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Post 9/11


Americans train in taekwondo for the usual reasons: for exercise, to lose weight, to get in shape, and because they think it may help them if they are attacked. These are good reasons for training in any martial art, but they are somewhat selfish reasons since they only involve personal needs. These were the reasons most Americans trained in taekwondo prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and they are still the reasons most Americans train in taekwondo after 9/11.

We must train to be warriors

Taekwondo practitioners still train for personal reasons; they do not train for or even consider the possibility that they may have to fight terrorists who want to kill hundreds of strangers and that they may surely die in the fight. If their effort is not successful, then they will have died in vain, and hundreds of others will still die.

Before 9/11, taekwondo practitioners believed they were trained to handle any threat against them or their loved ones. However, 9/11 forced them to face the possibility that, at any moment, they may have to fight for the lives of fellow aircraft passengers, or for the lives of thousands of others on the ground. For the ones who have considered this possibility, most of them have ignored it and live under the delusion that the government will protect them.

Taekwondo practitioners primarily train to fight one-against-one, against attackers who, although not afraid of getting hurt, are not so intent on hurting you that they would be willing to die trying. Most martial artists train to defend against a mugger, a troublesome drunk in a bar, a purse snatcher, or an enraged motorist, not against a crazed terrorist. Some attackers may fight to the death, not because they planned to or want to, but because they are caught up in the excitement of the attack. Taekwondo practitioners have been trained to react to this type of escalating attack, but they have not been trained to defend against terrorist attackers who are highly intelligent, sane individuals who calmly and impartially, with no concern for their own lives, want to kill you simply because you do not believe in their religion. Terrorists are unafraid to die; in fact, they cherish the possibility they may die.

Taekwondo training, especially sport taekwondo, has been mostly concerned with free-sparring and tournament competition. Free-sparring is mostly an individual sport where you “fake” fight one opponent at a time for a trophy. Taekwondo students have traditionally mostly been taught one-on-one self-defense techniques; rarely have they been taught to defend against multiple attackers. Each type of martial art teaches its students to defend themselves primarily using the techniques of the specific art, such as throwing, grappling, or in the case of taekwondo, punching and kicking. Most martial arts, taekwondo included, teach the concept of “no first blood;” one must attack only after being attacked. Because of 9/11, all these teachings must be reconsidered.

What if you were aboard one of the aircraft that were hijacked on 9/11, what would you have done? Each aircraft was commandeered by a group of hijackers, each supposedly only armed with a box cutter that has a small blade only capable of making shallow cuts, which, unless made directly over a major artery, are not immediately life-threatening. What would you have done in this situation? What have you been trained to do? Attempting a throw would be useless, there is no room to kick or grapple, and you have no weapons. Your primary means of defense would have to be direct hand-to-hand combat. To stop a terrorist, you would have to kill him with your bare hands.

Aboard United 93, the fourth aircraft hijacked by terrorists on 9/11, passengers were faced with this challenge. A few of the passengers were willing to do whatever it took to regain control of the aircraft and ensure it was not used as a weapon of mass destruction. No one knows what they did or how they did it, but they were partially successful in that aircraft went down in a Pennsylvania field, not into a crowded government building.

What made this group of passengers different from the passengers in each of the other three aircraft? Perhaps it was because they were aware that the other aircraft had been used to crash into buildings, and they were unwilling to let it happen again. The passengers aboard the other aircraft had been accustomed to living their lives as cleanly as possible, letting someone else deal with the dirtier parts of life. All they knew how to do was to sit and wait for someone else to take care of the problem. On United 93, the passengers knew no help was coming, so they were forced into action. Would things have ended differently had they taken the action earlier when the terrorists made their first move?

Military personnel are trained to act immediately in emergencies, not wait around and discuss it, or to wait for someone else to act. They are taught that survival of the group is more important than the survival of oneself. They are taught to kill the enemy, even one who is not directly attacking at the moment but who is indicated an intention to attack. Ancient warriors used to be trained this way, but today’s martial artists are not warriors; they are sportspeople who are trained wait until they are attacked before taking action and, even then, to attack with minimum force.

Not only should we not forget what happened on 9/11, we must also remember what the passengers on each aircraft went through before impact. We must mentally place ourselves in those situations and think about what we might do in a similar situation. Then, if we are on an aircraft and a person stands and says he is hijacking the aircraft, we must immediately attack and kill that person—if we die trying, then so be it. If there is another hijacker, another passenger must take him out, etc. We all must take immediate action, not wait until the terrorists have the upper hand.

Suppose United 93 had a group of taekwondo black belts aboard who were returning from a competition. What do you think they would have done during the hijacking? First off, most of the so-called “black belts” would probably be children or teenagers. There would be some adults, but many of them would probably be fat, unfit has-beens. Of the few black belts remaining, how many would have the training and guts to do what would be necessary to take out the terrorists?

If facing a killer intent on killing you, what would you want in your hand, a plastic paintball replica of a .45 caliber pistol or a real .45 caliber pistol? The replica looks like a real pistol and it performs the same actions as a real pistol, but it uses air to fire tiny relatively harmless pellets. The real pistol is made of hardened steel and fires bullets that kill. Most black belts are only replicas of warriors; they look real, but they are not capable of killing.

If we are to defeat an enemy that lives among us and pretends to be one of us but is just waiting for an opportunity to kill us, then the games must end! The martial arts, taekwondo included, must stop being merely sports taught to children while pretending to be martial arts. They must return to their roots and again become REAL MARTIAL ARTS that can defeat the enemy.

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