Evolve to Remain Strong

Part 1: Train Strong to Remain Strong

Adriano and Joe Emperado began to spread their new system of self-defense, KAJUKENBO, by teaching at YMCA’s, graduating more instructors, spreading to neighboring areas in Hawaii, and eventually the art was brought to the mainland United States. Their goal was to “create the most effective street self-defense system and then bring it to the public to learn” (Conway). 

It is said that KAJUKENBO stylists were feared on the streets, but once the system was brought to the mainland, KAJUKENBO practitioners also began to win sparring and forms tournaments. The sparring format in tournaments was easy to prepare for compared to the full contact style found in the KAJUKENBO dojos. Beautiful traditional forms had been brought to the self defense style to enhance the curriculum, as well as develop a student’s focus, discipline, balance, coordination, and overall skill.

Two of the early practitioners of KAJUKENBO were Walter Godin and Victor “Sonny” Gascon.

Walter Godin trained in the martial arts as a child, and as a teenager sought out training in Kenpo after watching the movie “Lightning Karate” with his cousin, Bobby Lowe, who was a student of Kenpo. He tried to join Bobby’s academy but they were no longer accepting students, so he continued to ask around looking for a good place to train. He was referred to a Kenpo school in the Palama settlement, run by none other than Joe Emperado.

At first, Godin was not permitted to train because of an old rivalry between neighboring areas in Hawaii, but he persisted and eventually was accepted as a student. He would go on to become Joe’s protege and apprentice.

In 1961, SiJo Walter Godin and SiJo Victor “Sonny” Gascon would go on to open a school in Burbank, California. They co-developed a revised system of punch defense combinations, weapons defenses, and forms. They named the system “Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu,” an acronym for KARAte, ZEN, and KenPO, Go - meaning five (for the 5 animals of Kenpo), and Shinjutsu – meaning “way of self defense.” 

One of the students at the Karazenpo school was George Pesare. Grandmaster Pesare is responsible for bringing Karazenpo/Kajukenbo/Kenpo to the East Coast. After his initial training in California, he moved back home to Rhode Island and began to teach the martial arts he had learned. Pesare too, added additional forms and punch combinations to the system and also continued his studies with a variety of notable teachers in arts such as Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido.

Grandmaster George Pesare executing a Side Kick.

Grandmaster George Pesare executing a Side Kick.

One of George Pesare’s most notable students was Nick Cerio. Like most of the people we have discussed in this story, Professor Cerio had trained in other martial arts before finding his way to Kenpo/Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu and George Pesare. He went on to study with Grandmaster Pesare in Rhode Island, as well as Professor William Chow in Hawaii. Professor Cerio then began teaching Kenpo at his own academy, before later revising his curriculum, and titling it “Nick Cerio’s Kenpo.”

Professor Nick Cerio (right) training with Professor Chow (middle).

Professor Nick Cerio (right) training with Professor Chow (middle).

Finally, this brings us to my father, Bruce Corrigan. After achieving his first Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do and Judo, SiJo Bruce began the lifelong study of Kenpo under Professor Nick Cerio. Beginning in the early 1980s, SiJo Bruce began augmenting his Kenpo studies with intensive training in Kickboxing and the Filipino Martial Arts. Later, SiJo Bruce began the study of Jeet Kune Do; and in the early 1990s, he began training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

From left to right, SiJo Bruce Corrigan, SiJo Victor Gascon, SiJo Walter Godin, and Professor Nick Cerio at SiJo Bruce's Kenpo school in Virginia, 1994.

From left to right, SiJo Bruce Corrigan, SiJo Victor Gascon, SiJo Walter Godin, and Professor Nick Cerio at SiJo Bruce's Kenpo school in Virginia, 1994.

As a result of SiJo Bruce’s years of experience and exposure to multiple systems, he realized that many fighting systems offered either skills, or a philosophy, which should be used by his method of Kenpo. 

Kenpo provides us with one of the most effective self defense methods against various punches and grabs available. Kenpo also provides our traditional basis and foundation. However, it still had holes. So he formulated his method of teaching, integrating the most effective aspects of the other arts that he studied, and named it FILKENJUTSU KAI. 

The term FILKENJUTSU stands for FILipino Arts, KENpo Arts, and JUdo and Jiu JiTSU Arts. However, as with any name, there are limitations. It is better to look at FILKENJUTSU - Kai as a “house of training” that has as it’s root, the system of KAJUKENBO. In addition, to the root of our system, we add the Filipino arts. The Filipino Arts of Kali, Pananjakman and Panantuken, add a devastating close range defense and attack system – something which had been lost. Additional training in the Filipino methodology of edged and blunt weapons use and defense are ingrained throughout FILKENJUTSU. To this is added the throwing arts taken from Judo, and the ground arts taken from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

My dad further recognized that the methodology used in teaching particular Martial Arts was as important as the martial art itself. In other words: if the most effective aspects of a Martial Art are taught poorly, then those aspects lose their effectiveness. As a result, he based his instructional technique on progressive physical training, mastery of range, emphasis on “aliveness,” significant weapons training, and most importantly, spontaneity.

As you can see, time and time again throughout this story of Kenpo’s beginnings all the way down to Kenpo here in Oak Ridge, TN, the art has evolved with each instructor. This evolution is so important because while it may be fun to talk about “in the old days” or being “old school” you have to evolve your teaching and training methods in order to provide your students with the most effective fighting techniques and the safest training environment.

The only way you can do this is when the instructor himself puts in many years of hard training, then continues to train, and not just in the parts that he personally enjoys, but in all of it. You cannot avoid one area of hand-to-hand combat, or the martial arts, just because it isn’t your favorite. While my Dad began training in all of these arts either before I was alive or when I was just a toddler, he is still out on the mat training them (and not just teaching them). He hits the pads, gets his knuckles hit working sticks, and gets mat burns grappling, on a regular basis.

SiJo Bruce Corrigan teaching a Jiu Jitsu class after Kenpo in the early 1990s. At the time, he would fly to California to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Rorion Gracie as it was not available in many places yet!

SiJo Bruce Corrigan teaching a Jiu Jitsu class after Kenpo in the early 1990s. At the time, he would fly to California to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Rorion Gracie as it was not available in many places yet!

Why? For no other reason then he knows there is always work to be done and improvement to be made.

While I am not in search of arts to fill holes in our method of teaching (it seems as though they’ve all been filled, but I keep an eye out just in case!), I vow to always continue to advance and evolve the curriculum that I and my outstanding team of instructors teach to our students. I can do this by making sure that the people that teach our classes have not only trained martial arts with me from white belt on up, but also by putting every individual that ever steps onto our mats to teach, through an arduous instructor training program that teaches them how to teach. I will never hire someone to teach martial arts at one of our academies that has not been trained by us. 

I am about to start the next group of instructor candidates through this process. So far, five individuals have gone through the training - and they’re all standing right here next to me.

From left to right: Sempai Madelyn Fowler (2nd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiHing Terry Alcorn (3rd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Matt Thomas (Brown Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiFu David Corrigan (5th Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Brittany Corrigan (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU), and Sempai Kristie Fox (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU). Photo credit to Julio Culiat.

From left to right: Sempai Madelyn Fowler (2nd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiHing Terry Alcorn (3rd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Matt Thomas (Brown Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiFu David Corrigan (5th Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Brittany Corrigan (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU), and Sempai Kristie Fox (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU). Photo credit to Julio Culiat.

P.S. - Sometimes people ask why we wear black gis. This was the traditional uniform of KAJUKENBO students! Later, some Kenpo stylists would separate themselves by "piping" their gis with white trim. At PMA, FILKENJUTSU students that achieve the rank of purple belts and up wear black gis, black belts pipe their gis in white, and 5th-degree black belts and up pipe their gis in red.

Works Cited

FILKENJUTSU Student Manual. Bruce Corrigan. 1985

Kajukenbo The Ultimate Self-Defense System. Frank Conway. 1988.


Train Strong to Remain Strong

While we train and teach a variety of martial arts at our academy, including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Filipino Martial Arts, Kickboxing, and Jeet Kune Do, the core of our school is Kenpo. Our method of teaching Kenpo is named FILKENJUTSU (read more about FILKENJUTSU). FILKENJUTSU is not a style of martial arts so much as a method of training/teaching Kenpo. The style of Kenpo that we come from was named KAJUKENBO.

In the late 1940s, if you were to travel to Hawaii, you would find a melting pot of people and cultures from all around the world. This situation led to the streets of Hawaii being somewhat violent. 

Today’s story starts with a man living in Hawaii at the time, named Adriano Emperado.

SiJo Emperado (SiJo is a martial arts title) received his martial arts training from Professor William K.S. Chow, the founder of Chinese Kenpo. Professor Chow had been trained in Shaolin Kung Fu by his father but sought out training in Kosho Ryu Kenpo from Grandmaster James Mitose (also called Kenpo Jiu Jitsu) to add a “hardness” to his style that would better prepare him for self-defense. Departing from the original Kenpo Jiu Jitsu taught by Mitose, Chow united the arts of Kosho Ryu Kenpo and his family’s Kung Fu system. To make a distinct variation from Mitose's Kenpo, Chow called his art Kenpo Karate, specifically Dian Hsuhe Go Shinjutsu of the Kenpo Kai. (Corrigan)

Professor Chow taught Kenpo for ten years but only graduated five people to black belt, and SiJo Adriano Emperado was one of them (Conway). SiJo Emperado was also trained in the Filipino Martial Arts which included, stick, knife, and empty hand fighting techniques. SiJo Emperado continued to search for more because he felt as though Kenpo still did not have all of the answers necessary for one to safely defend themselves if attacked in the street. 

This journey ultimately led him to one of the most important collaborations between martial artists of different styles. He met with four other martial artists from arts such as Korean tang soo do, se keino jujitsu, Kodokan judo, and Chinese boxing (kung fu). Together these arts were to make up KAJUKENBO:

KA - Korean KArate (tang soo do)
JU - JUjitsu and JUdo
BO - Chinese BOxing

SiJo Emperado and his brother Joe Emperado together opened the first KAJUKENBO school in Honolulu’s Palama Settlement, one of the toughest areas in Hawaii. It is here that they established a philosophy and training method that while it has evolved and been improved upon over 60+ years, still stands in our academy today - "Train Strong to Remain Strong."

If we could take a peek into a typical KAJUKENBO class at SiJo Emperado’s school you would see students salute their instructors when entering the dojo, line up in order of rank, kneel to tie their belts, and begin class by saluting the American flag, SiJo Emperado (or his picture if he was not present), and the chief instructor.

The class would then start with a warm-up full of calisthenics, traditional forms training (kata), and self-defense techniques. At the end of class, there may be some drilling, conditioning, and strength training. Finally, students would salute again, and kneel and remove their belts in order of rank after dismissal from the instructor.

Training was tough, but the family of students was close-knit, loyal, respectful, and disciplined.

Come back for Part 2 next week!


Works Cited

FILKENJUTSU Student Manual. Bruce Corrigan. 1985

Kajukenbo The Ultimate Self-Defense System. Frank Conway. 1988.


Becoming a Martial Artist

A few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Martial Artist or a Student of the Martial Arts?

I posed the question to my students trying to determine how they saw themselves. There were a variety of opinions on the topic, but today I want to discuss one way of looking at this. I had multiple people tell me that while they were training martial arts, they did not yet consider themselves martial artists because they were not living all aspects of their life like a martial artist would.

The next logical question would be: "How does a martial artist live?"

For this, let’s take a look at the eight aspects of the martial arts way of life that we have outlined for our students at Progressive Martial Arts Academy:

  1. Fitness - Are you living your life in such a way that you are a healthy and fit individual? Does your body function the way that it should?
  2. Health & Nutrition - Have you adopted healthy eating habits? Sleeping habits? Most of us know what we should be eating, and how we should be living our lives, but are we following that? This one can be tough.
  3. Meditation - Have you brought a little bit of meditation into your life? Again, you don’t need to be sitting on top of a mountain cross-legged to say you meditate. At this point, if you have not at least brought it into your life in small ways like taking a few deep breaths and living in the moment, you are ignoring so many studies that have proven its effectiveness.
  4. Yoga and Stretching - Unless you've been living under a rock, surely you've heard that this stuff is excellent! And you don’t need to be a yogi to benefit from it. A martial artist has to have some yoga or good stretching/mobility routines in their life to recover properly from their training and maintain a level of flexibility and body control that allows them to perform their techniques.
  5. Philosophy - Being a martial artist also means living your life with the philosophy of a martial artist. That means bringing kindness, humility, respect, and love to all aspects of your life and all people in your life. This philosophy includes things like avoiding fights and confrontations. Do you have road rage? Then you still have some work to do here.
  6. Striking Arts - Keep those tools sharpened. A good martial artist has something in their life that keeps their striking sharp. For some this is heavy bag work, for others, it might be traditional forms. These are two great methods for keeping your tools ready to go.
  7. Grappling Arts - You can’t ignore the groundwork either. You may not have taken the full fledge jump into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class yet (if not, what are you waiting for!?), but you need to know how to defend yourself on the ground. Something like Jiu Jitsu takes many years to master, so the sooner you start, the better.
  8. Self Defense - Being able to walk around the world with confidence that you can protect yourself is what enables the martial artist to carry themselves the way they do. You need to be training with a focus on self-defense.

If you have 15 minutes, take a look at this TED talk below. Dr. Chang is discussing how to make hard choices, but she lays out a way of approaching life that can help lay the framework for becoming who you want to be - in our case today, a martial artist.

So, I'll ask you again - Are you a student of the martial arts or a martial artist? If you are still having difficulty labeling yourself as a martial artist, is there an area of your life that you can work on aligning your lifestyle with the items listed above?

Most importantly, keep training!

Do you need help "becoming a martial artist"?

Some of you may have a few of the items above taken care of because you have begun training in martial arts, but may still be struggling with the elements outside of the academy such as your nutrition and lifestyle. 

Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better, yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.

That’s why I became a Precision Nutrition certified coach - to help PMA students lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health…no matter what challenges they’re dealing with. I accepted my first group of students last summer, and recently had certified PMA instructor, Kristie Fox, get her PN certification so that we can take more students in the program. 

We are planning to accept a group of students to begin their program on Monday, July 31st with Coach Kristie.

Interested in starting this one year program this summer? 

You can find more information about our nutrition and lifestyle coaching program here:


Then, send me an email to join the presale list; you’ll save up to 45% and secure a spot in the program. We like to reward the most interested and motivated people because they always make the best clients. 

And, you’re more likely to get a spot. To give clients the personal care and attention they deserve, we plan to only open up the program twice a year. In the end, if you’re ready to change your body, and your life, with help from the world’s best habit changing program, this is your chance.

If you're ready to join the presale list now, you can do that here:

Name *

Mindfulness & No-Mindedness (Mushin)

In recent years, mindfulness has become a hot topic in the United States with more people discussing the idea of “living in the moment” and seemingly fewer people than ever actually doing it. 

Mindfulness is the act of consciously directing your awareness to what you are doing at that moment. We have more distractions than ever in our lives today, and that has led to a society of people that seem to never be in the moment. 

Let’s take a look at eating as an example. Mindful eating is not the same as being aware you are eating. For the most part, I think all of us are aware of the fact that we are eating when we are eating. How many of us though are consciously directing our awareness towards eating while doing so? If you are watching TV or looking at your phone, then you are not mindful of eating, and that can lead to overeating, not sufficiently chewing your food, or eating too quickly. Not to mention you can enjoy and savor your meal much more if you are mindful!

This absent-minded behavior rampant in our society is partially due to our smartphones - we look at them at sporting events instead of watching the game. We look at them at the movie theater and restaurants, and, my least favorite, we pull out our phones while having a conversation with someone.  I know I am not the only one that has recognized this and pointed it out. There are many news articles, blog articles and YouTube videos about waking up, looking up and trying to cure the twitch of checking our phones. There are problems here that go even deeper, however. When we are not entirely conscious of our experiences and engagements, it can be detrimental to our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Let’s look at relationships for example. One of the top ways we hurt the people closest to us is by lashing out when we get frustrated. While many people will write this off as an anger management or stress issue, often it boils down to consciousness. We have to be acutely aware of every moment. 

When something is not going “our way,” if we are not conscious at that moment, then we will react negatively. The reaction that comes out is resistance to being triggered negatively and things not being the way we want them to be. In contrast, had we been conscious in that moment, we could have made the recognition that “it is what it is” and we can flow with it.

This idea was discussed in a recent article by Psychology Today, and when you have a few minutes I recommend you give the whole article a read - 


Here is an excerpt:

“Perhaps the most complete way of living in the moment is the state of total absorption psychologists call flow. Flow occurs when you're so engrossed in a task that you lose track of everything else around you. Flow embodies an apparent paradox: How can you be living in the moment if you're not even aware of the moment? The depth of engagement absorbs you powerfully, keeping attention so focused that distractions cannot penetrate. You focus so intensely on what you're doing that you're unaware of the passage of time. Hours can pass without you noticing.”

Learning to flow can be tough, but as martial artists, we have a rare opportunity to master it. In martial arts, we have something called “mushin.” Short for “mushin no shin," it translates to "the mind without mind." This concept is critical in fighting. A martial artist will perform at his highest potential if he can enter into a state of mind where he is fully aware and mindful of the present moment he is in but does not have to think about how to perform his techniques consciously. In fact, some fighters reach a level in which they don’t even think of which techniques to execute. They are just reacting much like your eyelid closes when something moves towards your eye.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners use this word “flow” all the time! We use it to discuss someone’s ability to smoothly transition from position to position but also their ability to flow with their opponent. In Jiu Jitsu, which translates to “the gentle art,” we try to use an opponent’s movements against him rather than resist his moves. 

So while reacting in an argument can be detrimental, in martial arts it is our ultimate goal to be able to just react - except we would like it to be with the proper reactions. You see, this only works when mastery of the skill set being deployed is attained to the point that the reflexes become the techniques he’d like to use. In a fight, if thought is necessary to choose a technique, then it is probably too late. By training ourselves to determine the correct reaction, eventually, this will become our instinctive reaction of dealing with that scenario.

While in a way “mushin” may seem like the opposite of mindfulness, this type of training may be one of the strongest tools in developing it. Mindfulness takes much practice. By training ourselves on the mat week in and week out to put ourselves into a calm state of mind, ready to “flow” with a situation and react with trained responses, we are also preparing to handle daily interactions mindfully.

Exercise: Throughout this week be mindful of each aspect of our daily lives from the mundane to the exciting. Be mindful while eating. Be mindful during conversations. For those of you training, put your focus while training this week on training towards mushin. Repetition, repetition, repetition. But remember “practice doesn’t make perfect,” “perfect practice makes perfect.” So practice mindfully and get the most out of each training session. If you are at a stage of your training that involves sparring, try to enter into that state of mushin while sparring this week, but only if the necessary groundwork has gone into your training first. This is why it’s important to not rush into sparring and to develop a strong foundation first.

My Trip to Rio

On May 19, I took off with my wife, Brittany, and oldest son, Charlie, on what would be the trip of a lifetime. We spent 10 days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil visiting my close friend and teacher, Felipe Costa, his wife, Ana, and his son, Bento. Charlie and Bento were born just 2 weeks apart and despite living almost 5,000 miles away are great friends!

I thought for the blog this week I'd share some of the posts and memories that we shared on Facebook throughout the week, all collected in one place!

Taking off from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN!

Taking off from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN!

Day 1:

It's only been one day in Brazil, but we are having an incredible trip! 

We came back to Felipe's house and unloaded/rested then took a long walk down Copacabana beach and Ipanema beach to Ana's parents' house where they cooked us a wonderful traditional Brazilian meal - feijoada.

So happy to be reunited with our friends!

So happy to be reunited with our friends!

Ana's parents were so welcoming, and cooked us a wonderful meal!

Ana's parents were so welcoming, and cooked us a wonderful meal!

Day Two: Today we visited the botanical garden, the lagoon where the Olympics were held, and ate at a really nice Brazilian steakhouse. Bento and Charlie's friendship is really cute (as you'll see!).

We love this family so much! And are enjoying every second of time with them in their home, on the other half of the earth!


So today while visiting the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden we got to see a variety of wild monkeys! That by itself is really cool.

Now, while watching the monkeys, one of them snuck up on us, jumped in the stroller, and stole our unopened bag of snacks. He then took it up into the tree, shared with his friends, and later they all came down to retrieve the ones that they had dropped - even taking them from our hands!

 It's crazy how you can be in one of the largest cities in the world and just a short walk away from the jungle.

DISCLAIMER: you should not normally feed animals in the wild or in a zoo, both for your safety and their health!

Day 3: This morning we took Felipe's son, Bento, to school and then spent the day exploring downtown Rio de Janeiro. We also went by Felipe's academy, Brazilian Black Belt, Terere's academy, and watched Professor Ricardo De La Riva teach De La Riva at De La Riva Jiu-jitsu!

Visiting Professor Ricardo De La Riva's academy!

Visiting Professor Ricardo De La Riva's academy!

On the way home tonight, we were picking up some Acai for dinner and ran into a group of kids walking home from Jiu Jitsu class. Felipe stopped them and asked them some questions about their training and then "fought" one of them in the street. 😊

P.S. - Authentic Acai is much different than the frozen bricks sold in the United States! Charlie still enjoyed it, and Bento LOVES it! Charlie is also a big fan of the subway we have discovered.


Day 4: Today we visited the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. It has an amazing view over Rio de Janeiro. This was one of our favorite moments so far.

Then Charlie and Bento went to Jiu Jitsu class! This was Charlie's first official Jiu Jitsu class and how cool is it that it was in Brazil?! 

Afterward, Brittany and I stayed to train too. Felipe's academy, Brazilian Black Belt, is awesome and has a great group of people of all ranks to train with. You can tell who their teacher is because their technique was great, and the culture was good too!

Our Portuguese is improving little by little!

Day 5: We woke up early this morning and hiked to one of the Horto waterfalls! The water was freezing but we had to jump in!

Then later in the day, we visited the Christ the Redeemer statue which was voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world in 2012! Another unbelievable view of the city of Rio.

Then we packed up to spend the weekend in the beach town of Armação de Búzios (another city in the state of Rio de Janeiro).

Day 6:

This morning we visited Felipe's grandmother and her good friend Lola (who was Felipe's nanny)! Afterward, we spent the afternoon on the beach in Leblon before picking up Ana, Fernanda (Ana's sister), and Michelle (Felipe's long time friend, and Jiu Jitsu Black Belt) and driving to Buzios!

The classic drink on the beach in Rio - Matte!

The classic drink on the beach in Rio - Matte!

We arrived to find out Felipe and Ana had surprised us with a house that was actually on the beach. We woke up each morning and opened the back door to a beautiful view of the beach and could step right off the patio and walk onto the sand.

After grabbing some dinner and lemon pie (Lemon pie is Felipe's favorite dessert and he swears this place has the best Lemon pie in the world - we all agreed!) in downtown Buzios, Felipe and I decided to jump in the COLD ocean, you only live once! 

Day 7:

On our first morning in Buzios we took a walk on Geriba beach before heading out for some breakfast at a delicious local bakery. Brazilian breakfasts typically have lots of bread and cheese. Delicious!

We then went back to the house for naps. That afternoon we walked to Ana and Fernanda's cousins' place for some Acai.

We went out again Friday night for some bruschetta and pizza and of course, more lemon pie!

Day 8:

Today we woke up, went out for breakfast, and walked down to a different beach in Buzios where we spent the afternoon swimming, playing and relaxing. The water felt great and Charlie really loved it!

At the end of the day, we walked down to another beach in Buzios to eat dinner watching the sunset on our last night in Brazil. That was followed up by some lemon pie downtown of course!

Day 9:

This is our last day in Brazil! Brittany and I woke up to see the sunrise over our beach and I spent the morning reading.

Once everyone was awake, we ate a wonderful breakfast at our house and walked down to one more beach to say goodbye to Buzios. And grab one more bowl of Acai!

We then drove back to Rio and packed up to come home. Saying goodbye brought tears to everyone, and we can't wait until we see each other again!

This was a trip we will never forget. Our friends live in a beautiful place, but it was them that made it so special. ❤️

All pictures from this trip were taken on my iPhone. It's so fun to be able to capture these amazing pictures with something we take with us everywhere and that fits in your pocket!

Loyalty and the Martial Arts

When someone is committed to a cause, person, or thing, we call that loyalty. Loyalty is a feeling of devotion or faithfulness no matter what the current circumstance. 

Some of you reading may already have some people or things you feel loyalty towards coming to mind: your family, your nation, your faith, your friends, your partner, or a favorite sports team (Go Vols!). Loyalty is asked of us a lot, and some people are even uncomfortable about the idea of commitment. 

Let’s break loyalty down in a martial arts context and explore its application:  

Loyalty may be what leads you to start training. Perhaps loyalty to your health and fitness goals inspired you to research ways to stay active. Maybe you wanted to be sure you could protect yourself and those you love. You were committed enough to your values of bettering yourself that you took action. That is loyalty. 

From the second you take your first steps into an academy, your instructors should be loyal to you. They should be committed to giving you the best impression of martial arts possible. They shouldn't do this to “make a sale” or fill their class size, but rather because of their loyalty to martial arts in general. They should believe in its benefits and be committed to accurately portraying them. That way, even if this school is not the right fit for you, you keep looking for martial arts elsewhere. That is loyalty. 

If you do discover the school is right for you and decide to join, they should ask for some loyalty in return. You may be asked to uphold the academy rules. There are countless reasons for these rules, but it is also one of the small instances you are asked to show your commitment to the academy. Albeit small, that is loyalty. 

At some point in your training, you may hit a plateau. This plateau is well-known among martial artists but not talked about that often. It is when you start to feel stagnant (like you’re not progressing). Perhaps you haven’t gotten any new material lately and start to feel bored with your current techniques. You start wanting to skip class, but you don’t. You don’t because of your trust in your instructor’s plan for your journey in the martial arts. You don’t because of your commitment to bettering yourself and all the reasons you started training martial arts in the first place. That is loyalty. 

Fast-forward years and years down the road. You have demonstrated determination, commitment and an understanding of the core material. At this academy your brown belt is replaced with a white one, signifying you are now in preparation for your Black Belt test. For the next several months, you are asked to show humility, conviction, perseverance, grit, and most of all loyalty. You show commitment to your training by increasing your attendance and your time outside of class practicing material and getting in the best shape you can. You show this loyalty to prove that when the mentally and physically grueling test does come, you will not quit—no matter how hard it is. 

Really the Black Belt test at its core can be seen as an expression of your loyalty to your training and yourself. No matter how tough things get, no matter how you feel that day, loyalty stays constant and quitting is never an option. When the test is over, nothing changes. 

This allegiance to your training, training partners, and instructors stays—forever! 

If this level of devotion seems crazy to you now as a beginner student, don’t worry. By the time you’re at that level, just like you have practiced punching and kicking, you will have practiced loyalty so much throughout your training that it will feel natural. It will never be easy, but it will be natural. 

I’ll leave you with a poem written by PMA student and Black Belt, Jack Tuberville, that you can find hung up in our lobby:

Black Belt

The white belt learns to kick and punch
And take another down.
He trains in use of stick and knife
And grapples on the ground. 

The Black Belt still has much to learn, 
But nothing left to prove.
All fear he’s long since put aside;
He walks in different shoes.

He lives to serve both kith and kin,
And keep this pledge held true:

In time of trouble
If you call
I will stand by you. 

The 5 School Principles

Martial arts training is much more than the fighting techniques practiced on the mat. In an authentic martial arts curriculum, the students are developing themselves both on and off the mat. Below you will find five principles described in the FILKENJUTSU manual that we want our students at Progressive Martial Arts Academy to take to heart. 

We are not entirely sure where these began but suspect the origin is in Okinawa and they have been passed down from teacher to student over the years. 

Check out this 1971 "GI Joe Adventure Team Karate Manual" below that lists the "5 main rules of a karate student." The text for this manual was prepared by George Pesare, one of my father's teachers!


Practitioners of FILKENJUTSU should strive to work as hard as possible - not just some days, but throughout life.

Remember that consistency beats natural talent, so dedicate yourself to the art and show up repeatedly. You'll look back ten years from now and have acquired an incredible skillset due to your effort.


Train for real! If you train just for rank, you will never truly learn the art and philosophy of FILKENJUTSU.

Honestly give your best every class. Be honest first and foremost with yourself. Martial arts is about self-discovery. Then take this honesty into all aspects of your life. 


Be honest and forthright - both in your training and to all with whom you com in contact. 

Develop character through your disciplined training. Show up to class day after day and perfect your technique - this builds the confidence needed to handle potentially threatening situations. You cannot imagine the inner strength and peace that you will gain from this trust in your technique. This confidence is one of the clearest examples of how something you do on the mat will affect your life off of the mat.


We help our fellow students learn. There is no pride in defeating your fellow student in the dojo - remember, we train for defense outside the dojo. Salute your partner before and after they help you in class.

A good martial arts class always begins and ends with etiquette. 

Perfect your character by treating others the way you would want to be treated. That is the true meaning of respect. Treat all you come into contact with this way - your training partners, your loved ones, complete strangers, law enforcement officers, and even rude individuals!


The fist is like a treasure in the pocket. A kind demeanor can stop most conflicts. Don't take the initiative to start an argument or a fight. 

Self-control means controlling your actions, despite your emotions. Demonstrate self-control in all aspects of your life, so that you have strengthened that muscle for the most difficult situations.

The Importance of Martial Arts Training for Children

The following is an excerpt from a letter by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, to the President's Conference on the Fitness of American Youth, June 16, 1956:

"We tend to overlook one important fundamental which you emphasized:

That national policies will be no more than words if our people are not healthy of body, as well as of mind, putting dynamism and leadership into the carrying out of major decisions. Our young people must be physically as well as mentally and spiritually prepared for American citizenship."

Well, I guess he made this blog post easy! 

Martial arts and hand to hand combat are some of the oldest forms of activity that we have on record. We are even pretty confident that athletic events like wrestling have existed since the stone age men. They had to figure out how to use strength and skill to provide for themselves, and thus physical combat was necessary for survival.

When you look back in history, you will see close range struggles from the Egyptians to the Greeks, and the Assyrians to the Japanese. Before warfare developed to include long range weaponry, victory came to the strongest people that knew how to fight. Things like courage, bravery, self-respect, strength, and athleticism were encouraged and often necessary. 

Fast forward hundreds and thousands of years to the United States of America (and many other developed countries) and you will find a country full of individuals who expect to be protected. We assume that nothing bad will happen to us. The police protect us from the bad guys. The military protects us from invading countries. Even those in the military have said that they feel protected from hand to hand combat because of their weapons, drones, and machinery.

While all of these things are partially correct, the world is still full of individuals who can cause harm to you or your family, and there will not always be someone or something there to protect you.

Martial arts training is an incredible way to prepare a child (or and adult!) for combat, as well as for life. Due to its rigorous nature, a child growing up in the martial arts must learn to overcome failure and develop coordination, poise, and efficient use of their body. The physical and psychological benefits are tremendous.

At our academy, we introduce a student to the difficulties they will face in the martial arts gradually so that even the shyest and most timid boy or girl has a chance to overcome their fears and benefit from the practice of the arts.

For example, a student will practice defending against a strike in the air before doing it with a partner. Then a student will learn to defend against strikes to their body, before dealing with strikes to their face or head. This training allows the confidence to build gradually, so they have the tools to overcome anything.

Learning to grapple against other kids develops physical attributes that you see many other species in the animal kingdom develop in their youth. Imagine a couple of bear cubs wrestling with each other. This training will produce mental preparedness for other challenges through youth and adulthood such as bullies, social hierarchy, joining the workforce, and handling themselves with confidence and patience in arguments. Most importantly this hones their self-discipline and self-reliance.

Competing in the martial arts, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, brings out essential qualities such as the drive to succeed and learn from failure, strong moral fiber, and courage.

We see children that may have been previously labeled as awkward, weak, or shy overcome their fears and develop their weaknesses. We don't change their personality, but allow them to highlight their positive attributes and strengthen their weaknesses.

Unfortunately, many children stop training martial arts during their teenage years due to other aspects of their lives competing for their attention, such as sports, extracurricular activities, friends, dating, driving, and even jobs. This timeframe is an ideal time to teach young men and women martial arts, especially competitive sports such as wrestling and jiu jitsu because this is such a formative period in their lives.

While team sports offer significant benefits as well, the individual nature of martial arts gives the student an opportunity for self-expression that may not be available in other activities. And while their training partners and teachers are vital components of their training, once they enter a match with another student or opponent, the outcome is entirely in their hands. 

In a fight, there are not any timeouts when it gets tough, and the battle must be won with a student's intelligence, skill, and pure determination. Martial arts training will teach your child to take the initiative in stressful situations and control their body in physically demanding situations. It will provide them with mental alertness, physical toughness, and the courage to get back up when they fall.

I remember Ryron Gracie stating once that there are two activities that his children will not have a choice in learning and practicing - swimming and martial arts. About 70% of the earth's surface is water-covered, and thus children should learn to swim. Over 7 billion people are living on this earth, and thus children should learn how to defend themselves.

The need stated by the president above is even more evident in today's world than it was in his time (although I wasn't around then to be sure). I'll leave you with our mission statement at Progressive Martial Arts Academy:

1. To enrich our students' lives through the study of martial arts.

2. To strengthen our community by developing the character of our young students.

3. To uphold and pass on the techniques, traditions, and philosophies of the martial arts as taught to us.

4. To present a progressive martial arts curriculum and fighting style in a safe manner, with respect for all individuals, resulting in a calm, confident, and courageous student.

Please share with someone who needs to get their kids into martial arts!

Maximize Your Repetitions - 5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Every Training Session

In January of this year, our Youth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition team began ramping up their training in preparation for their next tournament. We set our sights on NAGA Atlanta on April 29, 2017.

The team was now 19 members strong but all of the kids would either be competing for the first or second time. Thinking back to our last tournament in October however, I sat down to lay out the curriculum for the next few months by trying to do more of the things that led to success at the last tournament, and fix some of the errors our kids were making the most.

It's an interesting process because there are thousands of techniques and variations they will learn in the coming years.  I have to boil these thousands down to the most essential techniques to learn in the limited amount of training sessions between January and April.

So with this limited amount of time and practice, one of our themes at competition practice has been "Maximize your repetitions." The kids must have heard me say this 100 times over the last few months.

You only have a limited amount of time on the mat to practice the techniques being taught to you. Each repetition needs to be maximized, and I believe most of the time they aren't. 

What does it mean to maximize a repetition? 

It means to learn the most you possibly can from each repetition. 

Here are five tips to maximize every repetition on the mat:

1. Fully Engage Your Mind

Fully engage your mind to the smallest of details of the technique and analyzing them. We often just go through the steps without any thought as to why we are doing them, or what makes them work.

2. Learn Both Sides of the Fight

You can learn twice as fast if you also analyze what the person on the other end could do to stop this technique from happening. You can often learn to counter most techniques by just thinking about what makes the technique work.

Example: If you are learning a collar choke, and the first step is to open the collar with one hand and feed a deep collar grip to the other hand to keep the opponent close,  then we could deduce that if we are the other guy we should immediately establish posture and prevent our opponents from getting deep collar grips. Understand? 

You can do this with every technique and learn twice as fast. While most students are learning one side of the fight, you are learning both.

3. Practice Full Speed*

*Note: Full speed should be the fastest that you can do the technique smoothly without losing any of the details.

Try the technique at a faster pace to see what it will feel like when done in a live scenario. Often mistakes are disguised by speed (we'll talk about this more in another post), so be careful not to lose any of the details.

If you catch yourself leaving something out, figure out why, slow it down, and get that piece back in there. This will also help you realize which details are the most essential, and potentially find new details that make the technique work for you.

4. Don't Goof Off

Training is incredibly fun. Don't let yourself relax too much on the mat though and waste valuable practice time. It isn't good for you OR your partner.

5. Practice Kata & Randori at the Appropriate Times

In Japanese arts, training is divided into "Kata" and "Randori." 

Kata is the technique practice. This is where you learn a technique and practice it in the air or on a partner. At this time, no resistance should be included. The partner should set the technique up perfectly for you, and you execute it as close to perfect as possible.

Randori is the live practice or sparring. This is where you and your training partner have different objectives, and you are no longer just allowing your partners to practice the techniques.

Both of these are vital to success but do not confuse or blend the two. During technique training, do not try to stop your partner from being able to do the technique, and don't ask your partner to give you resistance either. That also means that you should strive to keep the technique refinement out of the randori practice. Don't stop a sparring session to ask about a technique, or correct your partner's technique. This can be done later and is not very beneficial. 

At both tournaments I have taken our kids to now, I have had referees, other coaches, and parents let me know how impressed they are with the PMA team. The kids act like total pros, and their technique is improving so quickly. I am unbelievably proud of them all and having more fun than I ever could have imagined coaching this team.

Check out a couple of matches from this past weekend's tournament:

Match #1 - Grady Fox

Grady was one of our most dominant competitors this weekend. You can always see the determination in his face, and he is focused from start to finish!

At eight years old and weighing in at a little over 40 pounds, he is usually fighting kids a little bigger than he is, and this match falls into that category. He went undefeated in his matches to win double gold in gi and no-gi!

Match #2 - Alex Torres

Two of our competitors, Alex Torres and Aiden Hemsley, did not have anyone in their division registered, so we chose to bump them up in skill level to the Intermediate division.

Alex's first match was a kid older than him with a couple of years of high school wrestling experience. The referee told me afterward that he thought Alex was going to get obliterated! Once the fight hit the mat, Alex's Jiu Jitsu took over, and he controlled the positions on his way to a 15-2 win. Alex went on to earn a silver medal in both gi and no-gi in the Intermediate division!




If at first you don't succeed, try again. And again. And again.

Full disclosure: I cannot do a pull-up.  Not one single, half-hearted, with a running start and a jump, legs swinging pull-up.  And it is the most frustrating thing.  Why?  Because I’m trying.  And I’m still not where I want to be.

It’s also okay.  Why?  Because I’m trying.  And that’s what matters.

Some days it doesn’t feel like that’s enough.  When my arms feel like jelly from the effort I’ve put into my upper body workout and my hands are blistered from gripping the pull-up bar and my abs are screaming from the exertion of trying and failing to pull my lanky, 6’, 180 lb. body up to a metal stick that I’m sure is about to rip from the ceiling despite assurances from professionals that it’s safely and solidly welded to the frame of the building, trying doesn’t feel like nearly enough.  But, as long as it’s my best, it is.

A year ago I couldn’t jump up and hang from the bar.  I’d leap up and my hands would smack the metal, but my upper body strength was so little that I couldn’t even grip the bar before falling.  So instead of focusing on pull-ups, I focused on improving my upper body strength in general.  I started doing body weight exercise, and wouldn’t you know it, six months later I still couldn’t do a pull-up.  But...I could jump up and grab the bar. 

Of course, I still wasn’t strong enough to dead hang.  I’d leap up and grab the bar and then as my weight came down, gravity would try to rip my shoulders from their sockets and I would come crashing back down to the ground and the harsh reality that I still had a long way to go before I’d achieve my goal.  So after eating my feelings, I increased my upper body workouts and added some additional core work.  Three months later...still no pull-ups.  But...I could jump up, grab the bar, and dead hang.

I could also do an assisted pull-up.  I was still not where I needed to be, but I was making progress - all because I never stopped trying.  If I’d let myself become defeated the first time I realized couldn’t do a pull-up, I would never have gained the strength to jump up and grab the bar.  If I’d given up the second time I tried to do a pull-up, then I wouldn’t be strong enough to dead hang.  If I’d given up the third or fourth or fifth time I tried, my push-ups/planks/sit-ups wouldn’t have improved.  If I’d quit after the tenth or twentieth try, I wouldn’t be able to do an assisted pull-up.  If I’d stopped trying the hundredth time, I would never have been able to do a flexed hang.

Some days, all we can see is what we can’t do or how far away we are from our goals.  But if you stop trying you’ll never discover what you can do or see how far you’ve come since you started.  So when you feel like you’re  facing an impossible goal, don’t give up and don’t get in your head.  Give it your best, every time, and never stop trying.  I can’t do a pull-up yet, but I’ll let you know when I get there.  What are some of the “impossible” goals you’re working toward now?