One Choice Can Make the Difference
By: Sensei Thad Campbell – TSMMA Feasterville
It was the winter of 2005 when I got the phone call from Barry Alexander. His son had stopped training at Tiger Schulmann’s a few years ago and he would like to bring him back. Barry told me his son was 16 years old and was interested in kickboxing. I tried to pry a little more but couldn’t get much more out of him.
What I knew was in the two years I had owned the Feasterville Tiger Schulmann’s I hadn’t had much success with old students coming back. Through no fault of their own they were used to a style of teaching that was a bit different personality wise than mine. Not only had the curriculum being taught in class changed dramatically, but they then had to adapt to a very different leader. This often led to people’s return to the school being short lived.
I didn’t prejudge though and was excited when Craig came in to take class and worked tirelessly during the hour session. His desire to do kickboxing shone through during class and I couldn’t wait after a couple minutes to sit down with his father and let him know what a great student Craig would make. It wasn’t so much his ability, although he was doing well at the kicks and punches, it was his effort that so clearly stood out!
After class I sat down with Craig and confirmed his desire to train.
“You’re not allowed to quit this again,” I told him.
“No problem, I won’t quit!”
Then I kicked him out of the room and began talking to dad. He told me Craig was getting into trouble after school. This came as a bit of a surprise to me after seeing his hard work in class, and as I knew he was attending Conwell Egan, a prominent Catholic School in the area. Catholic School’s are not known for patience when it comes to misbehaving.
Again I tried to pry a little bit and Barry did his best Politician talk. He gave me a general idea of Craig’s behavior without getting pinned down on the details!
I was so excited to train his son I didn’t get too caught up with digging deeper!
It turned out to be a fortuitous choice.
Spark That Lights The Flame
When Barry mentioned that his son was getting in to trouble after school it seemed like an easy solution. Give him something to do after school. I had just the thing. Come and spend six hours with me six days a week. He would help me out for four hours of kids and childrens classes before his own two hours of class.
Thus began the journey of Craig Alexander to Joshu Alexander, to soon to be professional MMA fighter.
Joshu With Father/Son Students After MMA Victory!
He showed up the next day at 10 minutes before four o’clock and hasn’t been in trouble since. In the first few days of helping me out I heard barely a word from the soft spoken 16 year old. Literally for the first year he helped me out the loudest noise I heard from him was when he would make a Kiai during his classes. To say he was a teen of few words would have been wrong. He was a teen of NO words!
It didn’t stop his incredible progress in his training though. He had reached the rank of Brown Belt as an 11 year old under his old Sensei and although I made him start again at White Belt, I didn’t give him stripes, but rather gave him a set of goals at each rank in order for him to receive his old rank back.
He made it back to Brown Belt in less than a year and in doing so he set an example for every other student in the school that literally helped my adult classes explode. When Craig came back in 2005 my adult classes would often have between 8 and fifteen people. By the time 2006 rolled around it was common to have 25 to 30. Craig’s passion for training and his effort in class helped make class more fun for everyone around him and he became a spark that attracted many new students to class.
Hard Work Earns Promotion
About six months after he began joining me every day I began seeing Craig start to take a more active role during the classes he helped with. He would start to pull a child aside on his own to help them perfect a technique, instead of waiting for my direction.
I then began to spend extra time teaching him how to become an instructor. We would talk about different scenarios that unfolded in class and how to deal with them. At the same time I would have him demonstrate different parts of class as if he were leading the younger students and critique his performance so he could improve.
That’s exactly what he did. His improvement was so quick that I began to pay him a small salary every week and he began to test with one of the organizations Master Instructors in order to get certified as an instructor in Tiger Schulmann’s.
He also earned the right to train at Tiger Schulmann’s Headquarters with the very best students from around the organization!
Skill and Confidence Grow Together
It wasn’t long before Craig began to get the itch to compete. He excelled at the Challenge of Champions as a Black Belt. Competing against the likes of Joshu’s Jimmie Rivera and Nick Pace, fighters who would go on to fight professionally in the two largest MMA organizations in the world, Bellator and the UFC. Those two had been training steadily for years. While Craig didn’t beat the two of them, he let everyone know that he wanted to compete at their level.
Joshu Alexander Demonstrates Move With UFC Fighter Nick Pace!
This didn’t escape the notice of Shihan James Simpson who had just begun to gather a group of Pennsylvania students at his Allentown school every Sunday to begin a local fight team.
In the late summer of 2006 Irv Althouse held his very first Hamburg Fight Night. I’ll never forget seeing Joshu’s excitement at being allowed to compete, nor will I forget my nerves as I headed up the Northeast Extension. In fact I was so nervous I missed the exit and travelled an extra hour to get to the next exit and back.
Fortunately things started a few minutes late and I was there to help coach as he won the first of his many fights in competition!
After successfully kickboxing and boxing for Shihan Simpson’s Pennsylvania segment of the TSMMA fight team, Craig got a unique opportunity. The dawn of amateur MMA was here and he was one of the very first fighters from the team to get a chance to compete.
His victory at Jack’s Gym would be the first of six consecutive MMA victories and would lead him to get a prominent spot in the organizations fight team. It led to many trips to New York City and Atlantic City to compete.
He was earning victories rapidly in kickboxing, eventually compiling a 6-1 record to go along with his sterling record in MMA. The one area he was struggling in was boxing where he competed four times earning only one victory.
What was clear was he would not run away from the challenge as he continued to work hard at each area of his Martial Arts training every day!
Becoming a Leader Instead of a Follower
At the same time he was developing his skills in competition he was also growing as an assistant in the school. So much so that he earned the title of “Joshu”. Literally meaning “assistant” in Japanese, Craig completed 200 hours of student teaching, helping out at my school, before passing a comprehensive written test (something that frequently eluded him in high school) and eventually a comprehensive physical exam to ensure he could instruct class at the high level demanded from Tiger Schulmann himself.
Joshu Teaching Armbar to New White Belts!
Joshu Alexander passed his certification to teach Beginner and Intermediate/Advanced Kickboxing with Shihan Dennis Goshow before passing the incredibly difficult Grappling test with Sensei Paul Querido.
It was 2007 and now Joshu was my right hand man. I could rely on him to motivate and instruct my students whether they were five or fifty and he could ably teach a class with 30 to 40 people in it.
Joshu Alexander Learned to Talk and Teaches From His Own Experience!
His strength as my assistant was apparent as we quickly built up the school to have more than 300 students. This was a remarkable accomplishment for him given we had just over a 100 students when he first joined the school!
Hitting The Roadblock
It wasn’t until 2008 and 2009 that we really got to see what Joshu was really made of. His first chance to win a title belt came at Asylum Fight League 9. It was December of 2008 and he took on a much older Mervin Rodriguez. Giving up five years and still only 20 years old, Alexander lost a tough decision to Rodriguez who immediately turned pro.
This left the title belt vacant and because he fought so well even in defeat and still sported a 6-1 record, Alexander earned another shot in February 2009. Again he would face an older opponent and again he would lose a tough decision. This time to Nate Hasara.
Looking to bounce right back Craig would take on Randy Dunn in June, only to get a nasty cut on his forehead in the first few seconds of the fight. This led to a stoppage and the only No Contest on his record.
It would mean four more long months before a chance to get back in the win column. This time it would be his first amateur fight in Pennsylvania and it would be another let down. Still relatively new to Pennsylvania where Mixed Martial Arts had just been regulated, the fight featured three two minute rounds. The short length of rounds proved to be a boon to his opponent.
Unfortunately for Alexander he was taking on a former successful High School wrestler in Allen Cozze. Cozze was no match for Craig standing and couldn’t do anything to advance his position on the ground. What he did do was get a takedown in all three rounds and hold Alexander down for long enough to earn the win.
It was a tough stretch for the 20 year old, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to work hard at his first love, Martial Arts! Instead he viewed it as a chance to show his students the “non-quitting spirit” he talked about every day.
It was shortly after the Cozze fight when an unbelievable opportunity presented itself to the then 20 year old. My first school, Tiger Schulmann’s in Cherry Hill was in need of a new leader. Their Sensei had moved to another school and Tiger Schulmann was looking for someone to take over.
I mentioned this to Craig and he immediately jumped at the opportunity. Only 21 years old, he would be one of the youngest head instructors in all of Tiger Schulmann’s.
Tiger Schulmann was more than confident in Craig’s ability to teach Martial Arts. It was the other aspects of running a school that worried him. And so he set up a test. Craig would have to go through the various procedures required of a school’s head instructor, but he would have the added pressure of doing them in front of the other 70 head instructors in the organization.
As with every other challenge he had confronted in his training, Craig prepared with intensity and when the day came to test, he passed with flying colors. Becoming the head instructor in Cherry Hill in early 2010.
Something Left To Prove
After successfully leading the students in Cherry Hill for more than a year and a half Craig came back to me with a question. It would be impossible to continue being the head instructor of the Cherry Hill school and pursue a professional MMA career.
He had begun to realize that he missed fighting immensely. He wanted to know if he could come back and work with me and start competing again. This was music to my ears as I had missed working with Craig as well as watching him fight.
We had a perfect replacement in place in Joshu Shane Baker who had worked with Alexander for the whole time he was in Cherry Hill. And thus began Joshu Alexander’s second stint as my right hand man in Feasterville.
While immediately integrating himself back into the fabric of the school, he also began to compete. It was apparent that the two years away hadn’t led to any rust. First with kickboxing where he earned a tko victory and then with a first round knockout in MMA it was very apparent the now 23 year old Alexander had honed his standup skills to match his grappling acumen.
This was proven as he took home first place in the NAGA World Championships Expert Division in late 2012.
He earned two more MMA victories and a return to boxing proved victorious as well and finally it was time for Alexander to take his third crack at a championship fight.
Third Time Charm as Alexander Wins Title Via Rear Naked Choke!
All the hard work and dedication paid off as Craig came back to win a third round submission victory after losing the first two rounds of the fight! The win was a fitting culmination to a journey highlighted by his perseverance.
He went on to defend his title with a second round knockout of a previously undefeated fighter in his next fight to run his record to 7-0 since returning to competition including one kickboxing knockout and two in MMA to go along with two Submission victories.
Alexander KO’s Travis List In 2nd Round!
His most recent victory marked his last as an amateur as his success has earned him the right to turn professional!
Finally the Truth Comes Out
It took nearly eight years and thousands of hours spent teaching and training together, but recently Craig finally opened up more about his earlier troubles. As a teenager growing up in Croydon his parents were often both working at night, his dad managing a store and his mom working at the local hospital.
This left Craig unsupervised and it didn’t take long for him to find the neighborhood kids up to no good. What started out as drinking beer in the woods quickly evolved to marijuana. As a youngster with no money at his disposable, Craig and his friends quickly began to get involved in petty theft as a way of purchasing more pot.
It was a recent meeting with a close friend from his teens that really opened up Alexander’s eyes. He related the story to me one day after I half-jokingly asked him how thankful he was that he walked in to my school all those years ago. The answer was far from a joke.
His friend recently was released from a three year stint in prison after being caught selling marijuana. His imprisonment didn’t lead to reform however, as now Craig’s friend had moved on to selling more serious drugs. Not only was he selling Methamphetamine, but he was partaking of it as well.
It was an eye opener to see his child hood friend now strung out on heavy drugs.
“Sensei, he couldn’t have had more than three teeth in his mouth,” he told me one day. “That would have been me!”
That isn’t him. Instead Joshu Alexander is the beloved instructor of hundreds of TSMMA Feasterville students. Those same students who love every class he teaches also turn out to support him in his fighting career and are all looking forward to many years of his instruction as well as seeing him embark on his professional MMA career!