RALEIGH, N.C., JULY 23 -- From 9 to 5, Darryl Henderson wears a suit and tie and helps design buildings as an architect for a Washington firm. After hours, he wears a dobok and trains to be the best he can be at kicking people in the stomach.
The 26-year-old from Capitol Heights, Md., is one of four featherweights competing for a U.S. Olympic Festival gold medal in taekwondo. A martial art that dates nine centuries to the Silla dynasty in Korea, taekwondo means "the art of hand and foot fighting."
The sport has been part of the Festival since 1985 and will be a medal sport for the first time at the Pan American Games next month in Indianapolis. In large part because it is the national sport of Korea, taekwondo will be a demonstration sport at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. This year's world championships will be in Barcelona, an attempt to rally support for making it a medal sport when the Olympics arrive in Barcelona in 1994.
"I used to watch Bruce Lee movies and I was always interested," Henderson said. "And when I was growing up, there was a guy who lived in our neighborhood who did taekwondo, though I didn't know it at the time. But we used to imitate him and we'd go around kicking trees."
Henderson was about 6 years old when he was threatening dogwoods in Washington, but when he got to Howard University, he found there was a taekwondo club run by Dong Yang, a physical education professor at Howard and president of the Pan American Taekwondo Union.
A 1983 graduate, Henderson met his future wife, Alison, at the club. They work out together at Howard after work and on weekends, ending those workouts with 500 situps. Henderson finished fourth in the 1987 national championships and both are hoping to make the 1988 Olympic team.
And, no, they don't settle family disagreements with a back kick to the jaw.
"In men's competition, there's more strategy, a lot of moving and faking before the flurries of kicks," Henderson said. "The women just go wild and start kicking."
A taekwondo match has three three-minute rounds. The scoring rules enhance the value of kicking and almost 90 percent of the attacking techniques involve kicking. Punches must land on the body between the collarbone to "four fingers" below the belt. Kicks can be directed to the same area of the body and to the front and side of the head.
Attacks to the back of the head, spinal cord, kidney area and groin are against the rules. The feet and hands are bare. The uniform, or dobok, is a modified version of traditional Korean peasant garb. Required equipment includes groin protection, a chest protector (called a "hool gool"), head gear, forearm and shin protectors. Although they would seem like a good idea, mouth guards are not required.
Henderson said blows to the head are not that common.
"It doesn't happen that often because it is difficult to bring your feet from six feet down quick enough to make contact to the head," Henderson said. "Most people don't have nearly the flexibility to do it quickly. It does happen, but obviously, you're trying to avoid getting kicked in the head because it can lose the fight by a knockout."
Henderson has been out of competition for much of the last year because of a foot injury, which he said is common.
"The speed and power is such that a lot of people's feet aren't capable of sustaining it," he said. "But they heal quickly."
Taekwondo performers talk about the mental discipline involved as much as the physical aspects.
"People see the physical, but they don't understand the mental aspect," Henderson said. "At this level of competition, everyone is on about the same level physically. To win at this level, you have to have the mental aspect."
Before and after a workout, many players sit yoga style and meditate.
"Through meditation, we create the spirit and mentality to focus the physical part on the event. It clears up interference and interruptions. We cleanse ourselves and block out all other irrelevant things that live within us," said Kyong Won Ahn, president of the U.S. Taekwondo Union, the sport's national governing body. "Afterward, you also have to cleanse the mind of what you practiced here. You are going out into the world and not supposed to carry it out of the training center."
Although the competition will be in an arena that seats just 2,000, taekwondo is the only sport to have sold out for the Pan Am Games in Indianapolis.
"Everybody in this country has always been interested in martial arts," Henderson said. "They've seen Kung Fu movies and the Kung Fu show, and they try to equate it to martial arts. Mostly, it's curiosity, but then they come see it and realize how exciting it is."