Music, Martial Arts, and Mentoring: Matt Christenot

Matt Christenot conducting a sparring class at Forge Martial Arts Academy

Some paths are more obvious than others. From the outside looking in, Matt Christenot's path is not one of the more obvious ones. Seriously. How many people go from being a worship leader to owning and operating a martial arts school? Not many, but that's what makes this path so fresh. After being a full-time worship leader for 13 years, Matt now owns Forge Martial Arts Academy in Lawrence, Kansas, where he teaches using his expertise as a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a blue belt in Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. In addition, he now offers health coaching as part of his business, which provides nutritional tools and mentoring to help participants achieve overall wellness and meet their goals.

This new path is allowing Matt and his wife, Stephanie, to invest in the lives of others in dynamic ways. He says, "I love seeing people grow and become more than they ever thought they could be and to accomplish more than they ever thought they could."

So how do you go from leading worship to leading sparring classes? For Matt, martial arts had always been something he enjoyed. Growing up as a member of an Air Force family, Matt lived around the world until his family settled in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, which he considers his hometown. He began martial arts in high school but his training was put on hold during his time at the University of Southern Mississippi and stayed on a back burner until the couple moved to Kansas. "I grew up loving marital arts. I think I must have watched every martial arts movie that was made in the mid 80’s to early 90’s. I picked martial arts training back up again when we moved to Kansas as a way to meet people in our new town," he explains.

In the years after college, Matt's main source of income was as a worship leader. In that role, Christenot worked both full time and part time at many churches and also did a great deal of traveling to lead worship for various churches and organizations. As the years went on, however, he continued his commitment to martial arts.

After about 10 years of martial arts training, and in spite of the fact that Matt had never envisioned himself as being an instructor or owning a school, Matt and Stephanie were given an opportunity to buy an existing school. "After prayer and conversation with my wife, we decided this would be a great opportunity and were able to look back and see some ways that God had been laying the groundwork for us to take this step."

Deciding to buy the school was just one of many hurdles the Christenots faced as they began their business. "The first challenge we faced was securing the loan. The banks weren’t crazy about our idea. The second challenge was that things at the business were much worse than we had been led to believe. Once we purchased, we realized we had a lot of work to do to revive a business that was on its deathbed. Had we known how bad things were, I can’t say we would have pulled the trigger."

On top of that, in November of 2015, Matt and Stephanie had two small boys and a third on the way. "To say there was some risk involved is an understatement."

Matt and Stephanie Christenot with their boys Hudson, Elliot, and Cameron

As the school has grown, the Christenots have added to their business by doing health coaching. "We have so many clients who were exercising a lot but still unable to lose weight due to poor nutritional habits. They were locked in cycles of poor choices that were keeping them from achieving the things they really wanted. Through a great company we are a part of, we now offer a scientifically-proven system and nutritional structure for helping people develop life-long transformation one healthy habit at a time. It’s been amazing to see the results, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well!"

"My new jobs as a martial arts and health coach have allowed me to focus more on my local context and not have to travel, so I can be home with my kids more," Matt continues. Fortunately, this is the best of both worlds for Matt as he continues to use his gifting as a worship leader. "I actively lead worship at Heartland Community Church in Olathe, Kansas (a Kansas City suburb), as well as coach young worship leaders in a small church plant called Rock Hill Church in Lawrence."

Do the Christenots enjoy what they're doing? You bet! "I’m having a blast! There’s no question it can be hard and stressful, but it’s totally worth it.  I’m able to interact daily with people who are different from me, or who I might not ever encounter in church and this has been a huge blessing. "

Along this diverse path, Matt has learned a few things. First, he knows that martial arts offer many benefits. "The martial arts are one of the best ways to create discipline and structure in your life. For those that knew me in my teen and young adult years, these are not words that would have defined me, but they are now. It has the side benefits of helping you get in shape and teaching you how to defend yourself."

Through the health coaching, Matt has also learned what it takes to become healthier. "The first thing is nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. This seems like a simple concept, but there are a million forces working against you in this area, from the food industry to your own internal self-limiting beliefs, to your biological engineering. Secondly, we can’t do anything on our own and getting healthy is no different. Get a coach, get a community and get a plan.

"Finally," Matt continues, "the physical transformation must be accompanied by a mental and emotional transformation to see lasting results. Get past the 'what,' i.e. 'I want to lose weight,' to the deeper questions of 'why' you want to lose it and you will start down the path towards lasting transformation. My favorite thing is to see people overcome limiting self-beliefs."

He also has some advice about pursuing a career in the areas in which he works. "Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Find people who you admire who are successful and who have reproducible systems. Learn from them, copy them, then later you can begin to innovate. Imitation before innovation."

In regards to leaving your career and pursuing a dream, Matt says, "Don’t quit your day job until you have laid some foundation for the switch. Do double duty for a predefined season. You can’t do it forever, but you will make bad decisions in your new business if you are desperate for money. Solidify your 'why,' make a plan, set a time frame, adjust as needed."

For Matt and Stephanie and their family, this adventure has brought them freedom to be who God has called them to be regardless of what career path they are on. "My identity was so wrapped up in being a 'worship leader' that it caused me some level of anxiety to finally make the switch. I still get to lead worship, but I’m FREE now to follow God into any glorious adventure He leads me because I don’t link my identity to my occupation."

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