During the last weekend of April, Professor Vellore of ETC Centennial led a group of students and coaches to the annual Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention in Greensboro. The Build-Vention is the brainchild of Tom Callos, who established it twelve years ago, with the intention of combatting the materialism and money-hungry attitudes that he feels have overtaken some corners of the martial arts world. He says,
“I can’t sit behind a table again and listen to the latest salesman flavor of the month go on about contracts, cars they can now afford, how much money they make, and what we’re all missing about getting more leads and cashing in on the American Dream. I can’t stomach the way the martial arts school has been turned into a tool of building wealth and fast-fading status. So my friends and I host the anti-sales-convention convention —for the martial arts teacher who wants to make a good living without turning every relationship they have into the next up-sell.”
In previous years, Build-Vention participants have renovated historic buildings and new business spaces, built small homes for people who wouldn’t have had a home otherwise, and even built a bread oven for the town of Greensboro, which didn’t have a bakery. For five days and four nights, volunteers live and work side by side, hear guest speakers (who actively participate in the build), and reinforce the true values of the practice of martial arts.
Participants included a group of Kung Fu practitioners from Canada, a group of twenty-one from a multi-disciplinary school in Massachusetts, and many more small groups and individuals from different academies all over North America. Greensboro is a small town with no hotels, so attendees stayed together at the church on Main Street, sleeping on the gymnasium floor. Meals were hosted by the church and other local church groups.
At the beginning of their first workday, the participants met with Tom, who talked about his goal of using their influence as martial arts practitioners and instructors to spread their impact beyond the walls of their academies. They then went to work painting buildings on Main Street, painting a school building and installing a floor inside, and making a mosaic of Tom’s face. Every day after dinner they’d have another group meeting. At one of these evening meetings Alexandria Fuller of Level Ground MMA spoke about how she’s using MMA training to build relationships with at-risk teens in Boston, giving them guidance and helping them advance academically.
Reflecting on the experience, Centennial students were energized about the power of the martial arts community to create good in the world.