Street violence, especially among young Black men, has increasingly become an epidemic. While many think the war on street violence is becoming a losing battle, a local martial arts studio in Pittsburgh says that with a unified effort there is hope in winning the war.

Master Yusuf Owens has created Martial Artists Against Street Violence, a program aimed at teaching youth of the community traditional Tae Kwon Do as a way to develop self discipline and an alternative outlet for negative energy. He hopes that instead of picking up a gun, his students will use their energies to perfect themselves at this art form.

BROKEN—Master Yusuf Owens stands with students after a board breaking martial arts lesson. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“We (as a community) haven’t hit our plateau. We all are kings and queens and until we take confidence in our own self value we will not hit it,” Owens said. “This is an epidemic that is going through all communities. When I hear of another kid dying, I feel it in my soul. We have innocent bystanders dying for a cycle of violence.” Owens said he has lost two of his students to street violence.

Owens, a black belt in martial arts and a winner of several national championships, is no stranger to the streets and understands what some of his students go through. He said he was once a troubled child. Although his father was in his life, he was raised by his mother because his father worked as a truck driver to support the family. He was turned around after being introduced into martial arts at a young age.

He started the MAASV programs four years ago, as a cookout and workout in the park with kids. He later moved his program to the North Side, then later to the Kingsley Center and now his studio on Frankstown Avenue in East Liberty. While he does charge for his services at his studio, he also still provides free lessons at the Kingsley Association as an outreach.

During his lessons, Owens teaches his students meditation, discipline, but more importantly he also provides them with a person who will listen to them, through an open dialogue.

“We work with a child’s mind to where they do not need a gun to be confident,” said Owens. “We are all one family. We are trying to unify the mind of young men. It is not in the color it is in the mind.”

Malik Muhammad, an instructor with MAASVM, said the issue of violence is, “All our tragedy, is not just one family’s issue.” He added, “Before we can address the issues, we develop a relationship with the kids, because if they are not comfortable, then they will not open up.”

Owens said he considers his students a part of his family.

While many may think martial arts is just fighting and breaking stuff, Owens disagrees. He said that martial arts is more spiritual and mental, not physical and it teaches young men how to realize the potential of their mind.

“It is not fighting, it is about displaying their skills. It’s all about applying a skill…and demonstrating techniques,” Owens said. Techniques, he adds, that are very disciplined and traditional, two qualities that he feels are missing from today’s youth.

Owens says to stop this epidemic it is going to take unifying the community. It takes working with children earlier, on a regular basis and having constant interaction in their lives, especially from male role models. Although he believes in the community, he also would like to see more support from them and from public officials, when it comes to the issue of street violence and the need for more to be done. When it comes to public officials, Owens said he would like to see them, “Be available. They call themselves being available, but they are not.”

Several of Owens students have entered and won many tournaments.

In an effort to bring MAASV to the community, the organization is gearing up for several events. On Aug. 27 they will hold their annual picnic at Highland Park, where students and instructors will give several demonstrations. Also, on Sept. 21 there will be a demonstration at Freedom Corner in the Hill District, where they will discuss street violence.

“We cannot disconnect ourselves. This is something that is at all our front doors,” said Muhammad. “Life is about choices and it (MAASV) shows them that there’s other ways. Violence should not be the first or even last course of action.”

For more information on MAASV or Owens’ martial arts classes, call 412-377-2581.

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