Former champion teaches lessons from personal life

Bob Thurman’s firm, Counter Attactics, offers self-defense classes

Special to The Star

After the Sept. 11 attacks four years ago, self-defense trainer Bob Thurman’s business actually dropped off.

“A lot of people thought that after 9/11 the phone would be ringing off the wall,” Thurman said. “That didn’t happen. … Business slowed down some because people quit going to conventions.”

But since that slump, Thurman’s Lee’s Summit company, Counter Attactics, has thrived as more hospitals, banks, property management companies, utilities and other businesses have sought self-defense training for their employees. Counter Attactics’ latest boost has come from, of all places, its first airline client.

Counter Attactics has already held several half-day sessions for Champion Air, a Minnesota-based charter airline with more than 200 pilots and flight attendants, and has booked 22 sessions with the airline.

“If I were one of them, I’d assume any person getting on my plane could be a potential threat,” he said.

Thurman, light middleweight world champion of the Professional Karate Association from 1982 to 1990, started the company in 1989 after an attacker shot his pregnant wife in the head in a shopping center parking lot. His wife survived, and their baby is now in high school, but the attack started Thurman on his life’s work.

“I realized a lot of people wanted to learn how to defend themselves without spending a lot of time in martial arts classes,” he said.

“This is a business, and I do want to make a profit, but mostly I want to help people protect themselves.”

His classes do more than teach how to overcome an attacker in the confined space of a commercial airliner. They teach how to identify what kind of threat a person poses and ways to de-escalate situations before they become violent.

Sekou Sacko is security director for Champion Air, which flies NBA teams and tour charters. He found Counter Attactics on the Internet some time ago and since then has passed Thurman’s name on to other charter airlines.

“The first classes have been very, very good,” Sacko said. “I’ve gotten positive feedback from both pilots and flight attendants. It brings out confidence in their job performance, both physically and psychologically.”

Over the years, Counter Attactics has attracted a diverse group of clients.

“The more I got into this, the more I got requests from companies wanting training for their employees,” Thurman said. “It’s more than learning how to beat somebody up. It’s learning anger management and how to de-escalate violence.”

Recently Thurman conducted a half-day session for The Peterson Companies of Shawnee, an apartment management company with 7,300 units in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

Regional manager Marilyn Light took Thurman’s class in April at a conference put on by the Mid-America Crime Free Inc., police officers and property managers aimed at curbing crime in multifamily housing. “I thought it was fabulous,” she said. “I came home and booked him for us for late July.

“None of us knows if we’ll be attacked, either in a business or a personal situation. We wanted our people to be more aware of what to do when faced with an attacker, to be more confident and better prepared to deal with the situation, should it arise.”

After the post-9/11 slump, Thurman said, business has been good, doubling overall in the past five years.

“Most of our business is referral,” he said. “We’re good at what we do.”

Thurman employs six instructors. Two have been with him since he started the business, and the rest have been added as demand increased.

“I look for good speakers, not necessarily a martial arts background,” he said. “I’ve got my own system. I don’t want someone deviating from my system.”

Corporate clients book him for a half-day program, a lunch-and-learn session or a meeting’s keynote address, at rates ranging from $2,250 to $5,000.

Thurman also offers half-day programs open to the public for $40 a person. Two are coming up in the area in September, and two more, arranged by St. Luke’s Health System, will be in October.

“He offered his program here several years ago, and people still were talking about it,” said Barbara Wiman, coordinator of perinatal and women’s health education for St. Luke’s.

“Everyone loves him,” she said. “The points that he gives are so practical, you walk away from his 3½-hour class feeling great empowerment.”