War II unleashed incredibly powerful weapons. The plane came into its own. So
did the tank. Hitler’s Panzer divisions and blitzkrieg war almost succeeded
in conquering all of Europe.
Gargantuan battleships, stalking subs naval duels on an immense scale. The fighter laden carriers engaged in battles of Midway and the Coral Sea changed the course of the war in the Pacific. Then came Hiroshima. The ultimate weapon, “the bomb” had been unleashed on humanity.
It appeared that the lowly foot soldier and hand-to-hand combat would be relegated to obscurity. Wars henceforth would be decided on the basis of which continent was wiped out by atomic hydrogen bombs. There was talk about the "balance of terror," in terms of Polaris subs, atomic powered carriers, portable weapons capable of devastating a city and multi-megaton bombs.
But a strange thing happened. Land wars became composed of "mini battles." The familiar battle lines of the two World Wars evaporated into nightmarish forces appearing suddenly in unexpected places. Wars became limited to "conventional weapons." America got bogged down in a long, drawn-out war on the Asian mainland. Interest in guerrilla tactics increased. Slowly it became apparent that knives, bows and arrows, stalking techniques and all the other specialties of individual human combat were as important as ever. The only heroes of the Vietnam war were the American "guerrilla forces," the Green Berets in their isolated Special Forces Camps.
So today, you can see modern American soldiers being trained in ancient fighting techniques in such places as the Hwarangdo Hand-to-Hand Combat and Special Weapons School. This Special Forces camp is located at John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Here Mike Echanis, hwarangdo expert, teaches the age-old arts utilized by guerrilla fighters the world over, and particularly the Orient. Though hwarangdo is of Korean origin, its roots and ties are shared by other Asian nations such as China and Japan. And, in fact, the most celebrated guerrilla fighters of history were the "invisible assassins," the ninja, who were employed as spies, kidnappers, killers and special surprise and shock attack forces during Japan's pre-Meiji Restoration period. Today, America is developing its own ninja-like army, the Special Forces, and Mike Echanis is one of its foremost instructors.
teaches the full repertoire of fighting techniques employed by hwarangdo. The
art itself is a grab bag containing all forms of personal combat training in
the use of hand weapons, revival techniques, joint-breaking techniques, stalking
techniques. Techniques similar to various other martial arts, including judo,
aikido, jujitsu, karate, tang soo do, Korean kwon pup or kempo, are utilized.
Students at the special training camp learn the standard martial arts punching, blocking and 'kicking techniques. Beyond that, finger pressure points, joint breaking and throwing techniques are taught. There is a full week's instruction in such areas as knife fighting, knife throwing, short stick fighting, garrotes, crossbows and handgun reaction, blowguns and bayonet training.
Echanis' specialty is what is called in Korean Eun shin bop, or making oneself invisible. Here students are taught to conceal themselves in front of others, utilizing such techniques as conforming to the terrain and moving in light shadow. Sentry stalking, silent killing and prisoner-of-war snatches all figure prominently in the instruction. "We have two more sections to our school and military orders," says Echanis, "but they are classified."
The training is designed to teach instructors in the basics of operational hand to hand warfare and the use of special weapons as taught by the hwarangdo method. Instructors then report back to their units and teach their staffs. Echanis, of course, has gone a long way in his hwarangdo training, and is capable of the more advanced demonstrations of internal power or "ki" training. Only a few, higher-degree hwarangdo black belts are able to utilize this somewhat esoteric power. For example, Echanis can push a spoke through the fleshy part of his arm or his throat and lift a bucket of water from a rope suspended by the spoke. Though the experiment appears grotesque, Echanis feels no pain and is not injured in the slightest. He can also allow vehicles to be rolled across his body without being hurt.
Echanis thus possesses the martial arts credentials to teach
such an elite body as the Special Forces. A Green Beret himself, Echanis also
had practical battlefield experience in Vietnam. He served with the 75th Ranger
Battalion. In 1970, Echanis was awarded the Bronze Star medal with "V" device
for heroism while under enemy fire in Vietnam. The details of the award are
in army records:
"Specialist Four Michael D. Echanis distinguished himself by valorous action when the truck in which he was a passenger was ambushed in the An Khe Pass." The truck had approached a sharp switchback, and he and his crew were greeted by a heavy volume of enemy. fire. Echanis immediately returned the fire. "As the truck rounded the corner, Specialist Echanis was wounded in the left foot," the order reads. "He disregarded the pain in his foot, reloaded his weapon, and continued to fire on the enemy."
The truck rounded the curve, skidding into a ditch. Echanis, while reloading his weapon, was hit in the head by fragmentation from a small arms round that exploded in the rear of the truck. After further encounters, Echanis "was wounded for the third time when an AK-47 round hit him in the right foot and lodged in his calf."
The award record continues: "Specialist Echanis was then wounded for a fourth time when his continued resistance drew a hail of enemy fire. Despite his numerous wounds, Specialist Echanis continued to fight until the beleaguered truck was relieved. Specialist Echanis' aggressive spirit and undaunted courage were decisive in preventing the annihilation of the truck and its personnel."
later returned to the States and began teaching in a hwarangdo school in La
Habra, California. "He was just too tough on the students," says Randy Wanner,
the current instructor. "Besides, he was a military man and liked it. That's
where he was happy."
So Echanis survived his ordeal and returned to become a kind of modern day ninja instructor for the Hand-to-Hand Combat / Special Weapons School. He is justifiably proud of his accomplishment. "I believe I am the only Caucasian man," says Echanis, "teaching charyok training to military personnel in the United States." Beyond that, says Echanis, "I teach mind control and hypnosis three days a week for Operations and Intelligence." Echanis also teaches hwarangdo to Navy S.E.A.L.S., Marine Force Recon units. Echanis credits his skills and capabilities to his teacher, HwaRangDo Founder Dr. Joo Bang Lee. "Were it not for him," says Echanis, "I would know nothing about the martial arts." Today, the former Green Beret and Airborne Ranger is the chief instructor for about 200 instructors in these special warfare branches of the service.