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Tim Flynn Of Kato Karate: Here Are The Things That Happened in My Childhood That Impact How I Lead…

Tim Flynn Of Kato Karate: Here Are The Things That Happened in My Childhood That Impact How I Lead Today

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Communication. Communication is one of the top things you need as a business owner. Anything you change or do that might affect someone else’s training must be communicated in advance. This gives them time to either figure out a solution if needed or find another activity for their child.

In this introspective and reflective series, we would like to explore the intricate web of experiences that form the leaders of today. Childhood, being the foundational stage of our lives, undeniably has a profound impact on our development and the leadership styles we adopt as adults. Be it a lesson learned from a parent, a childhood hobby that cultivated discipline, an early failure that fostered resilience, or even a book that opened their minds to vast possibilities; leaders often have deep-seated childhood experiences that echo in their leadership narratives today. For this interview series, we are talking to seasoned leaders across various industries who share personal anecdotes and lessons from their childhood that have sculpted their leadership philosophies today. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Flynn.

Tim Flynn is an Anti-Bullying Expert and the owner of Kato Karate in Mankato, MN. Tim started learning martial arts at the age of 14 and has been teaching martial arts since he was 16 years old. Tim lives in Mankato, MN. He is married and has five girls. Along with running his martial arts business, Tim travels the country and runs seminars on anti-bullying and self-worth called karate chop bullying. Tim also hosts a weekly Breaking Bullying podcast with celebrities and many other wonderful guests. Tim is also running for his local school board in the 2024 elections.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about leadership, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Since graduating high school, I’ve had a job where I had to work with other people. I’ve held numerous jobs in the healthcare industry, from becoming a nurse’s aide to a Health Unit Coordinator and an ICU technician. Then, my last job in the healthcare industry was as an Endoscopy Technician. I enjoyed working in the healthcare industry, but I never felt fulfilled with my life, and I feel like I wanted to do something that had more of an impact. So, I decided to go back to my first love, which was martial arts. In 2016, I opened up Kato Karate.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Kato Karate has won numerous awards. I think that is because we focus more on the student rather than putting a lot of emphasis on the “Art” in Martial Arts. I understand that every kid is unique, and they all have different abilities and learning styles. I take that into account when I work with children to help improve them physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. My school is a Licensed Skillz Child Development Center. What that means is we put child development first over martial arts. My staff and I are certified in child development and some of my staff even have four-year degrees in child development and/or elementary education.

What I love most about my job is seeing my students’ progress. On day one, they come in for a one-on-one evaluation, and that is for me to get to know them and know where they are physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. It also gives me time to sit down with the parents to know what their expectations and goals are for their child. Most parents see improvement in as little as three months of their child working at Kato Karate. And that’s the beauty of putting child development first over the art in martial arts.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

#1. Honesty. Even though I’m trying to run a business and I want as many kids as possible in my martial arts program, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to say whatever the parent wants to hear to get them to sign up their child. Sometimes, I had to be upfront with parents, saying I’m sorry I cannot meet your goals or expectations. Parents seem to like that when you’re upfront and honest with them right away because my whole point is to improve their child physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. If I cannot do that, I will let them know that I am not the right person to work with your child.

#2. Compassion. I’ve had a few parents who’ve run into some hard times, and they came to me and said, “Hey, look, this program has done wonders for my child, but we’re having trouble paying our membership. Is there anything we can do to keep our child in class?” I’ve always found a way to help those parents out in those tough times because I know what it was like growing up and my family not having any money and seeing them ask for help.

#3. Integrity. A while back, I decided to raise the prices for my business because my costs were increasing. So, I did that, and then a few months later, after I raised my prices, I found other ways to save money, which I passed on to my students. So, without them knowing, I went in one day and changed the membership prices, and for some of them, their memberships dropped by $15.00 a month. I could easily keep the same price that they agreed to pay, but I knew in the future, I was going to make some changes with my programming and scheduling that I would be able to go back to my original prices, and I didn’t want to charge people more money if I was going to end up charging a cheaper price in the future

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

In my business, the hardest thing to do is to try and please everybody, and that usually involves scheduling class times. Now, I used to schedule around my student’s lives, which I found out didn’t work for my personal life. And that was a problem for me. I would get parents telling me that they would quit if I changed my schedule to this or that because they didn’t agree with it, and at that time, I was scared to lose any students, so I would put myself and my business last in order to please maybe one or two people.

Now, I put myself in my business first, and I’ve come to terms that I cannot please everybody in my business. If they were going to quit, they were going to quit anyway regardless of what changes I was going to make. They just wanted a good reason to quit. When I discovered that and made the business work for myself, my life and my personal life improved dramatically.

Another story is when it came to raising my rates. When I first opened Kato karate I was charged $50.00 a month. And people would tell me, “You know nobody can afford over $75.00 a month. You cannot charge over 75 bucks a month.” But I cannot run a business of charging $75.00 a month, especially when everything is going up in price. So, I raised my rates up, and guess what? My school grew and didn’t shrink now. I did lose a few students because of their price increase, but like I said before, those students were probably going to quit anyway, and the parents needed a good excuse to quit. Raising my rates to a price that I could run a business was the best decision I made because my school grew in size when I did that.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s start with a simple definition. How do you personally define “leadership?”

For me, leadership means being able to work with people of different opinions, working with people to achieve a certain goal, and knowing that sometimes you’re not always right. I learned that it’s OK not to know everything and to listen to other people’s viewpoints to understand better.

Can you recall an experience from your childhood where you felt truly empowered? How does that moment inform your leadership style today?

My childhood wasn’t the greatest. I was bullied from second grade to my senior year in high school, but I can remember feeling the most empowered: I took first place in Forms and 2nd place in Sparring for the first time competing in a Karate Tournament. From that point on, I knew I was better than somebody else. I know that may sound wrong, but with the kid who had zero confidence and didn’t even think he could win a tournament, this was a massive achievement for me, which happened in 10th grade. It gave me confidence in knowing what I was learning in martial arts, and I knew how to apply it.

Were there any role models in your early years who left a lasting impression on you? How has their influence manifested in your approach to leadership?

Yes, the most significant role model I can think of was my late friend Eric the Trainer. He taught me that I could turn the negative experiences I had in my life into positive experiences for other people. I used to feel embarrassed about telling people I was bullied all through school, and then I didn’t have any friends. Eric taught me that I learned a valuable life lesson and got through it and that I need to share this with my students who may be going through the same things that I went through as a kid. He made me realize what I went through in my life: No textbook can teach you.

Many of us had a favorite book or story as a child. Is there a narrative that you were drawn to, and do you see its themes reflecting in your leadership journey?

I hate to admit this, but I never had a favorite book growing up. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t read any books growing up, but mostly, I can recall reading books like Curious George and some of the Hardy Boys books back in the day, but nothing that inspired me to become a leader or a public figure.

Many leaders find that their greatest strengths arise from overcoming adversity. Can you share an experience from your early life that was difficult at the time, but you find still lingers in your thoughts and informs your actions today?

I remember when I was in 9th grade, I just started martial arts. When kids in my school found out I joined karate, they would tease me by making the karate sounds of the “Hi-Yas”, and I felt like they were doing whatever they could to get me to quit or feel embarrassed about having to learn karate.

But in my senior year, I had to do a speech on a lifetime sport, so I decided to do a little karate demonstration in front of my phy-ed class. When they saw that demonstration, they came up to me afterward, congratulating me on my demo.

Looking back at your childhood, are there particular ‘first-time’ experiences — like your first triumph, your initial setback, or your inaugural leadership responsibility — that you believe were pivotal in molding your leadership ethos?”

When I tested for my Blue Belt in martial arts, I was given the opportunity to start helping in classes. For the first time in my life, I got to experience what it was like to be a leader and have other people look up to me. That was a great confidence boost, especially as a child.

From your personal experiences and reflections, what are the ‘5 Pillars of Effective Leadership’ you believe in?

1 . Accountability. If you tell someone you’re going to do something, that means you must follow through with it.

2 . Communication. Communication is one of the top things you need as a business owner. Anything you change or do that might affect someone else’s training must be communicated in advance. This gives them time to either figure out a solution if needed or find another activity for their child.

3 . Honesty. As I stated before, if somebody comes to me with expectations of what they want their child to get out of my program and I cannot deliver on that goal, I must be upfront with them and tell them I’m sorry I’m not the right person to work with your child. And I must tell them this before they join my program.

4 . Integrity. Meaning doing what is right even though nobody may find out. I preached this to my students, and as I said in my other answer earlier, there was a time when I found out I didn’t have to raise my rates. I went ahead and changed some students’ prices even though I probably could have gotten away with not telling them at all.

5 . Adaptability. When working with children, we must understand that not every child will learn the same way. So, you must devise new systems and techniques to teach students in a way that they can learn and apply. Sometimes, that means working with them one-on-one, and that’s OK!

In your role as a leader, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

One thing I learned from running a business for the past eight years is to avoid letting things stress you out that you cannot control. Now, if it’s to a point where I can’t sleep at night because it’s driving me crazy, then I must look at what I’m doing and make a change because there is nothing in the world that should cause you to stress out, and lose sleep over especially if you have no control over that situation period now if it was my business causing me to lose sleep then I would look for a new business to start.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need more kindness in the world. If people could stop and think before speaking, that would be a good start. Sometimes, we say things out of anger that we will regret 10 minutes later from saying. We also need to start seeing other people’s points of view before getting upset at them. I think if we practice being more kind and showing respect for different people, we will have a better world.

One thing I teach in my Karate Chop Bullying seminars is how to be kind to yourself and to other people.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me here on Facebook at or check out my podcast at

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. It’s been an honor to delve into the roots of your leadership journey, and we are grateful for the wisdom you’ve shared.

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.

Tim Flynn Of Kato Karate: Here Are The Things That Happened in My Childhood That Impact How I Lead… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.