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 touch it.)
One of my first Martial Arts books from 1975.
I studied 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.
It’s true; I was a little weird. At 13 I practiced the physical techniques; but I also started learning to meditate.
On the run.
My upbringing wasn’t ideal.
When I was five, my Mom had skipped out on a court order and took my brother and I on the road. She pulled me out of Kindergarten and my brother out of school, and fled. We moved from state to state, sometimes leaving an apartment or a hotel in the middle of the night. We lived for several years always in fear.
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!
With the stroke of a pen my brother and I became the first “Hurtsellers”.
I know 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.
It was my difficult upbringing that allowed me to succeed in a difficult era for learning Martial Arts. In the old days the dojo’s were difficult places to learn. Instructors were like drill sergeants, and the responsibility for learning was placed on the shoulders of the students.
Placing responsibility on the student is not the right way to teach. I decided that I would make things better for my students. As a teacher; I take full responsibility for a students learning. Without my Mom’s “mistakes” I don’t think I could ever have been a good teacher.
But Mom’s life lessons didn’t stop with personal responsibility.
Mom taught me to love. To be happy. To enjoy the little things.
Mom’s greatest lesson of all was about the mind. She taught me that what happens in the mind has greater value than reality. I had the honor of a front row seat; watching attitudes and emotions turn to things right before my eyes.
Mom passed away many years ago, but 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.
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 .
The roof that started my career.
My first job was to tar the roof of the dojo. I tell everyone I started at the “TOP” of the Martial Arts field!
The dojo that changed my life 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 there. People like Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Ross “The Hammer” Scott, Joe Lewis, and many others either visited or competed against our teacher or black belts. That dojo produced some of the best martial artists of its era.
Studying in a real dojo gave me a window into a new world; it became my family.
Even though the dojo was fantastic; the roof of the building was not. One day the roof started to leak.
My teacher needed someone to put a coat of fiberglass and tar on the roof.
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.
My hard work paid off. The same day I graduated Fort Wayne Christian high school in 1982, my teacher hired me to manage his State Street dojo in Fort Wayne. The job 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). Almost all of my students were older than me!
My old stomping ground.
The dojo on State Street in Fort Wayne Indiana I managed before moving and opening in Toledo.
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 public library was just walking distance from the dojo. In books I discovered new teachers. Maxwell Maltz, Steven Covey, Wayne Dyer, Alan Watts, Jane Roberts, Napoleon Hill, Richard Bach and Jiddu Krishnamurti, to name a few. There was never a time when I wasn’t reading a book and learning something.
Almost all of the books I studied were about my favorite subject; namely: the power of our thoughts.
My study continues…
In the early 80’s I was introduced to Robert A. Trias (1923 - 1989) in Phoenix Arizona. (Mr. Trias is known as the father of Karate in the United States, and coincidentally was also close friends with Masutatsu Oyama—who had written my first two books). I was lucky enough to train under Mr. Trias, travel with him, hear his stories, and learn his techniques. Mr. Trias’s charisma, charm, and love for life is one of the great influences on my life.
I earned a place on the US fight team and successfully competed against 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!)
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.
Nikki was first and then came Joey.
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 a 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.
In 1988 I moved to Toledo because of a phone book!
I called a realtor (Century 21 because I had seen their 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.
What could we be the best in the world at?
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, and all the books I had studied and began to combine them. I began to create something new.
I decided to make Martial Arts training fun and easy for the common person. When someone enrolls in classes there needs to be a specific result that they get; not just some of the time; but 100% of the time. I’ve set up a curriculum that when followed with care will allow the average person to win in a self defense situation consistently.
But I don’t just teach the physical techniques; I also the internal part too. I believe true martial arts can unlock a powerful Universal “Force” that each of us has access to (Yes; just like the one that Luke Skywalker discovered!). This force can be made simple enough that the average person can understand it and put it to use. By teaching the mental part of the practice students discover that they can achieve benefits that far exceed being able to win in a fight.
Use the Force!
Not only do I teach people how to defend themselves; I also teach them how to use the power of their mind.
When I published my first book “Break The Chain — Volume I” 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 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.
A long way from 1976!
Our school is a long way from a kid wandering into a book store in 1976. But in some ways I think our dojo still captures the fun and simplicity of what it’s like to discover 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 struggles and jump through hoops 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!
It's taken me most of my life to figure out who I am. It's simple.
I'm the one who makes results easier for others.
I wouldn’t change one minute of it for anything!