By Herb Borkland
Ninth-dan Tom Thompson holds the record for the fastest brown-belt promotion in Skipper Mullen’s system. In 1971, at age 21, Thompson partnered with Allen Steen to become the fourth importer of martial arts supplies in America. An active lecturer, researcher and author, Thompson is also the founder and former director of the Fellowship of Christian Martial Artists. On November 14, 2009, he became both the oldest football player in NCAA history and, at age 59, the oldest to score a point during a game. He and his wife own AFC Management, Inc., which operates the Alpha Fitness Centers in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex.
MASuccess: Where did you grow up, and what did your dad do?
Tom Thompson: I grew up in Dallas, Texas. By age 15, I lived alone with my father because of a dysfunctional family. He did a number of things before passing.
MAS: How did you first hear about martial arts?
Thompson: I was in 10th grade and knew of a nearby karate school. When my father passed, I inherited money, so I took lessons in everything — flying, scuba diving and karate at Allen Steen’s school. I went to class every day. This was my sport! I loved the hard contact in martial arts. Years later, for sixth dan and above, I created the Kil Il Do Kwan: School of the Way of the Christian.
MAS: What was your turning point?
Thompson: I had been in real estate for 20 years, but my heart wasn’t in it. I became a member of the Cooper Aerobics Center and ultimately was asked to be the first instructor ever to teach martial arts there. One day, I was running the track and looked up at the sky and prayed, “Lord, I’d love to make my home here.” My program there is still going strong with younger instructors.
I organized the American Council of Martial Arts. This was the first certification program for instructors across all styles that taught the exercise science behind our activities. The idea was to validate martial arts as a fitness modality.
I had argued with an aerobics instructor about cardiovascular benefits. He pointed out I had “no data” to substantiate my claims. So I ended up doing an unpublished study validating CV benefits. If done with a certain protocol, martial arts give an 80-percent improvement. Big!
Better yet, it made me go back to college — I had never finished school — at age 41. I spent eight years getting three degrees. I hated school, but I learned education is a gift, not to make you smarter, just educated. I urge everybody to seek facts out.
MAS: What’s the future of martial arts?
Thompson: The sky’s the limit. For me, I think, once it is in your blood, it’s in your blood. But health is king or queen. We need a healthy way of thinking about the gift of martial arts. When it is a lifestyle component, it is great, but this isn’t the center of your life. Some black belts — that’s all they talk about.
I still put on a gi when my son and I go to one of my great friend grandmaster Keith Yates’ classes, but I only attend. You know, I met Gogen “The Cat” Yamaguchi in Japan at his school. All he did was just walk around and watch the black belts training. You’re validating the instruction the students are getting just by being there.
To contact Herb Borkland, send an email to [email protected]
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