On November 26th, 2018, South and North Korea jointly listed it as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It’s a game in which two players, who stand on a sand arena with their waists wrapped with a satba 샅바 (thigh band), grab the opponent’s satba to knock or flip over the opponent with hand, leg or waist skills. It’s a very simple game because it ends as soon as any part of the opponent’s body except the sole of the foot touches the ground.

It’s also a sport of psychological warfare because one simple mistake and miscalculation will lead to losing posture and balance. As a traditional sport, village-wide competitions were held during the holidays, and national competitions were broadcast on TV. The champion, called cheonha jangsa 천하장사 (“The Strongest Man On Earth”), earned fame, honor and wealth. The popular entertainer and MC Kang Ho-dong 강호동 is also a former cheonha jangsa. Recently, however, ssireum lost their fan base as the number of professional teams has declined as it failed to keep up with the latest trends. The younger audience tends to think of the sport as “outdated” and turned their eyes to Mixed Martial Arts.

A Legendary Match Kang Ho Dong vs. Lee Man Ki



Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a day in the life of the hammer-wielding Norse God, Thor? With the mighty hammer Mjolnir, you can summon and control the powers of the storm. Among all, the coolest special effect must be the thunder and lightning combo which daunts all adversaries with its ear-splitting thunderclap. Well, if you envied his power, you can steal his thunder and experience the power yourself. In the early 1990s, a Korean firm invented and introduced the first generation of the so-called “Thunder Sticks” (a.k.a. Cheerstix, bangers, or bambams), made of polyethylene. It was a long tube to which air had to be blown into using a straw. It was then bent to form a V shape, and struck against each other, making noise that is 10 times louder than clapping. Despite its novelty, it also had a downside. The problem was that people just tossed away the straws they used to inflate the sticks. It made reusing the sticks cumbersome and created a huge pile of rubbish after an event. In 2001, another Korean firm introduced more eco-friendly sticks. Inspired by pool tubes, they used PVC for enhanced durability. The most significant improvement was that they could be inflated without a straw. To maximize user-friendliness, they installed air pumps at stadiums. After an event, they simply deflated the sticks and took them home to reuse during their next visit. They also gained popularity overseas.

In 2002, the Anaheim Angels became the first to introduce these sticks to Major League Baseball. Fans loved them, and they became the hottest souvenir of the 2002 World Series. Today, you can see them used in many different occasions that attract large crowds such as political rallies or protests. Here is a fun fact about thunder sticks – In 1994, the LG Twins, the first team to introduce them, won the Korean Series (the Korean equivalent of the World Series). In 2002, the Anaheim Angels took home the World Series trophy, proving the mighty power of thunder!

2002 WS Angels thunder sticks!

POPLAY Thunder Sticks, 100 PCS Inflatable Sticks Bam Bam Thunder Sticks [Amazon]

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