Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Let’s Help Usher In a New Era of Martial Arts Education

Funakoshi, Kano, Ueyshiba, Choi, Lee, and the Gracie family (among many others) have, each in their own time and way, contributed to new movements and shifts of awareness in the martial arts community.

In my 37 years of martial arts study, I have been witness to some of these --and other --historical shifts in thinking and methods.

I remember the first time a Bruce Lee movie aired in my town. I remember watching Joe Lewis, Jeff Smith, Bill Wallace, Byong Yu, and Al Dacascos in 1974 on Mike Anderson’s spectacular debut of full contact karate and creative demonstrations on national TV. I remember the first episode of Kung Fu. I remember watching Royce Gracie defeating people twice his size, using methods I had never seen before. All of these events, for me, created a shift in thinking, expectations, and goals –and I think a lot of martial artists were influenced by them as well.

It’s Happening, Again, Right Now
The martial arts community is, again, in the middle of a huge transition in methods, focus, and thinking. It’s being ushered in by the media, by TV and films; It’s being supported by a new generation of athletes –and fans of the martial arts. Ang Lee’s films, the UFC, too many Brazilians to mention by name, and You-Tube are all doing their part to create change –and opportunity –for all of us.

I would like to suggest that we (professional martial arts teachers) take this opportunity, this time and place, to step into and embrace our own changes. I think it’s time to take a leap forward in thinking, in teaching methods, and, most of all, in our expectations, our “desired outcome” from the work we put into our students.

Specifically, I am referring to what we teach our students, why we teach them, and what we expect them to know and be able to do when they “graduate” from our programs. Borrowing from Stephen Covey’s second “habit” of highly effective people (Begin with the End in Mind), I’m thinking about what we can do now to positively affect the future of the martial arts, untold numbers of martial artists, and perhaps, if we’re lucky, the world.

I don’t think that we should teach the martial arts only from a place of tradition, or for sport, but from a reevaluated position based on the needs of our society, today. New attitudes about self-defense and fitness stand to make the martial arts more “now”, more useful and relevant to the world as it is –and as it will be in the future. For teachers, more relevancy translates into more “value”, and we are all trying to increase the value (real and perceived) of what we do in –and for –the world.

From a business standpoint, what we offer to our students, in the way of education and services, has a direct effect on how we market and promote our schools. The more we expand and refine our subject matter, the more things we have to talk about with the media, with schoolteachers, with parents, and with prospective students.

Where to Begin the Transformation
Expand the Ring
There is a powerful vintage video on YouTube ( that shows a three-minute piece of a documentary film featuring the great judo man, Kimura ( In the film, Canadian judoka Doug Rogers talks about Kimura and his training. He says that the university team, under Kimura’s supervision, does 600 pushups a day, and sometimes as many as 1000. Rogers says, “This is unreasonable, we know that. But it pushes us beyond a physical limit, to another place, way outside --or way inside, I don’t know where exactly, but I’ve been there.”

When you watch the film you can see how hard this team trained --and how focused both Kimura and his students were on winning and playing “great judo.” It’s beautiful: the commitment to that game, to the sport, to the mat and the training. It is exactly what you think judo is, what it was, and what it should be.

In judo competition, the ring is 33-feet by 33-feet; in boxing, a ring usually measures 24-feet square; in life, the ring is 24-7. Learning how to be a champion on the mat or in the ring is like writing one beautiful and poetic sentence –out of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The sentence is an integral part of the work, it is, in its structure, a vital component of the work, but it is not the novel. If only life could be narrowed down into a 33-foot square ring; Oh how easy it would be!

To expand the ring, to teach students how to take the lessons learned there and apply them to their lives, this is the new martial arts education –to be the Kimura of life-lessons! The teacher seeks to make champions in the ring, of course, but also (and more importantly) in life, the 24-7 variety. Fighting in the ring can be an art, but life? Winning in life is the real victory. Finding ways to teach these lessons, effective ways, measurable ways, this is the new challenge --and opportunity. This is the shift.

Fighting in the ring is so manageable; you win or you lose, sometimes you draw, and it’s oh-so contained. Life is a big, big ring –and as martial arts educators we need to teach those skills, so that our students go forward in their lives armed with what they need for an arena where defeat and victory really make a difference.

Make Self-Defense Global

MSN Encarta Definition for "Self Defense":

1. legal right to defend self: the use of reasonable force to defend yourself, your family, and your property against physical attack, or the right to do this
2. fighting techniques: fighting techniques used to defend yourself against physical attack, especially unarmed combat techniques such as any of the martial arts

The narrow definition of self-defense above, taken from the Internet, doesn’t begin to describe what we teach in the martial arts, nor does it give any hint whatsoever about the potential of what self-defense instruction could be.

In America, 7% of the population has diabetes, which is 20.8 million people. It’s estimated that another 14.6 million have the disease, but are currently undiagnosed. More than half-a-million people in America will die of cancer this year. The leading cause of death among children here, ages 5 to 14, is unintentional accidents, mostly auto related. A Cornell University analysis estimates that 40 percent of world deaths can now be attributed to various environmental factors, especially organic and chemical pollutants.
The estimates both in America and worldwide for the number of people killed or injured by side-kicks is unavailable, but my guess is that it’s only slightly more than are killed by back-fist attacks.

And forget about death, what about things that hurt us? Like financial issues, relationship issues (Ouch!), conspicuous consumption! Oh, and the worst of the worst: negative internal dialogue! How about diet? Racial bias and other unhealthy prejudices? How about that crippling un-awareness we have as our children grow up around us while we are absorbed in some business that someday we will come to realize didn’t mean 1/1000 as much as our loved ones?

Self-defense is so much more than we currently deal with, the opportunity to view it as something holistic, to look at it from a global perspective, is the martial arts shift-in-thinking of the century.

Out of the Dojo and Into the World: Project Based Leadership Training
Trophies in the windows of martial arts schools; how many have you seen? There have been schools that were mistaken for trophy shops, where people walked in to order their bowling awards. It may be true that trophies are a measure of some kind of success, a sign perhaps that “we are skilled,” and so an indication of quality instruction. However, the new “trophy in the window” in the martial arts world, the most evolved measure of an instructor’s skills is not forged in metal or plastic, it is the record of how students take what they are taught and practice on the mat –and apply to the real world.

It is in how they take their martial arts out of the dojo and into the world.

It is a major shift in thinking to visualize that, in the future, teachers will instruct their students on how to apply their hard-earned skills to “projects” –and that the recording and documenting of those projects will be how a teacher will not only prove that he or she is effective and skilled, but that the projects will be all of the advertising –the best advertising –a school will ever need.

Leadership training is a buzzword in the martial arts industry. The idea that leadership will be taught experientially, through community-based projects, and that the instructor’s “job” will be to help his or her students choose projects, gather resources, and then execute and record them, is a radical departure from the status quo in the martial arts industry. But what a thing! Actually teaching people to achieve by using the philosophy of the martial arts. Revolutionary!

Just the Beginning
These ideas are just part of way we could transform the martial arts industry. The most important ingredient of the transformation is our own. Elevating our thinking, increasing our action-in-the-world, and actually applying our winning “ring strategies” to a larger arena (read: life), will bring about an all-new respect for the martial arts. We could increase our value ten-fold, sort of the way Bruce Lee kicked the martial arts into millions of households --and the way The UFC has garnered millions of fans.

My work, projects like The Ultimate Black Belt Test and The 100. are exercises in transformation-thinking. The people involved in them are combining forces to make radical and much needed changes in the martial arts industry. They are working on themselves while working on the martial arts, our image, and our purpose. I think there projects represent a part of this new shift in thinking, this opportunity in the world for making the martial arts a bigger and more valuable part of everyday life.
Come join us in our dialogue about a new kind of martial arts education. Contact me at 530-903-0286 or by e-mail at

About the Author
Tom Callos is a “martial arts activist” committed to making a difference in the world by applying martial concepts in the world. He is team coach for the Ultimate Black Belt Test and the founder of The 100. Visit and

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