It was love at first site.
It all started all started in Fort Wayne Indiana in 1976 at a Walden’s bookstore. The store was in a mall called Southtown. (Today, like so many malls Southtown is a parking lot). The book was titled: “Vitale Karate” written by the founder of Kyokushin Karate: Master Masutatsu Oyama.
Oyama’s book had the most fantastic pictures of technique —skills that were superhuman! I was just 13; but I had to learn more.
Every day after school I’d study the pictures and do my best to imitate the moves. I practiced for months. I had nearly worn out the pages of my first book when I received my next; Oyama’s masterpiece - “This is Karate”. At that time the book cost $25.00 (a fortune for a 13 year old in 1975) but I somehow convinced someone to buy it for me. (Today the book is considered a collectors item —Lucas county library has a copy; but you have to go into a special room and wear gloves to handle it.)
One of my first Karate books.
I studied every picture and every page from those first two books. I learned how to tie my belt and fold my uniform before I owned either.
Those books taught me that there was more to martial arts than just punching and kicking. There was a deeper; almost mystical aspect to this practice. Master Oyama also taught meditation.
Yes; it’s true. I was a little weird. At 13 I started learning to meditate.
On the run from the law.
My upbringing wasn’t ideal.
When I was five, my Mom had skipped out on a court order over a custody battle and took my brother and I on the road. She pulled me out of Kindergarten and my brother out of the third grade, and fled the state. We moved from place to place, sometimes leaving an apartment or a hotel in the middle of the night. We lived for several years always with the fear of being caught.
We were poor. Welfare isn’t available when there is a warrant out for your arrest.
Neither is school.
My Mom got an idea.
Back in those days there were no computers. Birth certificates were just written on paper, and signed by hand. The last name on my birth certificate was “Sellers” and that was the name I was born with. But my Mom knew if she used my real name to register me for school, the authorities would arrest her.
She took a black ink pen and added her maiden name of “Hurt” in front of the part that said “Sellers”. My brother and I became the first “Hurtsellers” in history; dooming the both of us to a life of difficult pizza ordering!
But there is also great news. We got to go to school, got legal Social Security Cards, and went on to live ordinary lives. My brother and I have both become parents to terrific kids, and we are gradually filling the world with a new Hurtsellers population!
I know my Mom made some mistakes; but I’m very grateful.
First of all, not everyone gets a chance to really “make a name” for themselves. I also learned how to do without; and I learned that even though you might not have the same material things as other people you can still be happy.
Learning to create happiness from the inside is the core philosophy of our dojo. Without my upbringing our dojo and style wouldn’t be possible.
I also learned about personal responsibility. When things got really tough I always had to figure things out on my own. No school, no government, and no lasting relationships to turn to. I think it was my upbringing that allowed me to succeed in martial arts in an era when only 1 in a 1,000 students would make it to black belt. It was also those difficult childhood lessons that allowed our dojo to survive during the difficult times.
But Mom’s lessons didn’t stop there.
My Mom taught my brother and I to love. To be happy. To enjoy fantasy. She taught us the value of religion; and of the wisdom contained in the scriptures.
Mom’s greatest lesson of all was about the mind. She taught us that what happens in the mind has greater value than reality. We had the honor of a front row seat watching attitudes and emotions turn to things right before our very eyes.
Even though my Mom passed away many years ago, I thank her every day for all she did for me. I think I’m one of the luckiest people alive!
Grandpa was a coal miner.
My Mom was still in hiding when my Grandfather passed away. His name was Joe (they named me after him). Joe Hurt died from a coal miners disease called “black lung”. “Papaw” passed away quietly while we were still holding up in some hotel somewhere.
Years after my Grandfather had passed my Grandmother ended up getting a small settlement. She used some of that money to sign me at my first dojo. Her gift changed the direction of my life forever. By pure luck I ended up enrolling in one of the best dojos in the country.
The dojo was located in inner city Fort Wayne. The dojo was called “Robert Bowles Karate Academy”. Most of the Karate greats of the 1970’s either came there, trained with, or competed against people that practiced in that place. People like Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Ross “The Hammer” Scott, Joe Lewis, and many others either visited or competed against our teacher or our black belts. That dojo produced some of the best fighters of its era.
The Fort Wayne dojo gave me a window into a new world. The people and my teacher became my new family.
Even though the dojo was fantastic; the roof of the building was not. One day it started to leak.
My teacher - "Sensei" (Hanchi Robert Bowles) needed someone to put a coat of fiberglass and tar on the roof.
I was at the dojo every day so it made sense. I got the job.
Working on the dojo roof became my first real job. I was paid $2.75 an hour and I knew nothing about physical labor —I was definitely overpaid!
At first Sensei had also hired another guy; but he quit. Then he hired another; but he quit too. Finally a third was brought on; but he only lasted a week.
In the end it was just me and one of the hottest summers I can remember.
It was hard work; but I knew that if I worked hard enough, other opportunities would be available. I did the best I could.
Doing a good job paid off. The same day I graduated Fort Wayne Christian high school in 1982, Sensei - Hanchi Robert Bowles hired me to manage his State Street dojo in Fort Wayne.
I was responsible for directing the dojo, caring for the students, and teaching the classes. I was in the dojo all day every weekday and most of Saturday too. My teacher demanded personal responsibility; and I delivered. Working for my Sensei was the best possible form of training I could have received.
On top of my work at the dojo, somewhere along the line I also became the teacher for the accredited Karate program at IPFW (Indiana Purdue University at Fort Wayne) college. Almost all of my students were older than me!
The best part about teaching and managing the dojo was that I had an opportunity to educate myself. Between training and teaching there was always free time. It was at that State Street Dojo that I started to read the books that changed my life.
The State Street library was just walking distance from the dojo; they had everything! In books I discovered some new teachers. Maxwell Maltz, Steven Covey, Wayne Dyer, Alan Watts, Jane Roberts, Napoleon Hill, Richard Bach and Jiddu Krishnamurti, to name just a few of the dozens. There was never a time when I wasn’t reading a book and learning something new.
Almost all of the books I studied were about my favorite subject; namely: how the thoughts we think become our experiences.
As my practice continued; through my teacher - Hanchi Bowles - I was introduced to Robert A. Trias from Phoenix Arizona. (Mr. Trias is known as the founder of Karate in the United States, and coincidentally was also close friends with Masutatsu Oyama—who had written my first two books). I was blessed to have the opportunity to train under and travel with Mr. Trias, hear his stories, and learn his techniques. His charisma, charm, and love for life is one of the great influences on my life.
I earned a place to represent the US on our full contact fight team and beat fighters not only from the U.S, but also defeated fighters representing many other countries. I served on the last team Mr. Trias took overseas; competing in Tokyo in 1985. (And I won for him there too!)
I will never forget the great fortune and doors that my Sensei, O Sensei Trais, and my original dojo opened for me.
Me trying to look tough in the 1980’s.
Then the baby came!
My daughter Nikki was born in June of 1987. My son Joey came in October of 89 two years later. After Nikki was born I began to consider careers. I knew that managing a dojo for my teacher would never pay enough to support a family. After careful consideration I decided to open my own dojo.
I wanted to be far enough away from my Karate family that I would have zero impact on the business my teacher had established; but I also wanted to be in a large enough area that I could make a living. I was left with only two choices Lansing Michigan, or Toledo Ohio. I had never been to Toledo.
Believe it or not; the deciding factor came down to the phone book.
In those days (prior to the internet) people only used the Yellow Pages to find everything. There were no cell phones; and no Google. Phone book ads were extremely expensive; but if you didn’t buy one you didn’t exist.
I realized that I had missed my window to buy an ad and open in Lansing and would have to wait an entire year before their next phone book was published. In Toledo I could open right away.
For decades dojo’s needed to have phone book ads and be near corded telephones to survive.
I called a realtor (Century 21 because I had seen their gold jacket commercials on TV) and started looking at spaces. I finally settled on opening a tiny 1,000 square foot facility on Reynolds Road, in Jesse James plaza in 1988, I was the ripe old age of 24!
Throughout the week I would sleep in the office (the floor was freezing in the winter!). On Saturday evening, I'd drive back to Fort Wayne to spend Sunday with my family and play with my new daughter.
For the first ten years I made every mistake any small business person has ever made. I learned about running a business through trial and error. Other than being a good teacher; the only advantage I had were the lessons I learned from my books, and my Mom.
Those lessons were:
Your thoughts create your reality.
Be personally responsible.
No one will come to save you.
Blaming others will destroy your life.
Being happy and finding ways to be happy count.
I used every one of those lessons.
I never gave up. I guess that was enough.
Big changes in the late 90’s.
In the late 90’s I was asked to be an advisory board member to one of the largest martial arts trade organizations in the world. As a board member I was introduced to an avalanche of martial artists and business successes so numerous that I can’t begin to name them all. The most profound relationships of all is the one I’ve gained with Sifu Robert Brown. Without Sifu’s support much of what we do today would be impossible.
Sifu’s greatest lesson is the foundation of what I do. He taught me that if you do what you love; the Universe will open the doors.
A long way from 1976.
It took me a lifetime to figure out where we are as a dojo today. For decades I used to copy others and try and duplicate what they were doing.
Copying was a good thing; it made us far better in many ways. But at some point I came to the realization that as long as I was copying I really wasn’t being myself. I decided I’d rather be the best me I can be, rather than being a second best someone else.
I began to take all the lessons from the poverty of my childhood, the work ethic I learned during my Karate upbringing, my experience as a board member, and my relationship with Sifu Brown, and combine them. I began to create something unique.
I started to ask myself one simple question: “What is the one thing that we could be the best in the world at?”
I looked really hard and came up with my own answer.
I decided to try and be the best in the world at taking Martial Arts, and making them fun and easy for the common person. Not just the physical techniques; but also the internal part too. I always believed true martial arts can unlock a powerful Universal “Force” that each of us has access to. I believe that teaching how the Martial Arts can unlock this force can be made simple enough that the average person can understand it and put it to use.
When I published my first book “Break The Chain — Volume 1” I wrote it with the intention of taking internal “force” part of the art and make it easy for everyone. In this book I show simple ways that a person can use their mind to harness this force and change their life.
The most rewarding compliment I get about my book is when someone who usually isn’t a reader tells me they not only read my book; but were able to put it to use.
It’s true; 30 plus years of business, 7,000 Square feet in a mall, published books and speaking engagements are a long way from a Walden book store in 1976. But in some ways I think our dojo still captures the fun and simplicity of a 13 year old discovering Martial Arts for the first time.
I always loved to learn and get a special joy for sharing the things I've learned by making them more fun. I don't think people should have to go through the same struggles I've faced in order to learn. I've broken everything down so you won't have to.
I’m proud of what we’ve done but there is more work to do. For me it’s the best work there is!
I have a chance to be the best in the world at one thing. I’m going for it. I won’t stop until we achieve it.
It's taken me most of my life to figure out who I am.
I'm the one who makes results easier for others.
I wouldn’t change one minute of it for anything!