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Howard Kea - A Family that Spars Together, Stays Together
Although he had a rather inauspicious introduction to martial arts, human resources specialist Dr. Howard Kea now builds community spirit through martial arts on the family plan. “When I was 6 years old, in 1964, my parents put me in judo class after some neighborhood kids picked on me,” Kea says. Years later, Kea began training in Soo Bahk Do, a traditional Korean martial art.

Photos of the Kea family enjoying their hobby, of the martial arts classes, and even one of Howard in 1964 taking judo. Credit: H. Kea

“’Soo Bahk Do’ means ‘the hand strike art or way,’ referring to the use of hands and feet as weapons, not swords. This martial art is based on an underlying philosophy called ‘Moo Duk Kwan,’ which translates into ‘the school of martial virtue.’ Our art is for self-defense only. ‘Moo’ or ‘martial’ relates to preventing conflict, both internal and external. ‘Soo Bahk’ or ‘art’ refers to the techniques, but the ‘Moo Do’ philosophy is our motivation underlying the techniques,” explains Kea. Another part of the philosophy is harmony as symbolized by defensive or water energy and offensive or fire energy. “It’s a dance of energies where two opposites work together to create harmony,” says Kea.

Soo Bahk Do is the only martial art where everyone has a rank relative to everyone else. “Everyone has a pecking order and an instructor above them no matter how high their rank except for the Grand Master,” says Kea, who believes that knowing relative rank prevents conflict. The expert level rank in Soo Bahk Do is a midnight blue belt instead of black because black represents death or ending in their philosophy. “The midnight sky is endless, and we never stop training,” says Kea. It takes about four years of steady training to be ready to even test for the midnight blue belt level.

Kea wanted to use his martial art to build positive relationships in his community. Initially, he taught at his instructor’s school or “dojang,” but in 2000, he started his own school called the DC Metro Soo Bahk Do Martial Academy, Inc. in Silver Spring, Maryland. Kea charges a fixed rate for the entire family to encourage all members to train. “Our school wants families to take our philosophy into their homes, school, workplaces, and communities to build good relationships,” says Kea. A typical class is a family class including parents with their teenage and elementary school kids, and even sometimes their neighbors and their families. Another popular class is a self-defense for women and girls.

Kea teaches discipline and respect, which he hopes carries into his students’ community relationships as well. “There is no squabbling or bad behavior in the dojang,” he says. “Cranky kids and sometimes adults aren’t always on their best behavior. When we are all tired, I say, ‘Let’s let our collective energy motivate us.’”

A special extension of Kea’s commitment to community service is his work with children with learning disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. Kea teaches the ADHD children to meditate. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy for ADHD kids to sit still. For them, it’s like trying to contain a nuclear reactor,” says Kea. He has taught some ADHD kids who could only mediate one to three seconds to learn to meditate a full minute.

He also taught a child with autism who could talk, but had sensory issues (difficulty being touched). “Sometimes he’d be in his own world. I would remind him to do things together with the class as best he could. The class might be moving their arms and he would be moving his feet, but I helped him build a sense of community by being a part of something greater than himself,” explains Kea.

After Kea works with special needs kids, he then teaches these techniques to their parents to help them manage their kids at home as, for example, helping them to be calm and focused when doing homework, eating dinner and getting ready for bedtime. “My techniques come through years of experience and also from working with my daughter who has ADHD,” explains Kea. Both of Kea’s children are in karate. “We are all midnight blue belts except for my wife who just started training two years ago.”

Theirs is a peaceful house.

Related Links:

› Read Howard Kea's Conversations With Goddard interview
› More Outside Goddard profiles
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.