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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 1 year ago

Close quarters

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Justin Land credits his karate training for managing stress during the financial crisis in 2008.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Justin Land, director of tax-exempt management at Wasmer, Schroeder & Co. in Naples. Land, 40, oversees the firm's portfolio managers who manage more than $5 billion of municipal bonds.

About 16 years ago, he was looking for a fun way to exercise and remembered enjoying karate when he was a child. He's never enjoyed traditional gyms, but he knew he needed to shed some pounds.

“I was pretty sedentary,” he admits. “I like exercising when I don't have to think about the exercise part, that's why the gym is painful for me.”

Land found a newly formed karate club in Naples, the Academy of Martial Arts, and immediately felt welcome. He recalls sensei Deb Hamilton, the chief instructor, had a sign over her door that read: “Please leave your ego at the door.”

Passion: Goju ryu, one of the four major styles of karate. The style is known for close-quarter style of martial arts with lots of elbow and knee strikes. “It's learning to fight in a phone booth,” Land explains. The style also includes learning to use traditional weapons such as wood staffs of various lengths.

First class: Land vividly recalls his first karate class as an adult. “The next two days I could barely walk,” he laughs. But Land says he was immediately hooked on the training. “I did have fun doing it,” he says. “It got me in shape.”

Black belt: It took five years for Land to earn the rank of first-degree black belt, during which time he lost 35 pounds. It took another five years to earn his second-degree black belt, and he's now working on his third degree. “The belt-ranking system is a great goal-setting mechanism,” says Land.

Perseverance: Karate develops discipline and perseverance under stress, training that comes in handy for personal and professional challenges. “I remember being very thankful in 2008 when the financial markets crumbled and every client was calling asking if the world was ending,” Land says. He credits rigorous training in karate for staying calm under pressure.

Training: Land trains four to five hours a week, some of it on his own and at other times in evening classes at the karate “dojo,” the Japanese term for a training facility. In addition, he attends three-day camps twice a year when he trains with experts with decades of experience. High-ranked karate students help teach newer students, but Land says he's had to cut back on his teaching because of demands at work. “To really understand something you really need to be able to teach it,” he says. “It provides a great learning experience.”

Finding balance: “Finding balance between all the various responsibilities we have is the toughest thing to do,” says Land, a father of two. “I've had to make changes in order to keep training.” For example, he subleases space from a yoga studio near his home so he can train at 6:30 a.m. “As I've had to work on balancing family, work and karate, sometimes my time at night has been constrained,” he says.

Yoga helps: About five years ago, Land started practicing the hatha style of yoga to speed up recovery from karate training and improve his flexibility. “That started because of karate,” he says. “It's helped my body immensely to recover.” He prefers private lessons to group sessions. “I get to work on the things that will help my martial arts,” he says.

Stopping the fight: Land has only had to use karate for self-defense once. He was in a bar in New York City when an intoxicated patron grabbed him in a bear hug. “I stuck my fingers in his throat and gently pushed him away,” Land recalls. “It gave me the wherewithal to defuse the situation. That's what karate is all about: It's about stopping the fight.”

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