Why mince words on a Wednesday morning? Let me lay it on the line: I think karate is about as useful as pro wrestling.

As a means of venting aggression, basketball or a cold shower are better. As a means of cutting boards in half, saws do it with much less strain. And as a means of self-defense, karate is usually much less effective than a good scream or a hard, fast sprint. If a guy pulls a gun on me on the street, I'm not going to try to imitate Bruce Lee. I'm going to imitate Secretariat.

However, there's always a however. Today's belongs to Andrew Mack of Lanham, a 16-year-old student at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Thanks to karate, Andrew broke up an ugly incident on the subway one recent evening.

He was riding the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Tenleytown -- "just sitting in the back of the car, listening to my Walkman. I saw this man and it looked like he was bothering this woman because she kept shaking her head no.

"I went up to them and asked, 'What is going on?' He told me to leave, but I just stood there. Then he swung at me, and I blocked it and hit him. That was it. He left the woman alone and got off at the next stop."

No, Andrew didn't trot out any karate on his antagonist. But he said that his martial arts training gave him the courage to step into the middle of a dicey situation. "I believe martial arts training works," said Andrew.

Mary Pratt, the stranger Andrew helped, put it this way: "If his performance isn't concern and bravery, I'll eat my shoe."

No need to munch, Mary. It's concern. It's bravery. It's terrific.