Football / Sports

How a taekwondo black belt is a secret weapon for Bears' pass rush

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For a minute, Bears defensive lineman Lamarr Houston has a Mr. Miyagi thing going, calmly working through a series of martial arts moves with brief but specific explanations of each.

Here's the side scissors with Houston slashing both hands up across his body, from his right hip toward his left shoulder, a move he will use when an opponent comes at him with a two-handed punch.

Now comes the chop swing, a counter used when an offensive lineman shoots with the inside arm and the defender reacts with an upward arm chop and a quick swing.

Finally, Houston delivers the club, "the classic pass rush move" he points out. Only now, his is refined with added martial arts insight.

These are all in Houston's toolbox now, maneuvers taught and finely tuned by skill development specialist Joe Kim, the consultant the Bears hired in February as part of a concerted effort to bring tenacity back to their pass rush.

Kim, a taekwondo black belt who runs a martial arts school in Ohio, has been active throughout training camp, intensely focused during pass rush drills and is seen immediately after practice tutoring a flock of defensive linemen on hand-fighting techniques.

"He has an expertise in the movement of pass rushing, of identifying a target and developing a consistency to hit your target all the time," Houston said. "Where are you looking? How are you attacking that offensive lineman? How can you turn concentration into reaction?"

Kim's work may not yet be worthy of hyperventilating, infomercial-level hype. But his tutelage is drawing notable endorsements from the defense.

Praise has come from nine-year veteran Tim Jennings, a cornerback preparing for more blitzing responsibility.

"This guy's a master with hands-on tricks of the trade to get yourself free," Jennings said. "In my nine years, I've never had anything like this."

And from rookie defensive tackle Ego Ferguson: "In college, I was always a straight ahead guy -- more of a power rusher. This has added an element to my game."

The Bears are not making Kim available for interviews, perhaps wanting to divert the spotlight until there's in-season evidence of his influence. Again, it will take far more than martial arts mentoring to rejuvenate a pass rush that produced an NFL-low 31 sacks last season.

But if the first step toward Kim's success is player buy-in, that box appears checked.

"It's so relative to what we do," nose tackle Stephen Paea said. "When you're in there as a d-lineman working with no arms or bad hands, you're not going to be able to get anywhere. So he's sharpening our tools."

The concept of combining martial arts tactics with football is far from new or revolutionary. Kim's own NFL work dates to the early 1990s when coach Bill Belichick brought him in to work with the Browns. Scott Pioli, then a Browns' pro personnel assistant, later brought Kim to the Chiefs when Bears general manager Phil Emery was their director of scouting.

Kim also has spent time over the last two decades working with the Dolphins, Packers, Broncos, Cowboys, Giants and Bills.

Perry Fewell, the Giants defensive coordinator, first became familiar with Kim and his practices when Fewell was the Bills' defensive coordinator in 2009. He admits his first impressions of what Kim might bring to the practice field were a bit misguided.

"My first image was, OK, we're going to have our guys flying around yelling 'Hiiii-yaaaa!' and making a bunch of noises out there," Fewell said. "All I wanted was for them to get their asses to the quarterback."

But quickly Fewell realized Kim had the moves for that mission. And Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams became one of Kim's biggest fans and developed into a Pro Bowl playmaker.

"Joe translated taekwondo into football movement and taught Kyle how to attack and how to expose some of the weak parts of a body of an offensive lineman," Fewell said.

Kim individualizes his teaching, identifying players' strengths, mixing in moves that work best, then providing detailed guidance on how to synchronize hand fighting with hip movement and footwork.

"He is so finite, so detailed in his 'Let's work this edge.' Or, 'We're going to attack this elbow,'" Fewell said. "And when you see it, you go 'Well, why weren't they teaching this all along?' But it's not what he's teaching, it's how he's teaching it and how he's communicating."

For the Chiefs, Kim's direction paid off most for Tamba Hali. Emery was with the Falcons when Hali was drafted in 2006 and had liked his raw tools. But he also admits he was wary of some of the tightness Hali exhibited. With the Chiefs, however, Emery witnessed a transformation.

Kim's teaching gave Hali burst and confidence. Hali's confidence fueled his work ethic. His work ethic delivered greater investment in Kim's program, which ultimately helped make Hali more explosive and more productive.

During Kim's three seasons with the Chiefs, Hali totaled 35 1/2 sacks.

Said Emery: "Through Joe's help and with the coaches on the staff in Kansas City, that tightness became more dynamic explosion for getting through people and learning how to drive his hips through pass protection blocks."

Emery hopes to see similar dividends in Chicago. And it's no wonder rookies Ferguson and Will Sutton are currently two of Kim's most dedicated camp pupils.

Sutton's increasing success in one-on-ones, he said, is directly tied to Kim's help. Ferguson feels similarly.

"The first couple of days it was all about bull rushing. Now I have a lot more moves," Ferguson said. "I'm flipping my hips and getting my head behind a guy's back, too, to help me rush the quarterback. It's attention to detail with how you work your hands, where you put them and how you hit your landmark. I've come a long way."

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