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Ohio State Lieutenant Colonel and self-defense instructor returns to Africa

Mark Karman and Scott Wostiac aboard the USS Enterprise. Courtesy of Mark Karman.

Sport Fitness and Health Program Director Jae Westfall will soon begin the search for a new self-defense instructor for Ohio State.

The position has been held by Mark Karman for a little over a year, but that is about to change.

Karman, a Lieutenant Colonel serving within the military intelligence branch of the U.S. Army Reserves, will be unable to teach in the spring or next fall because in January he will be deployed to African country Djibouti. His deployment will last roughly one year.

“When I was there the first time, the humanitarian missions we helped other countries perform and prepare for, the disaster preparedness with natural disasters. That was rewarding,” Karman said.

He will be working closely with Army intelligence, and specifically to fix the line of military communication among different nations stationed in various African countries.

“While I was there, it was African solutions for African problems,” Karman said. “Do not impose our way of doing things on them because they won’t back it. They won’t buy into it. It will just fall apart. If you let them come up with the solution and you support that solution it will last.”

Raised in Oklahoma and Germany as a “military brat,” the child of a military family, Karman found his passion for sports at an early age. In second grade, he started karate and later picked up wrestling in the sixth grade. During his time in Germany, Karman developed a love for soccer, which he used as a tool for unity and a catalyst for communicating with different cultures.

When his family moved to Ohio during his senior year of high school, Karman was never completely satisfied with the separate sports. He wanted to find the one sport that could combine karate and wrestling.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘Man there’s got to be a connection that puts these two things together,’” he said.

While going to school at Ohio State, Karman stumbled upon a flyer for a new club, which led him to find that exact sport he had been searching for: jiu jitsu. Although his time in the military delayed his jiu jitsu progression, he eventually achieved a first-degree black belt in jiu jitsu within 10 years. In total, Karman has first-degree black belts in jiu jitsu, karate and judo.

While at Ohio State, Karman was a member of the Army ROTC, Ohio State crew team, and a member of both the taekwondo and jiu jitsu clubs.

After graduating, Karman joined the Army as a field artillery officer from 1999 to 2008. His stint as an artillery officer led him to his first trip to Africa where he helped aid in the intelligence and communication fields.

In 2009, Karman began his transition to military intelligence when given the opportunity to become an Army qualified instructor to teach at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Being a part of the military allowed Karman to travel all over the globe, including places like Iraq, Korea, Ethiopia,

Mark Karman participates in tactical desert training with the French forces and foreign legion. Courtesy of Mark Karman.

Darfur, Sudan and Djibouti. Being a world traveler has enhanced his communication skills as well. He speaks German best, but also knows Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Somali, Afrikaans, Amharic and Swahili.

He has taken his love of traveling to other parts of the world as well. Most notably, he has played soccer in the Andes Mountains, visited the last living descendants of the Incas and explored the Amazon jungle.

Additionally, Karman used the sport of soccer to bring cultures together.

“It is kind of like an international game. No matter where you go, everybody knows how to play,” Karman said. “So when I was going to Iraq you could take a soccer ball out there, throw it up, let it bounce and boom, there are kids! And they have a great time playing. And that’s just one way to work with the community.

Karman said he was able to earn the respect of people in Africa who didn’t have shoes by playing barefoot alongside them.

“They understand that you come from a wealthier place, but when you’re willing to come down on their level, it changes the whole dynamic,” Karman said.

When Karman left the military and decided to take his self-defense experience to the classroom, he turned to his alma mater. He met with Westfall during a wellness class, which eventually led to Westfall offering Karman a job in her department.

“He started telling me all his martial-arts background, and he just kept talking and talking,” Westfall said. “And the more he talked, the more I realized this is probably one of the most qualified people I could have ever met.”

Karman has only been an instructor for one year under Westfall, but he has added a new element toward sport fitness classes at Ohio State.

“His background, his experience, is at a totally higher level than we have ever had in this position,” Westfall said. “He has advanced experience in so many different types of martial arts, but also in the practical and tactical combat areas that enhance that. And that’s what I think makes him so much better.”

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