Profile: Motivated by Martial Arts
Karate champion Clint Cora inspires others
with his positive actions and personal strength.
By Julie Bawden Davis
On a trip to the movie theater when he was 11 years old, Clint Cora saw a film that would change his life. “I was awestruck by a Chinese-language version of a film starring Bruce Lee,” says the Toastmaster, who is a motivational speaker, author and Karate World Champion. “I had no idea that Asians could be that powerful.”
Prior to his introduction to martial arts, Cora led a timid life cowering on the playground. “I wasn’t an athletic kid,” he says. “I was small, Asian and geeky. Once when we were playing football in gym class, someone passed me the ball and I ran in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, my lack of physical skills and ethnic background made me a target for bullies.”
Inspired by Bruce Lee kicking it up on the big screen, Cora jumped onto the mat himself and started martial arts training. The lessons quickly taught him confidence, discipline and perseverance, and the bullying stopped.
“My classmates found out I was taking karate, and they asked me to show them some moves. They left me alone after I floored them with some fancy kicks that none of them could replicate,” recalls Cora, a black belt and former member of the Canadian national karate team. He won his first karate world championship in 1999, when he was 38, and has since won 15 more world titles.
In 2006, after 20 years in the pharmaceutical business, Cora decided to become a professional speaker. He joined Toastmasters and soon found that his martial arts training helped considerably. “I wasn’t shy or afraid to get in front of people, because I’d been in competitions for years, screaming my face off, and as a result I had developed vocal variety,” he says. “What Toastmasters did for me, however, was refine my speaking skills, and I’ve also benefited greatly from the invaluable networking opportunities.”
Full Speed Ahead
As soon as he joined Toastmasters, Cora moved quickly, giving 60 speeches during his first year and achieving his DTM in 22 months. His home club is Comfortably Speaking in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, but he travels often and has given 75 speeches at clubs throughout Canada and other countries.
David Denov is a third-degree black belt who won a National Blackbelt League (NBL) world championship in 2006. He has known Cora for more than 20 years and wasn’t surprised by his colleague’s commitment to Toastmasters. “Clint is an exceptional martial artist with a remarkable work ethic,” says Denov. “Because he understands that you get out of something what you put in, he was bound to be successful with speaking.”
Cora is author of the book The Life Champion in You: How You Can Overcome Challenges and Achieve Enormous Personal Success, and as a professional speaker his topics focus on motivation and diversity. When he covers the subject of motivation and reaching goals, he shares his personal struggles and triumphs stemming from an especially difficult time in his life. “When I was 23, my mother took her own life by ingesting three vials of sleeping pills,” he says. “Suicide was virtually unheard of in the Asian community and brought with it a lot of shame.” Rather than consider himself a victim, Cora resisted depression and “made a commitment to be successful and make good decisions for myself.”
When people hear Cora’s story, they are often surprised at his optimistic outlook. “Many people thought I would end up on a dark road to chronic, clinical depression, but that didn’t occur,” he says. “I believe my positive outlook and the actions I took after my mother’s death helped prevent me from going down that dark road, and I share those life skills in my speeches.”
Andrew Mallouk of the Orangeville Toastmasters club in Ontario, Canada, says, “Clint recovered from a seemingly hopeless situation as a suicide survivor and became a world karate champion and gifted speaker who is doing a great service by sharing his message of experience, strength and hope.”
Toastmasters has played a key role in Cora’s personal growth and success, says Joe Vanderkooi, DTM, a member of the Mississauga Valley Toastmasters in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
“Until Clint spent a few years in Toastmasters, he had never shared with anyone other than close friends the painful stories that shaped his childhood,” says Vanderkooi. “It wasn’t until the Toastmasters experience gave him increased self-confidence that Clint was able to put together a keynote speech based on these experiences.”
Living a Positive Life
Cora’s motivation presentations always stress two main points: the importance of making a committed decision to live a positive life, and the value of expanding your comfort zones.
“When someone commits suicide it affects everyone in the family, and one of the unfortunate things that happens is that people feel that the incident means they’re jinxed, but that isn’t true,” says Cora. “Your past does not equal your future. If you make a committed decision to live a positive life, rather than just wishing you could, you will live a fulfilling life. We all have the potential within ourselves; it’s just a matter of bringing it out.”
To grow as a person and achieve your dreams you also need to get out of your comfort zone – a point that Cora demonstrates by using martial arts moves and props, such as his bo staff, during his speeches. Today he wields the wooden pole with speed and precision, but once had difficulty handling it.
“Half of my competition in martial arts has been in weaponry, and I use my karate bo staff to talk about the fact that if anyone wants to grow on a personal or professional level, they have to get off that proverbial comfortable living room sofa and get uncomfortable to learn new skills,” says Cora, who also produces a motivational Web TV program. “When I first started working with the bo staff, I was really clumsy, and I would smash myself in the face and limbs. The more I worked with it, the more comfortable I became until I finally mastered it. This is how it works when you are trying to achieve any goal.”
Heather Smedley is a member of the Grand River Toastmasters and TopDrawer Toastmasters in Cambridge, Ontario. She has heard Cora speak several times, including in June 2009, when he delivered a presentation to the Brant Toastmasters club in Brantford, Ontario. “Clint’s Champion keynote presentation demonstrating his positive outlook, enthusiasm and energy is extremely inspiring,” she says. “He effectively uses the [bo staff] prop for several purposes: to establish curiosity (what is he going to use that for?), credibility (world champion, huh?), and to break the ice (anybody want to give it a try?).”
Vanderkooi, the Mississauga Valley member, agrees that the bo staff is a powerful part of the presentation. “Every speech needs a strong visual image to stick in people’s minds,” he says. “When you remember that strong image of Clint with his staff, you remember Clint and his message.”
Cora, who experienced racism as a child, also speaks about handling diversity. “The most successful people are those who have good people skills and are well-versed working with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds,” he says
For more information about Clint Cora, visit www.clintcora.com.
Julie Bawden Davis is a freelance writer based in Southern California and a longtime contributor to the Toastmaster. You can reach her at Julie@JulieBawdenDavis.com.