'As Iron Sharpens Iron'
Mike Blumenthal’s journey into the martial arts
Published in 2021 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine on November 15, 2021
In the fall of 1990, Mike Blumenthal was a University of Kansas School of Law student looking for a way to blow off steam. “I don’t play basketball, and I had a steady girlfriend,” he says. “I wrestled growing up, and I missed that type of exercise, frankly. I fell into a martial arts studio in Lawrence. I had a great teacher there and it was a bug that bit me—I never stopped.”
But he did start again. Although he was close to attaining a black belt in taekwondo during law school, a post-graduation move to Atlanta led him to a Shuri-ryū karate dojo, where he started at the bottom rung again as a white belt. Thankfully, some skills transfer between disciplines.
“When you’re doing katas—the solo exercises that you probably have seen on TV or movies when people are doing a sequence of prearranged movements—you have to learn it fresh,” Blumenthal says. “But many of the techniques are going to be the same—not always, but often. A roundhouse kick in taekwondo is the same roundhouse kick that you’re going to learn in Okinawan karate.”
Five years later, as he again was on the cusp of testing for a black belt, life intervened once more: Blumenthal and his wife decided to move back home to Kansas City so he could take the next step in his legal career. He had the option of training solo and flying back to Atlanta for the test, but between work and family obligations, he decided it wasn’t a realistic option. Missing the camaraderie of the dojo was another factor.
“One of my favorite sayings is ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,’” Blumenthal says. “I just didn’t feel I’d be able to get my blade sharpened if I was training by myself.”
Then he recalled an encounter with legendary Kansas City martial artist Dan Kennedy, known for Okinawan Kenpo karate. “I remembered going to his session at a seminar and thinking, ‘Man, that guy’s got it.’ You know, after a while in martial arts, you can tell guys who are fakers and guys who are posers. This guy was the real deal.”
It was the summer of 1997 when Blumenthal cold-called every karate school in the area until he found Kennedy. He has been training under Kennedy ever since.
Kennedy threw Blumenthal into a class with advanced students, and after seeing his skill, allowed him to transfer his brown belt status rather than starting again at white—an unusual honor. A few years later, after a decade in total of martial arts training and three different styles, Blumenthal was finally able to go for his first black belt.
“It took me a lot longer than I thought it would,” he says. “But, in hindsight, there’s no race. The thing about martial arts is, if you’re doing it correctly, you’re really not comparing yourself to other people. You’re comparing yourself to how you were the last time you were in the dojo.
“Getting my black belt was a huge achievement for me,” he adds. “When you get your first-degree black belt, you can’t imagine the day that you’ll actually ever have the rank of your teacher who’s giving it to you. Dan Kennedy had the rank that I now hold.”
Now a trial lawyer at Seyferth Blumenthal & Harris in Kansas City, Missouri, Blumenthal represents businesses in workplace legal issues and high-stakes litigation. The courtroom tends to be the only place he tests his mettle. A larger part of his journey, rather, has been passing down what he’s learned. Several years back, fellow partner Paul Seyferth approached Blumenthal about learning under him. “I said, ‘I will teach you, but I don’t want it to be just a private lesson. If you can find a critical mass of people who are interested in learning, let’s do it,’” Blumenthal says. After years of early morning training, he awarded black belts to Seyferth and Bruce Moothart, also a partner at the firm.
Several black belts at one firm? The idea isn’t so strange to Blumenthal. “I think most trial lawyers would tell you that what makes them really successful is the preparation that goes into their trials,” he says. “That preparation is time in office or time with a small group of people thinking things through, studying what they’ve done before, bringing to bear certain techniques that work and discarding those that don’t. And that sounds to me a lot like karate.”