The Black Berets of Hwa Rang Do


"Black Belt Magazine, September 1978 Issue"



Surrounded by the peaks of smouldering, smoking volcanoes, hot, steaming jungle, and what may be the only freshwater, shark-infested lakes in the world, one might believe he had entered a land that time forgot. Beautiful and rugged, the Central American country of Nicaragua is a formidable land for any adventurer. And the presence of rigid, martial arts instruction for the military provides an appropiate parallel.
"Since the times of their earliest development, the various martial arts evolved primarily as a means of self-defense," said Michael D. Echanis, an unconventional warfare expert and black belt student of Hwa Rang Do Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee. "But in Nicaragua, the powerful army of the president, General Anastasio Somoza Debalye, has a commando unit composed of men who receive instruction not only in how martial arts may be used for purposes of self-defense. Called the 'Black Berets,' this unit also learns how martial arts may be used for counteroffense."
Echanis and Charles Sanders are two Hwa Rang Do experts known by almost every elite military unit in the United States. Former senior instructors for the United States Army Special Forces, Rangers; the United States Marine Corps Force recon, and the United States Navy SEALs, these men are now chief instructors for the personal bodyguards of President Somoza, his special elite guard and the Black Berets, a newly developed commando unit for antiterrorist activities.
"President Somoza has stated that acts of violence and terrorism serve no form of social change, are the lowest form of criminal violence and will not be tolerated in his country," Echanis said about recent developments between opposing forces within Nicaragua. "And if it is true that the security of every nation lies within the strength of its military, then the security of this Central American country is sound.
"Credit for this security goes primarily to President Somoza and to a brilliant, young commander, Major Anastasio Somoza Proteccarro."
A West Point graduate and longtime ally of the United States, Echanis continued, President Somoza serves as a pinnacle of strength in this crucial time for all of Latin America and its war against terrorism and subversion.
"But the practical development and progress of a professional military in Nicaragua is largely the result of Major Somoza's efforts," he said.
Receiving his masters degree from Harvard and conducting his graduate studies at Sandhurst, Major Somoza was the honor graduate of the Foreign Officers Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
"Multilingual," said Echanis, "Major Somoza brings progressive thinking and professional change to the new army of Nicaragua. He can be seen at five in the morning leading his men through their grueling training programs, or directing them in battle as they fight terrorist elements in Latin America."
The cadence of "airborne commando" may be heard at five each morning as the Nicaraguan antiterrorist commandos begin their eight-mile prebreakfast run. All volunteers, each man has passed a rugged battery of tests before his special commando training began. Training prerequisites called for a one-mile swim, 30 minutes of treading water, an eight-mile run, then a one-mile obstacle course run nonstop.
"But this is only the first physical test," Echanis said. "After passing this, the real training begins. Six months in land navigation, escape and evasion, survival, infiltration and exfiltration, range tactics and unconventional warfare operations all serve to bring these men closer to their final objective - combat."
This training involves a discipline and element of self-defense deeply needed today in Nicaragua and Latin America, he said, continuing that much of the training centers on martial arts and, in particular, the study of Hwa Rang Do.
"Often referred to as the spirit of the warriors," he said, "Hwa Rang Do is the flowerhood of man - the growth process of life where the experiences of the body, mind and spirit are considered knowledge in themselves. Originally utilized by one of the fiercest fighting sects in Asia, Hwa Rang Do methods of training and strict lines of discipline are integrated into the mental and physical development programs of the Nicaraguan commandos, much as they were in the renowned Korean ROK Division of South Korea.
"Hwa Rang Do and its highly developed techniques of hand-to-hand combat are an integral part of this spartan discipline and the maintenance of combat readiness. Especially trained in unarmed hand-to-hand combat, the knife fighting, knife throwing, machete fighting and sentry stalking bring the Black Berets up to par with any commando unit in the world. Every member has been in combat, fighting the guerillas of the mountains and the terrorists in the cities."
In providing the various forms of specialized instruction to the specially selected members of the Nicaraguan military, Echanis said he functions within an essentially hostile environment where his primary concern is education, both for his military students and for the civilians from whom his students come.
"I'm probably the primary instructor for close-quarters combatives, or at least the majority of them," he said. "And I find it takes special kinds of men. For instance, if they give me twenty black belts, maybe I'll find one or two of them with the special quality that allows me to take them through the many levels of Hwa Rang Do."
In Hwa Rang Do, the techniques may be divided into three basic divisions of power that include nae gong (inner power), wae gong (external power) and shin gong (mental power). Nae gong refers to controlled breathing and concentration, or the focus of ki at a single point. The essence of power behind kicking and punching, it can be broken down into 22 subdivisions of techniques. Wae gong refers to the use of combat weapons such as the sword, stick, bow and arrow, knife, stone, etcetera. And shin gong refers to all techniques that are purely mental and affect the life energy forces.
"This is a very strange martial art," Echanis said. "I am dealing with the mind, developing a highly programmed, highly well-trained individual with tremendous mental control. And these kinds of people are difficult for the enemy to meet within the battle situation because you're no longer confronting the normal human being. He has such a tremendous focus of concentration, power and ability that it's like meeting an entirely different individual."
Echanis contrasted a basic soldier with a Green Beret, saying he soldier stood no long-range chance of escape from a highly trained and developed Green Beret. Because of this challenge, and because of what he called "the macho attitude" of the Nicaraguan soldier, Echanis said his men are drawn to the study of Hwa Rang Do.
"Because of their macho attitude, the men are really drawn to fighting," he said. "For the most part, they seem to be hot-tempered. They become enraged very easily, but they cool off just as fast."
In teaching unconventional warfare tactics, Echanis uses a wide spectrum of instructional tactics, many of which are unconventional to the Nicaraguan soldier. And with regard to displays of emotion, he said, a lot of the old barriers are broken down.
"Not negative, but positive emotions are very good in combat," he said. "The display of warmth and love, to touch people when you talk, to shake hands and drink from each other's beer, I believe this is good. But when I'm instructing a group of men, it's completely the opposite."
Using what he calls "personality projection," Echanis said he teaches by example , even to the point of demonstrating the personal control he has developed that enables him to perform certain techniques of advanced mind control.
"First, you come to Hwa Rang Do to study, right?" Echanis says to his men. "And that was your first objective - to reach the high levels that we look for. Now, very few martial arts can offer those high mental and spiritual levels. And the phenomenal, paranormal capabilities which supposedly come with all martial arts are true. Any martial art can lead you to these because they are found within.
"But few know the real world, the guidelines, the step-by-step action you must take to achieve all this. That's why we demonstrate the ki abilities we have."
Among the demonstrations Echanis performs is one where he lies with his back on the ground and allows a car to be driven over his stomach. He may also stick a spoke in his neck, arms or chest and attach a 25-pound bucket of water that does not draw blood as he spins around three or four times.
"The people think we've got some sort of supernatural power and that immediately draws them to us," he said. "And because they have the impression we are some form of mental and physical guiding force or strength, it eliminates a lot of suspicion and fear. And though this power is within every human, only a small percentage will achieve this level of mind control."

Like his associate, Charles Sanders, Michael D. Echanis said he sees himself as a professional soldier, an attitude he strives to instill in his students. And though both men dress and act as though they're on their way to coach a little league team, their eyes - particularly when they visit the States after taking part in recent paramilitary procedures - remain intense and never quite part of their contagious smiles or warm personalities.
Amused easily, both men appear to enjoy whatever activity they engage in at the moment, no matter how trivial. But perhaps the most fundamental aspect shared by these two practitioners of Hwa Rang Do is the view that Communism is a threat to the peace and security of the entire world.
"Everything is not black and white," Echanis said about a statement that he seems to see everything as being caught in the struggle between Communism and the free world. "The world is gray because everything is interrelated within the universe. But my personal decision is black and white, not gray. What I decide must be black and white, based upon where I place the gray."
Because you have found it necessary to take the lives in combat, do you think this may be why you see everything in terms of a great conflict between Communism and the free world? Could this be your way of rationalizing your activities?
"To a degree," Echanis said slowly. "But that's how I'm trained. I'm a warrior, I'm a soldier. I'm not a pacifist, I'm not a civilian. I am a soldier, a professional warrior. And I'm a warrior in my mind and my body, and this is the stand I take. I believe in freedom and justice, don't you?
"If you don't know how good America is, go down to a supermarket in Latin America. Or go try to buy a hamburger or candybar in Asia and then tell me.
"America is beautiful, it's great," Echanis continued. "And every time you come back here you really know it. Every time you're somewhere else that doesn't have anything, that's when you realize how much we have. And if I have to lose a little bit here, a little bit there, then I learn from those experiences. I learn just how beautiful a thing we have here.
"Maybe when people raise the flag I get tears in my eyes because I think of all my friends, all my young friends who got their arms blown off or their legs blown off - died, in a war. Why? They didn't have to. They could have come back here and gotten an eight-to-five job. They believed maybe somebody else wants to live the way we do, have the same things we have, or at least have the choice to say they do or don't.
"I have picked up babies, little babies, and I know some of these babies are going to die because they can't make it in the Third World. They can't make it in Latin America. They don't have the hygiene, the food, the money. And then I think, what can we do to help these people?"
Though he admits to having little formal education, Echanis said he has been told many times he appears to be using psychological techniques a salesman might use in order to sell a product: Case in point, the following remark as he tries to find ground common to his ideals and to his subject's:
"Even though our ideologies are very different, you believe in freedom and I believe in freedom, though my line of freedom is different from your line of freedom. But still, it's just a different path on the same mountain. We're going to the mountaintop. Your path is here, and mine is there. But they're all the same, and that's freedom."
About the observation that he not only possesses a high amount of skill in martial arts, but he also possesses an apparent skill in public speaking and in writing, Echanis said he has not been educated at all.
"I've never been to any courses either," he said. "None - zero, believe me. The thing is I found the truth within myself. To a degree, I am exploring myself."
He has given much thought to the future of the men he has been training in Hwa Rang Do, and what they may do with their skill when the day comes that he leaves Nicaragua for someplace else?
"I cannot teach them the full extent I can teach Americans, and I won't for security reasons," Echanis said. "I won't teach them super-advanced techniques of mind control. I just give them enough to where they can be effective and I can develop discipline.
"In the category of self-discipline, increased physical capability, coordination and mental awareness, we can drill them forever on punching, kicking, throwing, choking, joint locking, knife fighting and knife throwing. I can keep doing that forever.
"I have a responsibility then for teaching them," he said. "And whether or not they misuse it is my problem. But one thing is for certain - they are tied to me forever through the art of Hwa Rang Do."


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