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Thomas Clifford’s Martial Arts

Learn, Lead, And Let Go

Learn, Lead, And Let Go

Posted: July 12, 2019

“The only way you can keep it, is if you give it away.” -Anonymous 


Dear Friend,


I trust this blog finds you well.

We learn the Martial Arts primarily through the example set by our classmates - the people who are on the mat with us.  

The more value you are able to get from your senior classmates, the more value you will be able to give to your junior classmates.

Everyone benefits from this model of education.

People often finds themselves holding so tightly to what they believe may be lost, that it slips right through their hands.

Don’t get caught up in a situation that has you fighting over a big piece of absolutely nothing.


Perhaps you will enjoy this story...



Steve Miller was, and probably still is, one of the strongest guys I've ever known.  

He was raised differently. 

Jim Miller, Steve's dad, was a Master Arborist (tree surgeon). 

From the time Steve could walk and talk, he was learning his family's trade. 

If you aren't familiar with tree work, think of the most physically demanding task you've ever done, and multiply it by 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for however long you can endure it. 

It's certainly not the hardest job there is, but it's on the list. 

I met Steve Miller in 1983. 

Steve and I were classmates under my first Martial Arts instructor, Master R. Prett. 

He knew that I worked at Hadeler Hardware, and assumed that I would enjoy doing something outside for a change of pace. 

I started working at Hadeler's in 1975, so I took him up on the offer. 

The Hadeler's were supportive, encouraged it, and while I didn't know why at the time, seemed certain that I would be back in September, eager to return to my old job. 

Steve wasn't "a" tree guy, he was "the" tree guy. 

He seemed to know all of the other arborists who ran tree services. 

When I would ask who another tree guy was, Steve would almost always say, "he's a good man, we used to work together." 

Steve's son, Oak, yes Oak, was 5 years old at the time. He accompanied us on most days. 

Just like his father, he was apprenticing to learn the family profession. 

He was mostly helpful, and occasionally a nuisance, very much like myself. 

Steve would show me how to do something, and I would show Oak, and vice versa. 

It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about; trees, hard work, people, and most importantly - reciprocity. 

Here is what I mean. 

Everyday, every single day, we would get flagged down by people as we; drove from job to job, stopped at the Deli at lunch time, and while we were in the middle of work. 

People needed their trees worked on. It seemed like everyone's situation was an emergency. 

Remember, this was B.C. (before cellphones), so getting ahold of Steve was difficult. 

When people saw him, they swarmed. 

That's when he would do his thing. 

Oak was only 5, so he wasn't very fascinated by his dad's business practices.

But I was. 


Because it was inspiring. 

Steve always carried a stack of business cards with him.

Not so strange, right? 

But they weren't for his business. 

They were for every professional tree service in Rockland County. 

None were his own. 

Not one. 

When I first saw this happening, I had to ask him why. 

"Steve, why are you recommending everyone else's service? Aren't they our competitors?" I asked. 

"I don't have any competitors. I have colleagues", he said. 

"Tommy, we can't possibly take care of every tree", Steve said very matter of factly. 

"Have you ever seen the kind of damage a tree can do when it falls on a person's home, or car, or worse - a person, he said more emotionally. 

"No Sir", I replied, realizing I had struck a nerve.

"There's a lot of work out there. It needs to get done. We can't do it all. Why wouldn't I recommend other guys who are more than capable of doing that work?", he affirmed, very convincingly. 

At this point Oak seemed to be interested in what his dad was saying, because he was looking at me like he wanted to ask, "You really are an idiot, aren't you?" 

I was on a roll. 

Did I stop? 


"Can I ask you something?"

We were driving, so it was perfectly okay to actually have a conversation with the people who were in the vehicle with you. 

Remember this was B.C., so we were sort of trapped with each other. 

"Why do we constantly show up to other guy's jobs, and miss an hour or two of work, while you show them how to do something that they are being paid to do?" I wondered out loud. 

"Because that's what we do. That's what my father did. 

That's what my grandfather did." he said proudly. 

"Oak", Steve addressed his son, talking past me, because he probably realized I was an imbecile, and too immature to comprehend the lesson. 

"When your grandfather was about my age, and I was your age, he fell out of a tree. 

It was a 35 foot drop, and he broke his back", Steve explained. 

"Grandpa was unable to work for 6 months. 

His helpers weren't very experienced. 

Like us, when his crew members were good enough to go off on their own, he sent them packing", Steve reminisced. 
"So guess who came and covered for Grandpa?", Steve asked, almost sarcastically. 

"Guys from his former crews?", Oak semi-answered. 

"Nope", said Steve. "Nobody covered anything."

I couldn't contain myself. 

"Didn't that make him bitter?", I asked, somewhat rhetorically. 

"No. It made him better", Steve said, with a tone of obvious pride. 

That was a wonderful lesson for me.

I hope you enjoyed it as well.

I look forward to seeing you in class at the Dojo.




Kyoshi Thomas Clifford 



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