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Karate Enables Lawyers to Focus on 'the Task at Hand'
Daily Journal Extra - May 9, 2005

By Eron Ben-Yehuda

         When Los Angeles attorney Sandy Passman cross-examined an officer during a police misconduct trial last month, the courtroom atmosphere included a noisy audience, clerks on the phone and opposing counsel shuffling papers. But Passman says he could tune out all those distractions and effectively probe for weaknesses in the witness' testimony.
        "I don't even hear that stuff," Passman of Passman & Cohen says. He credits his training in karate, in which he is a second-degree black belt.
        "It allows you to focus completely on the task at hand," while remaining aware of the surrounding environment, he says.
        A few years ago, Beverly Hills sole practitioner Gary Wolfe represented the ex-wife of the president of a Fortune 500 company who allegedly had failed to account for millions of dollars in stock held in a family trust that he managed. The wealthy defendant tried to overwhelm Wolfe with legal paperwork and to intimidate him by claiming that his career would be jeopardized if he kept pursuing the case, Wolfe says.
        But Wolfe, a first-degree black belt, says he refused to be cowed and recovered $12 million for his client.
        "Without karate, I would never have had the courage to continue," Wolfe says.
        Martial arts teaches attorneys discipline as well as physical and mental stamina to help them succeed in their profession, according to Passman and Wolfe, both of whom have Emil Farkas as an instructor.
        "He's my rabbi," Wolfe jokes.
        Farkas, 58, owns the Beverly Hills Karate Academy , which he opened in 1970. He is a seventh degree black belt. The highest possible rank is 10th degree. Farkas used to bodyguard in the '60s and '70s, protecting the likes of Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. He even guarded The Beatles when they came to town.
        "I knew Elvis because he was a martial arts aficionado," Farkas says.
        He's trained movie actors such as Eddie Murphy and James Caan.
        Over the years, he's instructed more than 100 attorneys, he says.
        "Lawyers, probably more than any other profession, are constantly under attack from all sides," Farkas says.
        Opposing counsel aren't the only sparring partners.
        "They can't get angry at their clients so by coming to the karate studio, they're able to release that anger and frustration, pent up," Farkas says.
        His studio is equipped with punching and kicking bags.
        "They're allowed to really go at it," he says.
        He also encourages yelling and screaming "to [their] heart's content."
        Wolfe, who specializes in tax law, says he sometimes clocks in 16-hour workdays. Karate helps him handle stress and tension.
        "It's better than beating your wife, kicking your dog or drinking," he says.
        Wolfe trains three hours a day at his home before coming to the office. The regimen involves praying, meditating and practicing karate.
        "When I show up [for work], I'm ready for battle," Wolfe says. "I view karate as the most vital part of my business."
        The 49-year-old also trains three times a week with Farkas.
        "You go to davin [pray] at temple," he says. "I go to the dojo [the studio]."
        Farkas teaches bankers, doctors, entertainment industry producers and directors, among others. But he says attorneys have a particularly hard time leaving work at the office.
        "They never tune out," he says.
        A lawyer once told him that going to a fitness gym doesn't help. But while training with Farkas, who explains and corrects a student's technique during a session, the attorney told him that it's one of the few times his mind is not on his job.
        Hour-long, one-on-one private lessons cost between $100 and $150, depending on how many classes a person takes. Farkas recommends a minimum of two sessions a week.
        "I find that they can [manage that commitment]," he says. "I don't think that's, you know, too much."
        Building physical stamina is important, especially for trial lawyers, Passman says.
        "Trial is an endurance contest," he says.
        Another benefit to karate is the increasing confidence in one's ability to face confrontation.
        "It empowers you," Farkas says.
        Wolfe says the result is not more belligerency.
        "The way it gives you confidence is you don't take the bait," Wolfe says. "You just don't get scared. If you're in control, there's no reason to fight. So you actually seek a peaceful resolution."
        The practice includes meditation and stretching.
        "Life is a yin yang," Farkas says. "Even a warrior needs to rest. So they can relax, rejuvenate and then go into battle effectively."