The view from Red Square in Mockba (Moscow) - Photo by Frank Jaubert


"Under the Communist, all forms of Martial Arts were outlawed, and those practicing any form of empty-hand techniques could be sent to prison."

Branch School Opens in Russia

by Kit van Cleave

This article originally appeared in the JungYong Newsletter Spring 1994

Grandmaster Kim Soo, founder of Chayon-Ryu International Martial Arts Association, established a new branch school during a spring trip to Russia this year.

With 10 of his students, Grandmaster Kim traveled for two weeks through Omsk (Siberia), St. Petersburg, and Moscow. He was invited to tour by the Russian government through the International Martial Arts Club (IMAC), an outreach group seeking to establish martial arts in the former Soviet Union.

Under the Communists, all forms of martial arts were outlawed, and those practicing any form of empty-hand techniques could be jailed, or even sent to prison.

While in Russia, Grandmaster Kim met with Sergei Vredrenko, a Russian Army pensioner who is still teaching Russian Special Forces soldiers in his own school, previously called "Typhoon." Vredrenko will be a private student of Chayon-Ryu Master Richard Fine, who went to Russia in August l993 to help Grandmaster Kim set up branches of Chayon-Ryu in Russia.

Grandmaster Kim had traveled to Russia in October l993, to give seminars and demonstrations, and show techniques at a huge St. Petersburg International Open Martial Arts Tournament.

The trip began with a flight from Houston to NYC and then on to Prague for a layover. St. Petersburg was the first stop where Grandmaster Kim and students gave seminars on, and demonstrations of, teaching techniques. In St. Petersburg, the Texans fitted in excursions, shopping, and trips to the theatre between lectures, demos, and teaching.

Then it was on to Omsk (Siberia) to compete in the All-Russia Karate Tournament.

"The tournament was full-contact, with no equipment," recalls Grandmaster Kim . "The Russians don't have much equipment, but also they seem to think competition is only proper with heavy punches and hard contact made to the head and face."

Chayon-Ryu women students Master Kim Geary and Kristin Sommer won medals in both forms and sparring competition. Sommer, along with John Stephens, won the gold medal for America Team One, during which Sommer sparred men. Stephens also won the silver medal for individual sparring. Gian-Carlo Cavatore won the bronze medal for forms competition, performing a bong hyung.

During the two-day tournament, Grandmaster Kim was invited by Alexandr Karpman to visit, and teach at, the Omsk Olympic Center.

Moving on to Moscow after the Siberian tournament, the group visited Red Square, the Kremlin, and Lenin Tower, when not teaching and giving more classes.

"I found the state of Russian martial arts very primitive," says Grandmaster Kim. "It's understandable, in that they are just legally being allowed to learn at this time. The Russians don't have their own schools, as I do. They rent space on an hourly basis in a gym, community center, or other such building. They haven't had a chance to study with any one teacher, since karate has only been legal for about three years. So they have learned what they could from books, videotapes, and visiting instructors."

Grandmaster Kim learned while in Russia this time that he was the first grandmaster ever invited to teach and demonstrate in Siberia; this was the choice of the government sponsoring body, which chose him after observing his technique during the October 1993 trip.

"We were particularly asked to teach how to begin and end classes," Grandmaster Kim points out. "The Russians don't really realize the necessity of warming up the body at the start, then warming down at the end of class. What we saw was just simply exercises, such as situps and pushups, almost no forms, and a lot of fighting."

Students pay $6-7 a month for lessons, which is high, given the fact that adults earn about $60-70 per month. Women are not often seen in classes due to the emphasis on hard fighting, lack of forms, and self-defense techniques which are brutal.

In Omsk, Blazamir Pankovski approached Grandmaster Kim and invited him to visit his chu'an fa ("kung fu") school. Pankovski said he was teaching Chinese martial arts because he'd tried Russia's version of karate and it was too harsh. His was the only school where many women students were seen. Grandmaster Kim and Master Geary demonstrated Chinese two-person sets from Chayon-Ryu system for Pankovski's students and showed practical self-defense sets, to great enthusiasm.

Given the popularity Grandmaster Kim achieved after a media blitz on his last trip in October l993, the Russian media again requested many TV and radio interviews. Grandmaster Kim was featured in various editions of Russian newspapers and magazines, and in the BLACK PEARL martial arts publication.

Rice University student Alexi Bolshakov, a Russian native, has been appointed Grandmaster Kim's liaison with the Russian schools. The Russian expansion will bring Chayon-Ryu now to nine foreign countries; it is already the largest martial arts system in the southwestern U.S.