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Sharpening the Saw

I first met Joe Corley early in my tournament career and he was well known in karate circles at the time. He tore up the tournament circuit from the late ‘70’s to the early ‘80’s winning many Grand Championships. Most non-karate folks know him as a judge at the first World Championship in 1974 and then when he challenged Bill Superfoot Wallace in the 1975 Battle of Atlanta in Atlanta's Omni. In addition, he was named Man of the Decade by Official Karate magazine and was inducted into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame as Man of the Year in 1998. His current passion is putting the PKA (Professional Karate Association) back on the map.

Joe always impressed me with his calm demeanor - and his nickname was “Gentleman Joe Corley” which came from his bearing in the ring. He always seemed in control even when things seemed to be going sideways. Over the years, I have seen him calm many situations that could have easily gotten out of hand.

After I stopped competing in 1981, I didn’t have any contact with him for a long time. In 2021, I was invited by Gary Lee (The Sport Karate Museum) to a ‘gathering’ in Greenville, SC where all my old tournament friends had come together. I saw folks I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years! I even ran up on the first man I ever fought as a 16 year old black belt – Art Heller. He actually remembered me! I was honored.

Joe Corley was there too. He sat through my presentation and then a bunch of us sat down and he began relating the history of the Southeast Karate Association (SEKA) of which I was an original member. The reminiscing was cathartic.

So, what does all this have to do with sharpening a saw? I always thought Joe was a smart guy. He has stayed in good physical shape over the years (he’s a couple of years older than me and I’ll be 70 in October!). He has always impressed me with his seemingly endless knowledge of non-karate related subjects. So, when I saw his Facebook post last weekend showing him in the gym working out, I was not surprised. He was sharpening his saw.

There is no doubt that Joe has read Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – the book that has empowered and inspired readers for over 25 years. Sharpening the saw is Covey’s 7th habit and basically focuses on Increasing motivation, energy, and work/life balance by making time for renewing activities. Joe was observing Covey’s 7th habit.

During my fighting career, my saw was always sharp! But what I didn’t do was balance my life with my work. There was WAY MORE work! As time went by, I realized I needed to focus a bit more on the ‘life’ portion and prioritize (Habit 3: Put First Things First) where I was expending my energy.

When I started teaching self-defense/firearms, the ‘work’ part started creeping back and I had to reconfigure my routine again. However, like Joe, I still needed to keep the saw sharp. My regular routine includes working out several times a week (when possible). I try to keep things interesting (bag work, elliptical, bike, kettlebells, dry/live-fire, stick/knife work, etc.). As I get older – and with my ‘new parts’ (one knee, two hips and a shoulder) - I have to keep moving or things begin to seize up!

I’m not 25 years old anymore and I don’t move like I used to but, I can still give my 100% and do, when I’m training. That’s all any of us can do. Keep your saw sharp.

Be like Joe.


BE SAFE. BE EFFECTIVE. BE READY. 




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