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Martial-arts instructor James Pae, left, demonstrates a move to Army Spc. Aaron Bossert at Friday’s training session. Pae trains law enforcement officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and was invited to Misawa last week to train a handful of airmen, sailors and soldiers in his hand-to-hand, close-quarters fighting techniques.
Martial-arts instructor James Pae, left, demonstrates a move to Army Spc. Aaron Bossert at Friday’s training session. Pae trains law enforcement officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and was invited to Misawa last week to train a handful of airmen, sailors and soldiers in his hand-to-hand, close-quarters fighting techniques. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Martial-arts instructor James Pae, left, demonstrates a move to Army Spc. Aaron Bossert at Friday’s training session. Pae trains law enforcement officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and was invited to Misawa last week to train a handful of airmen, sailors and soldiers in his hand-to-hand, close-quarters fighting techniques.
Martial-arts instructor James Pae, left, demonstrates a move to Army Spc. Aaron Bossert at Friday’s training session. Pae trains law enforcement officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and was invited to Misawa last week to train a handful of airmen, sailors and soldiers in his hand-to-hand, close-quarters fighting techniques. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Lawrence McKnight holds down Senior Airman Billy Harden during a martial arts training session on Friday on Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Staff Sgt. Lawrence McKnight holds down Senior Airman Billy Harden during a martial arts training session on Friday on Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — “Be like a bamboo, not an oak,” says James Pae, instructing his students to be quick and agile on their feet.

With his bare hands, Pae can drop an opponent to the ground in the time it takes to flip a page in a book.

His fight mind-set, though, is one of compassion, “Subduing without causing harm to the person,” he says.

After a week of intense martial-arts training with Pae, a handful of airmen, sailors and soldiers at this northern Japan base say they are more confident they could defend themselves without using a weapon.

“It’s great,” said Airman 1st Class Joel Thelen of Misawa’s 35th Communications Squadron. “All the concepts are dead on. If you take any martial-arts training long enough, you’re going to focus on these concepts.”

Pae works for the department of aviation at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he has taught numerous law-enforcement officers at O’Hare his unique martial-arts style, based on “close quarters, empty-hand battle techniques.”

“The idea is to subdue the assailant as quick as possible using the proper use of force,” Pae said Friday during a break in class at the Potter Fitness Center dojo room. “We do not want to get into a boxing match.”

“Close quarters” for an O’Hare law-enforcement officer might mean taking out an assailant on an airplane “where you have nowhere to go,” Pae said.

For a servicemember pulling security detail, the training can instill the skill and confidence to not always “unholster your gun” or use deadly force in a hostile situation, Pae said.

Capt. Matthew Gibson, assistant operations officer with 35th Security Forces Squadron, invited Pae to teach his martial-arts approach to servicemembers who would benefit most from the training.

Twenty-four men and women from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Army and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force trained with Pae last week, about eight hours a day for five days. Units that sent participants included 35th Security Forces Squadron; Misawa Naval Air Facility (master of arms); 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, fire and emergency services; 35th Communications Squadron; and 403rd Military Intelligence Detachment, an Army unit at Misawa.

These are “people that would most likely find themselves in a situation that this would be useful to them,” Gibson said. “They represent some of the best, most motivated troops that we have.”

The training was a rare opportunity to learn self-defense techniques on the job, he said: “Of the 24-person class, only about four have had some type of self-defense class sponsored by the military.”

Pae, who as a young boy studied tae kwon do at a South Korean Buddhist monastery, came to Misawa on his own dime, Gibson noted.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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