Martial Arts Business. An Industry with It’s Head Up its Arse?

Is “Head in Your Arse” too harsh a thing to say about the martial arts industry —or us? 

I think not. 

Try this (as a test): Visit 10, 20, 30, or 100 martial arts school websites (as I have, 10 times over) —and look for something unique.


"We are a black belt school!" "House of Pain." "House of Discipline" (says the 28 year old tattooed high school dropout who has embraced his inner-mma-fighter). "The Student Creed." "Little Dragonette." "Little Assassins." "MMA Fitness." "Israeli Commando Fitness ." "We teach someone else’s words!" 

To hell with personal experience, with investigation, with sitting down and working, working, working to put your knowledge into something powerful and important —-BUY WHAT YOU TEACH (it’s easier —and in the long run, cheaper!). 

To hell with actually researching, studying, and God forbid, understanding Toaism or The 7 Habits or The 8-fold Path or Budo or anatomy and physiology or anything much more than the birthday party, the ice cream social, the pizza party, SEO and how to cheat it, how to upgrade, how to double your gross, how to sign up 60 students in a month. 

And consultants? They’re a dime a dozen. Kids make Youtube videos telling other school owners (“The Industry”) how to build a better program. Why? Because it’s easier to talk on a camera and give advice to strangers than it is to go into your own community and affect REAL CHANGE —or solve real problems. Best to face and talk to people who expect nothing from you, who won’t scrutinize that you’re all small talk and very, very little about action-of-any-relevant-consequence.

BE DIFFERENT 100 MEMBERS, as This is Where Your Tuition (Value) Will Come From

Start with your own personal martial arts training.

Start with what you read, tonight, tomorrow, the next day. 

Start with going back to school (you can do 1 class, yes?).

Start with doing things worth doing (battle diabetes, battle depression, battle bullying, battle anger, battle piss-poor diets that lead to illness, battle apathy, battle gender-related-violence, battle bigotry, battle the Tobacco Industry,  battle conspicuous consumption, battle the medias crazy manipulation of children’s brains, battle bad manners, battle ignorance, hell….battle anything that’s worth the battle). 

Start with actually STUDYING philosophy.

Start with perfecting your knowledge of food, fitness, and health.

Start with building a noble, noteworthy, telling project portfolio.  

Start with shutting off your TV, closing your laptop, pushing yourself away from your desk, and getting into your community in a way that few people ever do. 

Start with refining your words, refining, refining, refining…

Start teaching by your example, not what sells. To hell with what sells —and more power to innovative, important, useful service to mankind.

Write more. Video more. Teach more. Read more. Simplify more. Reduce More. DO more for others. Think more. Subvert the dominant paradigm and turn away from “The martial arts industry.” LEAD it. Eventually the industry as it is will go away —and we will be left with the things you’re now planting the seeds for, today. 

Martial Arts Business: The Consequences of Excess

Too much chocolate, as good as it can taste, will make you sick.

Too much training, as much as people say “more is better,” can cause you some serious joint damage, like it did me. The picture above is one of my two artificial hip joints, now more than a decade old.

Many of my peers are enjoying their new hips too, although let me tell you, there’s NO PLEASURE in what leads up to a hip replacement. It’s all discomfort and pain, back, leg, and hip pain, loss of movement, and a slow and agonizing realization that you’re dreading the walk to the car, to the store, through the airport, and/or anywhere (forget running to catch a ball, backpacking, or performing martial arts at a high level).

But the great news about hip pain is it’s your hips! It’s not your neck! Or lower back. This is a joint that can be replaced and, literally, give you your life back. 

Now let me ask you, what’s the equivalent of the worn out hip joint to too much focus on “business?” What wears out when you do things, over and over, that have the potential to wear out parts of you that are both hard to find and costly to repair? I see it all the time in martial arts school owners. 

They wear out their passion. When school owners get caught up in the trap of sales, sales, sales —they wear out their sense of mission and intent and purpose. So my organization, The 100. —is fast becoming the repair shop for career-inspiration-replacements. The work can’t be seen in an x-ray, but it can be found in the bounce of the step in people formally hobbled by a focus on endless sales and membership campaigns, giving pizza parties and ice cream socials, looking at every student as just another pay-day, and losing their focus on the here and now. 

Martial Arts Business: Honesty is Our Business

Imagine a martial arts association that your students could go to, see what was being said —and watch the videos…AND YOU WOULDN’T BE EMBARRASSED!

No talk about “upgrades” —no talk about “holding back curriculum —no talk about standing in front of elementary schools, in uniform, and waving big signs —no talk about students only lasting 18 months —no talks about how you run an “event” as a smokescreen for aggressive sales —and no talk about your wealth, your cars, his cars, his watch, or how many millionaires are in “the club.”

No inner-circle nonsense, no Dan Kennedy sales tactics, and, well…nothing but honesty. Imagine if your students were actually inspired by what they found; imagine if they thought more of you when they left the site. That’s the work being done at

Martial Arts Business: Why NOT to Join the 100.

"There are Any Number of Reasons NOT to Join The One Hundred —-and for some unknown reason, some character flaw in me, I feel compelled to list some of them here.”

—Tom Callos

DO NOT JOIN THE 100 if: 

  • You consider yourself too busy to read the posts here, regardless of their number (If you don’t come here to practice, what’s the use of joining the school?).
  • You won’t get your own team involved, so you’re the only conduit into your school for ideas/methods explored here (Your staff get to join for free. If you don’t get them involved, your chances of successfully implementing a lot of the ideas here goes down, Oh, I’d guess about 50%).  
  • When you read or watch the work here, you don’t understand you are in-training, that this is the equivalent of a master-level of study, that you can’t get these ideas, at the depth they are delivered here, or in the frequency, anywhere else in the martial arts community (If you don’t get how valuable and special the work is here, go join _______ [name your favorite purveyor of yesterdays ideas and methods here]). 
  • Furthermore, you don’t realize that this work is creating an entirely new field of practice and purpose in the industry —and for serious teachers of martial arts. 
  • You don’t respect me enough to pay attention —and in that case, my e-mails, the coaching, the messages, and the seemingly un-ending stream of material that comes to you through my effort is an annoyance, an intrusion, something you “can’t keep up with” (Don’t sweat it, I’m just not your teacher. My suggestion: Go find someone you DO respect enough to listen to). 
  • You aren’t a person of action. You read a lot, you join, you have every intent of improving your lot, but at the end of each week your “action list” doesn’t reflect the level of involvement that brings about the change you are looking for (You can read 1000 posts here, but if you can’t DO, you’re wasting my time and your money). 
  • You play on-line video games, but you don’t have the time to go to a Chamber of Commerce Meeting. You buy coffee at Starbucks, but when you see our tuition price you think you’re over-spending. You make posts on Facebook, but you won’t take 10 minutes to post something that might help others here in the association (I want people who do the work here, not people “paying dues”). 
  • You don’t keep (or are unwilling to keep) stats for your business (Which means you will almost never get to the core reasons you’re not making enough income in your school). 
  • You’re looking for quick money, a quick “fix,” an easier path, or something that’s “cunningly clever.” This work takes work, it takes intelligence, management skills, and foresight. If you lack self-discipline, you’re going to hate me, so don’t join in the first place.

Martial Arts Business, that’s my thing. However, it’s not business as usual —I’m in the business of taking the martial arts out of the dojo and into the world. I teach martial arts school owners how to bring authenticity, honor, and dignity to their chosen profession (after almost three decades of dance-school and health club sales strategies). See my work at

Martial Arts Business: A Letter to a School Owner

A Letter to a Martial Arts School Owner: An Introduction to the work of The 100.
You own a martial arts school, a club, teach a class, or plan on doing something along this line in the future. I’m here to introduce you to my work, as it relates to your work.
My name is Tom Callos; I took my first martial arts lesson in 1969, when a judo teacher invited me on the mat. I started studying Taekwondo at age 11 —and for the last 40 years I’ve made it a point to try and find the best ideas, the best methods, and associate myself (learn from) the smartest people I could find.
I have failed miserably. I’ve succeeded wonderfully. I’ve failed to inspire, to profit, to lead, to succeed, and to pay attention when I should have —on more occasions than I can possibly remember. I have also managed to succeed at a healthy number of things —and the losing and winning, failing and succeeding, being arrogant, abrasive, and downright stupid, as well as being open-minded, willing to change, and coming from a place where I was truly “thinking clearly,” make my advice and council something that you might find worthwhile.
That being said, I can’t teach you. I can’t teach you if you don’t respect me. I can’t teach you if you’re so full of what you already know that there isn’t room for something new. I can’t teach you if you’re full of fear or suffer from some kind of crippling ego issue or if you have a belief system that says you’re too busy, too old, too young, or that you come from a “traditional” style that doesn’t make room for things learned from people outside of your “system.”

I call my group The 100. —and the idea comes from a letter that Ms. Rosa Parks once sent me (in 1993). The short story is that her letter made me wonder if 100 martial arts MASTERS could, collectively, equal the power to influence, serve justice, and to make change in the world like the diminutive 42-year-old seamstress who, that historic day, simply refused to give up her seat on the bus in order to perpetuate racial discrimination.

The 100. is like a college, in that it provides general education to the beginner —and then gradually asks the student to narrow his or her focus based on personal interests and passions. As a 100. member moves through his/her career, the idea is to begin to work on advanced concepts, like a master, that allows a martial arts teacher/leader to do the work that speaks to her sense of purpose and mission-in-the-world.

My personal mission (in-the-world) is to use my skills, experience, and chutzpah to re-define the role of the martial arts teacher and the martial arts school in today’s world. To do that we must redefine the meaning and definition of “self-defense.” We must design non-partisan educational programs that enhance our understanding of issues such as healthy eating, dietary health issues (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.), hyper-masculine behavior, gender discrimination, violence, non-violent conflict resolution, leadership, bullying, and a number of other topics that would make us smarter, more relevant, better leaders and teachers, and more important members of “the village” it takes to make better, higher-functioning, more participative citizens.

I’m looking for very smart, very proactive people, preferably martial arts teachers who have trained hard enough and smart enough to distinguish what’s dysfunctional in the martial arts community —and what we have the potential to create (and do) in the world. However, I often accept people into The 100. who are not “masters” of any particular art, but who just don’t subscribe to the paradigm supported by the “martial arts industry.”

Here’s what you get if and when you join The 100. You get to be around someone who doesn’t believe you’ve reached even 1/10th of your potential. You get to be around someone (a group of us really) that believes we’re here for something more than the limited definition currently promoted in the martial arts world.

You get to be around a group of people who are looking to elevate the work, the sense of mission, purpose, and intent of it all. We’re here to change the way the general public looks at the “Sensei” (or whatever you choose to call yourself) —and the actual way the martial arts teacher works in, contributes to, and influences his or her community.

We call this “good business” —and “our business.”

I help school owners with their schools and careers. I help school owners recognize what is bullshit and what is genius, what’s worth perpetuating and what should probably be discarded, and what works and what is probably not healthy. I connect smart people. I invent programs designed to scream “WE ARE WHO WE SAY WE ARE.” I’m here to subvert the dominant paradigm of the “martial arts industry,” as it’s failing, miserably, to organize itself in a way that is indicative of the “mastery” we claim the study of the martial arts instills.

If you can’t see why you would ever be involved in something like this —or to put yourself in a place where you might listen to someone like me —don’t worry, I understand. There are a 1000 people in my world I should listen to, but don’t. I recognize that I can’t hear much from people I don’t know and respect, that I don’t learn much when my head isn’t in the right place, and that sometimes, no matter how smart someone is, they simply are not, ever, going to be “your teacher.”

I blame all of the above on my teacher, Master Ernie Reyes, Sr., who, when I was young and in exactly the right place to learn some life-lessons, taught me about what it takes to be a champion, a father, a leader, an athlete, a student, a teacher, and a centered, participative human being.

The 100. represents the things I’ve learned, the things I hope to learn, and the kind of association and community I’d like to be a part of.

Tom Callos

Martial Arts Business: On Being Poor

Martial Arts Business: On Being Poor and Not Having Many Resources
In the practice of the martial arts we often embrace opposites. For example, when the punch is coming at the face, our mind says “flinch and cringe,” but our training says, “block.” When we face a sparring partner some part of our brain might whisper (or yell), “run,” but our training has us stepping back, raising our hands, and engaging the opponent.
It was a martial arts teacher who taught me that when something is bad, it might actually be good; he taught me that a lot of how we perceive things depends on how we choose to look at them. Finding the good in the bad is, I was trained, a fairly powerful form of self-defense.
So I’m here to tell you, Mr. or Ms. Struggling Martial Arts School Owner, that being poor is, in many ways, actually better for your business than being wealthy. That struggling with limited resources can, sometimes, serve you better, believe it or not, than having more than enough money.

Let me explain how it works.
When you have a lot of money, it’s easy to get lazy. When you’re operating with a bare-bones budget, you have to tap into your creativity, you have to become resourceful and inventive. When you have a lot of money, to advertise for example, you might buy the same ads everyone else does, in the same way. But when you’re poor, you have to choose methods of promotion that don’t rely on the almighty dollar, but that often depend on inventiveness and/or face-to-face interaction.
Oh, and money can make you really stupid.

Some of my friends who make a lot of money go crazy for stupid things like cars that cost $50,000 or more than they’re really worth. They buy clothes that cost 10-times what they should —and they think they look really smart wearing them!

Unlike my friends with less “disposable income,” my friends with lots of money have houses that are too big, furniture that’s a waste of money, and they often travel to expensive places to stay in expensive hotels that insulate them from the very places they went to go “see.”

They often buy ridiculously expensive watches, spend too much of their money on greasy food and pretentious wines, and generally insulate themselves in a cocoon of status symbols and designer brand names.

Being cash poor isn’t necessarily about being “poor” (and “poor” in the Western World today isn’t really being “poor” at all) it can be a license to look more carefully at the world around you. It’s an opportunity to embrace simplicity, which is often a far better thing than the complications that come with hoarding wealth. Being not-rich requires one to get creative, to invent, and to take advantage of the abundant resources around us, resources that often get ignored by folks who are looking for status over function.

One of my favorite reminders of the advantage of not having a whole lot of money to create genius and art (in life), is in this blog by photographer Chase Jarvis. The blog is called “Care, Time, and Vision Beat Budget Every Time.” It’s about the beautiful project, “The Ice Book.”

The Ice Book (HD) from Davy and Kristin McGuire on Vimeo.

It’s a reminder to me that working with a tight budget doesn’t have to mean “no magic.” If you’re a school owner with a less-than-abundant budget to operate your school —and life —on, I’d like to suggest you embrace the opposite: See being tight as a good thing, maybe even a great thing. 

Make it force you to look at what you DO have, at the resources you don’t have to pay a lot for, and let it cause you to invent and create. Create a world for yourself where less is actually more. 

It wouldn’t be the first time we (martial artists) embrace an idea that, at first, seems like the opposite of good judgment. 

Martial Arts Business and Teaching. Thoughts from Tom Callos

Teaching People The Martial Arts: Two Pieces of Advice
I’ve been studying and practicing the martial arts for 40 years and helping to teach and/or leading my own classes for more than 30 of those. At 51 years of age, I believe I still have much to learn, about life, about teaching, and about how to make the time I have invested in the martial arts something more than just a narcissistic fascination with the subject.
While I acknowledge that I still have a long way to go, the following thoughts / observations represent some things I have learned about the martial arts (practicing, teaching) thus far. I reserve the right to change my opinion about anything I write, but as of today, I believe these things to be true (and if not “true” then simply the version of truth that I operate from at the present):

When designing a martial arts school’s curriculum (and a school’s curriculum should, always, be in a state of perpetual redesign, as it must evolve as the teacher’s awareness evolves — or, in other words, the curriculum grows up as the teacher grows up), fitness should be the primary goal of the first year’s worth of training.

But I’m not referring to just physical fitness, but to dietary habits, the understanding and execution of how and why to set long term goals, attitudinal fitness (will anything else hurt us as much as our attitude about things, circumstances, people, etc.?), fitness of relationships, the health of one’s role as a member of the community, and mental health.
In addressing “fitness,” we are actually addressing self-defense at the highest level, as habits and attitudes about food, wealth, health, anger, simplicity, family, relationships, tolerance, contribution, and the habit of regular exercise (of the body, mind, and spirit), are more relevant to self-defense in today’s world than are any set of techniques, blocks, arm-bars, or kicks.

Instructor Education
Every instructor worth his/her weight in gold comes from a background of long-term and intense physical training and practice. Of course, “intense practice” is a relative term, as the standards for training, fitness, and practice in the martial arts community are all over the board. Some people earn their black belts showing up for 1-hour classes 2 or 3 times a week, while others prepare for their tests like they were getting ready to compete in the Olympics.

So let’s acknowledge that intense physical training —and an immersion in all things physical with regard to the practice of the martial arts —is a given for the teacher. But, if we are to elevate the martial arts to something more than just “good exercise” and the execution of techniques, we need a kind of instructor education that far exceeds what is currently available —and/or emphasized in the martial arts community.

We need teacher training that deals with anger, gender and racial discrimination, all forms of violence, food and the production of food, and health issues like those represented by the top killers of adults in today’s world (like heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [lung diseases], diabetes, and kidney disease).

Well, we don’t HAVE to have —or emphasize —this kind of instructor training in the martial arts community, as we can very easily define our role as teachers of hand-to-hand combat, vigorous exercise, sport fighting, and “traditional” arts, but if we did embrace higher education as teachers, we could, quite literally, change our role in today’s world.

By changing our role, we would change our value to our communities and the world.

Instructors, I don’t think we should allow “the martial arts industry,” as it is today, to define our role and the services we can or will provide. As it in now, if you open the trade magazines for the martial arts, it’s a mix of hucksterism and commerce that for me —and a lot of other martial artists (not to mention the general public) —is simply a reflection of some real base thinking. We could and should be aiming a LOT higher.

In much the same way as we have learned the intricacies of our various arts, we could educate ourselves in any number of relevant-to-self-defense topics, like those mentioned above.

Your/our curriculum, in the future, should (must) include a more comprehensive approach to “self-defense,” than that which is offered in most schools today. The Internet makes this idea much easier to implement, but it’s our attitude and beliefs about what the role of the martial arts teacher is —and/or should be —in today’s world, that will most dramatically affect our value in the future.

About The Author

Tom Callos oversees, the “alternative radio station” of martial arts associations and teacher training programs in today’s international martial arts community.

Martial Arts Business: Benefits of Membership in The 100.

Fast Overview of Our Benefits:
1. Veteran martial arts teacher Tom Callos runs this association —and what that means is 100. members get an overwhelmingly honest, creative, and intelligent approach to business and marketing.  Tom doesn’t distribute, endorse, or encourage stupid marketing or management tricks. He’s known and well respected for producing material and curriculum that makes careers, makes money, and makes sense.
2. The Smartest Work in the Martial Arts Industry. While the martial arts industry repeatedly promotes marketing concepts such as birthday parties, VIP passes, sleep-overs, text message spamming, and standing in the lobby of theaters to solicit patrons before and after martial arts films, Tom Callos teaches 100 members about anger management and environmental self-defense programs, community activism and film-making, and on-line digital campuses to enhance curriculum.
The martial arts industry is stuck in the freshman year of school owner development, endlessly repeating the same ideas. The 100. is a school and a classroom for masters who have moved beyond the basics and are tackling advanced concepts for dominating their markets and building programs of value.
3. Get Help With Your Work and Your School. You’re not like everyone else, are you? You have a certain overhead, specific goals, experiences, and skills (weaknesses too) that make you and your situation unique.

Maybe your specialty is MMA? Maybe it’s self-defense? Capoeira or Taekwondo or traditional Karate or Aikido? You might have 3 children or own your own building or have a rent of $1000 a month or live in a town of 50,000 people, whatever your situation is, it needs to be considered when developing a plan.
The 100. doesn’t force you to embrace the status quo, The 100. is about developing your strengths, analyzing and overcoming your weaknesses, and working on your own unique vision of your career —even as you change.

There is no better form of help for the school owner and/or master teacher.

4. The 100. is a think tank —and the best ideas, hands down, in school marketing, management, and curriculum design are coming from this organization, period.

5. The 100. is a networking center, a community of like minded people who aren’t going to follow the pack that has already lead the martial arts industry into its most embarrassing and impotent period in history.

To see where the talk turns into action, visit The 100.s revolutionary on-line campus. School owners and managers may have a one week trial, click here to begin.

10 Levels of Teaching (for Martial Arts Teachers)

On a scale between 1 and 10.

A “1” teacher is unprepared, lacks the skills, and shouldn’t be leading a class, nevertheless, he or she is, indeed, “leading the class.” You’ve seen them, yes? At one time you might have been a “1” teacher —I know I was.

A level “10” teacher is someone who doesn’t just give you a workout, doesn’t just teach you excellent, effective, valuable technique —-a “10” teacher reaches you with something more than words.

As a result of his or her class / influence / teachings / reminders / example, you walk a little taller, your heart is bigger and more open, you see more clearly, you are inspired to be more, you are open to growth and change and improvement, and some-how, some-way, a teacher like this resets your mind and spirit.

You might not at first recognize it happening, but when you’ve been around this kind of teacher, open and ready to learn, it’s as if you are given something that is now yours —-and because of this person’s influence you are a better, bigger, simpler, smarter, more compassionate human being. 

A “1” is like a bad smell; you can endure it, but if at all possible it’s something to avoid. 

A “10” teacher is like a visit from someone you love deeply, someone you treasure, respect, and admire. A “1” experience is quickly put behind you. A “10” experience is something you hold dearly, like a child, like a magic stone, like a rare book, like the finest of your memories. 

A level 5 teacher has a good grasp on what makes a masterful class; it’s a knowledge he or she has, but is not living. A level 5 teacher tries very hard, but because the lessons are in the head —and not (yet) in something owned through long-term, disciplined, spiritual practice, the level 5 teacher is not a master teacher.

A “5” can look like a master teacher. A “5” can move like a master teacher. A “5” might think he/she is a master teacher. A “5” might even talk like a master teacher, but knowing something and living the practice are two very, very different places.

To move beyond a “5” (and good businesses can be —and are most often —run by level “5” teachers, I know —as I was a “5” for many years), you must be educated and possibly a bit weathered. For sure, you have to study your own ego —and get a grasp on how it can cripple/color your awareness and viewpoint/outlook. 

A level “6” and up teacher doesn’t have to be famous. He/she doesn’t have to be well known in the world of martial arts. But a teacher moving towards “10” both embraces the tools of the kitchen, the make up of the food, the care in its preparation, the particulars of its presentation, the environment it is served in, the people who eat it, and what it means beyond the necessity of feeding one’s body.

A level 10 might be compared to the saying that the Iroquois based their most important decisions upon: 

What it Takes

I think to be a “10” you might be born with it, like Mozart was born with music, like Bobby Fischer was born with chess. But if not born as a prodigy of mastery and connection to the great awareness, you might be awakened to it by a great teacher or teachers, you might have 1 or more epiphanies caused by the birth or death of loved ones, by illness, by something you read or see or experience.

I really don’t know exactly what it takes —-but I do know that the path to mastery ought to be intentionally pursued (by people like us). The question of what mastery is —and how to make it the fuel that drives your machine (your love, your business, your diet, your training, your reading, your writing, the way you deal with the inevitable conflict in your life, with your children, your loved ones, the problems of others, and your martial arts journey) is the question that ought to be asked at the beginning of each of our actions —maybe at the beginning of each breath. 

If we had a “10” awareness and intent at the beginning of every endeavor, well…I can’t at this time in my life imagine anything more indicative of the kind of mastery I think of when I ask myself, “What is mastery?”

As you may know, I am a “business consultant.”

But I ask myself, “How important is business? How complete is the person who achieves a culturally acknowledged level of ‘success?’ Is there something more valuable to everyone involved, than ‘business?’ And so, as a result, I can’t define myself as a “business” consultant, as that title just doesn’t fit the scope and scale of the work I admire the most, from the people I consider to be “10’s.”

This is why, in part, that The 100. is what it is, looks like what it looks like, and sounds like all that it sounds like. The 100. in the longterm, may not be important to the martial arts industry —or the world. Nevertheless, I have to behave and think and be what it I would be if it was important. I don’t see any other way. What is mastery is what is 10.

Advice to Martial Arts School Owners, Worth (I Estimate) $100,000 or More Over the Life of a Career

I can’t make it simpler than this: Measure your management (and especially your marketing) in quantities of 100.

That is:
100 acts of marketing
100 posts discussing a topic you intend to dominate or own in your community
100 daily efforts in defining and re-defining your school’ curriculum or marketing campaign or black belt testing program or whatever it is that you do that requires more than the occasional effort.

Now note this: I suggest 100 to you, but it should be known that my personal number is 1000. If I really, really want something, I tell myself I will make 1000 attempts. If I am unwilling to give it a 1000 tries, then I have to accept that it is (whatever “it” is) not that important to me.

This is a rule I embrace in my teaching, learning, parenting, marketing, relationship, training, and business development.

Note this too: If and when you ever come to me with failure upon your lips, if you haven’t earnestly tried 100 times, first ——that is, 100 efforts worthy of a high ranking black belt, then you can expect me to be semi-sympathetic, but know that I would also be looking at you and thinking “someone, somewhere along your martial arts path, has failed to teach you what commitment is.”

I believe that most people give up after 3 to 10 whole-hearted, earnest, pedal-to-the-metal attempts. The person who is willing to go at something with a level of commitment that stipulates 100 (intelligent) attempts, rarely (or never) fails to succeed.

If you will measure your marketing effort 100 “acts” at a time, then reassess and begin again, you will start to see results you aren’t currently getting.

The same goes with:

TRAINING STAFF MEMBERS. 100 training sessions.
PENETRATING THE COMMUNITY WHEEL. 100 meetings and involvements.
SERVICE PROJECT. 100 community service projects.


This is the best advice you will ever get from me —and, I estimate, worth $100,000 or more over the life of your career.

Tom Callos

On Earning High Ranking Black Belts (Testing Requirements)

There’s been a little talk on Facebook lately about (earning) rank. Black belt rank, specifically, about high ranks, like 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th dan. I’ve put some thought into how rank is earned; as many of you may know, how people earn high rank today is subjective.  Some people can serve years of apprenticeship under another teacher to earn high ranks, while some people can get it the way I did a year or two ago, by buying it. 

Two years ago a Korean friend of mine persuaded me to buy my “Kukkiwon” 4th dan (I was already a 6th dan under Ernie Reyes, Sr.) with a check for $100. The price started out much higher and included a referee’s class, but as I continued to decline the offer and say I wasn’t interested, it finally came down to $100. I wouldn’t have paid that either, except I could tell my friend was under some kind of pressure to produce money, so I acquiesced. When the certificate came, as it had absolutely no value to me, I threw it in the trash. 

Today you can actually watch people, on Youtube, being filmed taking their high ranking belt tests. In way too many cases, it’s not pretty. You have to wonder what these associations are thinking when they graduate these people to the highest of belt ranks? However there are also some fine examples of people who show a level of skill that is extraordinary.

Take for example the short clip (2:51 min) of Mikio Yahara’s 8th dan test. Here you see a man, in his 60’s, who is stronger, faster, and more practiced that most black belts are in their 30’s. That this test was even put on video is remarkable. The video is titled: “Mikio Yahara karatenomichi,” if you’d care to see it.

There is also a wonderful National Geographic documentary on Youtube about what kendo practitioners go through to earn their 8th dan. According to the piece, the pass rate for the 8th dan is less than one-percent. Find it on Youtube under the title, “Documentary about Kendo Part 1.” Special thanks to martial artist/writer David Lowry for pointing me to this remarkable video.

How I See It  

I recognize that as many of us age (I’m currently 51 years old), our skill levels change. I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so while I’m not crippled, I do have to train and practice with an understanding of the consequences should I dislodge one of the prostheses (artificial hip joint and socket) or wear one or both of them out. A dislocation, I’ve been told, is extremely painful, and once your joint has popped out of socket once, it’s easier to happen again. The second hip replacement, I’ve also been told, is not nearly as strong or functional as the first.   

So when I, someday (if ever), test for my 7th degree black belt, I do believe my physical skill level will be high, but nothing at all like it would have been had I not suffered the near-crippling deterioration of both of my hips. Nevertheless, I will arrive at that test in that absolute best shape of my life, all things considered. Anything less would be, in my opinion, a slap in the face to what my teacher taught me about being a black belt.  

But for a test of high rank, there must be, in my opinion, an additional set of requirements, beyond physical skills. I would like to suggest that people testing for ranks of 4th dan or higher, bring with them an on-line  “Project Portfolio” of their work —and that “work” should be one-half (or more) of the determination of their success or failure in being awarded.    

A Project Portfolio would contain all of the activities the tester has applied herself to that serve as an example of how she is using her level of skill and experience to affect the world.

  • What programs has this tester designed and initiated that perfectly illustrate what they know and practice? 
  • Is the martial arts world better because of this person’s contributions? 
  • Has he or she designed and/or created programs to benefit the international martial arts community and/or the world at large? 
  • Is their work in peace education, health education, exercise physiology, or in the creation of best practices? 
  • Has this tester championed any particular subject, such as martial arts history, injury prevention, environmental self-defense, heart disease or any other killer-of-men, and/or any subject that might indicate a level of understanding and awareness indicative of mastery?

Jigoro Kano infiltrated and deeply affected the educational system in Japan and promoted his Judo around the world. Choi Hong Hi took his Taekwondo for one heck of a ride. Morehei Ueshiba left an undeniable mark on the world and is still revered today. Bruce Lee? Yeah. Helio Gracie? Undeniably. Dan Inosanto is a living example of someone who is deeply engaged in the work of the high-ranking master, as is Ernie Reyes, Sr., Jhoon Rhee, Keiko Fukuda (as age 98), the Machado and Gracie families, Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis, Jeff Smith, and __________ (name your favorite martial arts master teachers who have a stunning Project Portfolio of contributions to the arts, here).  

Breaking boards, owning profitable schools, hanging out for long enough, being politically connected, being in black belt magazine, and looking tough in photos shouldn’t, I think, be considered in a test for ranks of 4th dan or higher.

High ranking black belts should (and could) be the Jane Goodall’s, the Rosa Park’s, the Wangari Maathai’s, the Samuel Mockbee’s, the Aung San Suu Kyi’s, the Ellie Wiesel’s, and the Thich Nhat Hanh’s of the martial arts world. Our high ranking teachers and leaders should be examples of what years and years of disciplined, focused training DOES for someone;  the kind of training thats intention is to bring clarity and empowerment to the practitioner.   

As it is today, we have 30 and 40 year old 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th dans (and, sadly, there’s an organization that’s actually giving out 15th dans and higher —to young people), that have, honestly, not done anything (or even attempting to “do” anything), put in a portfolio of accomplishments, that would speak of any extraordinarily developed skills.

In fact, like the group that is giving out Ph.D. (doctorate) rank to people / applicants who join their “Hall of Fame” association, far too many high ranking black belts are, quite simply, an embarrassment of mediocrity. 

Rather than point out the embarrassments of our current “system” (or lack thereof) for high ranking black belt testing, I am working to set an example of one way it could be done, by assembling my own Project Portfolio for my upcoming 7th dan test.

I am currently in my 11th year following my 6th dan test and have logged 40 years of continuous study and practice of the martial arts. But beyond my physical skills (always lacking), I see my writing, my projects, and all of my work off of the mat as part of my “test.” It is meant to serve as one example of how I think the process could/should look. You can see the work in progress (evolving) at

Things I Write About for Martial Arts Teachers, Like Arrogance and Posing and Being About as Dumb as Dirt

What I’m writing here is my opinion, of course. It’s not aimed AT you, it’s a reminder to me. If it serves you too, all the better.

Let’s not forget that what we do, as martial arts teachers, is —for the most part, a big pile of bullshit in a world that has some real problems. Most of us are NOT highly educated —or if educated, not actually fulfilling much of our potential as human beings.

Now I’m not writing this to put anyone down —-but as a reminder NOT to take ourselves so seriously, NOT to rule over our students like some kind of all-knowing arse. It’s a reminder that you weren’t that great of a black belt —-so stop acting like you have to screen and scream and ridicule your own students for their short-comings, as you weren’t that great yourself back when you tested. You’re a lot better in your head than you were in-person.

And don’t act like “the martial arts” is this sacred, ancient, wise “thing” —-as you’re completely full of shit. Most of the things we teach are nonsense —and most of us teaching what we teach don’t hardy understand why we teach it, what it came from, and whether it really “works” or not.

Note too that most of your philosophy about life, in general, is crap. —-and that 10 years from now you’ll look back and be embarrassed for your lack of understanding. The martial arts world, like THE WORLD, is stacked full of fat-headed, self-justifying, ego-maniacs hiding behind their public persona and performance.

Most of the teachers out there today come from strip-mall karate schools who’s “grandmaster” hardly paid attention in school, doesn’t know much of anything about history or philosophy or “the art of war” ——-and so get the heck off of your high horse, get a reality check, and get a real education.

The martial arts world is sick with posers. Don’t pose, educate yourself, serve others, and recognize that you aren’t “The Master,” you are the servant.

My Life is My Dojo 1 Year Martial Arts Sabbatical

I am putting a year aside, taking a sabbatical of sorts, to study martial arts in Thailand and other countries abroad, to do some social work in some of these countries, and to take some time to deepen my spiritual pursuits. 

Of course, I will be reporting —extensively —on what I find, what I think it means for us as teachers, and I will —with careful scrutiny, be looking for skills, drills, and training/teaching/curriculum content that could benefit members of The 100

I’m particularly interested in seeing schools that aren’t built on the commerce model so common in the US and the UK. I believe we will, in the near future (as we already are), be moving away from many of the questionable and self-serving practices that the “industry” embraced between the 1980’s and the present. 

The Internet will allow me to to stay as connected to you —and this work —in Thailand as I am currently here in Hawaii. With the exception of time-zone issues and the content in my videos and reports, I don’t think you’ll see much of a difference in the way The 100 works. 

There’s no time like the present —and I am still young and strong enough to train with a good deal of vigor, so this is what I’m doing to keep my fire lit. We will depart Hawaii June 1, 2011 —-and stay abroad, unless we tire of it, for the entire year of 2012. 

Where ever I am, you will be too (and perhaps you’ll come for a visit?). 


Mistakes of the Martial Arts World


First, let me point out that pointing out what is wrong, bad, or a mistake is one of the easiest things to do in the world. It is a mistake to be a person who regularly points out mistakes. Nevertheless,  every so often you would do well to put on your mistake glasses and go to town, just not too often.

It is a mistake, as a teacher of the martial arts, to:

Think your martial arts training entitles you to any special treatment as a person. The truth is that the awareness your teachers are supposed to lead you to is that you are a servant of others. You are not to be put “on top” —you are to be “on tap” for people in your community.  The next time you walk into your class, walk in with the mindset that you are not the teacher; you are the student. Do that and you may, still, have a chance at becoming the master you once hoped to be.

It is a mistake, as a teacher of the martial arts, to:

Neglect your study of peace and peace education. To be a master that has any value for the world, you must have an equal understanding of both violence and peace. Maybe 1 in 1000 martial arts schools or teachers (an over-estimate) offer any intelligent or semi-comprehensive training in peace education; this is a major part of the reason that the martial arts in today’s world has so little perceived value —-and actual influence in the world.  A martial arts school and/or teacher in today’s world cannot be counted on to promote peace in any meaningful, well-thought-out, or comprehensive way. 

It is a mistake, as a teacher of the martial arts, to:

Ignore the importance of food —and all things related to its production, packaging, distribution, and preparation —as part of self-defense. Right before our eyes and within reach of each of us, is one of the worlds most significant self-defense issues, something that kills millions as we stand by and stare, that costs us billions, and that we could and should play a significant role in helping other people make the connection to; but because of our lack of self-discipline, of vision, or courage —-we continue to side step the subject. 

It is a mistake, as a teacher of the martial arts, to:

To consume without awareness of the cost of what we consume. The disconnect between what we eat, buy, use, and discard, and what it means to the planet is one of the biggest signs of how self-centered and unaware we still are. It’s as if the definition of “master” has come to mean so little —as to almost be completely meaningless.

When 20, 30, 40, and 50-year old men and women refer to themselves as “Masters,” without engaging in anything in-the-world that reflects any kind of mastery of anything meaningful or important, well —-it’s part of the reason that the martial arts is, still, head-to-head with soccer practice, football, and baseball season. It’s part of the reason that the “martial arts industry” is so flooded with promises of amazing return with minimal effort. We are not promoting awareness in a way that reflects a kind of mastery worth practicing.