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Full Contact: Professor Finds Balance in the Martial Arts

     In his first competitive Tae Kwon Do fight, 18-year-old Atorod Azizinamini was disqualified.

     “The guy I was fighting made me so mad, I said, ‘the heck with this’ and I started to wrestle him,” Azizinamini said. “ I was pretty good at wrestling, but I didn’t know much about Tae Kwon Do.” The two were barred from the rest of that competition, but he had some consolation.

     “I pinned him,” he said laughing.

     Today, the professor of civil engineering and director of the National Bridge Research Organization knows a lot more about the Korean martial arts form; he has dozens of trophies, medals and photographs to prove it. He is especially proud of the trophy naming him American Tae Kwon Do Association 2001 Fighting World Champion.

     “It was a good feeling,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get the championship title—there are several competitions and very good athletes.”

     Azizinamini, a first-degree black belt, took up Tae Kwon Do while a teen-ager in Oklahoma City. Since then he has trained with Kit Vitalie, Joey Sheffield and Mike Genova, who in the early 1980s were ranked in the top 10 in point fighting in the United States. He trained for five years with Arlene Limas, a gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. “It was the first time the U.S. had defeated a South Korean champ,” he said—an especially sweet defeat as Tae Kwon Do was developed in Korea. He still trains with Limas occasionally.

     To qualify for ATA World Championships, competitors must enter at least five regional and three national competitions, for which they accumulate points. The top 10 from around the world are then invited to compete for the title of Fighting World Champion. Azizinamini competes in sparring and forms, the arts part of martial arts.

     Azizinamini identified four elements needed to win.

     Training. “The more you practice, the better you perform. Training teaches reaction times—you can anticipate moves and react much faster.” It also teaches relaxation. “When you are tense, your muscles are slower. When you relax, your subconscious takes over.”

     Stamina. “The fights last three minutes—that’s a lot of time. Sometimes you can beat someone just by outlasting them.”

     Speed. “Everyone I fight is taller than 6 feet. I’m 5 feet 6 inches—I rely on my speed to get away and score.”

     Focus. “Thirty percent of winning is a mental game.” In his first world semi-finals, he didn’t win because he wasn’t focused. “I was distracted. I was thinking, ‘If I beat this guy, I’m going to the final, I’m going to get the world championship title.’ This is some-thing you should not be thinking about.” But in 2001, he was pre-pared. “I basically visualized each fight, staying focused on one match at a time.” It earned him the title.

     “The best fighters in the world are those who can think,” said Daniel Longoria, a 6th degree black belt and owner of Longoria’s Black Belt Academy, where Azizinamini trains and teaches a select class of 10- to 13-year-olds. “Not only do we train our bodies, we train our minds. Last year he would’ve had to try to lose.”

     At this year’s competition, Azizinamini earned two silvers in finals and a first place in the competition that kicked off the new season. His focus was good, Longoria said, but he didn’t win the championship because he didn’t train as hard as he had last year.

     Over the past five years, Azizi has received several gold medals in the Cornhusker Games. The competition there is a bit different from ATA competitions: the fights are full contact, a continuous fight that can be won by knockouts, and they are not divided by age groups. Last year, he fought a 21-year-old man. “It was full contact and I beat him.” said Azizinamini, 45.

     But it’s not all about winning. Azizinamini’s students learn discipline, respect and modesty. “Those are the things we teach the kids from the beginning,” he said. “Most of the kids who take martial arts are very disciplined, very respectful to their parents and tend to do well in school.”

     They also learn that their training should be used only in competition or to defend oneself, Azizinamini said.

     “People have asked ‘have you ever had a chance to use this?’ Actually, martial arts teaches you to be very calm.”

     That’s something that has helped him throughout the years.

     “With everything else I do—teaching, research —Tae Kwon Do keeps everything in balance.” He smiled. “Including my sanity.”

—Constance Walter

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