Hwa Rang Do®: Spirit Power For Martial Artists
Warriors of the Night

Competitors In An Arena Where The Only Trophy Is Survival

(Black Belt Magazine June 1977)

by Nick O' Prancter

Black Belt Magazine June 1977 - "Warriors of the Night" by Nick O' Prancter

A new breed of American warrior springs from the traditions of Hwarangdo. Tonight, while you sleep your deepest sleep in the pre dawn hours, 100 black clad figures gather in meditation. Their bass voiced mantra fills the air around their clandestine mountain retreat and contrasts with the hiss of their rigidly controlled breathing. They prepare for their upcoming mission by believing they are turning into tigers; by force of will they drift into a different phase of being. Their breathing becomes deeper, and they count backward from nine to one, mentally taking a step down an imaginary flight of stairs with each number. They control the inner voices of their minds and bring what they call their five minds into a single point of focus. Their preparations complete, they arm themselves with shuriken, garrotes, knives and crossbows. Then they depart, their destination a closely guarded building nestled in a valley miles away. There a dozen of them scale the sheer walls meant to protect the inner compound. With utter silence they make their way past sentry after sentry, finally coming to a small room guarded by still more sentries. With those guardians looking almost directly at them, they steal documents of great value and return, completely undetected, to their retreat. Is this a fantasy of Tibetan monks raiding a neighboring monastery in ancient times? Perhaps a script for a new martial arts thriller? No, this drill actually takes place somewhere on the East Coast of the United States; the participants are 100-percent-American boys who once volunteered for the Green Berets. But these hardy souls weren't quite satisfied with the muscle breaking, tortuous training they had already received. They wanted more. They were aware that the timeless art of guerilla warfare had once again become the world's most popular game, and they wanted to be the very best in a contest in which you either took first place or you died. So they volunteered - again - for the very special school operated under the supervision of one Michael D. Echanis, a former Green Beret himself. Not everyone who volunteered made it. In fact, nearly half quit within 24 hours. I don't have much time to get these men ready," Echanis states, "so I push them right from the start. At the end of the first day, I sit them down and tell them they can get out if they want to." But few leave at that point; the ones who are going to quit have already been scared away. "By lunch I will lose about ten out of every twenty-five volunteers," he promises. There is a good reason. As you may have guessed, this is not the normal military service training center. Specialist Echanis has been given permission by our very pragmatic military to instruct a portion of our vital fighting forces in the ancient ways of hwa rang do. More exactly, he shows them the secrets of the hwarang sul sa, the "magical" technicians of Hwa rang do, whose prime counterparts in the Asian world of long ago were the famed ninja of Japan. Both ninja and sul sa were regarded as almost superhuman creatures. They could dislocate joints at will, to slip out of the most complicated knots. They could scale the most impossible walls with ease. They could walk on water-using Special, boat-like shoes. And it was said they could make themselves invisible. All these things, combined with supreme empty-hand and weapons techniques, made them invaluable to the warlords of the day.

Yet where ninjitsu originated in Korea and China and was only later imported by the Japanese, the art of the sul sa was "homegrown" in their native land. The Hwa rang warriors developed in the old Korean kingdom of Silla, located in the southeast tip of the Korean peninsula. Silla was being harassed by its much larger neighbor to the north, the Kingdom of Koguryu. Koguryu had almost finished swallowing up Paekche, a kingdom larger than Silla, and was putting much pressure on the smaller kingdom. In response, Silla united internally and created one of the foremost fighting machines of its day-the Hwarang, or Flower knights. For 300 years, from 661 A.D. to 935 A.D., the warrior exploits of the Hwarang expanded Silla's territory until it covered more than the current geographical area of Korea. Later, martial arts and warrior training fell into disrepute in Korea, leading to the banishment of warriors. Some of these took refuge in various Buddhist temples where the art was preserved until the modern era. In the past several decades, with a worldwide renaissance of the arts and heightened interest in guerrilla warfare, Hwa rang do began to be publicly - taught in Korea and later found its way into the United States.

SEARCH FOR A WARRIOR'S ART - One person to whom the teaching fell was Echanis. Today he credits all his skills to his mentor, Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee, who founded the martial art Hwa Rang Do and introduced to America and who still periodically tutors Echanis on the "inside" aspects. Although Echanis has studied judo since the age of four and later got involved with tae kwon do in Korea and Vietnam, he kept searching. When he discovered Hwa rang do about five years ago, he was ecstatic. "I had finally found a martial art that combined everything necessary to make a man a modern-day warrior," Echanis says with feeling. His experiences in the 75th Ranger Battalion during the Vietnam War made him wish more than once for such a system. Although given the best military training available at the time, our Special Forces still had much to learn in the field. Using the knowledge gained in the study of Hwa Rang Do, Echanis special military concept training which would insure that our men would know all they needed to know before they went into action. Naturally, American military leaders did not accept his theories the first moment he mentioned them. Teaching ancient Oriental philosophy to combat soldiers is not the easiest idea in the world to sell. He had to prove the benefits of martial art Hwa Rang Do system. This he did by demonstrating the physical effects of the inner ki power he had developed as a result of his training. He let cars run over him; he hung 25 pounds from a needle piercing his neck; he punched a volunteer 15 feet with his one-inch punch; he demonstrated his kicking, punching and weapons skills. The generals were impressed. They gave him an assignment teaching a three-week series of classes for Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The results were so impressive that Echanis was catapulted into military prominence. Rangers, Seals and various other commando units became highly interested in his teaching. He was asked to prepare a series of standard manuals on hand-to-hand combat-the first such manuals to be produced since World War II.

He still teaches school. "The first week is like hell-week," Echanis says. "The idea is to put these guys in the right frame of mind psychologically. We begin at six o'clock in the morning. I give them an introduction to the martial art Hwa Rang Do in relationship to each of them as a soldier as a warrior. I don't care if the men have had previous martial arts training or not. I start them all over again. " Those who have studied the martial arts are shocked to learn how out of shape they really still are. Says Echanis, "They might have been in shape for normal living, but not for combat." Hwa Rang Do have so many different categories and techniques, for civilians, military personnel, handicapped, women, old ages, kids, law enforcers etc. It can be taken simply for physical and mental development and hard training like warriors. Echanis' specialty version of Sul Sa training is for practical use only. The difference is not just in orientation; there is also an incredible difference in intensity. Echanis has only a few weeks to get his people in shape, so his volunteers find themselves in a martial arts boot camp. "It's tough. We do anywhere from 250 to 500 knuckle pushups a day. Then we do another 100 on our wrists. We do somewhere between 250 and 500 sit-ups a day. I run them to tunnels with water, run them through those back and forth. We then do our basic techniques. Then we do the same till lunch. After lunch, back to the same." Some of the training methods are almost straight out of pro football. I use a system of physical harassment, Echanis says with a straight face. "I say, give me thirty pushups, give me fifty. Always give me more." Some of the methods are not so familiar. At the beginning of each learning session, Echanis does something very Eastern. He puts all of his students into a frame of mind which will let them comprehend and retain all they are about to be shown that day. He won't use the word "hypnotize," but it does pop into one's mind. In any event, it works. Shown a perfect technique once or twice, the student is so free of doubt that he can mimic that perfection, given only with a few practice tries at it. Then he retains it in his permanent memory. Obviously, all this is for more than just trophies in the dojo window. "We are not interested in the sport thing. Tournaments and things like that. Our main concern is survival in combat." He becomes emphatic. "My goal is to develop a modern, American warrior who can survive when he is called upon to protect his country." You can see the light of an ancient Hwarang Sul Sa dance in his eyes. He goes on to talk about his manuals and his courses. "This will be the most sophisticated approach to hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, sentry-stalking, hypnosis for combat, defense against armed attack, riot control, mind control, breath control, acupressure massage, standard punching and kicking techniques, throwing, joint-locks, choking and neck breaking techniques ... and the development of ki power for use in the field."

To teach all the above in a short 21 days is quite a task. But Echanis has devised a way to do it. "I've got this guy for three weeks and I have to turn him into a fighter. I have to put in a crash program, eliminate the nonessentials. Take an Olympic judo champion. He may know fifty takedowns, but he'll use only two or three which relate to his body structure and mind." He continues, "I don't teach the whole art. I take out what specifically applies to our situation. So he simplifies, then adds his personal panacea: intensity. ''Sometimes by the second week I have these men twenty-four hours a day. We practice, eat, sleep and go out on operations together. This is a mountain training situation. Isolated within my environment, I'm controlling the psychological aspects. I'm stimulating these men constantly, day in and day out." And though Echanis feels that empty-hand techniques are important, he stresses armed combat much more. I can take a black belt martial artist and a person with no previous training. I could train the black belt for two weeks at unarmed hand-to-hand combat and the other guy two weeks at knife fighting. Put them together in a combat situation and there's no doubt about which man to choose. You'll have to take the man with the knife. The weapon in a trained hand makes the difference."

Up to this point one gets the picture of a Marine boot camp carried to body-breaking extremes. Then comes the hint of more. After the first day, most dropouts are not quitters; they retire from injury. Try getting up at two a.m. and free sparring full contact until breakfast every night. Get used to not sleeping, for the pre dawn hours are when most people are least alert. Get on your fatigues after a night on the town, drunk and dead tired, and practice knife fighting for five hours. Try staying alive through the training. It is, put in the simplest terms, dangerous. And, of course, you have the techniques of the Hwarang's sul sa which you thought only other ancient warriors like the ninja could perform. One of those demanding techniques is un shin bop, the art of "invisibility" or concealment. in ancient days, there were two reasons why warlords' special forces studied concealment. One was for the gathering of intelligence, and the other was for the elimination of "key personnel." Echanis teaches un shin bop for both those reasons, but has added guerrilla warfare training as part of the overall operational skills his men must have. Naturally, the ability to conceal oneself until the final moment is vital to the success of an operation .. .and survival. Echanis stresses that in today's army the ultimate goal is survival, not the completion of an operation. He wants his men to come back alive. Then they can succeed time after time, instead of wasting their lives on a 'one shot chance at success. Mastery of the techniques of concealment help them accomplish this worthy goal: "HOW TO BE A TREE."

He starts by teaching basics. "Concealment. Use what you've got," he says. "Look for depth and density of shadow. If you're looking below a building offset from the ground, it looks like you're looking into a cave at night. That is where I would conceal myself." He thinks a moment. "Try to complement light shadows instead of contrasting them. If you have to be by a wall with horizontal brickwork, don't stand vertically. In a tree, try to look like a tree. In open spaces, fold up like a rock. Between buildings, look like connecting pipe. More than simple body postures, there are clothing and disguise. If one of his modern day sul sa needs to pass along a featureless wall, he does not present himself as a black garbed man. He uses a reversible piece of cloth he has brought with him (planning is always important) and holds up a white square in front of him as he moves. No manlike silhouette; no man. Yet if that were all it took to become an American guerrilla, we would all be hiding in trees tomorrow. The most important part is very difficult. It's the part that all the meditation and mantras are about. It teaches men how to control their own thoughts-as well as the thoughts of others. First there is mind conditioning. Echanis' approach is a mixture of modern psychological principles and ancient Zen Buddhist concepts. In many ways his teaching greatly resembles the traditional Japanese training for the samurai, who developed mind control based on Zen principles. The samurai was taught to focus his mind on the activity to be done. He learned to be dispassionate about the operation, to coldly analyze the job and proceed in logical fashion to get it done. Echanis echoes these thoughts when speaking about his current training system. "You have to have a positive attitude and be unattached, emotionally." Though he adds, "You do have to have the emotional content to succeed in your operation." So Echanis teaches his people to have control over their inner being. "Clear your mind with a black image," he commands his soldier warriors. "Think black. That is the nothingness. If a man is just firing his hand gun without thinking about it, he's just doing it. But the moment he thinks, 'I might miss,' he's lost his focus of concentration. He's listening to a little voice that's saying, 'Can I or can't I?' And the answer will be, 'I can't.' " EYES ARE THE MIRROR OF THE MIND Yet there is more reason for inner control than simply the improvement of performance. Echanis believes in the concept of One Mind; that all people share a sort of psychic oneness. In action, that translates into the fact that the sentry you are stalking can - if you are in a normal state of mind - feel you before he sees you. It's like when you stare at the back of a person's neck and they turn around. They've felt something. "There's the thing of emotional projection," Echanis says. "I come into this room and I don't feel good. You'll get bad vibes as soon as you feel me. What I tell my people is to freeze the feeling-point, which we say is at the tip of the sternum. When I freeze myself, I keep you from getting any vibration. It's a feeling like my entire body is ice." He folds all his feeling within himself. Besides keeping the emotional content inside, it is important not to look at the "centers" of a person's awareness, like his head, back or center of his body. "Look at your target's arms or legs. Don't look at his eyes-even from the side-until the last second." Eyes also play another role in Echanis' training. "You can create a freeze in a person by Iocking onto him with your eyes for a split second. You walk up to a person, not looking at him. Suddenly you look up intently at him. As our eyes make contact, he looks at me. At that split second, as he is looking at me and his body is frozen, that is when I would hit him." Adding the power of suggestion, you gain even more control over your opponent. "You can talk smoothly, go into a monotone. Use body language-the way you stand, little gestures-to appear relaxed. And use the eyes. The eyes are' the mirrors of the mind. So I can project with my eyes, No, I'm not going to stab or attack you.' Then do it. If you're totally relaxed in eyes, body, voice, it will not occur to the other person that you are ready to move on him." From the details of the training methods, one might think the people who volunteer for such an assignment would be true gorillas-strong backs and weak minds. But the reverse is true. Only the most intelligent, most sensitive people can make the mind control methods actually work. So there is the problem of desensitizing the volunteers so that they can use their skills without hesitation. One exercise for this purpose sounds like something straight out of Tim Leary's commune textbook. "We do alpha exercises," Echanis says. A person relaxes until he is in what we call a good alpha. 'We then have him read a paper that suggests he put himself into the frame of mind of a tiger. He visualizes himself as a tiger day after day. In time, he is no longer in the frame of mind as a man. He will actually visualize himself as a tiger." And with other exercises, he also learns to think of his opponent as something other than a man. Yet desensitization is less of a problem once Echanis' troops hit the beaches. "Americans are probably the most violent when it comes to combat. Take you out of this environment and put you into a war with your intelligence and-your old pioneer spirit, you will become desensitized in a very short time. Your ingenuity will come out. This is what makes the American soldier so unique - his ability to adapt. Michael Echanis has certainly proved that last point. The - American soldier-and the American military-is perfectly capable of taking an ancient Korean style of fighting and turning if into the most effective system of combat in the modern world. If the sul sa of the long-ago Hwarang had known what would become of their art in the centuries ahead, they would have been very pleased.


GARROTE DEFENSE EVERY HWARANG SUL SA WEARS A SASH. In 1) he wraps it around his hand, getting ready for the knife. 2) He snaps it tight and in the same movement 3) deflects the knife away. Continuing, he 4) wraps the sash around the attacker's throat, 5) pivots while twisting the sash, 6) gets ready for a throw, 7) executes it, with a good chance of breaking the neck on landing, and finally 8) steps over the attacker while pulling his head up. This arches the back and breaks the ki of the attacker - if he
is still alive.

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