- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2015

RICHMOND — After swinging his hands through the air like imaginary blades, Washington Redskins fullback Darrel Young let out a yelp, then shot a quick flex of his biceps. He had just run through the hand-speed drill with assistant strength and conditioning coach Joe Kim in the heat, a drill that had become one of the smile-inducing parts during the monotony of training camp.

Young isn’t quite sure why he does the drill. It was explained to him that it can help during special teams when an opponent is trying to get their hands on him. But, he’s convinced of one thing: It’s damn fun, even to talk about.

“I love it, man, I love it,” Young said.

There is more at play here than Young realizes. Kim — mid-sized, stout and upbeat — was hired in the offseason to help the Redskins’ pass rushers. Since the early 1990s, Kim has been working with NFL players, adapting his knowledge of taekwondo to benefit their pursuit of quarterbacks. Randomness led him down that path. It started with odd-looking glasses that stirred a neighborhood kid into a bully, then took another life-changing step when Kim walked into a meeting room just before Bill Belichick entered.

Kim’s imprint in Redskins camp is noticeable. He was among the first working with linebacker Junior Galette, whose flexibility and range of motion are tenets of the martial art. Defensive tackle Stephen Paea is Kim’s evangelist. They worked together last season with the Chicago Bears. Paea warms up pregame and pre-practice with Kim. His six sacks last season were the same amount he had the three prior seasons combined. He’s addicted to Kim’s unifying system of hands, hips and feet.

After practice, there is often a line to stay and work with Kim. The young, like second-year linebacker Trent Murphy, and the veteran, like Ricky Jean Francois, remain on the field. He takes all sizes, since they have the same goal: Fastest route to the quarterback. Kim explains with rhythm and glee the Utopian visions of how his implemented teachings would work on the field.

“They get off the ball, they pick the fight, the tackle’s feet stop, he shoots his hands straight out, we beat the hands with a side scissors — I call it ‘side scissors motion’ — we flip our hips, we are as tight to him as could be, our facemask is right by his facemask when we flip our hips, he gets down, he touches the ground and runs straight line to the quarterback,” he said. “That’s a perfect world.”

Lessons learned early

Multiple science-fiction hits were made in the 1970s. The first “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” films came out late in the decade. Various “Planet of the Apes” vehicles engaged theatergoers earlier in the decade. Renowned science fiction novelists Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke put out new books. Kim involuntarily waded into the genre with his “sci-fi glasses.”

When he was young, Kim needed multiple eye operations; early forms of Lasik eye surgery, as he explained it. Following the surgery, he wore large glasses. One lens was blue, the other red. The different colors allowed one eye to work, and the other to be shaded. After a few weeks, the colors would swap sides to engage and rest the other eye.

To the west of Cleveland, in Fairview Park, Ohio, Billy Raymond lived down Knickerbocker Road right by Mark Nelson’s house. Up the street was Kim’s house, where he lived with his single mother who worked as a school nurse. Raymond found Kim’s multi-colored glasses mock- and smash-worthy. Kim’s only defense at the time was to run back to his mom with his mangled frames and spirit. Tired of the repeated expenditures, and spurred by his uncle Dan, she brought him to a local taekwondo school.

There, Kim said, he built self confidence. His instructor became family when he married Kim’s mother. Throughout high school, Kim’s skills advanced. After finishing his competitive taekwondo career in 1991, he returned to Cleveland to help the family with dojang operations. Not long after, in walked two members of the Cleveland Browns.

Defensive linemen Michael Dean Perry and Anthony Pleasant started was has been a 20-plus-year involvement in the NFL for Kim. He recalled that Pleasant was stiff at the time, constructed and instructed like a typical lineman. Pleasant had the straight-line power of a girder, his skillset filled with bull-rushes and rip moves. Kim began working with Pleasant’s hands. Next was trying to stretch him and breathe some Fred Astaire into the feet that held his 6-foot-5, 280-pound hulking frame.

“I had to teach him football, he taught me martial arts,” Pleasant said. “He tried to incorporate what he knew about martial arts and tried to relate it to football.”

Pleasant and Perry were pleased enough with the work that they mentioned it to the Browns. Kim waited in a lobby, anticipating a tour, before being summoned to a meeting room at the Browns’ facility. Pleasant and Cleveland strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons were in the room. Defensive coordinator Nick Saban was in a chair. In walked Belichick, who introduced himself, then asked for an explanation of just how these techniques would benefit the Browns.

“At this point, I realize I’m in an interview that I didn’t know about,” Kim said.
Belichick wanted to know how Kim’s teachings could help football players get another person’s hands off of them. A demonstration and explanation were sufficient for to land his first NFL job in 1992.

Applying the craft

Out of NFL work after the Bears fired their staff last season, Kim searched for a job. He said a past relationship with new Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn led to multiple conversations with the Falcons. As defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, and an avid boxing fan, Quinn taught his own style of hand combat to his players. Kim’s approach, honed after trial-and-error when trying to decipher what aspects of taekwondo were readily applicable to football and how, would sync with Quinn’s already existing interest in applying the approach to football. Quinn and Kim had also worked together for the Miami Dolphins when Saban was the coach.

Then, Kim said, the Minnesota Vikings called. He was concerned that talking to the Vikings would be viewed as inappropriate when also talking to the Falcons, where he was convinced he would end up. He called Redskins strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark for advice. They had worked together prior with the Kansas City Chiefs and in Chicago. They are also Bible study partners.

Clark told Kim he would call him back. He did not that day. The next day, Kim saw a call from a Florida number. It was Redskins coach Jay Gruden. After confirming Kim did not have a signed contract with another team, he said the Redskins would like to fly him in for an interview. A few days later, Kim’s contract with Washington was finalized.

Sharing his secrets

Covered in sweat, Paea smiled when explaining what he pulled off earlier in practice. He had learned a new move from Kim and applied it that day in Richmond. A lineman had slapped his hands onto the rushing Paea, who then lifted the lineman’s elbow to steer him one way, then angled toward the area he had just moved his opponent from.

“Most people, when you lift it up, they go back up like this,” said Paea, arcing his shoulders backward. “So, it means they are opening up the gate for me.”

Paea often gives away 30-plus pounds to linemen, so he is looking for shortcuts and Kim is trying to provide the map. Every move has a name — Three-Count Wheel Grab, Long-Arm Wheel, Side-Scissors Flip Drill. The moves meld movements. For example, Side Scissors is a strike with both hands swinging upward, using the torso for power and “flipping” the hips at the same time. The idea is to beat the offensive tackle’s inside and outside hand at the same time.

Redskins players have Kim’s instructions sent to their iPads. Each drill is also explained in their strength and conditioning booklet. They watch film with Kim, seeing in slow motion how their foot or hand placement was incorrect.

“Everything he do, he’s showing you why you doing it,” Jean Francois said. “Once he shows you the tape, he shows you doing it, you see why you flip your hips. You see why you get farther upfield. You see, if you knock a man’s hand down, a man’s hand is like balance. It’s almost like feet. You knock his hands away, his balance is gone, you’re already upfield if you’ve got your hips across. He already knows. He doesn’t have to really look at the film. He knows when you took that wrong step. He knows when your hands out too wide.”

Jean Francois, who calls Kim “Dragonfly Jones” in honor of the much less capable martial arts characters created by Martin Lawrence, would have liked to start learning from the seventh-degree black belt sooner.

“I have never done that in my career, but I wish, I wish, when I came out for the draft he was a person that I had seen already,” he said.

Kim has worked with nine NFL teams. He also has loyal charges in sack-happy Kansas City Chiefs linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, a duo referenced by Jean Francois when asked about buying into something new. Time with multiple teams and players allows Kim’s message to be absorbed easier now. The Redskins hope it helps them get to the quarterback more often. His mom is happy it keeps the bullies away.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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