DT Lars Koht real-life crouching tiger, tackling Panther

Heck, yeah, young Lars Koht dug the martial arts he saw in movies, for the reasons most kids dig the martial arts they see in movies:

  1. Flying limbs.

  2. Flying bodies.

  3. Flying everything.

But real-life training?

“Very different,” the FIU defensive tackle explained. “A lot of discipline. Techniques. Fundamentals that you have to master in order to learn the tasks that you have to do.”

Real-life training involves real-life discipline, real-life restraint. Real-life lessons.

“I initially got into it just to fight,” said Koht, whose Panthers host UTEP Saturday on ASN. “After some time, I realized how good I was at it, and wanted to see the program through to the black belt.”

Which he did, at the tender age of 15. It was the culmination of a journey that had started some six years earlier, when his father, Lars Sr., “noticed how stiff I was” and suggested taking up the martial art to help with feel and footwork.

Did it ever.

“I was just naturally good,” said Koht, who comes into the weekend fifth on the Panthers in tackles (22) and tied for second on the squad in sacks (2.0).

“You know how people have certain things that naturally they’re good at? That was one of them (for me). I didn’t expect it to be that way. Once I got into it and started training, everything just clicked.”

It clicked so well, in fact, that Koht was allowed, at points, to skip three different belt levels in the ladder up to black.

“My parents, they didn’t allow us to quit anything unless we see it all the way through,” the big tackle said. “So I had not choice but to see it all the way through.

“But I enjoyed it, I didn’t see it as a burden, especially once I started traveling and going to different competitions.”

After humble beginnings at Florida Karate Academy in his hometown of Vero Beach, Fla., the Koht domination tour wound its way up and down and the East Coast. Lars eventually won three national championships, placing in fighting, in weapons and in kata, a series of moves judged by form.

Ultimately, though, Koht elected after his black belt to put the gi to rest in order to concentrate on football, never returning to competition.

“I always wanted to go back, but football was so time-consuming, it’s like, ‘It’s not happening,’” Koht explained. “I’ve visited my sensei every now and then, but I never got back into actual fighting.”

Still, the old lessons have served him well. Over his last 17 appearances with FIU, Koht’s picked up six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, one of the anchors of a front that’s limited foes to 160.4 rushing yards per contest, fifth-best in C-USA.

“On run plays, you’ve got to have your feet,” Koht said. “(You) can’t get knocked back on your behind. Once that happens, it’s over.”

Once you get the mind and body in rhythm, that’s when the magic starts. And Koht’s bringing an NFL body to the table — with a 6-5, 283-pound frame, he could slide naturally into the next level as a 4-3 tackle, a 4-3 end or a 3-4 end. Inside line play is a hands and leverage game, and the better you are at the former, the more you can generally take advantage of the latter.

“Because I always have to watch an offensive lineman’s hands,” Koht said. “It definitely helps.”

The dude might not be trained as a ninja, but the motor is always purring, the spirit always willing, the wheels always turning.

“It’s discipline,” Koht said. “(Karate) is about everything. It’s about focus. Hand-eye (coordination). It’s about (things) overall — not just how you play football, but it helps in you in life as well. Because one of the first things in the teaching is he’s not teaching you how to go out and be a bully, he’s teaching you how to control yourself, how to control your anger, how to control your emotions. Which anyone can use in everyday life, not just in karate.”

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