Photos by Mazin Lolah

Coach Mazin Lolah and his students at Masjid Al-Huda in South Milwaukee

A few parents sat in folding chairs at the back of the large auditorium under the prayer hall at Masjid Al-Huda’s South Milwaukee campus, 1800 16th Ave., South Milwaukee, Tuesday evening. In front of them, 13 boys, ages 7 to 12, spread across a red and blue checkerboard of rubber gym tiles.

Karate coach Mazin Lolah called out a command. All 13 suddenly froze in place, slapped their thighs and stood at attention. All but one, a new student attending his first class, donned traditional thick, white cotton karate jackets tied with yellow belts above loose white cotton pants.

For the next hour, the students stepped, kicked and punched to Lolah’s commands, praise and encouragement. They slid down to various depths into horizontal splits and dropped to the floor for 10 push-ups when he called them out for not following instructions.

After practice, Ameer Alramahi, 12, a student at East Middle School in Oak Creek, told the Wisconsin Muslim Journal, “I have learned a lot in 10 months.”

Omar Abumushar, 10, a student at Guidance Academy, the K3-12th grade school at Masjid Al-Huda South Milwaukee, said, “I do it because I want to learn how to defend myself and I want to get my next belt.”

Seven-year-old Qutada said, “I like it so much. I practice so I’ll learn to fight good.”

Coach Lolah “is very good with keeping their attention,” said Aminah Salim of St. Francis, whose son Saeed Salim, 7, joined the class six months ago. “I like the level of discipline and the emphasis on respect.”

Lisa Ly’s two sons, Omar, 10, and Obaida, 8, Abumunshar joined the program when it started in the fall. Both students at the Guidance Academy, Ly meets them after school with a snack and their karate uniforms. “My boys and the other kids need action. They have so much energy. This is a good activity for them.”

Al-Huda’s Karate class with Br. Mazin Lolah takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 – 6 p.m. for a fee of $75 per month. New students may join at any time. It is open for boys ages 7 – 14 and girls ages 7 – 10. Register here

To see photos and videos of the karate class, visit the Mazen Alawrtani Karate Facebook page. (Lolah’s legal name is Mazin Lolah in Jordan; he is also known as Mazen Alawrtani.)

Parents say the twice-a-week class provides a healthy alternative to being glued to their screens or having idle time to fill. What no one mentioned is that it is also an opportunity for local boys and girls to learn karate from a world-class champion.

Learning from a champion

Mazin Lolah, 32, of Oak Creek has been practicing karate since 2000, when he was 10 years old in Jordan. He earned a black belt, the highest rank in karate, by 2001.

“My father saw this talent in me,” he said. “I loved action movies and karate. He put me in a club in Amman, Jordan. That’s where I started. After less than one year, my coach had me tested for a black belt.” 

From 2000 – 2007, Lolah competed across Jordan, winning meets throughout the country. At 17, he was invited to join the Jordanian national team and began competing internationally.

He took third place in his first international meet, held in Morocco in 2008. About 30 countries were represented, he said. The following year, he placed third in the Bosporus Championship in Istanbul, Turkey, and third in the Asia International Championship in China. 

In 2010, Lolah was the first Arab to win first place in the Asia Intercontinental Championship, held in Hong Kong that year. He also took the gold medal in a 2010 European championship held in Greece. In 2011, he ranked third in three international competitions: the Asia Intercontinental Games in Saudi Arabia, the Asian Intercontinental Championship in China and the Bosporus Championship in Turkey. 

And from the beginning, Lolah taught karate. “I grew up with the national team and my coach was counting on me to teach, even when I was young,” he explained.

Making champions

Now, with a class of students in his own program at Masjid Al-Hudu, Lolah has a mission, he said. “My mission is to make champions.”

He waved his hands towards the students leaving the floor after practice. “These kids are 7, 8, 9, 10. My mission is to make them champions within five years. I want to see them on the United States national team.” 

About two months ago, the class tested and they earned yellow belts, he said.  Some are ready to test for orange belts, the next level, he added.

Lolah plans to introduce the students to competition gradually. He will take them to Chicago to see a championship competition. Meanwhile, he will focus on helping them develop skills. 

He teaches them the basics—blocking, attacking, sequences of moves. He also teaches them about distance and timing. “In any kind of fighting sport, having the right distance from your opponent and the right timing are key to success,” he said. “If your distance or your timing is wrong, you are not going to score.

Karate coach Mazin Lolah 

“I’m preparing them from now to compete,” he said. “We do not just train, train, train. We have our own matches so they can learn how to compete. I visited many dojos here and they don’t let them spar. I don’t know why not. It is like they expect them to learn karate from books.”

They can learn to touch and kick with control, he explained.

“They are very excited about going to competitions. But I want to make sure they are ready. I want to make sure they have the mentality to be champions.

“The first thing they must learn is respect. Without respect, there is no karate. It is an elegant sport. It is not just throwing punches and hitting. It is a sport that calms you, gives you confidence and self-control.

“Learning karate begins with learning to respect your parents, the ones who provide you with everything. Then you learn to respect your coach. And finally, to respect yourself and others.

“Karate is not just physical,” he said. “It is mental. It is learning to have self-control and knowing how to defend yourself. It is about learning to be self-disciplined.”

When his students here take a break during Ramadan, Lolah “is going back home” to Jordan for a month. “I’m thinking to test for my fourth black belt and teach some kids in my country. 

“You know, I’m famous there. They all know me because I have been on the national team for eight years. I will offer classes to help students who are moving to the black belt level, to teach them some of the secrets of competition.

“I may also go to Greece to my friend’s dojo to offer two or three classes. When I get back here, in addition to my current class, I hope to start a class of white belts for children 4 or 5.”

For the time being, Lolah has a day job as a store manager. (He earned a degree in business from Cardinal Stritch University in Glendale.)  He also works as a personal trainer and nutritionist. He imagines a day when he will have his own dojo and make champions fulltime.

Meanwhile, he sees the opportunity to teach karate at Masjid Al-Hudu as a chance to introduce boys and girls to a sport he loves, and says he is ready to take them as far as they want to go.