In the summer of 2017, I sent an email to someone I didn’t know in the hopes at taking a shot at something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I just found out that the recipient of that email, John Corcoran – editor of Century Martial Arts MASUCCESS Magazine, recently passed away.
I wanted to share the story of my interaction with this lovely man, and hopefully inspire you to treat others as he treated me.
Rewind to 2017 …
I was running my humble little North Country New Hampshire Dojo 4-5 days a week, balancing my day-job with the constant care and maintenance a school of 70+ students required – teaching, staffing, scheduling, payroll and so much more. From the first day to the last that little place was a labor of love, and the entire purpose was to do something to engage the community, teach, enrich kids and adults, and simply have a great time doing something we all loved.
I felt that our philosophy was unique. We were never a dojo of Birthday Parties and Black Belt Clubs (a phrase that – to this day – makes me cringe like no other). We were a dojo that rewarded hard work, achievement, and highlighted personal accountability.
Everything was earned, not paid for.
To put this in very blunt terms – I never gave a damn how much money anyone had when they walked through that door. You were going to put in the work, be respectful, and sweat like everyone else, or you were simply not going to advance. If something wasn’t the best for my students, it was simply cut out.
How We Were Unique …
In that way, we eschewed modern conventions of “Today’s Dojo” – typically one of two establishments – a glitzy mega-dojo with 6 different uniforms, teams, and internal clubs depending on the size of your monthly payment, or the tiny “Club” dojo, run by a preening little bully (often run by someone with a rank barely higher than their own students, or someone who has awarded themselves multiple ranks) trying as hard as possible to get everyone drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that they are the “True Art” and everything else is trash.
People don’t realize it when choosing a school, but both of these types of places are toxic. We made the determination early on to focus on developing in a way that ensured we’d never do it all for cash, and we’d never do it all for ego.
Emails With John …
In August of 2017 I sent an email to John Corcoran after reading a small blurb in MASUCCESS Magazine about a call for writers. The start of my email to him went something like this:
My name is David Badurina and I run a small dojo of about 70 students in Northern New Hampshire. I believe we have a unique philosophy and a unique school, and I would like to write an article highlighting our philosophy for possible publication in MASUCCESS …”
I went on to quickly describe our philosophy of personal accountability above all else – just two short paragraphs. That was all you could see in the email, but I also sent it with a great deal of hope. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and attached to that email wasn’t a file or funny cat gif, but a lot of my personal dreams and goals.
I pressed Send. Then I waited.
Two weeks later I received an email back from John, and the nature of the reply was that he was interested, he thought my idea was really good, and he wanted a longer pitch email. He indicated that he ran all article ideas by his staff of writers, and that typically when a school owner reaches out, they have a staff writer contact them, do an interview, and write the piece.
So I wrote a sample – about 750 words or so – explaining everything in more detail.
I pressed Send. Then I waited. Weeks went by.
An Email Query
In late September, of 2017, I received an out-of-the-blue phone call from John Corcoran. This is what he told me:
David, I read your pitch at our writer’s meeting, and we decided we want you to write the article. Your pitch was excellent, we’re giving it the green light, we thought just the short piece you wrote was written very well.
We need a 7,000-word article and a set of around 80 professional pictures.
You have about 3 weeks to put it together.
Writing My First Published Article
I set to the hard work of writing the article. Which is to say, I sat down and wrote one paragraph, waited nearly three weeks, then finished the entire thing over the course of 24 hours right before I submitted it.
I’m an expert procrastinator.
Then I waited. For what seemed an eternity.
An Unexpected Phone Call
John called me one afternoon a few weeks after I had submitted the article and left a message on my voicemail. I don’t remember all of his words, and I’m kicking myself that I don’t have the voicemail still saved, but there were a few phrases I remember with absolutely clarity – because I listened to this voicemail about a thousand times:
“David, I just got back into town and finished reading your article a moment ago. I know you were worried so I wanted to make sure I called you and told you, your article was fantastic.
“Being able to write is something you either have or you don’t. I know I
writerwhen I see one. You are a writer.”
“Usually when school owners ask to write for us, we don’t expect much. They aren’t writers. I was blown away by your article.”
Needless to say, I soared. A year later, in the December 2018 issue of MASUCCESS Magazine, my article appeared.
It was a high unlike any other. It was validation from an industry professional – someone who has been an editor since before I was born (John was the editor for Black Belt Magazine starting in 1972).
May, 2019 – Another Unexpected Phone Call
A few days before my birthday – what would be about a week before John passed away, he gave me a call – at this point, I hadn’t talked with him in well over a year. I was shocked to see his name on my phone.
2019 – to this point – was a brutal year. My brother passed away suddenly in February and I had been battling depression, anxiety, and panic attacks through that entire event. It was one of the most difficult stretches of my life, and it highlighted those close to me who truly mattered and put many things into perspective.
John and I spoke for over an hour on that call. We had a heartfelt conversation about life and writing.
I told him of my brother’s passing and the story of how I’d closed the dojo to focus on myself and my family. He told me about his heart bypass surgery in late 2018. Then he offered me these words. Again, I don’t have the exact recollection, but I remember it well enough, it was all of two months ago, after all.
“David, I called because when your article was published I cut it out of the magazine and pinned it to the wall in my office. I wanted to remind myself, when I was recovered from my surgery, that I needed to call you as soon as I could.”
“I want you to keep writing for our magazine.”
“I know you closed the school, and that’s usually a problem for us as we want to highlight school owners – but if you send anything to me I promise I’ll go to bat for you and try to get it in.”
Lighting A Spark
I remember all of these phrases so clearly. Then there was one more thing he told me, and it’s something I’ve held onto since we hung up the phone:
“I have been an editor and a writer for over 40 years. I have seen millions of words pass by in front of my eyes. Your writing is so memorable. God has given you a gift. It doesn’t matter what you write, people will want to read your words.”
I didn’t know it, but a week later, he passed away.
When I came across the magazine yesterday, opened it up, and saw the tribute article in regards to his life, my heart absolutely sank.
I didn’t know this man well. We were not friends, he was not my mentor. We were simply acquaintances, but in the short interactions I had with him, he was someone who was immensely supportive and kind. He knew I had dreams, he was honest with me and put the wind at my back to afford me the little shot of confidence I needed to keep moving forward with something that I had been scared to do.
We can all learn from that.
Kind words of support can go a long way. Whether in professional life or personal life, you never know who is reaching out to you on a whim, the goals and huge dreams sitting invisibly in their outstretched hand simply waiting for you to provide that little spark of encouragement and validation so they can launch themselves to a future they’ve felt deep in their heart for all time.
I’ll miss John. He was a giant in the martial arts industry and an incredibly kind and gracious man to an insecure writer taking his first shaky steps out into the spotlight. He had lived a long and full life by the time we first connected and in his last few years managed to light a spark in me that burns brighter each and every day.
He was best of friends with Joe Lewis, had worked with Chuck Norris, Bill Wallace, Benny the Jet, and so many others through his career. John wrote the screenplay for a Hollywood film (“American Samuri”), and worked with hundreds of writers through his life. He advanced the presence of martial arts in American culture since the early 1970s.
While all of that is impressive and amazing, I’ll never forget those six words he said to me. I can hear his voice clear as day as they ring in my ears and in my heart.
"God has given you a gift."
Thank you, John. Rest in peace.