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.

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?

Heart Disease? Diabetes? Today’s Bad Guys. Self-Defense Instruction in Today’s World

Fact: Heart Disease is the # 1 Killer of Women in America

If I were “in charge” of, oh say, one of the major martial arts associations, magazines, or whatever entities see themselves as the purveyors of “martial arts teacher education” in today’s world (If such a thing yet exists), I would have to stop, look, and listen to the world —as it is today.

In the instruction of all things self-defense, in the prevalent and dominant paradigm of what self-defense instruction is —and/or isn’t, within the majority of martial arts schools that claim —or seek —to teach self-defense for women, men, and/or children, I do not believe we, as an “industry” have kept up with what is actually “self-defense” today —-as in what is bringing harm, suffering, and death to our population. 

We don’t NOT do this, I think, due to indifference —and we certainly don’t avoid it because it’s not within our power to do something about it. We don’t do this, we haven’t adequately woven health education into our teachings, into our lessons, into our marketing, into the very fabric of who we are and what we represent to the world, due to a tiresome, neurotic, and unhealthy emphasis in the martial arts business world on sales, upgrades, profits, marketing for immediate return, gimmick, implied expertise, and superficiality. 

The Ninja Bounce House, franchises in Wal-Mart, programs to build “elite wealth,” sales training, birthday party instructionals, strategies for “funneling” mass amounts of leads thru formulaic websites and social media marketing, and tutoring in how to dramatically increase “paid in fulls” is repetitively abundant. 

Plans to invigorate the industry through genuine, useful, relevant, socially applicable education, is missing, absent, and not on the agenda —or on the lips of our leadership. 

To change this, I propose that we take things into our own hands. The “leadership” in the “industry” will catch on once they see a market —and package the movement for sale, but the movement itself, the movement for learning about the top 10 killers of adults and children in today’s world —starting with heart disease (Feb. is Heart Month) —is the duty and responsibility of every conscientious teacher and assistant teacher in the international martial arts community. 

Once you/we know the facts —and think through how we can play not just a passive role, but an aggressive and intelligent role in the preventive educational process of our citizenry, we can then begin to talk the talk of self-defense as prevention, involving food, exercise and all the things relevant to protecting people from the real bad guys, the real killers among us. 

If we don’t do this, we relegate ourselves, I think, to a kind of self-defense instruction that is only a MICRO-slice of what self-defense and personal protection really are, today, for 100% of our population. Don’t wait for “the industry” to package it so you can sell it —by then the whole world will have passed us up (if it hasn’t already) and we will, due to a lack of education and leadership and vision, find ourselves left out of the very discussions where we most belong.

And we will not have advanced self-defense in the world, at all, but only perpetuated an out-dated, 1920’s version of self-defense, a parody of the martial arts and its modern use —and its relevance in today’s world.

A Martial Arts Business Magazine, about School Management and More, With Just 1 Columnist


Could a Facebook Page simply be today’s form of trade magazine column? Could I be a writer, a columnist, in a publication of my own making? Without printing costs? Without having to fund the publication by selling ads? Would that free me, the editor and writer from having to cater, editorially, to the people buying ads in my publication? Could I then use my column, as always, to inform, question, promote, highlight smart or interesting (to me) people and things? Would I then be limited by page space? Would I have to write 1000 words to “fill” my column, when I really only have something to say that could be said in 200 words? 

I’m a writer, thinker, contributor, participant, student, lunk-head, teacher, and big mouth in the field I have, for God know what reasons, chosen to dedicate my life to. For me, a Facebook page is just another mouthpiece for reaching out, sharing, and analyzing /learning. It’s me, furthering my agenda, no matter how many times my agenda changes and or swings this way or that. 

The ultimate freedom, methinks, about this kind of writing/communicating, is that I’m free from having to kiss the arse of the big billing service or franchise seller, chain school “consultant” who is buying 4 full pages in “the publication,” which, out of fear of losing their $$, I can’t speak about honestly and/or reveal just how much damage they are doing to the industry with their sell-out ideas. 

Ah, freedom. For this, I thank Facebook. No wasted paper either, but lots of typos.

The Green Guide for Martial Arts School Teachers. How to Incorporate an Environmental Self-Defense Program into Your Curriculum


I am re-posting, here, a link to THE GREEN GUIDE FOR MARTIAL ARTS TEACHERS AND SCHOOL OWNERS, written several years ago by Karen Valentine and Mike Valentine of Practical Martial Arts in Corte Madera, CA.

The couple wrote it as a part of their participation in a project called “The Ultimate Black Belt Test,” —which is/was an experiment in how we, martial arts teachers, might make the process of preparing for and taking a black belt test something deeper, more rewarding, and more compelling than what it is or has been in the past. 

My goal, as designer of the project, was to get participants to think very differently about their journey, to create their own projects, and to make part of their tests about creating and leaving behind tools other teachers might use to enhance their teaching.

In the case of environmental issues, I feel very strongly that self-defense and what we consume, discard, and how we think about this and other aspects of our impact upon air, water, earth, life, resources, etc…are closely linked and relevant. This year at the Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention 2014, environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill will be joining us to revisit this topic —and I would like to inspire martial artists to continue to embrace environmental self-defense issues as an aspect of personal / community protection. 

Thank you to Karen and Mike for their participation and contribution.

Membership Contracts: Some Plain and Simple Analysis

A member of The 100. sent me a contract to review, he’d found it on-line, as he’s only had verbal contracts up to this point —and is considering something more detailed. The contract was totally unsuitable and probably came from a school that practices heavy-handed collection policies on students unaware of what awaits them should they decide to break the “agreement.”

Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we; there has been —and still is —a contract mentality in parts of the martial arts community that dictates, more or less, that students won’t be sticking around —and that schools, to join the ranks of the rich and famous, need to get their money fast, as in NOW, PIF (Paid in Full) and in a large enough sum that the astute instructor or school owner won’t have to beg in the gutter for gas money for his/her Mercedes Benz. 

We’re talking contracts, signed at the peak of enthusiasm, and with verbiage that puts the student in the weakest, least negotiable, and most collectable situation —and that, once signed, puts the school in a position where they have every legal right to collect, harass, chase down, and sue their students for whatever money is owing, contractually, for untaught lessons —-even if the school owner is a full blown slippery, con-person (not sexist here!) of a schmuck. 

As you may (or may not) know, my colleagues and I lead the movement towards full, honest, ethical, and integrity based transparency with regards to pricing, and equatable, honest, and perfectly fair tuition arrangements between schools and their students. Many in the industry are honest and ethical to a fault; however, I must confess, there are some really, REALLY crazy, dishonest, guys/gals out there who feel perfectly justified in giving the martial arts world a giant black eye when it comes to contractual tom-foolery. 

What used to fly in the dance club industry (remember hearing about how con-men would fleece these old folk into signing up for or paying cash towards these XX thousand dollar contracts for lessons), doesn’t fly any more. And what was once accepted as “how things are done” in the MA industry, is fast being left behind for smarter, more suitable tactics and policies. 

Thank you to California attorney, martial arts teacher, and friend, Frank Bloksberg, for coming on to discuss the details of contracts and liability release forms. This is taking place at —and is indicative of the kind of school owner / teacher dialog going on 24/7, 365 days a year there.

Martial Arts Business and Consulting for School Owners, But Not for Everyone

I work with martial arts teachers who do not reside, only, in the place they reside. 

I work with teachers who recognize their connection to people and things far, far beyond the walls of their own schools, beyond their immediate contacts, beyond the range of their “target markets,” the range of their “paying customers,” beyond the borders of their town, their State, or their style or system. 

I work with martial arts teachers who recognize that they might not only deeply impact the life of a 6 year old on their own mat, a 16 year old, a 26 year old, a 66 year old, but through a direct connection to other teachers, through a purposeful exchange of information and ideas, they stand the chance of affecting 6 year olds on a hundred —or a thousand —other mats. 

I work with martial arts teachers who do not reside in Beaverton, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Corte Madera or San Francisco or Los Angeles, California, Fort Worth, Texas, Birmingham, Alabama, Rutherford, New Jersey, Annapolis, Maryland, Wilmington, Delaware, or London, England —-but who recognize their sphere of influence and connection is national, global. 

What saves a life in Beaverton might save a life in London. What inspires a young martial artist to take on a worthwhile project-of-the-spirit in Fort Worth, might inspire a like minded project in Los Angeles. What act or actions speak most profoundly about the benefits of the martial arts in Rutherford, might inspire similar actions in Reno. 

The martial arts teachers I work with are not 1, but 1 of 100’s of 1000’s —and together we make up something, we are something, that not one of us, as individuals, might ever be alone. Through this kind of thinking, we deepen our practice and enrich our own work, times 100. 

That’s what is about.

Martial Arts Business. The Power of 10,000 Efforts. What I Do at The 100. Method


Nearly every day of the year —and for the last decade +, I have sat down (or stood up) and spoke out, talked to, and/or coached the international martial arts community about business; that is, the “business” of being a master teacher and owning and operating a martial arts school. 

I do the bulk of my work at and

The message, below, is one example of what I coach my members with, 365 days a year —and to the tune of 10,000 efforts.


I would like to suggest that you place a number on your definition of martial arts mastery —and that number is 10,000. 

If you intend to OWN and LIVE some concept, be it self-defense, self-confidence, leadership, meditation, non-violence, or anything pertaining to your career, your value to your community, or your actual path to what we might call genuine “mastery,” I’d like to suggest that you embrace the idea of 10,000 steps. 

If you’re going to COACH your students to 10 steps, 100 steps, or 1000 steps, perhaps you should consider making your own marker 10,000 steps? You could drive home the point more clearly by your own example.

I am, myself, engaged in a practice of 10,000 steps. I am taking 10,000 steps in offering help and assistance to the martial arts community. In the time you have known me —known of me —or will know me, you have seen or will see me take at least 10,000 steps. 

I offer help; then I offer again; then I offer again and again and again. It is my practice. 


In the “community” I live and work in, I work on peace education, environmental awareness, voluntary simplicity, sustainable business practices, and food, food production, and health, in general, and a number of other topics that you will see / hear me write and talk about, over the course of my career, as much or more than anyone else you know (most likely). I have already done it for YEARS —and as long as I am able, I doubt that you will see me stop. 

I —am you. My business is your business. My persistence is your persistence. My consistency is your consistency. I am you —and you are what you are teaching your own students. You are the example, like I am the example, that you hope your students pay attention to and emulate in ways that empower them in their lives —where ever the journey takes them. 

Want to OWN a subject? Start writing, talking, and filming about it. Curate content relevant to it. Study it. And for each effort, physically or mentally mark it with a number, as in “This is # 1 of 10,000 efforts.”

Now if you wonder how you can benefit from your investment here at the 100., how you can benefit from my advice, start on achieving 10,000 efforts on behalf of your school’s marketing, on the refinement of your thinking, of your career, of the polishing of your school’s approach to teaching things of value. 

This one concept is heavy with value, but only if you put it to work. 

Help with Your Martial Arts School and / or Your Martial Arts Teaching Career

What’s ailing your school or causing you to struggle in business is often the result of being so close to the work, so engaged in it, and/or on such new ground that you get a bit lost in the long, long list of things you need to, should, want, or have to do. 

I can help you with that —with your business, your school, your work, but to do that you have to be one heck of an eager and willing student, as reluctance to change, engage, or try new things can make it really tough to change the results you’re getting from your current work. 

I’m interested in helping you with your marketing, methods for proactive (over “reactive”) student retention, curriculum design, money management, staff training and development, and any and all things that pertain to your career.

But I can only genuinely help you if:

1. You ask for help. 
2. You show up for class —and then practice what you need to do to change the results you’re getting. 
3. As we’re so far apart from each other, you must engage —and endeavor to engage consistently. If you don’t hold yourself accountable to progress and evaluation, making real change is tough.

This is offer to help you, # 300, of 10,000. 
You’ll find an “audit” at Taking that audit is step #1 to helping me to figure out how best to help you.

The Journey Podcast Interview With Tom Callos by Nicolas Gregoriades and Paul Moran of Open Mat Radio

A big thank you to Nicolas Gregoriades and Paul Moran of The Journey Podcast and Open Mat Radio for the interview, listen to it here (

In this interview I mention environmental activist and author Julia Butterfly Hill, Project M’s John Bielenberg, Hero Housing’s Pamela Dorr, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Denver aikido teacher Gaku Homma, Dr. Jane Goodall and her program Roots and Shoots, The Rural Studio and Samuel Mockbee, Girls in Gi’s Shama Ko, the teaching heroes at, The Alabama Build Vention, and other people, places, and things I care about and love. 

New Words for the Martial Artists Vocabulary: ENGAGED BUDOISM

About 10 years ago I was at some martial arts convention and the buzz was about selling “leadership courses.” Schools were packaging pricing for leadership courses and, essentially, adding a class a week to their schedule and recruiting paying volunteers to help them teach classes; however, not a single school owner I interviewed had any real leadership curriculum —and most, as I understood it, were enchanted with the increase of income over the idea that they would cultivate a substantive, authentic, meaningful approach to inspiring or teaching “leadership.”

Leadership was a worthwhile ideal, but we really needed a curriculum to teach it -so after some thought, I proposed the idea of “Project Based Leadership Training.” My proposal was that students would use projects of their own making (perhaps, at first, project suggested by their teachers —to get the ball rolling), involving things that would help someone or something in their community. Martial arts teachers could teach the fundamentals of conceiving, planning, and engaging others in the project, then executing and recording projects —and students could “take their martial arts out of the dojo and into the world.” They could learn about leadership experientially, by actually engaging in activities that required the practice of leadership. 

I further suggested that each student / school would keep a PROJECT PORTFOLIO of those activities —as with the quantifying of the work came the social proof that we were actually teaching “leadership” —-and my belief was that a school’s portfolio would or could be an essential tool in marketing what the school was really about (what it would become about, due to the work). 

When I published these suggestions, a friend of mine here on Facebook, Sensei Nick Ushin Lowry pointed out to me that an Aikido master, Sensei Gaku Homma of Denver, had already put this idea into action years before. I went to Homma’s website and came across his most beautiful and impressive project portfolio —and became a dedicated student and fan of his work. 

I tried to reach Sensei once, but was screened out by his secretary, lol, but it hasn’t stopped me from being an advocate for the idea Sensei Homma coined, borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh's “Engaged Buddhism” —“Engaged Budoism” —as mentioned in this video. 

My student/teacher who has taken this idea to a place nobody had before, is teacher Gary Engels, whose students, with his guidance, have planned, executed, and recorded hundreds of projects in his community —and in doing so, completely redesigned what his school “Leadership Academy Martial Arts" was about —and how his community perceived the mission and value of the engaged practice of the martial arts. 

Every year for the last 10 I have led the Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention 2014 a hands-on workshop for martial artists that seeks to engage them in Engaged Budoism —in a way that inspires the work to continue in their own communities. a bow to Gaku Homma for brilliant execution, likewise to Gary —-and this is an open invite for you to come participate in The Alabama Build-Vention —and to make Engaged Budoism a part of your work, too.

A Few of My Favorite Things

As I was reading / listening thru this morn, I found I’d missed a cool assignment / project in Dec. called “A Few of Your Favorite Things.” Darn —and pretty darn cool. 

So I quick-assembled some of mine for a late entry:

1. The box is from Henry Miller’s own bookshelf / library and it contains 5 copies, 1 annotated and signed in initials by Henry Miller, of his short piece, “Reflections on the Death of Mishima.”

2. The rock is a piece of the concrete atop Vincent Van Gogh’s grave, which I picked up when I was in France as a 30 something. I once found it, just by luck, out in my backyard. My wife had “thrown that rock” out. 

3. A square nail from one of the houses we renovated with Pam Dorr in my yearly Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention 2014

4. A letter, with art, from Ray Bradbury to my daughter, Eleni Ray, who takes her middle name from Mr. Bradbury. 

5. A bowl from my daughter Chloé Cornelius, given to my this last Christmas, hand made by here from paper. Very cool. 

Some of my favorite “things.”

Martial Arts and Samuel Mockbee —and Unlikely Pairing, Now in It’s 10th Year

In mid 2001 I boarded a plane to go teach a seminar somewhere —and in some magazine I’d picked up I came across a “pod” built from bundles of waxed cardboard. Students of Mockbee’s Rural Studio built their own “pods” to stay in, little experimental structures of their own design, while they worked under their teacher. 

I was enthralled. There was a clip with the photo about some of Mockbee’s philosophy —and reading it I came to the conclusion that Mockbee had genuinely transcended his subject matter —and had gone way deeper as a teacher. I wanted to go way deeper as a teacher. 

After running across two or three other mentions of Mockbee in various publications over the next month or two —and feeling a real pull to meet him, maybe even to go there to Alabama and find some way to help or engage him, one day I just got on the phone and started calling the Rural Studio and Auburn University. Nobody answered any of the numbers I called.

That night I went to Borders, the book store; I walked in, went straight to the magazine rack, picked up an Architectural Digest, flipped it open randomly —and boom, I had opened it right to his obituary. He’s passed just two months before. 

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach, like I’d lost a friend and a teacher, even though I’d never met the man. The more I read about him, the more I realized I wanted to do something (anything) like what he had done, but in my own career, in the martial arts world.

A few weeks later I connected with Pam Dorr. It took me a year of calling and writing and proposing this and that, offering help, before I had dreamed up the Ultimate Black Belt Test —and then decided that, as a part of the test, we’d all go down to Greensboro and do something, anything, to pitch in. 

This will be the 10th year of pitching in. While I was never able to meet Samuel Mockbee, I see the work I help organize there as a way to honor his influence on my own career. While my accomplishments and influence pale compared to his, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be connected, albeit in the smallest way, to the work he envisioned and executed.

The Ultimate Black Belt Test. What it is, In Part, for Me

The “Ultimate Black Belt Test” isn’t a thing. It isn’t a product or service. It’s an idea that people embrace and put to work —based on the question, “What would be my ultimate black belt test?”

For me, the ultimate is getting my black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Man (for me), that’s TOUGH! For me, it would be in getting 1000’s of teachers of the martial arts to embrace the following concepts: 1. Transparent and honest pricing; 2. For the world’s martial arts schools to adopt a rape-culture education course, to educate young people about rape, what it is and what it isn’t. As I’ve read that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, I can’t see a reason we, collectively, wouldn’t embrace and execute an awareness and education program; 3. To bring food dialogue and food production dialogue and education to every martial arts teacher’s curricula. It’s time we connect food and food production to self-defense; 4. To have 100 / 1000 teachers embrace anger management teacher training, so as to arm young people with anger management skills, before they need them, as a form of self-defense. 5. To bring the saying “out of the dojo and into the world” to the lips of every martial arts teacher in the world —and to see, before I pass, thousands upon thousands of community-based projects, executed by martial arts students, encouraged to do so by their teachers, as the ultimate expression of our teachings. 

It’s frightening and unnerving to start another UBBT, as we’re doing now, as there is so much room for failure and, worse, for nothingness, as in “nothing happens.” Nevertheless, nothing at all will happen, for real, if we don’t step up to the plate, bat in hand.