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The Martial Plan : Mark Stewart Is Organizing a Safety Patrol to Improve the Atmosphere Around Chinatown

August 07, 1994|MARK STEWART

Six days a week, Mark Stewart drives from his San Fernando Valley home to Chinatown, where he teaches martial arts. Stewart, 34, teaches in the style of the famed Bruce Lee, whose movies inspired legions of youngsters to take up martial arts. jeet kune do is a blend of martial arts developed by Lee, and Stewart trained with Lee's protege. Now Stewart is offering his skills to better the Chinatown community. He is organizing the Chinatown Safety Patrol, a volunteer anti-crime group whose members will be trained in martial arts for free. He was interviewed by Catherine Gewertz .

This all started in the Chinatown Public Safety Assn., which I belong to. A group of us had the idea of starting a public safety patrol to deal with panhandlers and prevent people from breaking into cars. That's been a real problem in Chinatown and it keeps people from coming down there. It's dying and we need to make it more attractive and safer for pedestrians, residents and shoppers.

I'm in charge of getting the group going. It's called the Chinatown Safety Patrol. We have about six volunteers right now, all merchants in Chinatown. We would like about two dozen or so. It's open to men or women over 21. We'll have walkie-talkies and flashlights. No guns or anything like that. Volunteers who put in four hours a week or more will be insured while on patrol.

We'll walk the streets from Cesar Chavez, north to Bernard, west to Figueroa and south to Alameda. We will try to fill as many hours as possible, but we'll stagger days so no one knows when to expect us.

We're going to concentrate on panhandling because that has been the No. 1 problem that has discouraged people from coming to Chinatown or staying into the evening. Also car break-ins and thefts. So we will keep an eye on parked cars, ask questions of anyone who looks like they might have locked their keys in their car to make sure that is exactly what happened. We'll just be there to help out, be out in the open so people can see us, and assist anyone who has day-to-day problems.

We're modeling ourselves after the Little Tokyo safety patrol, which has really cleaned up that area. We are going on patrol with them to see how they do it.

We're also meeting with the LAPD because we have to become volunteer police officers. They have to train us about what we can and can't do. For instance, we don't have arresting powers. We can persuade a panhandler, verbally, to move on. But anything serious we run into, we have to phone that in to the police.

My goal and responsibility is to do self-defense training for the volunteers. That's why (the Chinatown Public Safety Assn.) chose me. I will be training volunteers in self-defense tactics for free. I will put them into regular classes at my studio. We'll also have a few intensive training sessions before we go out. And these tactics will be put to use only if volunteers are attacked, only in self-defense.

I have been teaching in Chinatown for 2 1/2 years now. My studio, Boxer Rebellion, is in Central Plaza, two blocks from Lee's last school, which was on College Street.

I teach jeet kune do, or JKD for short. It isn't just one martial art, it's a blend. I also teach the specific arts that make it up: savate, which is French kick-boxing; kali, a Filipino martial art, Thai boxing and wing chun, a Chinese martial art.

I call JKD a multiracial martial art because it draws from several different areas of the world.

I started studying an Okinawan style of karate when I was 14 growing up in Michigan. I am now a fifth-degree black belt in karate. I wanted to study jeet kune do after reading about it in martial arts magazines. I saw Los Angeles was the mecca for it because Bruce Lee's main protege, Dan Inosanto, taught here. So I moved to San Diego in 1986 and commuted to L.A. to take lessons with him in Westchester. I moved to L.A.

Like any martial art, jeet kune do is a fighting system, so the point is to learn to defend yourself. To seek the truth in jeet kune do is to seek the most efficient means to defend yourself.

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