SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 90: “Thanks For The Challenge Sir!”

Hope, Faith, Peace, Love, Belief: Hardly the words you would find in a place of fighting. Right?

If you have ever practiced martial arts, perhaps these words resonate with you, or perhaps not? I guess that depends on the discipline and respect of the Master you are studying under.

Hope, Faith, Peace, Love, Belief: Sure maybe you’d see them at a fairy tale martial arts studio. That is farthest from the truth tonight as I arrive at my 365 destination, TKC, a hard-core martial arts fighting and training center.

All around me are signs and displays with assortments of visual and written affirmations. The aforementioned text: Hope, Faith, Peace, Love, Belief, all part of a photo I see displayed on a video monitor hovering over the mat; And, at the center of it all, Master Azhakh, 6th degree blackbelt.

I’d be a liar if I said I found my way here by chance. I’m here at the direction of my producer Michaelbrent. A blackbelt himself, he has set-up a meeting between myself and his Master, the same Fariborz Azhakh.

With no martial arts experience to my history, I gladly take the suggestion and only 20 minute after the meeting is set up, I find myself right in the middle of the nights training at Master Azhakh’s studio, TKC (Team Karate Center).

The establishment has been here for years, a very understated entrance leads into a very well equipped set of studios. All around me are trophies, golden belts and tributes the many blackbelts that have graced the mats of TKC. There is nothing out of place. I am in a shrine to perfection.

Perfection is a bold statement, one that is not expressed to me in words. Yet it is impossible for me to not perceive it. But what is beautiful about this perfection is it’s exact order and humility.

On the walls are various statements of the studio, handed down from its founding Master’s and still in effect through the example of Master Azhakh. His wishes for his students are prominently displayed and obviously honored.

A posted philosophy reads:

“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better. Be not for or against. For in the landscape of Spring there is neither better or worse. The flowering branches grow naturally, some long and some short.”

A student mission is outlined:

“I intend. To develop myself in a positive manner and avoid anything that would reduce my mental growth and physical health.

I intend to develop self-discipline to bring out the best in myself and others.

I intend to use what I learn in class constructively and defensively to help myself and fellow man and never be obtrusive or offensive.”

And all students are bound to a common creed:

“To build true confidence through knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart, and strength in the body.

To keep friendship with one another and to build a strong and happy community.

Never fight to achieve selfish ends but to develop might for right.”

I am intrigued by the last phrase of the creed: Never fight to achieve selfish ends but to develop might for right.

I take this all in while observing Master Azhakh working with an evening class of athletes at various stages of their advancement. It is a full throttle workout. I watch it for ninety minutes, not realizing jus how long it has been under way. I later ask one of its participants, “How long was that workout?” Soaked in sweat he says, “I have no idea, I lost track.”

I’m an endurance cyclist; I know exactly what he is saying by stating his loss of time. The man has been worked.

What is amazing is the focus of the students and the unwavering respect they show for Master Azhakh. All push without fail, and when called upon, respond without hesitation in an acknowledging bow, “Yes Sir,” I continually hear, Yes Sir, as Master addresses and adjusts his students form and effort.

There is no student here by force. I’m sure they are paying a precious dollar for the pain that is being placed upon them. Why?

It is summed up for me when one of the students approach me, “Did you take a photo of those pictures?” (regrettably, I did not). This student, Robert, goes on to tell me, “I’ve been here since the beginning of the studio. Look at those photos.” He point to a set of six photos placed center to the room and high on the wall. “They are the generations of Masters.” At the top are three great blackbelts; below them are three more. You got it, Master Azhakh and two others. That’s why they are here, a Master only one generation from great masters. This is the real deal!

I quickly learn of the honor of lineage and this must be the reason why so many are lining up to train with Master Azhakh.

One would think that someone with this power of influence and craft would be large, bold and aggressive, all the opposite of the master of TKC.

Master Azhakh looks just like any of us. I see no oversized arms, no aggressive personality and only a desire to help others.

Class ends and I get some time with the Master. His priorities are simple:

Be at peace with myself, my family and my studio; and from there allow myself to reach out to my community, my country and the world.

“The world? Richard, I thought you said Master Azhakh is a humble man, the world!?”

The key to his answer? Read the words literally, “reach out,” not proclaim, not shout, not fight for, but simply and humbly, ‘reach out’”

He states, “It’s more about private victories, not about focusing on public victories.” Well what ever Master is doing, it’s gotten him a 6th degree blackbelt and a loyal following of students, all of whom are on the same path to being a positive influence on the world. This is the second martial arts studio I have encountered during 365, and I think I’m starting to get the message.

In the words of Master Azhakh, “You can cheat to be right, but that does not mean you are always doing the right thing.”

Character and competency are core to the training at TKC. To quote the Master, “Martial Arts can benefit all ages, but if not backed up by technique, knowledge and character, it is no good. I am all for peace, but not against violence. The balance is understanding self-defense. Not in defending against others, but self-defense against oneself. From there, good decisions are made in defending oneself and mastering control.”

The veil is thinning, the studios name, TKC – Team Karate Center? or it is TKC? – Technique, Character, Knowledge.

School is almost out for me. I have spent several hours with a master of body, art and discipline. Almost to the end of our interview Master Azhakh shares this thought:

“Who you are is what you do.”

He delivers me this though as his students are leaving the studio for the evening. With yet another set of respectful bows, all of them depart with the same heartfelt words. “Thank you Sir.”

He responds with equal grace.

In my parting Master asks me to give one challenge to my readers. To ponder this question:

“What is the difference between doing something right and doing the right thing?”

Master Azhakh, “Thank you for the challenge Sir!”