Martial Arts Business: My Teaching Evolution of Thought and Outcome


The (My) Martial Arts Teacher’s Evolution:

Level 1. I’m a good teacher, because I can whip you up. I can beat you, so, of course, I’m a good teacher.

Level 2. My students are winning everything, so…obviously, I’m a great teacher.

Level 3. Look at my school, look at the size of my student body, look at my gross income, look at the car I drive, look at my house, obviously —I’m a good instructor.

Level 4. (The Awakening) My skill as a teacher is only measured by the actions of my students, out of my dojo, in the world, in our community, that having nothing to do with kicking, punching, and/or choking others —and that directly effect the quality of life of others (including places and things); this is the only true measure as to whether I am a great teacher or not.

Level 5. I am not the teacher, I am the student.

Tom Callos of

We, the “the martial arts teacher’s community,” often want to claim we teach “self-defense.” It’s in our advertising and a part of our course of instruction, and/or there is a general inference that we know and teach “self-defense” —- but the way we go about it is haphazard, if not downright negligent, at best.

The way we teach self-defense, today, in the US and abroad, is both a travesty and a bold opportunity for improvement.

Take, for example, the following stats, using knife attacks, deaths by knife, and knife defense in general —-and a real self-defense concern that is rarely, if ever, addressed in the majority of martial arts schools today:

Deaths by stabbing, in the us, in 2012, was recorded at 1589 deaths.

Diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States in 2010, with 69,071 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death, and a total of 234,051 death certificates listing diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death.

If you do not know what is killing people in today’s world, how can you possibly teach a kind of self-defense that is relevant and useful?

Part of the way I teach school owners to market, promote, and operate their schools is to have them (us) look boldy, to look deeply, not at HOW they “market” their schools, but in what they have to offer their communities, what they really know, and how they can/should go about building genuine value, versus sales-guided bullshit.

If the “consultant” you look to for help with your business is only giving you ideas about how to market your work, but not asking you to look deeply at what you know, what you’re cultivating, and/or what you’re doing to add more genuine value to what you offer your community —and the world, then you’re not getting the help you really need.

We / you don’t need new ads, more advice on social media marketing, or the clever new website guarenteed to generate xx number of leads. We need to look deeply and candidly at what we’re teaching, how we’re teaching it, and what we really know.

If you want to be a teacher of self-defense, if you want to make self-defense instruction something you own in your community, reach out to me. I will help you rechart your course —and connect you with real self-defense teachers and the kind of self-defense thinking needed in and for today’s world.

In 3 to 5 years you could be 10 times the teacher you are today —-but the study must begin, again, today. The call? It’s time for self-defense instruction to grow up and get real.

Tom Callos 530-903-0286

The Martial Arts Teacher’s Most Difficult Work (Any Teachers). Martial Arts “Business” from Tom Callos

My most difficult work is not found in helping my friends, teachers, students, peers, and members of the 100. in how to better manage their martial arts schools, it’s found in the staggeringly difficult work of getting people to do things outside of their comfort zone. 

Imagine having a school where 100 people pay tuition, but only a handful of those 100, say about 5, actually show up to train. 

Some might say, “Well, as long as I make my money, I don’t care.” 

But most of us, I think, would find the situation ultimately heartbreaking —as we don’t teach for the money, we teach for the joy of seeing people become empowered —and thru this we cultivate skills and our own knowledge in ways we might not have under any other circumstances. 

I’ve often been accused of asking too much from the people I work with; but I must remind you: My work is the job of cultivating and encouraging mastery, masterful teaching, masterful leadership and engagement, from people who seek to be master teachers like the world so rarely sees. 

Due to this intent, I ask my friends to show up, to engage at 100%, to tackle difficult concepts, to study, to try, to experiment, to live a life of deep meaning, and to deal with social issues of importance. 

I think this is the hardest work I have ever done; but as hard as it is, I can’t find anything else that asks so much patience from me, that requires me to be more resourceful, driven, and persistent. 

The lesson? Paying your dues, in money, is NOT enough payment. Participation is the real cost of growth, wisdom, and empowerment. 

Tom Callos

Martial Arts Business. Fice Reminders for The Master Teacher and School Owner, from Tom Callos

Self-Defense isn’t only the kick, the escape, the arm-bar, or the punch. In today’s world self-defense is diet, food production, pesticides, pollution, diabetes, heart disease, war, violence as problem solving, hyper-masculinity, racial discrimination, bullying, issues of social justice, apathy, ignorance, conspicuous consumption, disconnection, anger, deforestation, the destruction of our oceans, the depletion of and/or extinction of animal life, and the other issues that cause untold suffering and destruction in today’s world. To teach self-defense without addressing the things that cause suffering, pain, and death in today’s world (and tomorrow’s world), is parallel to trying to teach someone to swim —in the shower. 

You progress, as in move forward and evolve, best —with things you make a practice of. If you make a practice of letting days, weeks, or months go by without effectively telling the stories of your work, it becomes your “way.” In contrast, if you make a practice of looking deeply at what your work is a catalyst for —where it affects change, what its intent is, what it brings about in the lives of people —and in your community, and you tell those stories with the 4 methods of storytelling (1. The spoken word; 2. The written word; 3. Images and modified images; and 4. Video), you then make a practice of instigating, cultivating, and sharing the stories of how your work is relevant, valuable, and powerful. It’s all about “The Hero’s Journey,” which is: A. The exodus; B. The epiphany; and C. The return. 

Do not make the mistake of being a promise-based school or teacher. Learn to be an evidence-based school —a teacher who creates evidence that what he/she does is effective, relevant, and important. 

Connect, do not disconnect. If you intend to be a master teacher of any importance, then your stage, your work, is not contained to the mat you teach on or restricted to the district your school happens to be located in. Your work radiates outward —and your potential and power comes from uniting with the international martial arts community for the purpose of bringing light, healing, wisdom, and compassion to the world; the entire world. That would be “the ultimate.”

Quickly understand, absorb, and embrace the methods for “doing business.” Make these things as automatic as is getting dressed, practicing good hygiene, and driving your bike or car to your place of business. Don’t mistake putting on your pants, brushing your teeth, or operating a moving vehicle as your life’s work or as what is truly important in life. DO SOMETHING Noble. Be a hero. Find your tree and climb it. Stand for something. Be a part of the tribe that makes a difference in the world. Collect your heroes, keep them close, let them instruct you, follow their examples, be selfless in your mission, and be oblivious to the dominant paradigm and to obstacles. Be a master of masters. 

I’m writing these reminders for myself —if they serve you too, then all the better. 

Tom Callos

The debate is: Can or should a school owner offer complimentary or otherwise free-of-charge lessons to kids whose parents can genuinely not afford tuition?

I say that every school can and should have a class, at least once a week, in an off hour or two, that they can invite young people to who can’t, for whatever reasons, afford lessons. It could be taught at the main dojo or at a rec center, Y, or at a Boy’s and Girl’s club, but every teacher has it within his or her power to reach out to kids who might simply need someone to step up on their behalf.

You/we are not SO busy, so stretched, so desperate to squeeze a dime out of every interaction, and so blind to the fact that some parents are simply not capable of paying for martial arts lessons amid their other obligations, that we can’t donate an hour or two of time each week —-or orchestrate the teaching of a couple of hours of lessons using our team / friends and/or connections. 

Helping kids, with no strings attached, isn’t what causes pain and suffering to school owners (financial, emotional, or otherwise). What causes school owners pain and suffering are other things, partially addressed in the suggestions below:

Things School Owners Should / Could Do, Instead of Debate Whether to Help Kids in Need:

1. Super-Organize the calendars and schedules of all team members. HOURS are being wasted that should be spent on program research and development, producing compelling social media as to the actual benefits being delivered on your school’s mats, and connecting to change-makers in your very own community. 

2. Produce undeniable, real-time, compelling evidence that what you’re doing on your own mats is affecting the behavior of your students OFF your mats —-and that this behavior is making a profound and measurable difference in your community. It can’t and should not be SELL, SELL, SELL, SELL, PROMISE, PROMISE, PROMISE ——it should be EVIDENCE, EVIDENCE, PROOF POSITIVE. Most of the teachers concerned about who’s getting over on them (taking advantage of discounts and/or free services), haven’t produced even 10 compelling examples of the POWER of their work —in the last 10 weeks (or 10 months). HOW CAN YOUR COMMUNITY judge your value or appreciate what you do if they never see, hear, experience, or FEEL what it is you really provide and do?

3. Empower your staff and student body to come together to dramatically affect one compelling social issue in your community —-diligently and with “black belt focus” —-until you and yours actually make a measurable impact on the issue. 

4. Empower one of your students, just one —say…under the age of 18, to do something, anything, that can stand as a showcase of what it is you really do in the world. Get your muscle behind this person and really empower him/her to stand as a representative for your work, its true value —-and tell their story with 10 to 100 pieces of media. Show and tell WHY you’re worth investing in —and tell it not thru clever marketing but by actually showing how your work manifests itself in the lives of others.

Tom Callos is the head of

I can help you in subtle and not-so-subtle ways with your school, its management, your marketing strategies and daily marketing / promotion action, staff training, curriculum development, and problem solving. 
I can help you produce more income.
My advice is based on our dialogue about your wants, needs, and areas of interest. I offer you the opportunity to work with me one-on-one, via phone and video conferencing, to help you improve your work, in general. 
All of my work is straight-up honest, ethical, and healthy. I don’t offer one-size-fits-all strategies, but seek to hear what it is YOU want to do, what you’re good at, and what you believe your mission and work to be. 
Respond from this e-mail and I’ll give you a 3 month 50% off trial consulting membership, access to the 100.’s vast library, and membership in what is THE most progressive martial arts school management group in the world. 
My phone: 530-903-0286
Skype: tomcallos
You’ll spend $5 a day with me during your trial. You can’t lose, if you play full out. 
Martial Arts Business. Instructions for Masters of the Art of Making Change

The work we do (and/or have the potential to do) as teachers of the martial arts. Unsolicited advice about business and career, from Tom Callos: 

We can be master change-makers (my/the new word for “warriors”). But we can’t be change-makers if we don’t own the language and actions of change-makers. This is why we don’t let others write our ad-copy or populate our info-websites and brochures with made-for-you sales content, images, sales jargon, and off-the-shelf curriculum. We’re not here for the purpose of sales and “elite wealth,” —we’re here to represent the idea of MASTERY. 

Mastery over negative emotions and action; mastery over the foolishness of thinking you are what you own or can afford; mastery over apathy; mastery over disconnection, prejudice, and ignorance; mastery over the pitfalls of a diet without discipline, of a body let go, of a mind left unused.

When the pursuit and practice of mastery drives your work, for real, sales jargon and formulaic sales junk smells like meat gone bad. 

The Transcendence of Your Brand Name (Style)
You are not Taekwondo (TKD), as TKD is a mess, a brand, a political quagmire, a useless, empty facade. TKD, like BJJ, like MMA, like Aikido, like whatever it is you call what you know and don’t know, is a CAR. It might be pretty, it probably has some value, but the car is not the journey; a car is made to take you on a journey. 

Advertising your style is 1% of your message. What you really know, what you really teach, what isn’t someone else’s work you’ve adopted, is what you do, what you have done, what you intend to do, and what you know ———AND, all of these things applied to those you work with (staff) and your students. Honestly my friends, my master-teacher friends, if you aren’t doing amazing things in the world, change-maker things —and if you aren’t inspiring people to take what you practice on the mat and put it to work in the world, then you aren’t doing your best work. For some, certainly, that’s enough; that’s all they can imagine or hope for. For some of us however, it’s not enough. It wasn’t enough for our heroes —and by way of their examples, it’s not enough for us. 

To work on your work is not a program you buy, it’s not a class you attend, it’s not a seminar or convention or reading thru the latest trade mag. It’s not your disconnecting, your inability to work on things you don’t yet understand, you inability to join and contribute. To work on your work is a concentrated, purposeful, uncomfortable, empowering DAILY PRACTICE. This is the approach I take in my work and consulting at 

It’s hard work, it makes you dig deep, it leaves you, at times, confused —but, like the practice of the martial arts, there is no way to master the work without showing up and practicing, mindfully, and with unrelenting focus.

Why I Love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Why I love Jiu-Jitsu: 

I love jiu-jitsu for the way it grounds you / me, literally. For the 40 some odd years I’ve practiced stand up arts, I’ve only, most often, had my feet on the ground. Jiu-jitsu, however, requires you to lay, roll, grind, slide, move, and otherwise get REALLY well acquainted with ground-to-body contact. It’s “getting grounded” —and in a way that connects, grounds, discharges, stabilizes, and allows me to appreciate what that brings to one’s life. 

I love jiu-jitsu for the body-to-body contact —as I’ve come to appreciate how much of it a jiu-jitsu player / wrestler has —and how very little most people live with. It makes giving a hug to someone a thing of ease and authenticity, as you’re not afraid or shy of contact. I don’t know if most jiu-jitsu practitioners think about it or would admit it, but embracing and rolling and struggling with other human beings is, in my opinion, therapeutic. We live in a world where so many keep their distance, so I fully and deeply appreciate what contact with others does for the brain, for one’s mental health, and for breaking down barriers to closeness and friendship. I am, I think, more “human” and compassionate from the practice. 

I love jiu-jitsu as it requires one to throw a good deal of their bullshit right out the window. In BJJ things get uber-real, uber-fast —and no stripes on the belt, no grandiose martial arts titles, no bank balance, and no ego’s going to help you when that big dude or that very talented little bastard of a fellow or that gal with twice your skill grabs you and then lays their vengeance upon you. 

I love BJJ for the influence that all of these men and women from South of the Border bring to the practice of the martial arts. I prefer “my friend,” to “yes, master.” We live in a world, says I, were we need a good deal less militarism —and lot more smiles, relaxation, and embraces. 

I love jiu-jitsu for the Japanese DNA it still contains. For the warrior spirit, for the damn push and pull of it, the give and take, the yin and yang. I love it for the philosophy you have to embrace to do this thing that is so hard and so rigorous and such a mix of pleasure and pain, comfort and discomfort. I love it, especially, for the way it affects one’s thinking about the struggle of life and relationships and everything done out of my gi and off the mat. 

I love Jiu-Jitsu because I have one son who is, presently, one of the best BJJ competitors on the planet. I have another who is also a world-class practitioner. For all the opportunities I missed to be wise, to be compassionate, to show tender loving care, to support, and to be or do all the things a parent might (or, most certainly will, later) regret, I know that thru the influence I had with both of them, early on, I have passed on something of great and enduring value. I know too that they will pass it on to others. For this, I am eternally grateful.

(Photo of Rickson Gracie and I courtesy of Fariborz Azhakh of

How to Teach Kids the Martial Arts, That is, How to Teach them to USE It All

When you teach the martial arts, whether it be Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, Taekwondo, Aikido, or what have you —you stand a very good chance of teaching young people.

And when you teach young people, when you “put on the uniform” of the teacher, the leader, the “one who knows,” the one who gives directions, the one, for what ever period of time you’re given, is asked and/or expected to “teach the lessons,” I think it’s one big whopping whale of an opportunity to do some of the best work our particular, odd, left-of-center, often goofy, all too self-serious profession sets in front of us. 

And while teaching little Johnny and Sally how to punch people in the face, choke them, and or defend themselves from the same —might seem like the mission of the “martial arts” teacher — from my point of view it is not the most important work, not the work that really matters at that age, that might really bring about the change we have the potential to play a role in, or that might actually make these little people more powerful, participative, engaged, compassionate —and thus happier and more connected to that which it is best to be connected to. 

I treasure, however, the teacher, the smart, connected, awake teacher, who uses the martial arts, no, who uses the time they are gifted with to be an influencer, as a tool to provide experiences and viewpoints that speak of a better, more compassionate, less violent world. So Dan Rominski's canned food drive work —and the work so many of you do where you're creating these experiences of doing for others —I'd just like to point out the obvious: 

This is one of the jobs of the martial arts teacher/citizen. I’d like to suggest you get the (expletive deleted) into it. Embrace it. Take it to level 10. Do it better or as good as anyone in your town, in your sphere of friends and peers, maybe as good as anyone in the nation or the world. Why not? You have something better or more important to do?

The environment. We’re really doing a terrible job of teaching people how their actions, our actions, and consuming without thought, brings about chains of suffering. 

Food. My god, we’re letting food that isn’t really food at all, kill millions —and contribute a dead-fish string of consequences that’s like a disease in and of itself. 

Hyper-masculine fear inspired posturing and violence and the way the media constantly distorts, for gain, the female persona and image and what that’s doing to the values and actions of so many women —and men too, and the conflicts, and the disconnection we have, from their suffering, from the sense of our responsibility to others and the power of community engagement…

The worship of things. The buy-in that those advertised things, with their perfectly crafted pitches to our fears and lusts and selfishness and sense of entitlement —and what that means for the world. 

These things are at the core of the core of the core of what “self-defense” is, today, for real, on a global scale. So, to think globally and act locally —to use our period-of-influence to engage young people in acts of kindness, in the importance of little actions of good, compassion, care, connection —and what doing for others does for ourselves; this is our work. It is in my opinion.

Three (or so) Pieces of no Bullshit Advice for Martial Arts School Owners, Whether They Want it or Not, from Tom Callos of

Sensible, no Bullshit Advice for School Owners, Whether They Want it or Not, from Tom Callos of No. 1

Do not send students to collection for unpaid tuition for untaught lessons. This is something the evolved master teacher never does, ever, period. Be smart enough to create programs that allow the school to collect the income it needs to thrive, but without chasing people, harassing them, because you weren’t resourceful enough to keep them coming, despite the well known obstacles (there are always obstacles). 

Create pricing programs that serve the diverse economic range of parents and other people in your community. Keep students and make them happy and able to pay with individual and high quality service. Offer one class a week free to all children, use it to train your up and coming teachers and to activate volunteers who’d be into helping kids who are quite possibly in an economic situation where they might never get to take lessons under a high quality teacher. Create a one-day-per-week pricing program, so that you may appeal to students / parents who are on a tight budget and/or who are pressed for time. You’re a teacher, so teach and serve. Create short term courses that allow students to see if you are smart and capable enough to assist them in breaking thru all the reasons people don’t stay the course of their training. If you keep them, they will pay (to support your school).


Sensible, no Bullshit Advice for School Owners, Whether They Want it or Not, from Tom Callos of No. 2

Do not engage in manipulative, hidden, or dishonest / questionable pricing practices. Do not hold back curriculum to entice people to up-grade their program. Do not host events that are a ruse for membership sales and up-grade efforts. Do not hide your prices on the phone or in your school’s information. Do not build a model for business that requires you to get and spend tomorrow’s income for today’s expenses. 

Be completely and absolutely transparent in all of your pricing and financial issues at your school. The burden isn’t to try and hide your pricing until you can justify the value of your lessons, it’s to price your programs so that people get a chance to see what you’re worth, for real, and then to charge enough to each student that it makes perfect sense for the school’s budget. DO build a school that is known for it’s up-front, nothing hidden, completely honest and transparent business practices. DO speak out, as an activist in your community, about pricing policies in the MA community that create win-lose situations with students, practices that put the burden of obligation on the student, not the school’s teaching staff. Do adjust your pricing so that everyone in your community with an interest can have access to lessons they can afford. Do learn to live on the money you make this month, versus spending tomorrow’s money for today’s expenses.


Sensible, no Bullshit Advice for School Owners, Whether They Want it or Not, from Tom Callos of No. 3

Do not build your school’s identity and sales approach based on the words, images, and concepts that everyone else uses. Do NOT sell your services with slogans borrowed or bought or stolen or modeled from the work of others —or that are “standard” in the industry. Do not offer or advertise “benefits” of membership at your school that are unjustified, un-researched, and that you actually know little or nothing about. Do not put staff members on the floor with the inference they are teaching some benefit, without having spent adequate time training them and/or exploring how they’re to “teach” any particular benefit —and what the language and practices of these benefits are. In other words, don’t advertise you teach bully prevention, for example, when you or your team of instructors have not invested even a single term paper’s worth of thought and energy into actual study of the subject; when you and/or your team haven’t read a single book on the subject, have published no opinions on it, have not attended a single conference or seminar or viable course of instruction, don’t know who the experts are, or what research has been done. Don’t sell what you don’t know, don’t research, and don’t actually train your staff in. Don’t teach things that you don’t have even a single teaching aid to teach —or teach things that under the scrutiny of a real expert, would embarrass you for your lack of research and actual knowledge.

Take every benefit you claim to teach and adopt a self-imposed immersion into the subject of at least 60 hours of research and training; in that 60 hours (10 min a day for a year = 60 hours), carefully document and post the what, why, who, when, and where of the training on your school’s website or blog. Curate content you’re studying and/or using to train your team. And most importantly, create a PROJECT-BASED PORTFOLIO of how you’re taking the concepts you claim to teach and DOING something with them. Show how these ideas manifest themselves in hands-on experiences with you, your team, and your students. Build an EVIDENCE-BASED sales program that doesn’t simply talk-the-talk of your benefits, but shows, documents, and records how what you teach becomes a practice, logged and noted. Take the benefits you claim to impart and show more rock-solid evidence that you know exactly how to create the benefit in a tangible, hard-evidence based way. Show more actual proof that you OWN these concepts than anyone within 100 miles of you and your school. 

If you teach “Respect” then show us, show your community, exactly what that means, what it becomes. If you claim to teach bully prevention or self-defense, show what that means, what it becomes, and how it’s translating into actions, behaviors, community outreach programs, and education that comes from you and travels thru your teaching team, into your students, and outward from there into tangible, measurable off-the-mat evidence. 

Reject 90 to 100% of the kinds of sales rhetoric and marketing tools that anyone with absolutely NO experience, someone who simply buys a program or box from someone else, could do. It may take you some time to turn from a school of talk to a school or rock-solid evidence-based benefits, but it’s something that a lesser school, someone or a group with less commitment and intellect would/could never do. 

Distinguish your school and services with real stories, with actual evidence, and not just marketing hyperbole or inferred benefits.

Martial Arts Teachers, Stop Using and Selling Disposable Plastic Bottles. A Call from Tom Callos and Julia Butterfly Hill

About 10 years ago I was leading a class at The Supershow; I had about 300 people in my classroom, as I recall. At some point I was talking about self-defense, “future thinking” really, and I said, “I heard Julia Hill call this (I was holding up a plastic water bottle) a weapon of mass destruction. To me, THIS is a self-defense issue that’s relevant to today.”

Someone came to be after the talk and said something to the affect that I’d finally gone too far, that I’d lost the audience, and that I was getting so radical in my environmental / teaching views that I was endangering my career.”However, the following year everything went “green.” Even Esquire, Vogue, and Vanity Fair had “green” issues —and going green had finally become the buzz. 

In the martial arts world however, we still don’t talk much about environmental issues, but to me, taking care of the planet, of our fast diminishing natural resources, and being vigilant and observant of what we consume and discard —what it means to animals and humans alike, are still self-defense issues. 

Shortly after that talk I reached out to Julia asking if there might be a way to engage her in some dialogue about “environmental self-defense,” as I knew she had/has dedicated her life to environmental consciousness. 

And now, XX years later, I finally sat down in April with Ms. Hill and we talked about the issues. What I asked her for was the kind of advice she might give if she were sitting in front of a group of kids —and they had asked her, “Is there anything I can do to make a difference?”

I’m presently reviewing my notes of that meeting, with the intent (and with Julia’s assistance) of coming up with 10 things we (martial arts teachers) can talk about —and task our students with, if they’re so inclined, that represent the smartest, simplest, and best ideas for making a difference, environmentally, in todays world. 

Plastic bottle use is one thing we are all fast becoming aware of; my friend Joel Paschal worked with The Algalita Ocean Research Project, which brought the world’s attention to the pollution of the oceans with plastic refuse. Deeply troubling stuff. 

One step we can take now, is to stop carrying and selling disposable plastic water / soda / juice bottles in our schools. The money made from beverage sales doesn’t offset the real cost of disposable plastic bottles

More to come soon —and thank you again, Julia Hill, for taking the time to help me, help all of us, in this worthwhile dialogue about how self-defense is something connected to all living things, to the resources we use, and to that which we discard.

Keshia Thomas. When Courage Calls Your Name. A Reminder to the Martial Arts Teacher

Here’s to courage. 

Courage isn’t answering an insult with a punch in the face. 
Courage isn’t posturing like an “alpha male,” puffing up your feathers, squawking, and threatening abrupt violence. 
Courage isn’t wishing you had said or done something when the opportunity presented itself.
Courage isn’t standing by and watching. 

Courage is seeing the need for action and understanding that it’s your time, your place, and your job to take it, even if it seems to go counter to what everyone around you is doing. 
Courage is listening to your inner voice —even when the voices around you are saying the opposite. 
Courage is compassion and kindness and love and treating others as you yourself would like to be treated, even when it seems damn near impossible.

Courage is the thing we are, ultimately, trying to lead our students to —and exemplify in our own work. You can teach someone 1000 techniques, but if your work leads them to having courage, the courage to hear the call to action, the courage to stand up for others, for what’s right, then you have done all that we can ever hope to do. 

Mastery is courage; courage is the kind of mastery we must remember to cherish, hold dear, and cultivate in ourselves and the people we are blessed with having in our sphere of influence. 

That’s why I love this photograph —and why Keshia Thomas is on my list of people to know. When I show this photo to my young students, I can show a real life example of someone doing with courage what courage is for; to fight oppression, to stand up for others, to go against the crowd when called for. Keshia’s act of courage, captured at that precise moment, illustrates the power of one person, even a young person, even someone who by all accounts appears to be the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time —-it shows how none of that matters when courage calls your name. 

We should all be so lucky to have at our command a story like this, an image that so perfectly illustrates something so intangible, but so bloody important, so valuable, so sacred.

Martial Artists and Teaching Leadership, with Community Involvement

I have many remarkable student / teachers and friends —and of my many relationships, Gary Engels is one of my student / teachers that deserves an extra spotlight —as he has engaged his work in ways that exemplify some of the things I most respect and honor.

Gary’s treatment of “Project Based Leadership Training” is a far-more-than-I-expected manifestation of an idea he and I cooked up to battle what we saw as marginal “leadership” courses in the martial arts “industry.” We conspired to do better; I made the suggestions, outlined what I thought we could do to authentically teach “leadership” to young people, and Gary took the idea to the laboratory. 

His work has, currently, resulted in almost 600 documented community projects, done by martial arts students, to the benefit of others. 600. Someday it will be 6000, but 600 projects described, is enough to start a movement —-and that’s what we set out to do, show people a better way to use their teaching that was non-violent, not technique based, but as powerful and important as any technique in our fight arsenals. 

Now my work is better due to Gary’s efforts —and his work is part of what has now pushed me into a new position, a new “job.” My job is, presently, to use the work we’re doing, to leverage it, like investment money, into something that yields a greater return. 

My job is to help instructors, around the world, to enter the laboratory, to find problems, big ones, small ones, and seek solutions by applying courtesy, perseverance, courage, honor, and effort to them, just like we do in training.

I’m out, with much help of course, to see martial arts teachers transcend the sales pitch —and the ring —and their dojos, and play a far more important role on the world’s stage. Gary’s work (which could quite easily be your work too) is work against apathy, against disconnection, against the idea that what we, any one of us does, is of little consequence. My work is to bring more substance to your work —to help you, as my friend Julia Hill says (she’ll be at Gary’s school May 1), find “your tree.” 

I support Gary’s work, as he supports mine. It is beyond style, beyond money, beyond competition; and we, together, seek to support your work. Gary joins a list of student / teachers who I’ve had the privilege to teach and work with who are creating portfolios worth taking note of; Bj PennDan RominskiDanny SikkensPaul ReyesPaul CastagnoKeenan Cornelius,Brian WilliamsGary J. XavierMike ValentineMike OliverKaren Valentine,Heidi Wilmott, and a list of others I’m honored to say is too many to give credit to here.

I’ve been lucky to cultivate the careers of some top-notch martial arts athletes —but those 600 projects done, mostly, by young people —those are the accomplishments that most reflect the spirit of what I care about. Those 600 projects and all the things they’ve brought to the work, all the people they’ve affected, that’s what tells me I’m doing something of real value. Thank you Gary —thank you to all of my friends, students, and teachers for giving me this work to do.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Black Belt as Something of Hard Earned Value, and Being Re-Grounded

My training partner from the other night just received his BJJ black belt, at age 51, after 22 years of training. That’s what I like about BJJ —the black belt is not an incentive to sign up on a course, it’s a thing hard-earned and treasured. When you get a BB in BJJ, you’ve done something, where as in so many other schools, where the dance school mentality has become a core operating principle (with it’s plethora of justifications and reasoning), 7 year old black belts and black belts who can’t really perform, are the norm.

I like BJJ as a tool for all martial artists as you can’t hide in BJJ. You can’t hide in a fistfight or kickboxing match either, but you can’t go at 100% and not sustain injuries when striking and getting hit yourself; in BJJ you can go off —98 to 100%, and walk away unharmed. The gentle art. Perfect for an older but enthusiastic athlete / practitioner like me, perfect for anyone who cares about the brain.

Kata and gymnastics and performance-martial-arts and weaponry, contemporary or historical, and all the many aspects of martial arts all have value, practiced for the right reasons, with feet perfectly planted in reality. I’m not implying one is “better” than another, but BJJ is, in my experience, special, different.

While I have participated in the martial arts community for many years, promoting children to the rank of black belt and selling “black belt club courses,” —today, separated from those practices for 2 decades, BJJ has re-grounded me, reminded me of what hard earned skill is, reminded me to slow down and seek a level of pragmatic, useful skill, over the mythical skills of the practitioner who, under pressure, can’t really make it work.

That’s not saying that a knife fighter who never slices someone or wounds or kills an opponent isn’t one dangerous and deadly foe, but as a form of test-your-metal engagement, BJJ is hands down the most honest and safest of methods. I recommend all serious and capable martial artists engage the art with a competent teacher. 

In short order, BJJ quickly distinguishes the martial artist who implies he/she can, from those who really can.

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.