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Amazing the hurt that spit can inflict

Others sit home at night, getting worked up over Survivor.

In Temple Terrace, three women and seven men practice shattering ankles and smashing testicles. Then, for good measure, they whip out knives.

"There's one cure for violence and that is what?" barks David Overstreet, their leader.

Peace, love and understanding don't stand a chance.

"More violence," they shout.

Overstreet, 42, nods approval.

I have followed a sign on Nebraska Avenue to a storefront on 56th Street, near a string of military recruiting stations. Before me is Overstreet, a sixth-degree black belt who operates the World Class Black Belt Academy. Weeknights, he teaches haganah, a martial art born of Israeli commandos.

Haganah _ the Hebrew word for "defense" _ is self-defense that carries a grudge, self-defense on steroids, dirty and below the belt, with elbows in throats, fingers in eyes and shins in groins, aggressive and predatory.

Did I mention saliva?

"Spitting is a viable technique," he instructs. "Nobody in the world is going to sit there with spit running down their face. It buys you a second. Take it."

Camouflage pants are not meant for the wide of hips, so I think I'll sit right here, yes, against the wall, away from the knives and flying body parts. Dry.

For all the commotion, I hear no one scream or grimace, only a few grunts and gasps.

Students _ who practice in pairs _ stop short of inflicting real pain, while getting ready for the day.

"THE FUTURE OF WARFARE IS IN THE STREETS," their T-shirts warn.

"BE THE LAST ONE STANDING WHEN REALITY STRIKES," states the banner above.

Niccole Cremeans, a Tampa emergency medical technician who is 31, soaks it in, enjoying the new sense of confidence. So does Dean Edwards, 34, a model and lifeguard at a West Tampa pool. Among the others: a Beef O'Brady's cook, a Chili's waiter, a USF student, a parking valet and a man who works for an accounting firm.

(Things must be getting rough at Chili's, I note, outside the class. "The world's getting rough," Overstreet says.)

Students pair up and practice on each other.

Newcomers move awkwardly. The veterans move like cats.

Overstreet: "Six o'clock. Left hand. 1-2-3-4-5. Watch your neck. Every time you move, you watch your neck. How much of a blade has to go into your neck to kill you?"

I find my hands moving toward my chin, as Overstreet waits for an answer.

"A quarter of an inch," Cremeans shouts.

"A quarter of an inch," Overstreet says.

If they can punch you, they can cut you, he says.

Hit the mouth and nose, he says.

"If you punch me in the forehead, you have succeeded in what?" he asks.

Making you angry, they say, using more colorful words.

Overstreet was drawn to martial arts as a 220-pound 12-year-old. Now he's 30 pounds lighter, with an array of regional and national awards. He learned haganah from Mike Lee Kanarek, a former special forces operative in Israel's Golani Brigade, who now has a martial arts school in South Florida.

He met his wife, Sandy, while teaching karate to her son. Now she helps demonstrate haganah and karate moves. He tosses her around like a crash test dummy, and she responds with kicks and punches.

And so it goes

In a world of hijacked airplanes and ATM holdups and home invasions, 10 people learn to fight back.

"We kick your knees out. We break your ankles," Overstreet says. "Nothing fancy. Nothing pretty."

_ Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is the name of a weekly column by Times senior editor Patty Ryan. Reach Patty Ryan at 226-3382 or pryansptimes.com.

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