DECATUR, Ill. -- Kevin Hughes doesn't want to hurt you.
Which is good news, considering his repertoire for pain distribution could fill several heavy volumes.
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The Decatur man, who teaches martial arts at the Decatur Family YMCA, is a sixth-degree black belt in shorin-ryu karate and a sixth-degree black belt in kobujutsu, which is fighting with weapons such as a 6-foot pole called a bo. He also is a sixth-degree black belt in kenjutsu, which is samurai swordsmanship; a fifth-degree black belt in hakutsuru kempo, a form of kung fu; and a fifth-degree belt in jujitsu, a grappling fighting method.
The common denominator here is that all these systems of causing harm are capable of spoiling an opponent's day very quickly and perhaps permanently. But the emphasis is on defense: He teaches students that soothing words and walking away from conflict is the opening move of choice.
"There is no first strike in my karate," he says. "The best way to stop a conflict is not to start it to begin with. We prefer words."
But if push comes to shove and turning the other cheek only earns you a second slap, Hughes is ready to unlock his Pandora's box of unpleasantness. Even then, when hurting is the only option, Hughes instructs that less is more, and you use only the force necessary to disable an aggressor. "Otherwise you will wind up killing someone, which is not what we want to do," he said.
"We say that by the time you get to first-degree black belt, you are considered dangerous because you have the skills but you don't necessarily have the self-control if you get into a situation of panic. Restraint is the key."
For Hughes, studying the martial arts is about embracing and learning the discipline and values of the ancient Japanese culture that adapted and developed the even more ancient fighting arts originating elsewhere in Asia. This explains the rather tongue-fatiguing title of his teaching system, which is called Koryu Bugei Hozon Kenkyukai, meaning Old School Martial Arts Preservation and Research Society.
He wants students to join him on a journey toward a new set of values. "What we do here is actually called `bushido,' Japanese for the `way of the warrior,'" says the 36-year-old instructor who wears glasses and an intense look when he's talking.
"Break that down, and `bu' is to stop conflict, `shi' is magnificent person and in general refers to Samurai, `do' is a way of life or path to walk on. It is a path you walk your entire life and don't finish until you die."
It's kind of surprising to find Samurai warrior ethos mixed in with the Y's usual fare of aerobics, swimming, yoga and Pilates, but students get a big kick out of it. Arik Dold says he has long been fascinated by the Japanese martial culture of yesteryear, and discovering there was a guy teaching this stuff at his local Y was like winning the lottery.
"Learning the martial arts is probably one of the best ways to get acquainted with that culture," said Dold, 23, of Decatur. "The Japanese emphasis on martial strength is just something that has always appealed to me. The sense of self-discipline carries over into every aspect of daily life and I think makes you a better person overall; the self-defense aspect is a nice bonus."
Selected students such as Dold also are taught one-on-one at Hughes' home, where he runs a school called Yushikan, meaning "Hall of the Courageous Samurai." The school at the Y is called Ryushikan, or "Hall of the Dragon Samurai," and a former student, Dan Allard Jr., runs another school for him in Decatur called Jubudokan, or "Hall of the Ten Martial Ways."
And last but not least, Hughes' brother, Doug, three years his junior, is in charge of a school for him in Grovesprings, Mo., known as the Senshikan or "Hall of the Battle Samurai."
"My brother Kevin was inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame on April 9," Doug Hughes wrote in a letter to the Herald & Review. "He is too modest to mention anything about this, but I am his brother and I can brag about him."
The award citation praises Hughes as having "mind, heart and body" in the martial arts, and it turns out he first got hooked watching stuff such as the David Carradine "Kung Fu" series on TV and movies with distinctly gravity-defying notions of what martial artists could do.
"Me and my brother would go outside and try to practice what we saw," he recalls. "And sometimes we'd hurt each other. but not badly."
Like the Grasshopper Kwai Chang Caine, however, he would eventually seek proper instruction and insists he was never upset that the Tinseltown special-effects version of martial arts turned out to be a load of chop suey.
"No, I was not disappointed that what you see in the movies is nowhere near real martial arts training," he says. "I was actually quite pleased no one expected me to be able to fly across the room."