Rick Savagian, owner of Mountainside Martial Arts Center, started his first self-defense karate program in Ahwatukee Foothills in 1979 with just six students. After 35 years in business he is now proud to say he has taught more than 11,000 students with more than 100 earning black belts.
Savagian was hired by Presley Development Company to run the community center and build a comprehensive recreational program for the Ahwatukee Foothills development. He had a background in physical education, exercise physiology and kinesiology and had a love for track, golf and karate. At the time he had a five-year goal for himself to make the 1984 U.S. Team for the World Cup.
“The program at the rec center was a very small program, but it kept growing little by little,” he said. “When I made the U.S. team I went to compete in Japan and we had a lot of media coverage from print media and TV. When I came back from Japan the school just doubled. The community knew me from putting on community events, but now all of a sudden from a karate standpoint.”
In 1989 things changed when Savagian suffered a serious back injury.
“It had nothing to do with martial arts,” he said. “I picked up a suitcase the wrong way and blew my back out… One day I was fighting in a tournament, the next I couldn’t walk.”
Savagian suddenly needed serious surgery to repair his back. After a successful surgery he still needed a year of rehab. The injury caused him to reexamine his life and his career.
“I knew at that point if I could walk again I would teach martial arts for the rest of my life,” he said.
In 1990 he was offered a space to open a school in the Mountainside Plaza. He started that school and continued to grow the program, eventually moving to the current location at 32nd Street and Chandler Boulevard.
Mountainside Martial Arts has seen students go from their first class at 8 or 9 years old to compete nationally and even internationally. Savagian said he keeps his training very traditional, even speaking Japanese in each lesson so when his students compete anywhere or have a Japanese Master teach them, everything is the same.
“Respect is a huge thing there,” said Ian Goodson, a black belt and current instructor at the school. “I try to instill respect and being humble in my students because I want them to grow up to be good people. Most importantly I want them to be able to defend themselves if, God forbid, they ever get into that situation.”
Karen Kruse watched her son go through classes for two years and then decided it was something she might like to try. She’s now a black belt and Savagian’s assistant.
“I always like a challenge and I just saw other people and the great results they had,” she said. “I saw kids grow into respectful young adults. It always seemed like it was good kids that were there.”
Kruse said she believes the studio’s success stems from the traditional way of teaching and staff that truly cares about the students. Savagian said the hardest part of the business is watching kids grow into successful adults, who understand hard work and competition, and then have them leave to pursue other interests. Because of the principles taught in karate, the majority of his black belt students have received partial or full scholarships to college, he said.
“Every generation wants to make it better for the next generation,” he said. “I think in doing that we sometimes got away from the concept of hard work and sweat. You work hard, you’re going to sweat hard. Things don’t always go your way.”
Overall, Savagian said he has strived to make his school a place where kids and adults can learn an art and a sport that enhances that art.
“The basics and fundamentals is something we’ve never escaped,” he said. “You can compromise on philosophy but never compromise on your principles … If you want to learn the art and the science that goes in to the art and the culture and you want to gain a deep, well-rounded understanding of what traditional arts is about—that’s what this school is about.”
Mountainside Martial Arts is located at 3173 E. Chandler Blvd. For more information, call (480) 759-4540 or visit www.mmacaz.net.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.