“I believe that taekwondo would be a great thing,” said new Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko. “I would encourage them to do it, and I would even come to their training.” Mr. Prystaiko earned his black belt in taekwondo in 2006 during a previous posting in Canada. When he returned home, he proposed to his foreign minister that he could help teach diplomats some martial arts or self-defence skills before they are posted abroad.
Everyoneʼs seen it in movies—the revered protagonist who takes his opponent out with a few well-placed strikes. But in the real world of diplomacy, should envoys, who sometimes face the rugged terrain of a new country, have to learn martial arts skills? The answer is different depending on whom you ask. In response to stories in The Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade plans to teach “martial arts” to its diplomats, the department says it has been holding personal security seminars for employees being posted to higher risk countries for years. They also say these seminars donʼt include “speciﬁc martial arts training,” but do feature “situational management training with instruction on reactive techniques to manage confrontation in potentially dangerous situations.” “We need to equip our people to manage and mitigate safety and security threats. This is a responsible and reasonable part of that,” wrote DFAIT spokesperson Ian Trites in an email to Chatter House. The government did put out a request for proposal on Dec. 17 for a contractor for “situational management with self-defence training” through MERX, an electronic tendering service. But if DFAIT ever decides to do some full-out martial arts training, they already have one diplomat in line—and a Ukrainian one at that. “I believe that taekwondo would be a great thing,” said new Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko. “I would encourage them to do it, and I would even come to their training.” Mr. Prystaiko earned his black belt in taekwondo in 2006 during a previous posting in Canada. When he returned home, he proposed to his foreign minister that he could help teach diplomats some martial arts or self-defence skills before they are posted abroad. That hasnʼt happened yet, but Mr. Prystaiko hasnʼt given up on the idea. He said diplomats, because of the nature of their work, face different people in different situations. But he also had words of caution. “I would warn anybody who thinks that in a couple of weeks they could become Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan…itʼs not going happen,” he said. Former Canadian diplomat Gar Pardy isnʼt too keen on the idea of martial arts training for diplomats. It might be tough for ambassadors who are in their 50s and 60s, he said. More important, said Mr. Pardy, is the need for diplomats to understand the environment they are working in. “By understanding…you avoided being placed in situations where there was a need for ﬂight,” he said. But Mr. Prystaiko added it isnʼt all about trying to impersonate the two ﬁghting heroes. “It is a very great work out, for us diplomats who are sitting at the table most of the day, you just need to have it,” Mr. Prystaiko said.
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The Ukrainian diplomat has also been in a difﬁcult situation before. About eight people with wooden sticks surrounded him and a colleague at night during one of his postings, he said. His training (including judo) allowed him to assess the situation as one that was not a real threat to his life. He lost some money, but avoided a physical ﬁght—something he said that people should always try to do. “If you can avoid the ﬁght, youʼve won the ﬁght already,” he said. As for diplomats trying to mimic 007? “Letʼs leave it to our friends from different agencies,” he laughed.