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A Tribute to a Great Man
Originally Posted 02/01/11

A great man turns 70 today, but he is a guy that none of you who are reading this has ever heard of in your fitness careers. In his case, greatness is defined as contribution and his life has given many others a chance to be better people.

Chuck Hawkins was my martial arts instructor in San Diego and I worked for him and his wife Fran for a number of years managing the martial arts school/gym, selling memberships, teaching classes and cleaning toilets. I was mediocre at the martial arts but I was kick ass when it came to cleaning a toilet in those days.

The business was about 5000 square feet or so and was in a questionable part of town. We taught classes and offered an above average gym that attracted everyone one from cops to hookers and the occasional fighter pilot from Miramar. Chuck was the senior instructor and I was the guy that did anything that needed to be done even though there were a lot of firsts in those days, such as learning to market or installing a shower.

We had something there though that I have seldom seen in many other businesses. We had a culture that made our little place somewhere special to be and we had hundreds of members and loyal students that valued the martial arts school as one of the most important things in their lives. Classes were big and the parties were legendary but it was all family and once in you were part of the group forever. Quite a high number of students from that school went on to be very successful business people and I think the reason many of us enjoyed success later was due to Chuck’s influence.

We use the word, "mentor” today as if it was one of those buzzwords, such as, "tweet” that is just cool to say and that really doesn’t have a lot of meaning to anyone. Mentor, and mentoring, used to mean something to people because it was a word that conveyed learning from one party and teaching and guiding from the other. If you were a mentor you had special status as a caring person who spent a lot of time guiding your charges along the path to a higher quality and more successful life.

Chuck was an old school martial artist. Form meant little and beating ass was everything. He was also old school in life as well. His word meant everything and if he told you he was going to do something it got done. He was also the most honest man I have ever meant, the most fair and in his way the most patient. He was classic in the sense that he was everything a man should be as a role model including have a personal code of ethics that guided his life and those who were around him.

We over use the term today, "he is a good man” but that term has faded into absolute bullshit in most connotations. Today, we bestow these words on people who in the past wouldn’t be fit to be called anything but weak creatures that suffer from a bad case of situational ethics. Their only personal code is what they can gain personally and every situation in their life is a chance to gain at someone else’s advantage. We say they are good men because they make money and have a few kids but in reality they aren’t role models for anyone including their kids.

There are few "good men” today because someone who actually lives within the personal boundaries of what is right and what is wrong is not the role model that most people who are on their way up is seeking. Few seekers are looking for the long, slow path to success. Everyone wants the short version given over a three-day weekend and they want their mentors to drop the secrets of success on them like a pigeon taking a dump on a sleeping person on a park bench.

I was only in my 20’s during my days with Chuck. I grew up with a single mom who did an outstanding job of keeping us fed and clothed but my dad wasn’t around much. I learned almost everything in my life the hard way: which is another way of saying I tried something stupid and got my ass kicked as the result. There was no one to talk to, no one to ask for guidance and no one who would challenge my often stupid life choices.

I was wild, overly confident and primed to grow but the beating was monstrous and something you wouldn’t wish on any young and truly stupid person.

I didn’t even realize it at the time but Chuck became a role model that I have kept as my guide for all those years since I was the young, arrogant and quite lost martial arts guy who could sell a few memberships. Leadership is insidious and sneaks up on you while you aren’t even looking and the best lead by example rather than lectures and humiliation. His words were kind but his actions were always a more powerful example.

I also have worked for other people who had big money but looking back over time I realized that I can honestly say I learned nothing from them that would positively affect my life or my goals to help people. If I learned anything at all from these guys it was how to not treat people and perhaps their best gift was to serve as a guide to do everything the opposite of what they did and how they lived.

Chuck was a mentor, and if I had used that word then I would have been doing pushups until dawn, because he guided by example, and that example was how to live a life worth living. He lived quietly within his means. He worked his ass off to get what he wanted. He surrounded himself with people he cared about and then took care of them. He was afraid to say no but he was also not afraid to let you fly and crash. He was ethical and honest, something you learn by watching daily interactions with others. He talked about it little and lived it large.

There are a lot of people out there billing themselves as mentors these days but in essence they are nothing more than very visible people who take money in exchange for selling their secrets of business, which so seldom prove to be worth the three days it takes you to learn them. Temporary success doesn’t make you a role mode or mentor and most young seekers would be horrified at how their idols truly live their lives.

Real mentors are rare in that they illustrate by doing how your life should be lived and how you should behave and act as a human being. Helping you with your business is important, and I have enjoyed a nice living doing just that, but being a true mentor means you are willing to help someone with their life and everything it contains.

There are a few true mentors in our business. Dave Draper, Mike Boyle, Todd Durkin and Mark Verstegen all come to mind on the professional side and guys like Dan John make helping other people better their lives’ work while also making it look so easy. There are also club guys such as Joe Millet, Robert Creech, Jamie Fernandez and Frank Kole that are working mentors in their clubs to those that follow them.

The definition of a mentor should be that you left the person a better man after you touched them. This is the role fathers used to play in our life but most fathers simply aren’t willing, or able, to fill that role today. Having someone to talk to that will offer strong suggestions, slap you in the head when you are doing something dumb and show you how to live by their own life choices is a lost art and if you find one of those hang on for as long as you can because they seem to be getting more rare in our society. Most of us need mentoring but we are usually so afraid to ask and listen.

Chuck was that guy to me. He was there to talk to when needed, gave me room to be creative even when he knew it was a doomed attempt, and even wrote a check for a car I destroyed when I dropped a gallon of acid off the club roof trying to fix a clogged pipe. I also burned the pants off one of our students in that fiasco but that is a different story to be told later. I got the, "what the hell were you thinking lecture” which was deserved, paid him back for the car damage and after that he only brought it up over a beer. He played the father’s role to a very stupid son and a lesson was learned, especially how patiently he responded and corrected.

Many of you out there want to be mentors and some might already be and not realize it, as was the case with Chuck. My advice if you have employees or are surrounded by people who think you are something special is to earn that respect by living at a higher level. Mentoring is a total state of being and is not cheap advice given in a lecture taken from a Tony Robbins book. Helping someone with business is just that, business advice. Helping someone grow and develop into a better person because you have gone there first is true mentoring, which is what makes it so rare.

Mentoring is living at a level where those around you benefit from your strength, wisdom and guidance; something that still carries me today after over 30 years of knowing Chuck Hawkins. Happy Birthday Coach, you changed more lives than you will ever realize.

Original Comments:


Thom you are a Great Mentor. Getting to know you over these many years. I see how much we are alike. As grown men we can always be to ourselves the father we never had. And by learning how to do that with many years of failure. We find strength in ourselves to pass that on to other people that need it. I am very touched on how you sharing this life experience with everyone on here. It takes a real man to do that, to open up like this. Thank you for sharing! I will one day be as good a mentor as you Thom! These are a few words, live by everyday and I got them from a mentor of mine. Stick to your task till it sticks to you: Beginners are many: but enders are few. Honor, Power, Place, and Praise Will come in time to the one who stays. Stick to your task till it sticks to you: Bend it, Sweat at it, smile at it too: For out of the bend and sweat and the smile will come lifes victories after awhile.



Thanks, Thom. You flatter me. I loved every minute we worked together, and you were the best employee I ever had. You spoiled me as an employer. One thing we learned together, was how to put up cheap paneling quickly. Private joke only you and I will get. I am very proud of your success, although, I never did learn to ski very well. I look forward to talking with you.

Chuck J



Hi Chuck this is Frank Kole my wife and I Robin own UrbanBody Gym in North Park. And I have been sharing this blog with some of our members. And we have some of your old members and they all say the same thing. I am still using today what that man taught me and I use what he showed me to show others the right way!



Thank you. I am blessed to have been able to interact with so many good people. I know that your success is the product of your hard work and integrity. If my input has been helpful, it makes me feel good.



Chuck the members we have that are your old members admire you very much. Since this blog has come up and sharing it with the members, I have been hearing story after story! This one member you were his first martial arts teacher and you meant a lot to him! He went on to be a san diego police officer, he is now retired. And he still trains the same way you showed him.


Larry Indiviglia-


Thank you for taking the time to share your personal story and introduce us to Chuck Hawkins. I can feel the emotion and passion in your writing and Chuck has made a POSITIVE IMPACT, a meaningful difference in your life. You recognized his GREATNESS and were smart enough to take the example he set on how to LEAD and how he LIVED to heart. Substance seeks substance, clearly manifested in your relationship with Chuck.

Larry indiviglia, Todd Durkin Mastermind Coach, Executive Director, TD MM INSTITUTE






Thom, your post is a beautiful tribute to obviously a great man. In his own right, and through your many years of dedication to our industry, the two of you have positively influenced thousands and thousands of lives. Thank you, and thank you chuck, for everything you guys have done for all of us. It’s an honor to be mentioned here, and a privelage thom to be your friend --- Joe



Brilliant! Thank you for this.



That was good.


Michael Blubaugh-

We see our new horizons by standing on the shoulders of our true mentors. Great piece. Thanks.

Michael Blubaugh MS PT, LMT, CLT, Preferred Physical Therapy, Gladstone, Mo


Fran Hawkins-

Hi Thom, thank you for the beautiful thoughts about Chuck. He truly is the person you described. Why do you think I have stayed with him for almost 50 years. I know he has other students who feel as you do, but it really makes the heart feel good to see it in writing.

Thank you again. Hugs, Fran

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