Ray Downing and other "AIRCREWSURVIVAL" class members practice a right-handed hammer blow. The self-defense class is geared toward airline flight crews and frequent fliers.

In-fight training

No-nonsense self-defense aims
to stop in-air terrorists,
no matter what it takes

By Jason Genegabus

IMAGINE for a minute that you're on an airplane leaving Los Angeles for Honolulu, just a few minutes after takeoff. After running the gauntlet from ticketing through airport security and on to the boarding gate, you're relieved to finally be in the air and on your way to paradise.

Suddenly, a commotion breaks out a few rows back; someone who managed to sneak a knife onboard just stabbed a passenger and is making his way toward you with similar intentions. Are you ready to protect yourself?

A few short years ago this scenario would have been hard to believe. But following the events of last September's terrorist attacks, a hostage situation at 30,000 feet is a very real threat that Mike Young and Dr. Wes Young (they are not related) are working hard to prepare airline employees for.

The two have partnered to present "AIRCREWSURVIVAL," a self-defense program designed to provide an effective, no-nonsense method of disarming and subduing unruly passengers or potential terrorists.

Self-defense instructor Mike Young taught flight attendant Heather Moore how to deliver an effective knee strike into someone's mid-section.

"It's not sweet or gentle ... this is life-and-death stuff we're talking about," said Wes. A former deputy sheriff, the emergency physician and flight surgeon has "taken care of pilots and flight attendants for over 20 years.

"It's been real clear to me that (the airlines) have not yet stepped up to the plate in terms of equipping air crews with tools that will save their lives," he said.

Wes teamed with long-time friend Mike Young, who is the head martial arts trainer at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The former Hawaii resident's 34 years of martial arts experience as a competitor, trainer, author and magazine writer have exposed him to a variety of fighting styles and techniques, the best of which he will share Saturday.

Amy Brown applies a choke hold to instructor Mike Young. "The flight attendants are the ones who are right out there," Young said. "You have to give them the tools and make them feel safe."

"We don't have time for the peripheral things," said Mike. "The flight attendants are the ones who are right out there. You have to give them the tools and make them feel safe ... you've got to give them something that works.

"And it's sad to say, (but) the things that work are not politically correct or warm and fuzzy," he said.

Designed for emergency situations on a commercial aircraft, "AIRCREWSURVIVAL" focuses on hand-to-hand combat in close quarters using a variety of objects. At the last workshop, held in July, items commonly found on a commercial flight, such as a wine bottle and corkscrew, were spread out on a table. "The class is designed to open your mind a bit," said Mike Young as he explained the rules to fighting in a plane. The first rule? Fight to win.

Mike doesn't waste much time with theory, nor does he worry that some of the workshop's participants have never had a day of martial arts training in their lives. One of the first moves he demonstrates is a deadly strike to the face, complete with a photograph of the blow's graphic after-effects.

"Some of the techniques we show, you normally can't see until you're a black belt in some styles" of martial arts, Mike explains. "But we show it right away because we see the necessity for it in this environment."

The people seated in front of Mike nod in understanding before he admonishes them to stand up and try the move themselves. Two of the women attending last month's session square off against each other, as Mike works with the workshop's lone male participant. A lot of giggling ensues as the women practice the move, prompting the question: How much can you really absorb during a single four-hour workshop?

"The truth is, it's really very unlikely that a 100-pound female black belt in karate is going to do in a determined 200-pound guy," said Wes. "But what it does do, with training and skill, is take that person from zero ability to survive to maybe 50 percent or 75 percent. It might be enough."

Mike also acknowledges that the workshop alone isn't enough for those in attendance. "After (this) four-hour course, these guys -- I'd put them against any average Joe Blow terrorist and I'd bet you they'd do OK. ... (But) they've got to constantly train, re-train and practice."

THOSE WHO have attended "AIRCREWSURVIVAL" have had nothing but good things to say about the techniques presented to them. Tim Alentiev, a pilot for Northwest Airlines who attended the first workshop, explained his motivation as "wanting to know what to do if attacked in the cockpit with my back to the door." Alentiev walked away with a number of "techniques for the close quarters of the cockpit which I feel will be very effective."

Mike Young demonstrated the basics of a “heel palm strike” to the class. “Some of the techniques we show, you normally can’t see until you’re a black belt in some styles,” Young said. “But we show it right away because we see the necessity for it in this environment.”

Heather Moore, a flight attendant from another airline, said the workshop went above and beyond what was offered by her employer.

"I think we need something more like this," she said. "That's why I think a lot of people are going out and taking martial arts on their own."

While Moore had no previous fighting experience, she said that Mike helped her to get "the essential movements and the ideas" behind the different self-defense techniques. "This is good for everyday use ... to me, this is more practical -- stuff you can use."

WHILE Saturday's morning session will be limited to flight attendants, commercial airline pilots and aviation employees, Mike and Wes have also tweaked the program a bit in order to offer a second session in the afternoon for airline passengers. "AIRCREWSURVIVAL: For Frequent Fliers" will take place from 1 to 5 p.m.

"This could save hundreds of lives, if they're armed with just some basic knowledge," said Mike. "It's better than nothing; some skills that are given here could possibly save them ... and if I can give them that one tool, then I have my reward."

The way Wes sees it, "we're breaking the barrier first off, to show that there is another world beyond throwing a blanket" on someone who poses a threat to a commercial airline flight.

"Unfortunately, the politics and political correctness have sort of gotten in the way of the fact that this is a war."

During a life-or-death situation, "you just have to stop them, to physically disable them, so they can no longer call on their muscles or arms or legs to do you damage," he said.

"And this stuff cannot be learned by watching a videotape," said Wes.


An intensive, hands-on workshop on tactical self-defense for airline employees and frequent fliers:

Class time: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (for airline employees) and 1 to 5 p.m. (frequent fliers)
Where: Honolulu Community College/University of North Dakota Aerospace Flight School, 140 Iako Place, near the Honolulu International Airport
Cost: $49 to $99
Call: 577-5555

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