Martial Arts Teaching and Health: Think Outside of Your Style

My first martial arts lesson was given to me in 1969 by a judo teacher. In 1971 I joined a tkd school. In 1993 my tkd teacher told me to start learning jiu-jitsu. In between, especially being around the eclectic master teacher Ernie Reyes, Sr., I/we engaged in Filipino arts, wu shu, boxing and kickboxing, judo, and capoeira. 

The name of any given style doesn’t, for me anyway, come close to accurately representing what I’ve learned, engaged in, absorbed, forgotten, and/or practiced. Like a lot of you, I simply have to (want to) think outside of any particular style (read: brand name). 

But while there are many reasons to “think outside of your style,” I’m writing about one crucial one here, as a photo I saw on Facebook recently has stuck in my mind.

The photo was of a group of “master teachers” of a particular style —of which about 90% of the masters in the photo, featuring what looked to be about 50 + teachers, were overweight —and in some of the cases, grossly overweight. In contrast to that, since I’ve been practicing BJJ —and other grappling arts, I’ve been hanging out with a group of people who lean towards the ultra-fit. When you see a group of BJJ master teachers lined up, I can’t recall a lot of men or women who don’t look like the very picture of fitness and health. 

I know, from personal experience —and being a double-hip replacement guy, that I don’t want to continue to practice tkd, for example, at the level I did as a 20 and 30 something; I mean, I can still kick like a mule, but if I trained in tkd with the vigor I can now train in grappling arts, I believe I would soon be needing yet another operation —-and I’m not into that, not even a little. 

In the case of this group of masters, if I were a doctor and had to give the group a prescription with which to bring them more in line with the health benefits the martial arts is, I’ve heard, supposed to offer the practitioner, I’d tell them to think outside of their style and take to the gentle arts —-add the work to their training programs —-especially if the knees, hips, and backs are complaining. 

I’ve found BJJ to be therapeutic and safer (and yes, I still get the occasional injury, but it’s not BJJ’s fault, it’s my massive, Godzilla-like ego that usually makes me ache) than many of the staples of “the style” I used to embrace. Thinking outside of my style has lengthened my career, made me far more fit today than I might be otherwise, and greatly expanded my ability to scrap —if and when scrapping is required. 

Whatever we call our brand name, I think we should all hear the call to make sure our work promotes a functional sort of health —as I don’t think I have to remind anyone that being overweight has been proven to be the catalyst for many -if not most of the things, that are actually kicking people’s asses in today’s world. 

If you’re looking at the masters standing around you —and you see that they’re no longer fit and healthy, I think it’s a call to look at what is being practiced —and I think we would do well to bring things to the game that have our masters lean, trim, fit, and practicing, so that the benefits we attach to the practice of the martial arts include vitality, good health, and functional fitness.

For me, at 54, I fully endorse the genius and lifestyle of the grappling arts, especially those arts championed by people who also carefully watch their diets. It doesn’t make my other “styles” less-than, but serves to make them all the more useful and accessible. 

If you’re not a practitioner of the grappling arts —and you’re a martial artist, I suggest you open that door. Most everyone I’ve pushed in that direction is, today, fitter, a better martial artist, and I think more competitive, as a school owner, than those who don’t embrace the wonderful world of grappling. 

Martial arts is —and must be —about a level of fitness, mentally, emotionally, and physically, that stands as a statement about “what is self-defense” in today’s world. It’s not going to be the martially-skilled opponent that’s going to steal your health or your life from you, your family, and/or your students, it’s going to be that 40 extra pounds of fat surrounding your organs, clogging your arteries, and affecting your body’s ability to process what we put into our mouths. It is estimated that 1 in 3 children will now be affected by diabetes in their lifetime. Now that is a self-defense issue —and it’s one we should all be taking seriously, as master teachers. We need to lead by example —and the practice of grappling arts could, for many of you, spell the difference (along with looking deeply at diet as a component of modern self-defense). 

My opinions, of course.

Self-Defense Instruction Thinking, By Tom Callos

Self-Defense Instruction / Training, How It Could and Should Be, in My Opinion:

(Partial list —In no particular order)

All instructors should use statistics to teach; stats (crime, rape, assault, health, domestic violence, rape, etc.) that point to what makes us sick, hurts us, and/or kills us in today’s world. For example, every martial arts school could teach around the top 10 killers of men, women, and children in the world —today. This would mean that we would have to address diet, exercise, lifestyle, and mental health. English teachers use the alphabet as a base for what they teach —and likewise, self-defense teachers could/should use the realities of today’s world to address self-defense and protection, in general, of the person. All the stats are readily avail —getting them into the hands of teachers —and setting up on-line training programs for MA teachers, wouldn’t be all that difficult. 

BJJ, judo, and other grappling arts: If you don’t know how to grapple, basic JJ, you might have the car, the tank might be full of gas, but you’re missing your tires. All certified self-defense teachers should be proficient in the fundamentals of modern jj. Block, strike, kick, knee, elbow, head-butt, and knowing what to do when held on to or pinned = the ABC’s of physical assault defense. 

Weaponry. To teach only unarmed self-defense isn’t teaching self-defense for today’s world. We are an animal that uses tools. From knives to what Rob Pincus teaches, to creative on-the-spot weaponry, we could and should be training the self-defense teachers of tomorrow to teach a brand of self-defense that doesn’t exclude using tools to survive life-threatening altercations. 

Non-violent conflict resolution. If we (the industry) spent 1/100th of the time getting trained in the concepts of non-violence, de-escelation of conflict, negotiation, peace education, anger management, etc. —as we do in how to conduct a birthday party and/or how to “use Facebook to market your school,” we would be a far more intelligent contributor to individual, family, community, national, and world peace. 

Scenario-based training. I hold the opinion that the work of teachers likePeyton QuinnBill KippTony Blauer, and Rory Miller —is hugely underrated in the martial arts community. More than once one or more of these teachers have said to me that they’ve pretty much given up on the martial arts community as an interested source in genuine and pragmatic self-defense instruction. Big mistake. Scenario-based training and other aspects of physical and mental preparation and conditioning —-AND the intelligent articulation of ideas about violence, non-violence, and worst-case scenario self-defense cannot be left out or omitted from our training programs —IF we intend to be the champions of relevant “self-defense” in our communities —in today’s world.

Instruction in Hyper-Masculinty and the media’s Influence on the Understanding of our roles —that is “what it is to be” a man, women, hero, victim, consumer, and contributor —in today’s world. If we don’t look deeply at how our behavior is influenced by the media, we cannot adequately address the role of stereotypes, archetypes, hyper-masculine behavior, gender / racial bias, patriarchy, and/or other prejudices, discriminations, and/or dysfunctional attitudinal issues that affect us —and our safety and well being —in today’s world.

Is Jiu Jitsu (or any martial art) for EVERYONE?


Is Jiu Jitsu (or any martial art) for EVERYONE? 

I say yes, of course it is. 

Is BJJ only for the tough person, the one who can take the pain, weather the storms? Should the hobbyist, the less-than-talented players go find another place to waste their time, another coach to aggravate or impose upon? 

Well, should anyone less than an Indy Car Racer throw their keys into a lake? Should everyone who’s not intent on riding in The Tour de France slash their own tires? Should all those who won’t be going for the gold with their breast stroke hang up their Speedos? Should everyone not aiming on writing War and Peace hand their pencils or keyboards to someone with some guts?

BJJ, like all martial arts, like all movement, belongs to everyone —and is to be used, for the most part, the way the user wants to use it, be it instead of yoga, as a way to connect with others, as a means to gain self-defense skills, as a tool for the competitive arena, and/or even for a stick-my-toe-in-the-water exploration of something interesting. 

Hard-core competitive BJJ, like the kind where you want to be a world-class player, yes —you’d better to be hard-core. But the martial arts belongs to people, to be used by people, to keep them safe, to keep them supple, to create community, to share laughter, to offer help and support to a community and the people in it. 

The young shouldn’t be left on a mountainside because they can’t yet carry the load of a full wheel barrel, they need to be nurtured. The Elderly shouldn’t be thrown away because their bodies no longer do what they did in their 20’s and 30’s, they may still have the wisdom of experience to share with us. 

BJJ, like all martial arts, are a tool for and of the people. You don’t fit the foot to the shoe, you fit the shoe to the foot. BJJ isn’t about cutting out those who can’t tough it out —it’s about finding ways to make BJJ fit —and work for —the person.

Letters and Acts of Kindness for Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee

Letters and Acts of Kindness for Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee:

That young fellow kicking at Bruce Lee in this photo, is none other than Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, who is now 80+ years old —and, I’m sorry to say, suffering from a rather painful condition that is currently preventing him from training.

He wouldn’t say anything to anyone, but I know for a fact that he’s bummed —and at 80 +, being stuck at home (for the most part), in pain, well, that’s no fun, especially for a man used to being so very active. 

I wonder if you might be willing to help Fariborz Azhakh and I with a little cheer-up-GM Rhee project? In 2004, Grandmaster Rhee, Fariborz, and I collaborated to build and promote the first website in history that allowed anyone to perform “acts of kindness” and record them, on-line. The site documented a quarter of a million acts of kindness initiated by martial artists —and GM Rhee submitted the site to The Congressional Record, so it’s now a matter of historic record. 

I’d like to propose a letter-writing project for you and your students to this iconic national living martial arts treasure —and not just a letter, but if you would be so thoughtful as to do 5 acts of kindness, random acts of kindness, in his honor, and mention to him that you did them on his behalf, well —-I think he’d find the gesture to be generous and uplifting. 

Here is his mailing address, which I’ve obtained permission to give out: 

Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee 
1450 Emerson Ave. Unit #G02
McLean, VA 22101

Being 80+ has to be tough enough, but not getting to work out? If you would please, let’s see if we can’t cheer GM Rhee up a bit, as I know many of you know him —and love him too. 

Please feel free to share this suggestion and the information —and don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions. —Tom Callos.

Legends of the Martial Arts. Have You Met Them? Studied Under Them? Who Has Been Left Out?

In 1971 Ohara Publications (Black Belt Mag. and Karate Illustrated) published “20th Century Warriors, Prominent Men in the Oriental Fighting Arts.” 

The list was: 

Gichin Funakoshi
Mel Bruno 
Bong Soo Han 
Richard Kim 
Gogen Yamaguchi 
Yoshiteru Otani 
Hohan Soken 
Leo Fong
Jae Chul Shin 
Tsutomu Oshima 
Jack Hwang 
Ark-Yuey Wong 
Kyuzo Mifune 
Mas Oyama 
Jhoon Rhee
Gonnohyoe Yamamoto 
Bruce Lee 
Morehei Uyeshiba 
Aaron Banks 
Fumio Demura
Gosei Kristi Yamaguchi
Koichi Tohei
Hidetaka Nishiyama
Kyung Shin 
Ki Whang Kim 
Shigeru Numano
Henry Okazaki
Masami Tsuruoka
Hironori Otzuka
Henry Cho
Cheng ManCh’ing
Takayuki Kubota
Edmund Parker 
Dan Ivan 
Dan Inosanto 

(Sorry, prominent women of the time were, obviously, excluded)

How many of these teachers did/do you know and/or how many did you get to study with? And am I right that the only living people on this list are Dan Inosanto, Jhoon Rhee, Fumio Demura, and Leo Fong?

I have met and/or know Grandmasters Bong Soo Han, Jhoon Rhee, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Tak Kubota, Ed Parker, Leo Fong, and Dan Inosanto. Of those, I took lessons only with GM Rhee and Inosanto. 


DONATE! Please.

Martial Arts Teachers, Heroes, Working on Behalf of Others. Out of the Dojo and Into the World.


On my website, I have built a page to honor some of the martial artists I know who are, quite literally, taking the work, “Out of the dojo and into the world.”

These are martial arts teachers who are doing noteworthy, if not downright amazing, things —for others. Some of them are peace activists, there’s an animal rights activist in the group, a young lady collecting jiu-jitsu uniforms for kids who need them, a diabetes prevention educator who walked the entire perimiter of the US to reach more people, and activists for indigenous peoples, molestation prevention, and one who’s on a mission to document one million acts of kindness. 


It’s my hope that instructors around the world will look to this list as a resource, that they might point their students to it for examples of how they might, themselves, take things that they care about —and use their skills to make a difference for others. 

The list, so far: 

Patricia Stein of Arming Sisters; Patricia teaches self-defense to native American women.

Dan Strickland, of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rural Alaska, who works with indigenous peoples, mostly children, in rural Alaska. 

Kayla Harrison, Olympic judo gold medalist and outspoken activist for sexual abuse prevention.  

Kristen Davidson, of Unlimited Possibilities Martial Arts, using her martial arts skills to help kids with special needs. 

Nicolas Gregoriades and Paul Moran of The Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood / The Journey Podcast and Open Mat Radio, who go to bat constantly for more community engagement and on behalf of many martial arts activists. 

Adisa Banjoko of The Hip Hop Chess Federation, who is making a difference in the lives of kids with, you guessed it, The martial arts, hip hop, and chess. 

Diana Lee Inosanto, actress, martial artist, and director, who stands tall for victims of gender bias, bullying, and other forms of abuse, and whose film, The Sensei, so boldly addressed discrimination involving AIDS. 

Ryron and Rener Gracie of Gracie University, who are educational activist and brilliant spokesmen for the martial arts. 

Dan Sikkens and the staff of Aim High Martial Arts, one of the largest (if not THE largest) non-profit school in the US. Danny steps up for hundreds of children each year, helping them have a safe and dynamic place to learn martial arts. 

Brian Williams, on a quest for one million acts of kindness with

Brian Cimins, CEO of Grappler’s Quest, who is active in autism education.

Belle Staurowsky, of The Green Tara Project.  

Andy Mandell of, a tireless activist on behalf of diabetes education. 

Jamie Leno Zimron, of Aiki Extensions, who lends her expertise to helping people find harmony and peace in less than harmonious circumstances. 

BJ Penn, The Prodigy, who works with at risk Hawaii island youth thru his Penn Hawaii Youth Foundation. 

Sensei Gaku Homma, Aikido master teacher who does humanitarian, along with his students, all around the globe. See his Aikido Humanitarian Active Network.

Enson Inoue, who’s most recent “Walk for Japan,” helped raise awareness and resources for the Japanese people affected by the disaster there. 

Ms. Valencia of The Gi Project, our youngest member to date. 

Mr. David Meyers of for his work on behalf of animals in need of help. 

Seymour Yang of Meerkatsu, an artist who puts his art to work to benefit rape survivors and rape education. 

Paul K Chappell, author of The Art of Waging Peace and an activist working on behalf of peace education. 

The Birthday Party Mindset. Martial Arts School Mindset and the Failure of Our Leadership to Address the Meaningful

I asked a friend who recently attended a martial arts seminar what she learned there —and one of the cutting edge school management and promotion concepts discussed was birthday parties —as in your school hosts them, for the purpose of meeting prospective members who are the party guests of the child celebrating his or her birthday. 

The “new” concept was that you give the parties for FREE (wink, wink), as then there’s no obstacle, I guess, to having droves of kids in the school to market to. 

OK, cool. Birthday party —let’s put that on our list of “things we might do to promote the school,” sign up new students, advertise, etc. I’m cool with that. I, personally, wouldn’t do it, unless it was for one of my own kids or someone I thought REALLY needed a boost —but I could easily see myself delegating the job to some 20-something who needed some extra money and didn’t mind babysitting and one-legged races. 

My PROBLEM with birthday party talk, is that this is going on year 20 now. Birthday party, birthday party, birthday party, birthday party —like some kind of broken-industry record. My God, are you kidding me? BIRTHDAY PARTY SALES STRATEGY…AGAIN? Pull out the Coke and Sprite, get the cake from Safeway, blow up the balloons, kick some pads, cut the cake with a sword, again? 

Hey, I like a good birthday bash as much as anyone —but what troubles me most is our apparent inability, as leaders, as teachers, as an industry —-to graduate to something beyond promoting events and doing promotions that any 16 year old could pull off. 

I really want some industry leader, besides myself, to ask for, expect, hell, DEMAND even, that martial arts school owners get up from the party table and start working harder and smarter to be something else to their community; to do more; to inspire more. 

Yeah, yeah, I can teach you to pull off a kick-ass birthday party in one 2 hour seminar. NO, I cannot teach you how to REALLY address bully prevention in your community, how to become a part of the village that combats the media’s influence on girl’s self-image, how to combat hyper-masculinty, how to play a role in suicide prevention, how to deal with diabetes and the food desert so may kids live in, ——and in fact, I can’t teach you to do much of anything, in a single day or two —or even in a week, that’s going to help you rise above the birthday party, school bus driving, stand in a chicken suit, bottom-dwelling, make it real easy for me teacher —-who, for Christ’s sake, just wants to pay his bills —and buy that new SUV. 

When I stand at the front of a martial arts class, a class where I know everyone, where I’ve evolved into not just the source of technical achievement, but someone who feels a sense of responsibility for the spirit of the school, for the emotional content of the classes —and what the classes mean for the lives of those who attend them —and the people they know —and the community, I look at everybody with a heightened sense of intent, of mission, and of EXPECTATION. I EXPECT more than the minimum. I EXPECT something extraordinary. I OPEN THAT WINDOW. I invite it in —I’m LOOKING for it, I’m expecting it —-and damn it, if it doesn’t come fast enough for me, I DEMAND IT. That’s what I do when I’m in the lead —when it’s up to me to chart a course, some course, ANY path —beyond the path of least resistance. 

Now, in some ways, I’m standing at the head of the martial arts world —-no, I’m not the only one, I’m one of many, but here I am, I’m standing here —and I’m looking at the industry and I’m expecting great things, wonderful things, complex things, things that reflect genius and guts and crazy connection to issues that need someone to champion them. I celebrate the birthday party, but for the love of Joseph and Mary, can we have, now, 20, 30, 40 years into school management talk in the martial arts community, some real dialogue about issues of substance?!!!

Why in God’s name can we not seem to get beyond the quick buck, the easy pitch, the “well do it for you” mentality? Why does everything have to be a product for sale, another way to make money with little or no actual thought, training, energy, and investment. 

It’s this birthday party / after school / Wal Mart mentality that causes me to go off with diatribes like this —out of sadness for a way of life I esteemed to be far more engaged and intelligent than what far too many of the leading sources for martial arts teacher education in the world today promote and encourage. 

Birthday parties? That’s all you’ve got? That’s your “pull a rabbit out of your hat” idea? That’s where we’re headed, STILL! Well hell, let’s throw a birthday party for the 20th year of promoting birthday parties in martial arts schools —-for the long, slow, sugary ride down the party slide of triviality, the easy path, for the opposite of education, substance, meaning, and service. 

How do we become MASTERS of our work when our intellectual set-point is that of a 18 year old host of a birthday party? That’s my, you know, complaint.

Tom Callos Writes About Teaching Self-Defense. Advice for Martial Arts School Owners and Teachers

(Unsolicited) Martial Arts School Owner Advice (For Those Whose Desire it is to Teach “Self-Defense”):

The time to act is now, as our job is PREVENTION. 

We do not carry the weapons; enforce the laws; apprehend the suspects; or incarcerate the criminals. What we do, in the name of SELF-DEFENSE, is we work in the arena of prevention.

"This is what can happen; this is how you prepare for —and avoid it."

Your job, at least how I view it, is to be present and accounted for BEFORE the attack, before the rape, before the bullying, before the molestation, before “the stranger” appears, before the event, the incident, and/or the assault. 

For this reason, you should/must feel justified in reaching out to your community, endlessly. Do you need another “reason” to market your skills and services? To educate? No.

Nearly anything you can say or do BEFORE an occurrence, before the suicide, before the assault, before the fire or the onset of diabetes or issues relevant to a poor diet and lack of adequate exercise —is justified, as anything you can say or do BEFORE, is about 10,000 times better, more important, more relevant, and more needed —than a single word you utter after the fact.

All you need to do to make all the effort, the 10,000 solicitations, the writing, the speaking, the offers to participate, the knocking on the doors of your community, the demos, the connecting with parents and teachers and the community at large, is to save one person’s life. Just one. Or even to help someone avoid needless and painful suffering. 

If you succeed in this one thing, all the work is justified. 

When I speak to martial arts school owners and teachers about “marketing” their schools, I talk more about their/our mission and role —than I do the design of their add or the appealing discount. 

The time to act is now, before. When we act after the child has been harmed, after someone has been hurt, violated, or is already suffering, we have not done our job well enough.


(More — Unsolicited) Martial Arts School Owner Advice (For Those Whose Desire it is to Teach “Self-Defense”):

The bell is used during meditation to remind one to breath and be present. For the man or woman who sees it as their job, their role, to teach “self-defense,” every crime, every rape, every assault, every molestation, every burglary, every act of bullying, every house fire, every suicide, every case of avoidable illness —in another town, anywhere in the world, is the ring of the self-defense bell. 

It says, “This didn’t happen in my/our town, but it could. This didn’t happen on my street, but it could. This didn’t happen to someone I care about or love, but it could.”

Everyone will be up in arms when something bad happens. Everyone will cry out for action to be taken. Everyone will feel compelled to do something, to make the call to never let this happen again. Everyone will think or say, “This might have been avoided if…”

But you, the teacher of self-defense, your job is NOT to wait. Self-defense is knowing what can happen —and avoiding it. “I knew the attack was going to happen, I recognized all the signs, and so I stepped aside.” That is the best kind of self-defense —recognizing a dangerous situation —and avoiding it before it can get that way. 

Use a “Google Alert” for the words rape, child death, assault, domestic violence, hate crime, bullying, and other words relevant to self-defense —for a few months. Try it out. 

And every time you scan the e-mail Google sends showing all the news relevant to the word(s), hear it as the ring of the bell —a call to action, a call to work on prevention, rather than therapy. 

For me, when something bad happens to someone else, no matter where they are, I think about what that would feel like if it were my loved one. And I think, what actions might I take, in advance, if I knew this was to happen to my daughter or son or wife? In the answers to those questions —are the instructions for how to teach self-defense to your community.

Design, Martial Arts, Vision, Crazy, Emily Pilloton, Pie, Art, and My Personal Madness

Stuff I go Crazy for / about: Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives With Design-Based Education (TED Books) by Emily Pilloton.

"You know," he says to nobody in particular…

I’m day-dreaming about a mix of design, art, and BJJ. I see a school in my mind’s eye with a Seymour Yang type as head art teacher / project leader, maybe something like Art of Jiu-Jistu / Pie Lab ( with filmmaking and build-design like Project H (, with some Project M ( in it, along with some Bike Lab ( and Hip Hop Chess Federation thrown in to sweeten the pot. 

There’s a place in my mind —and flowering here and there in the new martial arts community where a martial arts school isn’t just a martial arts school any more. 

Kids tackle projects; things are made; businesses are launched; design is explored; and yeah —champions are cultivated, of course. It has to contain great martial arts, old school, but why limit what can happen when highly creative, highly motivated, very capable people come together?

The scope of what the “BJJ Lab” might be in the future is really only limited by the ingenuity, intelligence, creativity, and vision of the person or people at the helm.

Teaching Literacy, My Favorite Tumblr Blog. The Martial Arts and Books

From my favorite Tumblr Blog, “Teaching Literacy” —from this morning. Someday, sooner than later, I will (intend to) turn my attention to the connection between books, reading, literacy, and the martial arts school in today’s world. 

Imagine the photographic documentation of the personal libraries of 1000 martial arts students and teachers. Imagine 1000 + schools, all over the world, adding reading as a curriculum component in their youth curriculum. 

Imagine teachers, school teachers, having all of these gung-ho martial arts kids in their classes that are building their own libraries, reading, thinking and talking about what they’re reading and learning —and all because their highly influential martial arts teachers have hammered home the value of a good book, the value of turning off the media and focusing, and the appreciation for what books do for —mean to —the world. 

Linda Lee Cadwell, Bruce Lee’s widow, once told me that she and Bruce were very poor when they were living in Oakland —but she said that no matter what, Bruce Lee always found some money for books. He scoured the used book stores in the Bay Area, looking for new works to add to his reading library. How can you not dig that? (Here’s a link to Shannon Lee showing her father’s book collection:

I imagine martial arts schools so inextricably connected to reading and literature and books, that parents automatically and without blinking link our training to the enjoyment of the written word —and education in general. After all, isn’t knowledge / literacy, really, the ultimate form of self-defense?

Martial Arts Business, The Project Portfolio. Documenting The Work of The Modern Master of the Martial Arts

My old friend, Antonio Fournier of Portland, ME -asked me this last week, after I’d written about the project portfolio and how I believe it holds one of the vital keys to developing tomorrows (better, more effective) martial arts schools and leaders, if I would provide some examples of what a project portfolio looks like. 

I turned him on to martial arts teacher Gary Engels of Woodruff, WI —my student/teacher, as Gary has done, to date, some of the most in depth, engaged, and innovative work on my idea of Project-Based Leadership Training —and its use of the project portfolio. Well, I’d like to call it “my idea,” but when someone takes something and does the kind of work he’s done, new, innovative, creative, it becomes “our idea.” Oh, and we can give credit too, big credit, to Aikido Sensei Gaku Homma of Denver, CO who was doing all of this long before “we” got “the idea.”

A stellar example of what a project portfolio looks like, can be found on my friend John Bielenberg's PROJECT M website. John’s a teacher, a world renowned one —and in the Project M project portfolio, you can see some of the work he inspired and cultivates in/with his students. This is you, martial arts teacher. This is you.

In 48 days a bunch of us will be heading to Greensboro, Alabama for the Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention 2014 —-and those of you coming can see some of the project on Project M’s site in person.

Adisa Banjoko, the martial arts and head of The Hip Hop Chess Federation. Giving Credit Where Credit is Due.

I want to talk for a bit about Adisa Banjoko, who I have met, but not recently; 17 years ago he was in the class at Ralph Gracie’s the day BJ Penn and I walked into Ralph’s school in San Jose —when BJ moved from training with me, to the coach that would take him to the next stage of his amazing career. 

Adisa, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, heads the HIP HOP CHESS FEDERATION.

To me, the work he’s doing, blending music, chess, and BJJ (think: martial arts) is absolutely stun-gunner brilliant —like you/we should get our head’s deep into what he’s done —and is doing —as in it, this juxtaposition of subjects, is the promise of 1000 approaches not yet taken. Unexplored territory. The Waring blender of passions, life, the martial arts training lifestyle; left-brain / right brain; the mixing of athleticism with art with intellect with strategic thinking with creativity with something soulful and connecting and what John Bielenberg calls “Thinking Wrong” (as a way to create change, solve problems, and elicit creative thinking).

You see, if Adisa can blend chess and hip hop with his love of martial arts —and MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the lives of the people in his sphere of influence, then so might the engineer, the artist or lover of art, the drummer, the guitar player, the architect, the carpenter, the seamstress, the environmentalist, the filmmaker, the singer, the chef, and just about anyone with a deep passion, the ability to see The Way in seemingly disparate things; the man / woman who is the teacher, the guide, and the adventurer. 

It’s not, “these things are not connected,” but instead it’s, “everything is connected.” We need this in the martial arts community. We can’t continue on the path of same-ness promoted and propagated by people of commerce who are hell bent on creating and selling “the system” that absolutely, 100% guaranteed every single time, if followed exactly, turns a profit. We can’t let the desire for (heard this expression this week) “a million dollar school” bring us to the place where every aspect of the business is scripted and designed for maximum profitability and franchisable “Return on Investment.”

We need structure and systems, of course —but as much as we need those things, we also need equally radical creativity, executed in ways, like Adiso seems to be doing, that are so different, so strange, and so wonderful that it speaks of a kind of alternate universe of the present paradigm of how things are done. 

I celebrate the genius of The Hip Hop Chess Federation and this martial artist who is out there making it happen.

Happy 67th Birthday to Master Ernie Reyes, Sr. - Tom Callos Recollects

So it’s Master Ernie Reyes’ 67th birthday. Well…let me tell you a bit about Ernie Reyes, Sr. 

In 1981 I was 21 years old and I was itching to leave the school I had attended since the age of 11 and head into the big city of the martial arts world. I’d been competing on the tournament circuit in Northern California and had run into a number of Master Reyes’ students —and had seen what was then called “Choi’s Demo Team” perform —-and I was smitten. THAT is where I wanted to be; so I packed my bags, kissed my girlfriend goodbye, jumped on my Honda 750 and moved to Campbell, CA to join his school. 

I remember the first day I walked into Master Reyes’ small school, into his office; I was intimidated, nervous, shaky even, as I was dealing with my dreams; under the glass top of Master Reyes’ desk were photos of him with the who’s who of the martial arts world —-all my heroes from the magazines; anyone who was anyone in the martial arts. 

Me: “Sir, I’ve moved here to be your student.”
Master Ernie: “Ok, nice to meet you.”

Subtext: “Master Reyes, I want to dedicate my life to serving this school, just take me in, tell me what to do, and I’ll die making it happen.”

Master Reyes: “Oh boy, here’s another one.”

So I proceeded to show up for two classes a day, morning and evening class —and Master Reyes taught them all. My classmates were a who’s who of Karate Illustrated’s top 10 forms competitors —and many of them, all 25 to 50 of them, were the among the best tkd and open tournament fighters in The Bay Area.

Master Reyes didn’t talk, not much. We just trained. Classes were about 90 percent kicking, jump kicking, pad kicking, kicking drills, double kicks, speed kicks, etc. —and we did some forms (not much, as there wasn’t much room in the school), and we fought, a lot. There didn’t seem to be many hobbyists in our classes —everyone there was fully engaged in training like professionals. Nearly every weekend of the year there was a demo to perform somewhere —and for the first several months, I wasn’t invited to attend practice, so I sat on the side —literally, pathetically, begging to be a part of the action. I’d clean the stage at the events, run out the trash, direct traffic, carry gym bags —-I was a demo team leech. I think he invited me to move some chairs off the stage once during a performance —and to me it was like being on the cover of Black Belt Mag. “I’M ON THE TEAM!” 

I did, eventually get invited to perform on the West Coast Demo Team, but I think it was more out of pity than because they wanted me there. Master Reyes probably thought I might hurt myself if I kept hanging on to the bumper of his demo team van, getting dragged behind it, as the team went to and from to its various shows. 

Master Reyes is the most singularly focused man I have ever met. His mind is completely on his training and his work with his students. He doesn’t talk about books, he doesn’t talk about cars or motorcycles, he doesn’t talk about other people, he doesn’t critique the martial arts scene, he doesn’t express cynicism or sarcasm, he doesn’t put down this style or that —-essentially, he talks about the schools, his students, and things that relate to training, performing, and the martial arts as he likes to engage it. I must have tried 1000 times to get him to talk stink about this or that person or this or that martial arts issue —nope, that’s not the way he rolls.

At West Coast we did just a few basic things: 1. We ate. Food was big —and Master Reyes had a few favorite restaurants —and much of our dialogue as a team and on a friendship level happened over omelets, oatmeal, Thai food, and Pho noodle soup. By the way, you (me) can eat EXACTLY as Ernie Reyes, Sr. eats —and he’ll lose 3 pounds a week and look like a professional athlete —and you (me) will gain 5 pounds and look like you’re carb-loading. 2. We trained. We ran in the morning, then went to class. We met for lifting in the early afternoon, then we trained in the evening. The school was small, the carpet stank to high heaven, and it was so hot in the summer you’d sweat a bucket just warming up —and get heat stroke or something close to it 3 workouts out of five. 3. We went to the movies. 4. We took naps. Master Reyes took a nap every day —and if you clung to him, like I did, you took a nap too. 

Then we did it all over again the next day. On most weekends the team was traveling to some tournament or performance. When I traveled with the team, I am now embarrassed to say, I would ask (expect) Master Reyes to get up at 5 or 6 and train me —-yeah, like at hotels, after we’d stayed up competing or performing until well after midnight —I’d then knock on his room door at some unholy hour and we’d hardly speak. He’d grab the pads and we’d head to some hallway or find a spot by the pool or in a meeting room and he’d train me. I have to laugh now, as if some kid knocked on my door at 5 am, I’m not sure I’d be civil. For Master Reyes, it seemed (to me, anyway, at the time) like that was just what we did. 

In the 33 years I’m known Master Reyes, I’ve known him to be an incredibly attentive father, an uber loyal friend, especially to his partner in life, Tony B. Thompson, a martial arts fanatic who genuinely appreciates martial arts talent, a dedicated athlete, and someone who defines what I call “the martial arts lifestyle.” He’s got a written-in-stone ethical barometer; he’s hard on the people in his direct circle, but also incredibly gracious, giving, and loving. 

Overall, of all the masters and non-masters of the martial arts I’ve ever met, Ernie Reyes, Sr. is as focused, if not more, than the best of the best I’ve encountered —that rare breed of teacher who lives and breathes the martial arts life, for real, with no facade or pretense —and who, somehow, not only carries himself with a level of integrity and dignity that you can feel —but somehow makes YOU want to do the same. 

Ernie Reyes, Sr. is cut from the same cloth as people like Jhoon Rhee, Benny Urquidez, Dan Inosanto, Carlos Gracie, Jr., Mike Swain, and that elite, accomplished, upper echelon of the martial arts world —-and being around him was / has been the learning and DOING experience of my life. 

Happy Birthday Grandmaster Reyes —you’re one of our international living martial arts treasures —and at 67, you’ve got a life-force thing going that makes you more like 37; you’ve put as many or more martial artists on the floor as anyone, inspired more performances and athletes to push themselves, and have been (are) the deep current of that intangible martial arts historical thing —that “flow,” that is often under the surface —but moves everything on top of it. You’ve managed to transcend the name of any style or system —and embrace and champion all of it.

You’re really something —and I, like so many others, recognize you as part of the heart and soul of the martial arts world today.

Martial Arts Business Lessons for The Master Teacher in the Making

usinessStep 1: Get the student to engage the practice, long term and mindfully. End result: The magic that happens when one uses the martial arts as a tool for self-improvement. 

Step 2: Get the student, fully engaged in the practice and its personal benefits, to engage his or her fellow students in a way, as a “senior” that deeply affects their lives. End result: The magic that happens when one not only holds him or herself to the highest standards, but then purposefully engages those in their circle of influence —for the purpose of becoming a part of the village of people that makes their practice and involvement richer, more meaningful, and empowering. Note: In my experience, the person who thinks Step 1. is the ultimate, hasn’t fully embraced Step 2. As there is no way, from my perspective, that one can “be their best,” if the path doesn’t include service to others. 

Step 3: Get the student body, as in all practicing individuals and those in their sphere of influence, to stand together on issues and in/with action in a way that can only be done by groups —by people coming together to do work and provide service. To realize the affect of a group on issues and for reasons beyond what an individual or smaller group can manifest. End result: The magic that comes from a group effort, where many carry the weight of action and purpose.

Step 4: Make the circle larger and seek to bring something extraordinary to the world —because if you have done steps 1 to 3 well, then the potential to bring something good to the world might present itself —in the spirit of how others have done the same. End result: The magic of what happens when the many tackle issues of social justice, education, and causes that need many strong individuals to champion them.