My Introduction to the Martial Arts


Professor Christopher N. GearyI first began studying the art of Kempo Karate during the early 1990s in San Clemente, California, when I was in the US Marine Corps. The school was located a couple of miles from the base where I was stationed at Camp Pendleton. The name of the school was United Studios of Self Defense (USSD), and my instructor was Sensei Farzin Omidvar. Sensei Omidvar was a third-degree black belt in the art of Kempo, and I believe that he had dabbled in other arts as well. I viewed his status as a truly great accomplishment. From what I remember, my instructor was very good at what he did. He wasn't a great teacher, but he was a very good martial artist. I also remember that he had a brother who was involved in Kempo and had a school somewhere in California, and I believe that his brother was also associated with USSD.

At the beginning of my training I was pretty shy and only wanted to do private classes, probably because I felt uncertain of my form and technique (being a perfectionist) and unfamiliar with the Kempo movements in general. I remember Sensei Omidvar going through the movements with me from time to time when I could get to class. The Marine Corps was very demanding and time consuming, and when I could get to class, my progress was very rewarding and inspiring. One thing I will always remember that he told me was, "If you want to be a great martial artist, then go through your basics all the time in drills." What he meant was, combine everything that you know into drills and combinations so that you can become more adaptable to defend yourself against different types of attacks, thereby becoming more efficient in your movements.

The first impression that I got from Sensei Omidvar and the school was somewhat negative-it seemed that he was barely making it. Financial hardship had turned my instructor into a kind of "slum lord" who always had to work a deal to pay the man, USSD. It seemed like he had to hide money just to survive. But he also was no angel, and he definitely gave off the appearance of being a shyster. The techniques that he taught me were good and seemed to be very effective, but there didn't seem to be a set theme or pattern to what I was learning. When he wasn't trying to sell something to me or do this or that, I was busy trying to organize the techniques in a way that would help me master what I was learning. He sold me a student manual covering Kempo techniques and history, but the techniques he taught me didn't match up with those in the manual. That told me that either USSD was disorganized, or he was, or it was a combination of both. He would show me one thing and then I would look in the book and find that it said something else. Different instructors like to teach techniques differently, but I felt that he was disorganized. It's fine to change things around from time to time, but he really didn't seem to care much about seeking perfection in the art, and that was what I was after.

I learned a lot from him, good and bad, and these things have helped me to advance in my martial arts career and become a better instructor. I can still see in my mind's eye that sly smile he gave me, trying to care but also trying to survive by always working a deal. Sensei Omidvar was my instructor for about a year, and during that time, when the Marine Corps allowed, I trained with him as much as I could.

At one point in my training with Sensei Omidvar, I remember becoming aware that I was progressing at a faster rate than the other students. He told me, "Worry about your own technique and the progress you are making, and don't worry about the progress made by others." I got my orange belt quickly and then went into a burnout period that lasted a month or two.

One of the last things that I remember from the time when I was still his student was an incident when we were alone in the school doing some sparring. We were going at it with a pretty good speed, and I got him and got him good. I mean, he was pissed. I began to read a lot of the movements that he was using on me. I finally grabbed his foot and threw him against the wall. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Would you want me to do a certain technique on you?" I knew at that point that I was becoming better than my instructor and that he was doing the best that he could to play it off. But he did his job teaching me and I had cleaned up the mess and taken out the trash. To this day, I still respect the man.

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