Martial arts turn body into weapon

After reading how some passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 overpowered blade wielding terrorists who hijacked the plane, I wanted to talk to Kim Soo.

He is a karate grandmaster who has instructed tens of thousands of people in the martial arts over the past 33 years. He teaches at the University of Houston and Rice and at his three area dojangs (training halls). One of the first things he said after I told him what prompted my call, is that flight crews should receive martial arts training.

Those Flight 93 passengers learned after making some cell phone calls that three other passenger jets hijacked on Sept. 11 had been turned into deadly bombs and crashed into buildings filled with people. So a group of them acted to prevent their flight from being used the same way.

Because all aboard were killed when the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania, we can never know exactly what the heroic passengers did to foil the plans of the terrorists. But we do know they succeeded because no one on the ground was injured when Flight 93 went down.

Suggestions from a master

Such stories leave me wondering how I would measure up if confronted with a similar challenge. I might quickly agree that the hijackers should be overpowered, but likely would feel pretty shy about rushing fellows with knives and box cutters and me being unarmed.

So I called Kim Soo for some suggestions. We last talked a few years ago after he and a dozen of his students went to Russia, where they presented demonstrations and lectures and competed in a karate tournament in Omsk. Kim said one result of that trip was that he wrote a book that was published last year in Moscow.

A big reason many Russians are interested in the martial arts now, Kim said, is that under communism citizens of the Soviet Union were not allowed to learn or practice any form of it. That power was limited to certain military and policing forces. One man they met on the trip said that he spent seven years in prison after he was caught teaching martial arts.

Kim Soo is known for his own style, called ChaYon-Ryu, which is Korean for "The Natural Way," and is based upon natural movements, combining aspects of all four major Asian martial arts influences - Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Okinawan.

He said that if you have some training, you realize there actually are a variety of weapons almost always readily available if you must go against men armed with knives.

First, your body is a weapon, because of the moves and techniques and control that have been practiced, Kim said. But also, through training, you learn how everyday common objects can be used as weapons. Whatever is handy - a cup, a shoe, a rolled-up magazine, a pair of eye glasses, a comb, a car key, a ballpoint pen - could help turn the advantage when going against a man with a knife.

Kim said it would take the average person about six months of hour-long sessions twice weekly to develop a worthwhile level of proficiency in karate. The cost for that at his dojangs would be about $420

Reaping extra rewards

But people sometimes reap unexpected rewards from the training beyond the increased self-assuredness it provides. Like the fellow in his mid 40s who brought a golf score card in to show Kim Soo. Said his average had been in the low 80s for a long time. But when he applied the techniques he'd learned from karate training about how to breathe and how to clear his mind and how to be calm, he shot a 69 for the first time in his life.

Another student, a 60-year-old man, fell off his house when cleaning gutters but escaped injury because he had learned in karate classes how to land.

Kim Soo said the tragedy of Black Tuesday is "a terrible loss for all Americans... We've never had this kind of situation before."

He said he knows that the government will do all it can to prevent future terrorist acts but we should not depend solely upon the government to protect us.

"People also have got to learn something," he said.