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Sports With a Kick : For Devotees, Martial Arts Are Fun and Confidence-Building

September 17, 1988|GARY LIBMAN | Times Staff Writer

Jan Trussell is 5-feet-4 and weighs 114 pounds, but better keep her at arm's length. As many of her competitors have learned, if the cherubic-looking judo player gets an opponent in an arm lock, she is apt to break that arm.

At the Russian Invitational tournament in Lithuania last winter, for example, Trussell said she was trailing her heavier foe when "I jerked her down to the mat and stepped into an arm bar.

"Most people would give up because they cannot stand the pain, but she would not. It seemed like 10 minutes. Finally I heard it break and the referee called an ippon , which is like a knockout in boxing."

For Athletes at All Levels

Trussell has won championships like this around the globe and is one of the most experienced martial-arts athletes in Los Angeles.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 8, 1988 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 18 Column 6 View Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story Sept. 17, William Henderson was misquoted as saying that the martial art of kung fu was invented by a Buddhist nun. Henderson actually said that the Wing Chun system of kung fu was invented by the nun.

But thousands of local people at every athletic level study the diverse fighting arts developed in Asia. The disciplines include aikido, judo, karate, kung fu and tae kwon do. Competitors practice the martial arts in hundreds of YMCAs, church basements, shopping centers and dingy gymnasiums across the county.

Although it may be hard for novices to recognize, each martial art relies on techniques as unique as a chop to the neck or a kick to the solar plexus.

Judo, Trussell's specialty, is based upon sporting challenges rather than head-to-head street brawls. Its practitioners master hip throws, falls and choke holds.

Karate is more dependent upon hand jabs and chops delivered with an open or closed fist.

Tae kwon do, sometimes called Korean karate, also relies on fast, explosive blows but enthusiasts deliver their hard knocks with their feet.

These techniques were evident last month at the Nisei Week Karate Exhibition and Tournament, one of the larger annual karate demonstrations, held in Little Tokyo.

The hundreds of variations of kung fuare each based on the fighting techniques of a specific animal. Regardless of their orientation, kung fu specialists delight in unpredictable forays against assailants' most vulnerable parts, including the eyes, throat and solar plexus.

Kung fu "was invented by a Buddhist nun to compensate for men's strength," said Bill Henderson, a Los Angeles instructor. "A person doesn't have to be as fast as an opponent because it's based on leverage and redirecting someone else's force."

In contrast, aikido seems paradoxical because it aims to neutralize opponents, not to harm them. Practitioners may move slightly to dodge punches, then nudge their attacker off balance.

Games, Movies Drew Interest

Due in part to Hollywood and the Olympic Games, the number of competitors in these arts seems to be growing.

Movies by Bruce Lee brought droves of potential kung fu students into schools in the 1970s, just as the more recent "Karate Kid" films and some aikido throws by Steven Seagal in "Above the Law" lured admiring viewers into those sports.

Local teachers say the inclusion of tae kwon do as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympics also has piqued interest in it. The tae kwon do demonstration begins today and runs through Tuesday. The men's Olympic judo competition and the women's judo demonstration will be held Sept. 25 through Oct. 1.

Among its practitioners is Jimmy Young Kim, 21, of Cerritos. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound former Cerritos High School athlete will be seeking the Olympic heavyweight gold medal in Seoul, and experts give him a better-than-average chance to succeed.

Those who develop an interest in these martial arts can choose from many schools in each of the disciplines. But experts counsel that it is important to visit the school, rather than to make the choice by phone.

"A lot of people try to shop over the phone, just like buying Levi's," said Chan-Yong Kim, Jimmy Kim's father and president of the California State Tae Kwon Do Assn.

"Pants are identical, but the martial arts are . . . person-to-person contact . . . transferring . . . the instructor's concept into the student's mind. Therefore, there is no way we can find a legitimate school over the phone.

'Visit the School'

"The most important thing is to visit the school to talk to the instructors. . . . Also look at the establishment, recognize the diplomas, the instructor's qualifications and so forth.

"Many people decide this place charges less, so they are going to settle for this school, and they end up being dissatisfied. In many cases, in two or three months the school disappears."

For Trussell, 26, the choice of where to work out was easy. She practices and coaches at the L.A. Judo club, a 2,500-square-foot section of a Gardena warehouse that she and her husband, John Ross, 50, run.

In a room divided between weights and thick mats for practice falls, two garage doors on either side of the warehouse were pulled up to provide ventilation as players watched a judo video before a 7:30 p.m. class recently.

Warm-ups, Then Action

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