Texans return karate to Russia

  Houston's longtime martial arts instructor, Grandmaster Kim Soo, with a troupe of a dozen top students, was as welcome as a warm summer day in Siberia.
   Purposes of the recent trip to Russia included demonstrations, lectures, interviews, and teaching, as well as competing in a smashing All-Russia karate tournament in the city of Omsk.
   The grandmaster said that under Communism, citizens of the former Soviet Union weren't allowed to learn or practice any form of empty-hand combat technique.
   Such knowledge and skills apparently were considered by the government to be a threat in the hands of the populace. The power was limited to certain military and policing forces.
    In fact, the visitors from Texas met a fellow who said he had to spend seven years in prison after he was caught teaching martial arts.
    Grandmaster Kim Soo is known for his own style, called Chayon-Ryu, which is Korean for "The Natural Way." He said it is based upon natural movements and combines aspects of all four major Asian martial arts influences - Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Okinawan.
    That is just in Houston. There are 24 locations in Texas, 23 in 20 other states and eight in foreign countries, all teaching the style developed by Grandmaster Kim Soo.
     Now, I have never taken any sort of martial arts classes, but one of my kids did for awhile and I watched some. Then there are the bits of information a person just naturally absorbs from movies and TV.
    So I have some idea of how disciplined and stylized the process is. A serious student would never call the Grandmaster just "Kim" or "Soo." Too informal. Poor form.
    One of his longtime students subtly pointed out that in something I wrote about martial arts here on the edge of the page a few years ago, I referred to Grandmaster Kim Soo as simply "Soo" several times, which, since his name is arranged in traditional Asian style, is his first name.

The irony of it all

    I guess the situation is a little bit like if you grew up in a small Texas town and called the football coach "Doug" instead of "Coach Ethridge."

Or it's like calling the preacher "Stanley" instead of "Reverand Howerton."
    Or like calling the mayor "Bob" instead of "Mayor Bob."
So, anyway, the GM ( I think abbreviations are OK) is opening up some branch schools in Russia.
    Isn't it funny how things work out sometimes? Here is a man who majored in the Russian language at the University of Korea, but then for years, while living and teaching in Houston, it looked like Russia would be closed to him forever.
    And then suddenly the Iron Curtain was drawn back and now that Russian major is coming in darned handy, with people all over that huge country now allowed to learn what he can teach.
    One of his students who went along on the recent trip was Kristin, fitness director at St. Hohn Sports Medical Center in Clear Lake.
    She said she had the time of her life, even though the bathroom where they stayed in Omsk left something to be desired.
    "Take your worst (portable toilet) experience and double that," is the way she described it.

Aerobics was main attraction

    Kristin said she won some medals in the tournament competition, and she was named the Goodwill Ambassador of the games by the other 350 contestants.
    But she really became a celebrity over there when she gave the locals what apparently was the first aerobics demonstration they ever had seen. The Russians loved it and had her signing autographs.
    Oh, and in those martial arts demonstrations and competitions, a couple of the Russian men she met wanted to marry her.
    Both the GM and Kristin said sparring is a lot rougher in Russia than it is in countries where teachers and competitors have more experience, and where they understand the "arts" side as well as the "martial" side.
    "The tournament was full contact, with no equipment," said the GM. "They don't have much equipment, but also they seem to think that competition is always full contact, with many punches and hard contact made th the head and face."
    But many of the Russian participants in the two-day tournament gave one another black eyes and broken noses and injuries requiring stitches.