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Subduing the enemy with bare hands

Igor Yakimov demonstrates a technique with Jeremy Kaufman. The former cadet heads to U.S. Marine boot camp.
Igor Yakimov demonstrates a technique with Jeremy Kaufman. The former cadet heads to U.S. Marine boot camp.
Catherine Lash

The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet summer training in Charlotte draws kids from across the nation. Before the week is out, many will experience transformative changes--conquering fears or beating a personal best.

2014 Hand-To-Hand training in Charlotte, NC
2014 Hand-To-Hand training in Charlotte, NC
Catherine Lash

It's known as "Field Operations North Carolina" at national headquarters. To the several dozen kids spending nearly every waking hour learning how to punch, kick, take down, grapple, submit and take hits, it's called "Hand-To-Hand" (H2H) training.

Sleeping on a single-matted concrete floor of a hot room dojo is the reward for a long, hard day's work, except the cadets who somehow find energy reserves to compete in the submission wrestling contest for the double-matted crash pad. This happens between 9 and 10 at night.

Word is out that you have to work hard at this camp. The kids that don't want to work, I don't want them here. U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Charlotte Division Instructor Jeff Carroll

Carroll is a real estate developer and consultant specializing in affordable housing. He began wrestling at the age of 12. Several years later, he walked on to his college wrestling team, receiving a full scholarship. With a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Judo and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, he began searching for a Naval Sea Cadet summer self-defense training for his son, Luke. When none was found, the enterprising entrepreneur created one.

They put you on a diet. I learned carbs are addicting. Now, I make sure I'm not eating the wrong kind of carbs. Jeremy Kaufman attended the training as a sea cadet last summer. This summer, he's headed to U.S. Marine Corps boot camp.

Now in its fifth year, Carroll has figured out how to do things more efficiently. "We have gone from taking several thousand dollars from the national headquarters to nothing." Each cadet pays $275 for the weeklong training. The remaining operating funds of about a $1,000 is donated from small businesses. He says, "Headquarters can use the money elsewhere. We didn't want to add to the national debt these kids will be paying back."

The Sea Cadets helps me to be a better person at school. It helps my communication skills. It helps me to interact with people in my community. Cadet Flavius Zahran from Georgia

U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Charlotte Division Instructor Mike Lash has joined Carroll for every H2H. The Charlotte civil engineer and small business owner designs and installs advanced waste water systems for commercial and residential developments incapable of utilizing conventional water treatment methods due to poor soils. As a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Karate, he instructs the cadets in punches, kicks, grappling, knife defenses and board breaking.

"In the midst of the training, we see the good and the bad in them. We see them when they get to their breaking point," says Lash.

The guys say I want to be tested, and they are tested. That's why we see them in the extreme of wanting to quit and wanting to excel. U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Charlotte Division Instructor Mike Lash

Lash shuttled cadets from the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport to the Matthews dojo at the onset of the training. One of the first topics of discussion among cadets was Igor!

Igor Yakimov, probably one of the most googled names among cadets interested in this training, is a former Russian military officer and world Sambo champion. He has trained the elite of the military, bodyguards and comes back year after year for this summer training. In fact, he has affectionately dubbed the sea cadets as his "Little American Army Men." Besides traveling the globe, the master teacher works a grueling schedule in the Russian film industry as a stunt man and trainer in fighting movies. "I spend more time shooting than on the mat," says Yakimov, in a quick conversation between classes. "...all hours. Could be 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Of course, I sleep four or five hours," he says. Yakimov admits, "I don't feel good if I don't practice."

It was awesome! It moved everything! It moved stuff I never knew I had! Cadet Corey Durhan from Pennsylvania after Yakimov's thorough warm-up

During his class, practice sets are preceded by a real-life scenario of how techniques can be utilized. For example, in demonstrating a kick to the knee, while not making contact with the cadet, Yakimov vocalized "Bam" as his foot went to the side of the knee. He added, "When you're in military, with working boots, you can break."

Charlotte Division instructor Jeff Carroll says he's figuring out how to do a H2H winter training. He would also like to make it co-ed. "Females need this self-defense training more than males." Adding, "There are a hundred logistical things I have to deal with, though."

2014 Hand-To-Hand master teachers include:

Brian Olson : A veteran of three U.S. Olympic Judo Teams

Rafael Rosendo: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and international competitor

Nick Lowe: Former British Army Sergeant instructor and 5th Dan Judo

Sergeant Major Mayfield: Served the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Hand-To-Hand Combat Instructor, All-Marine and Inter-Service Judo competitor and coach, he competed for 51 continuous years.

Please see training website for details.

Join the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets. Learn more about the Charlotte Division.