The Journey of Learning and Teaching Martial Arts

Transitioning from a violent past to discovering purpose in martial arts, Adam Mitchell shares his journey of learning the craft and eventually becoming a teacher himself.

Finding purpose through the practice of martial arts.

Nick: One of the joys of having a non-Japanese guest on this podcast is I learn new words and great insight to an area of Japanese culture that they're passionate about. So what you're passionate about, and I'm may not really be familiar with.

So I think we'll dive into many themes on this episode. Obviously, one will be *do ‘*the way or the path.’ But before we do all that, do you want to give me a bit of background and share your journey to how you have dedicated much of your life to the study and teaching of Japanese martial arts?

Adam: Sure, yeah. Like probably most of your guests, I'm not a huge fan of talking so much about myself. But my journey really starts when I was young, and I was really influenced heavily by doing judo as a child.

As I got older, I moved around with my mom, things were broken up in my family a bit, and ended up looking to the streets for family and community, and ended up in community with other kids who, let's just say were of that, like mind. Violence became a thing. Taking the wrong path was usually the decision that I made.

However, there was always this kernel of morality and making the right choice that I think had been put in place early on as a child through judo. And through some other experiences that I had connected to that. So when I had just gotten exhausted, as a teenager, of fighting, and being involved in the street life, I had been given a break by someone and they asked if I wanted to work at their nightclub, I was only 18 at the time.

The story is really that he knew that I was a tough kid, and that I could channel that in another way. I had spent some time in working in a factory and I was trying to get my life on the right track. And to make a long story short, I got myself back into jujitsu. This is long before UFC and mixed martial arts. And I ended up also getting into doing some light competition.

Things had gotten better for me through martial arts, and I began to sort of rediscover that path. And I was refereeing one day in my early 20s in a competition in Long Island. I was refereeing between two young people in a tournament, and I watched this one girl really demolish this boy.

Nick, they were maybe 11 or 12 years old. And this was a turning point for me because I had channeled all of this young aggression back into martial arts, back into the pathway to self-control, back into sort of some self discovery, where had I continued in the direction that I was in, it certainly would have led to either, you know, being in a grave or being behind bars, there's no doubt about that.

So fast forward a few years, I was in a dojo across the street from this factory that I was working in New York, and then I'm now at this competition in Long Island. And this little girl, just really, through the, almost this sort of Colosseum-esque feeling—hundreds of people, in this huge hotel, this conference center, and all these competitions and people yelling and screaming, this little girl's parents are behind her, and this little boy's parents are behind him.

And she comes out and she just hits this kid and knocks him down, they get back up one point, she gets in, throws a kick, knocks that kid down again. Second point, three points, she went. So she comes in like a tiger, she does a flying kick to this kid’s stomach, and he falls, his feet come out from under him and he falls flat on his face.

He looked up at me. In my world, a black belt doesn't mean so much now, but back then it really did. And I'll never forget this little boy looking at me through those padded helmet that he had on, and the girl's parents are screaming for her and the little boy's parents are behind him, and they're just sort of like, they're not happy at all. And the boy's eyes are tearing up.

I'll never forget, his eyes shifted to my belt. And then he looked at my face. And then he looked back at my belt. And it occurred to me that I had watched two children hurt each other. And I understand. I understand that the spirit of competition, and I fully support this exposure to making young people resilient, pushing themselves.

But this was something much further beyond that. And that little boy looked at my black belt, and then he looked at me. And I think at that moment, that young man had defined something in him. And the definition had changed for him what that role meant. And it had certainly changed for me because I walked off the mat. And I never looked back and I made my way to Japan.

I said, there's got to be something more to this, there has to be deeper meaning, there couldn't have been so many men and women, who in this path of traditional martial arts, and not necessarily only Japanese, but also Chinese as well as many of the European arts.

But these primitive arts, there had to be something more there's something that I'm missing. It couldn't come to me standing in a conference center in Long Island watching two children beating the living hell out of each other. And that was awesome.

So I had really once again found myself going down the wrong path. And that young man's stare, put me into this path of discovering what this was about. And that's really where I started.