Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Interview with Tom Callos for Martialinfo.com about the Ultimate Black Belt Test, The100., and a New Vision for Martial Arts Teachers

Conducted by phone, April 22, 2008 by Fariborz Azhakh of www.martialinfo.com

Martialinfo: Would you provide us with a little of your background?

Tom Callos: Martial arts wise, I was 6-years old when I saw the first episode of The Green Hornet (1966) featuring Bruce Lee as Kato, 9-years-old when I watched my first judo class (the instructor would invite me on the mat after the adults-only classes and show me how to roll and fall), and 11-years old when I first joined a school. That was 1971.

I received my black belt in taekwondo in 1979, and moved to San Jose, CA to join Master Ernie Reyes’ school in 1980. I opened my first school in 1981 and in 1991 I was overseeing two schools, 10 miles apart with a total active enrollment (at their peak) of about 800 students. Due to my success at the schools, I was invited to join Educational Funding Company’s Board of Directors, which is when I started becoming a teacher and consultant to the martial arts industry. Since then I have worked with most of the key companies in the martial arts industry. In 2003 I created the Ultimate Black Belt Test and in the following year I started working on my own martial arts association, The 100.

Martialinfo: Explain the Ultimate Black Belt Test.

Tom Callos: The UBBT is a complete redesign of the testing process. It expands the purpose of a test, it expands the nature of training for a test, and it investigates and redefines the objectives for all rank testing in the first place. The UBBT is designed to be the most challenging and authentic black belt test in the world, but it was also designed to improve the martial arts industry.

Martialinfo: How does the UBBT improve the industry?

Tom Callos: A friend of mine, John Bielenberg, is a well known teacher and innovator in the graphic design world. One of his primary slogans is Think Wrong, which spells out his viewpoint about conventional approaches to design, creativity, and problem solving.

The UBBT helps the industry by thinking wrong about what activities make the martial artist smarter, better equipped to cope with self-defense issues beyond the obvious physical ones, about the best ways to show and tell the general public the benefits of the martial arts, and about what role a martial arts teacher is supposed to play in the world.

You see, I believe in the power of the individual to make a difference in the world. My heroes are people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ali, and just about any person who has taken action for others, for a cause, on the side of right. I believe that a martial arts teacher is supposed to teach, educate, and empower his or her students to fight the big battles, to tackle issues that might scare others, issues that relate to personal protection, protection of family and community, and even of the planet.

The problem is most martial arts schools don’t know how to integrate these ideas into their curriculum. They don’t understand, yet, how to take their martial arts out of their schools –and put it to work in the world. There will be a giant shift in the industry, a huge upgrade in the perceived value of martial arts training, and a monumental change in what a martial arts teacher does in the world when school owners and teachers finally get the scope and intent of this new kind of martial arts educational mission.

Martialinfo: Does the UBBT’s curriculum contain the ingredients for this new mission you describe?

Tom Callos: It does, in part. There are requirements in the UBBT’s curriculum that might force a teacher to step out of his or her comfort zone. The curriculum requires the participant to get off the mat and into the community. It asks people to learn meditation, to get outdoors, to help others, to mend relationships, and to learn new things.

But there is something the curriculum doesn’t contain that is a vital part of the work. That missing ingredient is my belief that martial arts teachers should be extraordinary people –and I mean extraordinary in the image of people like Mandela, Armstrong, Julia Butterfly Hill, Gore, Dita Sari, and Wangari Mattai.

I mean, if a martial arts teacher and/or veteran practitioner doesn’t have the courage, the perseverance, the self-discipline, and the fortitude to tackle issues relevant to people’s health and well being, then who does? If a martial arts master teacher doesn’t know how to make his or her work more meaningful, more effective, more relevant to the world today, then what’s all this training for?

Do kicking, punching, and throwing contain all the value of the martial arts? Or is there something beyond the physical? And if there is something else, then is it meant only for individual benefit, or can it be applied to the world?

My job is to do for the role of martial arts teacher what Ernie Reyes and the West Coast Demo Team did for the martial arts competition world, what Dana White and his colleagues did for mixed martial arts fighting. I think martial arts teachers are in the perfect position to be leaders in a new global view of self-defense, a view that looks at the big picture, and a view that transcends the current definition of ‘what are the martial arts for.’

The UBBT and the 100. are both parts of a community that nurtures and encourages instructors to expand their curriculum, to step out of their schools, and to embrace a kind of thinking that may be new to the martial arts, but that is common among the most self-actualized, cognizant, proactive citizens of the world.

Martialinfo: What is The 100.?

Tom Callos: The 100. is my martial arts association and it was inspired by Rosa Parks. Rosa was a 43 year old African-American seamstress who took action at the right time and place and as a result, helped make history. I started The 100. with the idea that 100 martial arts teachers, I mean people who have spent their entire lives forging themselves to be warriors and teachers, ought to be able to equal the power of one Rosa Parks. Couldn’t we create the right time and place? Couldn’t we see injustice and do something about it? The 100. is an association about martial arts business for people who believe it is our business to make a difference beyond the ring and outside of the dojo.

Martialinfo: So the UBBT is about testing and The 100. is a about activism?

Tom Callos: All my work points to the same place. It’s all about walking the talk of the potential of martial arts training. It’s all about a kind of martial arts teacher that is a hero to others, a living example of martial arts principals put into action.

Martialinfo: Do you have members who are examples of your ideas?

Tom Callos: Mike and Karen Valentine of San Rafael, CA have the first officially Green Certified school in the nation and they have the first ever ocean-based cleanup requirements for black belt testing. What this tells the general public is ‘See, we’re not just fighters, we’re warriors for a better, healthier world too.’ Tim Rosenelli of Pennsylvania is now using his degree in environmental engineering in his martial arts school and it’s bringing him students he would never have met otherwise. Dan and Kim Rominski, Alicia Kastner, Bryan Klein, and Charles Chi, all of New Jersey, are running acts of kindness programs that are making community leaders stop, look, and listen to the martial art in a way that had never happened before. Brian Williams of Nevada has started the One Million Acts foundation where he’s working on getting people all around the nation involved in performing one million acts of kindness. UBBT member Andy Mandell is on the last 1000 miles of a 10,000 mile walk around the perimeter of the U.S. for diabetes education.

What’s happening is that the UBBT and The 100.are expanding the role of the martial arts teacher in the world. We’re practicing a new kind of martial arts that isn’t just physical, but that transcends the subject matter.

Martialinfo: So, someone we know recently called you a “Tree-hugger.” Are you?

Tom Callos: (laughs) No, I’m much more than that, there’s just not a name for it yet. I’m a martial arts teacher that believes in the power of the martial arts to make change. I believe that the fear I faced and defeated on the mat and in the ring was meant to be applied to other things. I believe in martial arts mastery –and I think it’s my job to carry on the work my martial arts teachers, people like GM Jhoon Rhee and Master Ernie Reyes, Sr., have been doing. I think I’m supposed to add to the martial arts world, not just exist in it.

Master Reyes was always fearless in the way he attacked competition and our demo team performances. I think he was showing us what could be done if you focused. I think he meant to empower his students with a belief that we should ‘go for the WOW.’ With the examples of my teachers and heroes, how could I shoot for anything other than something powerful, meaningful, and important?

Martialinfo.com: Are you still accepting people in the UBBT and the 100?

Tom Callos: Any time, any place. My only requirement is courage and the understanding that we are here to do something unbelievable, something most people can’t even get their head around. I’m looking for people who are tired of the status quo and who are willing to try new things to see what happens.

Martialinfo.com: Thank you for taking the time to talk.

Tom Callos: It is my honor to be here and to have an audience for these concepts.

Tom Callos may be reached at tomcallos@gmail.com. The UBBT’s address is www.ultimateblackbelttest.com, The 100’s is www.theonehundred.org.

Watch for a recorded interview with Tom Callos to be aired soon on the NPR radio program Speaking of Faith at www.speakingoffaith.org.

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