Serendipitous Blessings

Today I am grateful that I get to live my calling. My team and I create confident and competent Blackbelt Leaders, prepared to survive and thrive in any situation; and empowered to lead, where they’re at and into their futures. I’ve had the honor and privilege of empowering lives through the martial arts academy I founded since opening in October of 2000. I’ve gotten to sow into hundreds of lives through my school, which is my greatest joy. We not only equip students with practical self defense that could save their life, but character and leadership skills to create a great one. I’m also an author, and writing is another thing I love to do. When I look back at all the forces and people that sowed into me in my youth, preparing me for the purpose and calling that I get to live today, I’m full of gratitude.

So, given my love of writing and my attitude of gratitude, I was delighted when Denise asked if I could write about my military experience, and what influence it had on my martial art. The Army is really where I got my start in life, where I started my leadership journey and developed my own attributes and abilities that serve me well today and that I develop in my students through our Blackbelt Leadership Program. But I thought it would be fun to share a little about all of that through just a couple serendipitous blessings that have helped me along the way.

I joined the Army right out of high school. Incidentally, I had earned my first Blackbelt just before too. I went to US Army Infantry School, Airborne School and then my first duty station, with the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg North Carolina. I am proud and grateful for that experience. I was sown into by some tough and able men, and learned about the necessities of focus, discipline, grit and resilience to survive. My first jump with the Division was into Honduras during Operation Golden Pheasant in 1988. I remember my Platoon Sergeant, who was a Vietnam Vet, banging his Kevlar (helmet) on mine whilst we were seated on the bird on the flight over.

    “Cherry blast and combat wings”, he said.  We were going to fight. When the invading Sandanistas saw the skies full of paratroopers of the 82nd 2/504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, though; they withdrew.  The show of force was successful and became a training exercise with the Hondurans. Nonetheless, I learned a lot about courage as well as dedication to duty and other self leadership tools. I did a lot of growing up on that deployment and subsequent others with the 82nd too. I couldn’t have chosen a better place to start.

One day, though, after a deployment to Panama and several others that had had us gone for a while, I got home to a mail call that would change my life forever; one of the first serendipities, or blessings, or what I have chosen to coin “serendipitous blessings”. My peers and I were sitting in the hall-way of our barracks cleaning our weapons. While we were doing so, talking and laughing about how much we stank ( you never notice until you get back from “the field”) my mail got there and I opened one that said “congratulations, you have been awarded an Army Green to Gold Scholarship. Report to the University of Tampa”  by whatever the date was.

Funny thing is that I don’t remember exactly what the date was, but I do remember it was within a few days. The notice had been sitting there a while. So I cleared the base quickly and started my next training evolution at UT. But the serendipitous part of the story is about a sweet little old lady that must have been an angel in my life. You see, before all those deployments, the rest of my unit had gone on block leave. I didn’t have any leave accrued because of an earlier family emergency, so I stayed back doing chores around the barracks and other busy work.

But, while I was there, I also walked to the education center every day and took a College Level Equivalency (CLEP) test.  Turns out I “Clepped” out of my first year of college, so my angel- the sweet little old lady who’s name I wish I knew- urged me to complete an application for an Army Green to Gold Scholarship. I did.

We currently teach a Blackbelt Leadership principle that says that “Everything Happens for a Reason and It Serves Me Well”. This was definitely that. You see, I was a poor kid, born on a pig farm. My father had a sixth grade education and I’d never really considered college. I certainly hadn’t been surrounded by a tribe of positive and empowering people and mentors like the youth at my Blackbelt Leadership Academy are. But, because I wasn’t able to go on leave with my cohorts that week, and I chose to walk to the education center and met that little old lady, I won a scholarship back home to the University of Tampa, and that changed my life forever.

That was the start of my leadership journey. My enlisted time in the 82nd had taught me so many important things about how to lead myself ,about a sense of urgency and also how to be a good follower. My officer training and subsequent service as a leader in the 3rd Infantry Division, 1301st Major Port Command, and other experiences during that time, started my love of leadership.

Another serendipitous blessing was my choice of major. I double majored in philosophy and communications. I loved philosophy, and still do. I wasn’t worried though that it was an “irrelevant” degree. At the time I was sure that I’d be a lifer (career soldier). Well, I ended up being a lifetime martial artist and educator instead, and I can tell you that my philosophy and communication training have served me well in the service of my students.

Another serendipity linking my martial arts career and military service is, of course, the many great leaders I have gotten to learn from in both- the martial arts and the military, that is.  Over my travels I learned so much from so many great Sensei and military officers and NCO’s. I also learned what not to do from the less than great ones.

I could go on and on about this subject. I could tell two or three more stories off of the top of my head where serendipity seems to have been at play. Truth is, I believe that God was at work in me, and for me, all along. He knew what I was called to do before I did, and put me in places and situations that prepared me for it.

In my book, Developing Your Blackbelt Superpowers, chapters 1-6 are the 6 foundational superpowers that we instill in every student on the Blackbelt Leadership journey. These are Focus, Respect, Discipline, Confidence, Gratitude and Vision, and I believe these are essential to any calling. Chapter 7 is about discovering your own calling and developing the unique superpowers you are blessed with to complete it.

      It’s serendipitous, to me,  that I get to help so many others prepare for their calling as part of my own. I’m proud of and grateful for it.

Prepare To Live; Empower To Lead!

Grand Master Stephen J. Del Castillo
Founding Master Instructor, Krav Maga Martial Arts

About Grandmaster Stephen J. Del Castillo: Grandmaster Del Castillo is the founding Master Instructor of Krav Maga Martial Arts and has been empowering lives in Pasco and Hillsborough Counties since October of 2000. He is a 7th degree Blackbelt, MBA, author, mentor and success coach, a US Army Veteran and a proud father and grandfather. He is married to Ms. Barbara Del Castillo who helps him run the school. Grand Master Del Castillo began his training in the early 80’s and has high level blackbelts in Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Premier Martial Arts and Krav Maga Martial Arts as well as experience in kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do and Jiujitsu. He has high level instructor certifications from BBSI, IKMF, and KMG and has been featured in numerous Martial Arts publications and also Success magazine. He was a competitive sport karate and American Kickboxing instructor until he enlisted in the US Army where he served in the 82nd Airborne Division, where he won an Army Green to Gold scholarship and proceeded to ROTC and the University of Tampa. He was commissioned in 1992 and went on to serve in Germany with the 3rd Infantry Division and then in several other posts in the US until he left military service to pursue his dream of creating KMMA in 2000.

The Krav MagaMartial Arts Headquarters is in Lutz, FL at 1900 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., 33549. Krav Maga Martial Arts serves Lutz, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel, and surrounding areas.

See for more information and to order my book, Developing Your Superpower, Meditations on Mastery, Volume 1.