Justin Pennish

Martial arts has always been my lifelong pursuit. I started at Team Karate Centers in 1997 when I was just four years old. At that point, enrolling wasnt much of a personal choice, but I guess its true that the habits we develop as young kids often stay with us for the rest of our lives. Since that time, I have experienced ups and downs in my training; I quit twice when I was younger, but I never stopped indefinitely and I always found my way back. In fact, each day I renew my commitment when I step through the doors of TKC.

In my earlier years (age 5-10), I loved martial arts for the most part. From what I remember I had fun, until I became a green belt. Once I tested for green, I felt like everything had changed for the worse, and for one specific reason: cartwheels. I hated cartwheels, and although I now see the situation for what it likely way, to my ten-year old self it seemed like we did cartwheels every single class. I dreaded class after that, and I quitAfter two years, I tried TKC again and tested for brown belt, but quit soon after that once again. In 2005, I knew for sure I would never become a black belt.

It wasnt until I attended the 2007 Black Belt Spectacular something in me changed. The day inspired me to return as a white belt and practice however I needed to in order to earn black belt .

I knew from that point on I wanted to do martial arts for myself. This time I had motivation, determination, and drive.

Im glad I stuck around, because I earned my first degree black belt in September 2009. I was sixteen. On the day of my black belt test I remember feeling that I had conquered my failures of yesteryear and out of the ashes of my former self sparked the confident black belt I always knew I could be.

Shortly after, I began assisting with the 6pm adult class twice a week as a SWAT member. After experiencing a personal setback in 2010, I had a memorable conversation with Sensei Fariborz. I told him I aspired to be an instructor, and we agreed that in order to make this a win-win I should start helping Sensei Ash with the junior classes as well. Junior classes are a cornerstone of TKC and in the coming months, I found my way in teaching.

Some people are daunted by the prospect of kids classes, but I entered my natural element. Actually, I prefer teaching kids classes over adult classes. I ts kids that have the most budding personalities and enthusiasm for learning. They find awe in the most basic of things and continue to remind me time and again what humans are genetically engineered to do: think creatively, look for fun, and be active for the sake of necessity.

In 2011, I tested for my second degree black belt.

The next few years were formative to me as a person and martial artist. For one, I was introduced to CrossFit. And while I rejected it at first when Sensei Fariborz introduced the methodology to TKC, the more results I saw in myself and TKC students, the more my enthusiasm for CrossFit grew. To my own surprise, in 2013 I started taking lessons at Valley CrossFit in Van Nuys. So far, this has been the best investment Ive made. Its rare for anybody to get to say this, but I walk away from every workout having done something Ive never done before. My potential for growth has been limitless. Imagine the power in that.

I also started taking lessons in traditional Hapkido with Master Steve Sexton, kickboxing with Sensei Pete Sugarfoot Cunningham and Sensei Benny Urquidez, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) with Rigan Machado, plus occasional seminars with Ron Balicki, Simon Rhee, Dave Kovar, Richard Norton, and the likes.

Finally, on October 5, 2014, I became a third degree black belt at Team Karate Centers. The martial arts world is so vast, and Im fortunate that Sensei Fariborz has introduced me to it all: kicking, grappling, weapons, trapping, holds, throws, takedowns, kickboxing, forms, fitness, boxing, conditioning, sticks, and anything I might have missed. The more I experience from each area, I build a toolbox of resources of what I like and what works best for me.

And the more I grow at TKC, through training and teaching, the more I realize that learning should be light-hearted in nature; Nothing that I must learn, but everything I get to learn. The way our system Hapkido Blend works is that before black belt everyone is required to study each fighting range: trapping, punching, kicking, grappling, and weapons. After black belt, however, you can pick which systems you want to learn more about and dig deeper in those. For me, I enjoy it all, especially BJJ, kicking, and CrossFit. Everything I accomplish, I do with the intention of becoming a well-rounded martial artist.

For me, instructing martial arts is about building a culture where people feel comfortable succeeding and failing while knowing that both are necessary to grow. I want out students to feel that after each class they accomplished three things: learn a skill, got stronger, and had fun. As an instructor, I have the unique chance to help establish this culture in its ever evolving form. I cant name a day at TKC when we werent enhancing our curriculum for the benefit of students. We dont protect what we know, because we realize theres so much knowledge out there yet to be discovered.

Personally, martial arts has taught me that the important moments in my life are defined by the risks that I take and by the pieces of myself I must let go of in order to grow into someone stronger. Ive learned that change doesnt mean Ive lost anything, it simply means Im redefining my surroundings so that I can cultivate better ownership and understanding.

Sensei Fariborz over the years has shown me that some experiences are so powerful they they can reshape the way I think, and at the same time reject or reaffirm what I previously assumed to be true but over which I never really had an unequivocal conviction. Among these, the ideas of virtuosity: doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way where character matters more than competency. Also, I have the power to make hard decisions and stand proudly by them. And most of all, we dont do martial arts to fight, but to live.

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