Kids get a kick out of martial arts

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Policeman, Tae Kwon Do instructor demonstrate how people can stay safe

By Lisa King

Visitors to the Shelby County Public Library on a recent Thursday evening would have been very surprised upon nearing its Hudson Room.   

The silence that they usually would expect to find had been replaced that night by a cacophony, complete with yelling and loud exclamations.    

And that was OK.

A martial arts demonstration claimed the attention of several dozen people who had come hoping to learn how to defend themselves from physical attack. 

The demonstration was conducted jointly by Tom Ford, master instructor at A-1 Karate on Main Street, and Shelbyville Police Officer Istvan Kovacs. 

Both talked about self-defense, what the average person could do in case of a physical altercation and, just as importantly, how to avoid trouble in the first place. 

Kovacs, a veteran police officer, pelted the audience with some common-sense advice. 

"Don't go anywhere by yourself," he told the crowd, which included numerous teens and even younger people. "Stay in well-it areas. Just basically don't put yourself in a dangerous situation." 

Kovacs said that being more observant and cautious is very important. 

"Always walk in the middle of the sidewalk; that makes it harder for someone to grab you from the bushes or from a car at the curb," he said. "Always look into your back seat before you get in the car, and if you work someplace where it's dark when you leave, get a co-worker to walk out with you. There's safety in numbers." 

Kovacs then turned the program over to Ford. 

"He'll teach you what to do when what I say doesn't work," Kovacs said with a grin. 

Ford, an ex-Marine who holds a fourth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, began by telling the audience that self-defense is more than just knowing what to do to fight off attackers. 

"Self-defense is an attitude," he said. "It says, 'I will not be victimized.’

“You have to keep your head up, and look around. The best defense is not to look helpless." 

Ford didn't have to twist any arms to get the audience to pay attention. Youngsters and adults alike were spellbound by this veteran sensei's martial arts techniques, which he demonstrated with the help of two assistant instructors, Mike Carlson and Tony Farris. 

In addition to some simple techniques, such as hair pulling, scratching and using items as common as a nail file or car keys for self defense, Ford also showed the crowd some vulnerable areas on the body that one could strike if being attacked, such as the eyes, throat, groin, and the solar plexus (breast bone), He also explained where the pressure points are on the body. 

Whether you are trained martial artist or just an ordinary person defending against an attack, Ford stressed that the four cardinal rules of self-defense apply in all situations. 

"First, you have to do something immediately," he said. "The second thing is it has to be a surprise. If they see it coming, they'll retaliate." 

Ford’s third rule was that "it has to hurt a lot." 

And finally, he said, "Do it more than once if it hurts a lot." 

Many people had questions or wanted Ford to demonstrate how to get out of this or that choke hold. 

Ford was happy to demonstrate -- on them. 

Keira Lopez, who attended the session with her mother, Lisa Lopez, said she did not want to come to the demonstration at first, but she quickly got into the spirit of it and volunteered to be Ford's "victim." 

"I'm glad I came," she said later

"I practically had to drag her, but I knew it would be good for both of us," her mother said, laughing. 

Mother and daughter enthusiastically tried out some of Ford's moves on each other in the audience-participation part of the 3-hour demonstration. 

Kovacs also captured the audience's attention with his no-nonsense advice, which he tempered with humor. 

"Learn to make caution part of your normal behavior," he said.

"You all know I go to convenience stores because I like donuts," he added, as the crowd laughed, "but before I go in, I look in the store and check out the customers and the clerks to make sure everything is OK.

“Also, don't park right in front of the door. If someone is in there trying to rob the store, they could hurt you when they come out."

Kovacs explained how the law looks at deadly force. 

"You have to use the appropriate amount of force depending on the situation," he said. "You wouldn't want to break somebody's arm if pushing them down and running away would do the job. But you have the right to use deadly force if you think somebody is trying to kill you or kidnap you.

"Do what you have to do to survive. " 

Ford also handed out some practical -- and invaluable -- advice, some of which also drew a chuckle from the crowd. 

"Run away if you can, but if the attacker has longer legs than you, you'll probably have to fight him because you can't outrun him," he said. 

After the laughter subsided, Ford grew very serious. 

"Listen to your inner voice," he said. "Don't hang out in places where you shouldn't, especially in bars, because every time you mix alcohol with crazy people, you'll get violence every time.

“Good, common sense will keep you safe."