Karate teacher fast on his feet

The best defense in a violent city is knowing how to avoid trouble.

That is the advice of Houston's longtime martial arts Instructor, Kim Soo, who attained his black belt in Karate at age 13 in Korea. He is 52 now and has lived the past 22 years in Houston. He teaches at two of his own training halls—dojangs—and in classes at Rice and the University of Houston.

Jump on this man named Soo and first thing you'd know you wouldn't know anything. You'd be picking yourself up asking, "Who'd a thought it?"

But that doesn't happen because Soo doesn't get jumped on. Not in a long time. Not since he was a kid in wartime Korea and bigger kids beating up on him prompted him to study karate. He quickly became quite proficient, but he did not seek out and get even with those bigger kids. A story like that might make a popular movie, but it isn't what Soo believes or teaches.

Out of harm's way

Years ago in Korea, and now in an Increasingly violent and crime-plagued Houston, Soo's philosophy has been constant: An ounce of prevention is better than pounding someone with karate chops.

"First of all, I don't go to dangerous places," he said. "I don't go to a place where there Is a lot of trouble going on."

That's good, you say. But you know some one who was beaten and robbed between the downtown office building where he worked and the garage across the street where he parked. Trouble and troublesome types cannot always be avoided, you say.

Well, Soo does recall one time several years ago when he was confronted in a parking lot by two thugs obviously intent upon mayhem.

"These two guys, they took some karate pose," he said. "And I'm a karate teacher. I'm a karate professional. I know I can win. So I just laughed at them."

Imagine, two tough guys intent upon mugging a smallish, slender fellow. They threaten him with their best theatrics. He laughs at them.

"I laughed real loud," Soo said. "They looked at each other like, 'What's going on?' Then they were gone. I laughed and these two guys were looking around and then they're gone."

Doesn't that remind you of Davy Crockett grinning down the bear?

And there was once, 15 or 20 years ago Soo said, when two men came into his downtown dojang, near the current site of the George R. Brown Convention Center, wanting to fight him and wager $50 on the outcome.

"I realize these two guys must be nuts," Soo said. "Why do I have to fight a nut? I didn't come to United States to fight nuts. I came to teach people."

He told the challengers that he had students to teach and they should come back later. They left and Soo figured he was rid of them for good. But, sure enough, they returned as he was finishing the class, walked right into the training area without removing, their muddy shoes and restated their desire for a fight.

It was the muddy shoes, as much as anything, that got Soo's goat. Showed no respect for the training area. Violated a basic rule of the dojang.

"I was very mad," Soo said. "But I cannot hit them and knock them out or something like that. Fighting with this guy and I'm In trouble. I don't like to do that. I look at them. I was to mad. I faced toward them. I yelled 'kee-yah,' real loud. These two guys were paralyzed. They turned a gray color. Then a few seconds later, they walked outside. I Just yelled. It cut their spirit."

Mind over madder

Another time a guy walked into the dojang when Soo was there alone and he asked, "What kind of place is this?"

"He thought it was a bar or something," Soo said. "I looked. The guy looks mean. And I look at him again: He's got a gun. I saw the pistol right here, in the pocket. So I look at his face. I look at his pocket, and I Just said, "Why are you carrying a pistol? This is a karate school. We teach how to defend yourself. When you get the confidence, you don't need to carry around a pistol. Don't carry a gun. You're In trouble. That's not a good self-defense."

The man pushed his gun deeper Into his pocket, out of sight, and turned and walked away. Soo was convinced that tf he had acted nervous or frightened the man would have pulled the gun and robbed him.

Talking, yelling, laughing - all applied as means of self-defense by a master of martial arts, a man who has taught karate to an estimated 50,000 students In Houston including many doctors and lawyers and corporation executives.

"Self-defense is to avoid as much as we can," Soo sald. "Why fight with them? There's no reason to fight with a punk. No reason to fight with a crazy."