By Annie Nelson
From mastering orthopedic surgery to becoming a nationally recognized Grandmaster in Martial Arts, this son of a Marine and twin of a fellow soldier, has gone from Army Chief Warrant 2 to Doctor left that successful career all behind to follow his true passion, the world of mixed martial arts.
Most veterans think one huge career transition in life is plenty; however, this man gave up the comfort and success of being a surgeon to fulfill the dream of his heart and soul. That transition proved to be the best yet! Enjoy getting to know Dr. Barry Broughton as much as I did when he sat down to tell me about his journey.
Tell me a bit about your military service.
I enlisted in the U.S. Army a couple of years after high school to take advantage of the Veterans Education Assistance Program. After Basic Training, AIT (Advanced Individual Training) as a Combat Medic, and Airborne School, I was able to squeeze in college courses, emergency medical technician and paramedic courses between deployments and training exercises at my first duty assignment in Germany. I was fortunate enough to attend numerous leadership schools such as PLDC (Primary Leadership Development Course), BNCOC (Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course), and Warrant Officer Candidate School, and was selected to attend the Army Physician Assistant program that was affiliated with the University of Oklahoma at the time. After graduation from PA School, I served as a Battalion Medical Officer for Field Artillery and Armor Battalions. I left the Army as a Chief Warrant Officer 2 after nine years of active duty service.
After leaving active duty, I had the amazing opportunity to continue to serve the military as a Department of the Army civilian while completing a two-year Orthopedic Surgery Training program at Evans Army Community Hospital at Ft. Carson, CO. I remained on staff in the Orthopedic Surgery Department for nine years before going into private practice.
You have a twin who also served, did you both know you wanted to serve growing up?
I can’t speak for my brother, but I don’t recall a specific desire to serve in the military while growing up. Even though my father served in the Marine Corp and was on Iwo Jima during WWII, and all my uncles had also served during WWII, it wasn’t something that my father spoke of. I didn’t realize it was a viable option until after being out of high school for a couple of years. My brother and I were both Eagle Scouts as teenagers, so I had a cursory understanding of serving others, leadership and serving something bigger than one’s self. But for me, it wasn’t until a mutual friend introduced me to a Corpsman in the Navy, who was home on leave, that I made the connection between getting an education while in the military and simultaneously serving our country. However, after attending Basic Training, AIT, jump school, and getting to my first duty assignment, I really began to understand what selfless service was about. At that point, obtaining an education became secondary to serving my country.
After serving you went into the medical field, was that always your plan?
No, not always. I wanted to be a professional martial artist. After watching the television series Kung Fu and the movie Billy Jack when I was ten or eleven years-old I was intrigued by the characters of Kwai Chang Caine and Billy Jack. I wanted to acquire that same duality of peace and power in my own life that the two of them possessed.
At nineteen, shortly after obtaining my first Black Belt, I expressed my desire to become a professional martial artist. Unfortunately, my dream was trampled into submission by those claiming it was impossible to make a living teaching Martial Arts.
I’d had a keen interest in the sciences while in high school, but I didn’t have the finances or family support to attend college at that time. After the serendipitous encounter with my Corpsman friend I enlisted in the Army three months later. What was initially intended to be a three-year enlistment began my twenty-five-year journey in healthcare and medicine. I continued in medicine because of the opportunities for training and more education. From Combat Medic to Paramedic, to Physician Assistant, to Orthopedic Surgery, PhD, and Integrative/Naturopathic Physician; it just seemed like the correct logical progression at the time.
At what point did you know you were leaving medicine for your true heart’s desire?
I had continued my martial arts training and was teaching intermittently for many years while in medicine. As the years rolled by and I put on my white lab coat day-after-day, it was slowly sucking the life out of me. It’s like getting on the wrong train; the longer that you are on the train the faster it gets moving, and the harder it is to jump off. But my time in the dojo teaching martial arts would reenergize and revitalize me. Even after the most long and arduous days of surgery and seeing patients at the office, when I was teaching martial arts in the evening, I felt alive, vibrant, and in my own element. It’s not that I disliked practicing medicine; I really enjoyed helping people, it just didn’t fulfill me. It was a job; not my passion. It’s difficult doing something that you are good at but not passionate about.
I’m a Martial Artist, and it’s who I’ve always been. Eleven years ago, I finally took the leap. I closed my practice to focus on teaching full-time.
Previously, I was at a point in my life where I didn’t have the support network that I now have. I wouldn’t have been able to invest the demanding hours and travel schedule that has allowed me the level of success that I have now experienced in the martial arts industry if it weren’t for my amazing wife, my instructor staff, team members, Black Belts, and friends.
Have you ever regretted leaving your role as a successful doctor?
No, not really. That is the most common question that I get asked when people find out about my previous career. Even after 11 years of not practicing I still get phone calls at the dojo where former patients have hunted me down to ask for advice. I like having helped people, but I don’t miss the daily grind of medicine and the administrative component that accompanies patient care. On rare occasions I miss the technical aspects of doing orthopedic surgery or reducing a gnarly fracture or dislocation. But I think that is most likely because I’m a “hands-on” kind of guy. That’s probably why I have an affinity for jujitsu related martial arts. But I have never regretted taking the leap to become a full time professional martial artist.
What was your greatest challenge in stepping out and following your dreams?
Convincing others that I wasn’t crazy and going through a midlife crisis! Many of my family and friends thought it was too risky.
For good or bad, I tend to do everything in an all-or-nothing fashion. I burned my bridges by allowing my State and National Certifications, and DEA Licensures to expire, knowing that it would be extremely difficult to retake the licensing and certification exams. In hindsight, it was probably meant to be as symbolic to others as I had intended to be for me. By not having the mental safety net of knowing I had medical career to fall back on, I was forced to make my dream become a reality.
What has been your greatest reward?
That’s an easy one. Seeing lives changed! Whether I’m teaching an AKT Combatives Jujitsu class, a weekend self-defense and personal protection seminar, a Police Defensive Tactics course, or a leadership workshop, my objective is always to use the physical techniques of kicks, punches, throws, joint locks, and submissions as the medium to instill the intangibles of improved self-confidence, self-discipline, self-respect, goal setting, and the ability to overcome obstacles.
I’ve had a lot of personal successes and have coached Sport Jujitsu Regional, National and World Champions, but my greatest reward is empowering others to step into their own destiny. Investing in the lives of those who don’t necessarily see the potential for their own success motivates, drives and inspires me.
I feel that I am making a more significant impact in people’s lives now than I ever did while in the medical profession.
What advice would you give others who are in a career, but it is not their true passion?
That’s a tough call because there are so many variables that can prevent someone from leaving a career and converting their passion into their livelihood. I suspect that it was easier for me because I was already self-employed. To start, I’d suggest doing your research and due diligence. Is your passion something that others would want, and would pay for? Get the education and training needed. Do the hard part and learn the business side of your passion. Find a couple of good mentors who will hold you accountable. Start off by working your passion on a part time basis. As it grows, be willing to work two full time jobs as you make your transition. Understand that all passions cannot easily be converted into careers, and that’s okay. Above all, surround yourself with a good support network and team who will not only cheer for your successes but will also call your bluff when you need it.
What does the future hold for you and AKT Combatives Jujitsu?
Wow! Where do I start? I currently own two academies in New York with instructor staff at both locations. I am actively mentoring my Black Belt students who have an entrepreneurial spirit in preparing them open their own AKT Combatives Academies.
I’ve written a bestselling book, Beyond Self-Defense: AKT Combatives Reality-Based Personal Protection and am currently working on several follow-up books and instructional video projects. I have the privilege of traveling around the country teaching AKT Combatives Jujitsu, Self-Defense and Personal Protection, Workplace Violence Prevention, Police Defensive Tactics, and Sport Jujitsu seminars. We are also currently preparing Team AKT members for the upcoming 2019 World Sport Jujitsu Championships.
How can people follow Barry Broughton?