ASHLAND – When Josh Cowsky was called away on deployment, his second in command at Open Circle Martial Arts, stepped in and kept the only non-profit tae kwon do studio in Nebraska going.
Tami Hazen was recently honored for her efforts with the Outstanding Assistant Instructor of the Year Award from the U.S. Kido Federation during the Omaha Blue Waves Black Belt Hall of Fame Awards.
Cowsky, a full-time soldier with the Nebraska National Guard, operates Open Circle Studio in Ashland. He succeeded founder Steve Tucker on Jan. 1, 2016.
Six months later, Cowsky was scheduled to deploy for a year to Iraq, his fourth tour of duty there. He was worried that the martial arts studio would not survive without leadership.
So he turned to his Hazen for help even though she was still a teenager.
“She kept us going,” he said.
Hazen had graduated from Ashland-Greenwood High School a year before and was enrolled at Metropolitan Community College when Cowsky asked her to be in charge of the studio.
“She put her schooling on hold,” Cowsky said.
Cowsky wasn’t worried about Hazen’s youth when it came to taking on the responsibility. He knew the teenager could handle it because she had been working with him since he took over.
“It obviously took a tremendous load off my shoulders knowing that was one less thing I had to worry about,” he said.
Hazen’s duties included creating lesson plans, teaching classes, taking care of the books, publishing the newsletter and keeping the studio clean.
“It was really fun,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Cowsky thinks Open Circle would have shut down if Hazen hadn’t stepped up to take his place.
“I really think it would’ve been nearly impossible for the school to continue in any type of full-time capacity when I was away,” he said.
Hazen felt there were two choices – to let Open Circle close or keep the studio going for herself and her fellow students.
“I just couldn’t see closing it for a year,” she said. “It wouldn’t be fair to them.”
Open Circle Martial Arts has been a part of Hazen’s life since 2009.
After seeing a tae kwon do demonstration, the then-seventh grader begged her mom for lessons.
“I’ve always been interested in martial arts from watching Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan on TV,” she said.
Soon the young girl was involved in something she calls more than a sport.
“Martial arts is a lifetime commitment,” said Hazen.
Hazen recently tested for her second degree black belt and she became a certified instructor during the past year.
“I have a lot left to learn,” she said.
She plans to continue with tae kwon do and study other forms of martial arts with the goal that one day she will open a studio.
“I already decided I wanted my own (martial arts) school while I was in high school,” she said.
When she opens her own school, Hazen will be ready. Even now that Cowsky has returned, she still shoulders a lot of the responsibility at Open Circle.
“Josh views me as an equal,” she said. “He gives me a lot of respect because I’ve been there for so long.”
Cowsky also urged Hazen to continue with her schooling after he returned from deployment. She is back at Metro studying video/audio communication and works full-time as well.
Hazen said she had mixed feelings about receiving the Outstanding Assistant Instructor of the Year Award, because she was just doing what she felt she had to do while Cowsky was gone.
“Something like this, I didn’t really expect to get it,” she said.
Still, she was honored to win and to be invited to the ceremony, where several instructors shook her hand and congratulated her.
“That meant a lot to me,” she said.
Cowsky was proud his second in command was recognized for her efforts.
“She did a really good job,” he said.