What Trumpet Lessons Taught Me About Leadership


A while back, before Tae Kwon-Do entered my life, I had a trumpet teacher named Carmine Caruso. He was from New York City, and I used to go there to study with him. 

I remember walking into the room during my first lesson with him. Sitting in this room were some of my all-time trumpet heroes. There was the principal player for the New York Philharmonic, there was Lew Soloff from Blood, Sweat, and Tears, to name a couple.  They were all amazing players.  

There was no waiting room, so Carmine had me sit in on their lesson. Then, he turned to me and said “Okay! You’re up next.”

I looked up at Carmine and asked, “when do they leave?”

I’m looking around the room, thinking that the only thing these guys are going to learn from me is how not to play trumpet. I mean, these guys were the best of the best. 

“They’re not leaving,” he said. “They’re going to learn from you.”

I laughed, but that might have been the best lesson he ever taught me: that we all learn from each other.  

Leaders don’t just boss others around. Actually, that’s a pretty low level of leadership. Leaders, the good ones at least, are people who help others become better and achieve their potential. The difference between the two styles is primarily attitude, whether you see yourself as someone to be served or as someone who is here to serve others. 

Carmine was a good leader because he made me better. And, he made me better by forcing me to embrace my own leadership ability in the music world.

Now, I have transferred those leadership skills into the Tae Kwon-Do world. It is, after all, a martial art. 

I’m an 8th-degree black belt, but I’m still learning from white belts while they’re learning from me. 

I tell them that we’re all in the same boat. I have an 8th-degree paddle, you have a white belt paddle. But, we’re both paddling together, both trying to move the boat forward. We all have a stake in the game. We’re all committed to helping each other reach our potential.

When we are training, I often bring random students up to demonstrate. Some are really good, and some are not. The ones who are not think, “I’m no good, why is he picking me?” The answer is, again, that we all learn from each other. 

Over time, those I bring up begin to feel confident. They’re thinking “Hey! I actually sort of taught!” 

As their confidence builds, I have them take younger students aside to go work on punches or something. 

“You’re in charge,” I’ll tell them.  They’ll, of course, look at me in horror and ask what I want them to do, and I’ll always respond, “just go do it.”

So, they walk away nervously but, inevitably, once they get over there, they realize that they’re ready. They just didn’t believe it.

Or, sometimes the dojang phone will ring and I’ll look to one of the students and ask them to take over.  I’ll get the same terrified reaction, and I’ll respond the same way. “Just go do it. Don’t worry!”

It’s in that moment, when I don’t spoon-feed them their lesson plan, they develop a lesson plan of their own. Unbenounced to them, they’re becoming leaders. 

And the leadership skills learned at the dojang are not limited to just Tae Kwon-Do. 

For instance,  I had a student back in the ’80s named Jim. He always had very successful careers. Jim was a Marine drill sergeant, and when he got out, he became a New York State Trooper. Later, Jim went to law school to become a lawyer, which is when I met him. 

I was training him as a yellow belt when one day he said to me “you know, I’m kind of hoping this will help me with my legal career.” 

Every other aspect of Jim’s legal career was going great. But, when he actually got in front of a jury, he found that he was having trouble speaking and presenting himself in a powerful and effective way. 

I promised Jim that by the time he achieved his black belt, juries would be eating out of the palm of his hands.

He jokingly said to me, “well, if you can do that, then you’ve got free legal services for the rest of your life.”

Needless to say, he achieved black belt and not only became a successful attorney, but went on to open his own practice. He attributes his success to the leadership skills that he learned from Tae Kwon-Do. 

Jim and I are still friends to this day. And, thankfully, I haven’t had to take him up on his offer. 


Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, register online or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!


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