Something Old, Something New: Tom Callos Talks About The New (Old) Business of Teaching the Martial Arts –in 2012

April 28, 2012 12:10 pm by Pedro Carrasco

Something Old
In 1969 a judo teacher invited me on his mat for my first taste of the martial arts. This month, 43 years after that first lesson, I’ve come back to judo. I’ve come back to Jigoro Kano’s art due to the influence of three people:

  1. BJ Penn, who told me recently that he’d started taking judo lessons. According to BJ, the training was outstanding and he felt it was filling a gap in his knowledge he hadn’t previously been aware of. He also told me he was training at a dojo on Oahu that had been open for more than 100 years. BJ’s a longtime friend, occasional training partner, former student, and since he kicked the hat off of the martial arts world as we knew it, a teacher I try and listen to. In the case of judo, if it’s good for BJ Penn, it’s good for me too.
  1. Shihan Keiko Fukuda. It was about a year ago that someone sent me a trailer for a film in-the-works called, “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” which was to chronicle the life of Keiko Fukuda, the last living student of judo’s founder Jigoro Kano. The trailer brought me to tears, as Fukuda, then 98-years-old and still teaching judo, exemplified a level of commitment and dedication I could only stand back and stare at in awe. It may sound strange to some people, but after seeing the film (now titled “Mrs. Judo”) and meeting Shihan, I felt compelled to study judo in her honor.
  1. Judo world champion Mike Swain personifies the gentle spirit of judo. I have only moved with him on the mat once, many years ago during my 4th degree black belt test under Master Ernie Reyes, Sr., but lately I’ve been hanging out with him as we worked together on some projects for his mat company ( I’ve grown to respect the gentleness of his approach to business and life, which I attribute in part to his training –and it has renewed my interest in the philosophy and practice of “The Gentle Way.”

I’m now working on a project with Swain Mats and its parent company Dollamur Sports Surfaces to renew interest in judo training to everyone in the international martial arts community, or should I say “back” to everyone (in the non-judo martial arts world). To begin the dialogue about how that might happen, we’ve started a community of martial artists interested in judo and, well, pretty much all things that take place on a mat. Membership is free and the content on the site is, I think, noteworthy. If you’d like to be a part of the dialog and movement to bring (or re-bring) some good judo technique to all styles of martial arts, come join us at

Something New
While judo speaks to my sense of martial arts tradition, the kind of martial arts that is, today, blowing my mind is the kind that takes the work “Off the mat and into the world.” That’s the slogan for a giant project I’m up to my chin in called “The 100.” ( The 100. isn’t about the techniques of the martial arts, it’s about innovation and education. The work is about community activism, experiential leadership training, environmental self-defense, dietary self-defense, peace education, on-line technology for curriculum development, health education, and a truckload of other concepts that aren’t currently a part of the “martial arts industry,” but that are so right, so smart, and so relevant-to-today’s world, that it’s only a matter of time. The 100.’s on-line campus is abuzz with smart, hardworking martial arts teachers doing some of the coolest, most inspiring, and –I think –healthiest work in the martial arts teachers community.

It’s like I have one foot in the past and one in the future. I find it all very invigorating –and I invite you to join me in the work, if it speaks to you too. I’m curious, too, if you’re experieincing anything like this in your teaching career. If you are, come to and tell us about it.

Tom Callos

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