Ask a Korean translated part of a fascinating interview with a North Korean Special Forces commando that had defected to South Korea.
Mr. Im Cheon-Yong (45) was a captain of North Korean Special Forces. He is relatively short — not quite 170 cm [TK: 5' 7"] — but had unusually large fists, reminiscent of a cartoon character. The fact that this reporter met an officer of North Korean military’s special combat unit became even more real after he explained, “I practiced punching several thousand times a day.” His handshake was firm and heavy.
The training for special combat as told by Mr. Im was harsh as expected, and some parts beyond imagination. The training begins on 5 a.m. The fundamental of the training is to turn the entire body into steely firmness, and the basic part is training the fist.
Mr. Im said, “You would wrap a tree trunk with ropes, and keep punching it. You throw 5000 punches day and night — do that for a month, the inside of your fist swells up until you can barely curl your fingers.” He added, “Then you open a tin can and set it up on a stand. You keep punching the sharp part. When your hand turns into mush with blood and pus, you start punching a pile of salt. Repeat it, and your hands become like a stone.” Mr. Im explained, “You punch the salt so that the salt would prevent the hand from rotting away with the blood.” According to Mr. Im, with the hand trained like this “you can easily break 20 sheets of cement blocks, and you can kill a person with three punches.” His hands would naturally make a fist throughout the interview. This reporter had to respectfully ask that he unclench his fist during the interview.
I remember hearing about this kind of thing as a kid. (I was told the rumor was that North Korean special forces could climb brick walls using just their fingers.) Despite the evils of North Korea, I thought it would be incredibly cool if such legendary soldiers existed. Now I’m an adult, and I know they exist, yet I find it sad.
The truth is that this insane training is sadly not that relevant. This is a time in which their opponents will very likely be armed, and those that won’t be would be easy to beat up anyway, without iron fist kung fu. It’s not even that relevant in unarmed combat – as Mr. Im probably knows, punching is not viable or possible in some phases of combat. Some South Korean bodyguard could clinch up with him, and the years of tree-punching go out the window.
Having these rock-like fists is more convenient than picking up a rock or blackjack, but it is still not worth it. That effort and time spent punching trees (and recovering from punching trees and losing fine motor skills) could be spent on other aspects of hand-to-hand combat, or better yet – armed combat or tactics. Even learning about South Korean government and society could help them be better assassins more effectively than clubbing their hands.
This is such a tragic waste of incredible willpower and human potential, even in the context of the horrible field of assassination. What could these guys be doing if they weren’t lead by childish morons?
These commandos are pushing human limits in order to do something that is largely archaic and useless. I’m sure they’re not the only citizens of North Korea doing so, and that is just another horrific aspect of life in that country.