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A second-degree black belt: Off the clock with Sean Ingram

Sean Ingram with his wife and son

Sean Ingram,
Senior Development Officer,
Faculty of Law


Sean has been with the University of Toronto (U of T) for nine years.


What do you do off the clock?

I do a variety of things off the clock, including volunteering with the Soldiers’ Tower Committee at U of T, but the main focus of my life outside of work is my family’s involvement in the martial arts. My wife, Mia San José, eldest son Seamus and I all have black belts.

How did you first become interested in martial arts?

My wife and I met at McGill University 22 years ago, partly through a shared interest in the martial arts. After training for four years in Montreal in aikido and taekwando, we moved to the U.S. to get married and start a family. I left martial arts for almost 10 years.

But when we moved to Toronto, we wanted to involve our son in a good physical activity and thought that taekwando or karate would be great for him. We found a wonderful school in our neighbourhood, DeSantos Martial Arts Studio, which taught a blend of taekwando and karate. The master there, Veronica DeSantos, is one of the most highly regarded martial artists in Canada.

My son Seamus started at DeSantos when he was four and it wasn’t long afterwards that I felt the bug to get back onto the mat as well. Seamus was one of the youngest students to receive a black belt at the school when he graded for his first black belt in 2006 and I followed him in 2007 when I graded for my first black belt.

Shortly after that my master asked me if I wanted to start teaching at the school, and I’ve been leading at least two classes a week ever since. Mia got her first black belt in 2009 and our other son, Ciaran is working towards his first one 2014.

What impact has martial arts had on your family?

Martial arts is the thing we do. Other families are hockey families or dance families or any of the other wonderful activities that can involve parents and children. But for us a portion of every day of the week is spent at the dojang (training hall).

I teach an hour-long class Tuesday and Thursday nights and help lead a black belt preparation class Saturday and Sunday mornings. I mentor a half dozen or so new and old students each year as they progress in their training towards black belt and help make sure they are living balanced lives, which is really the point of martial arts.

In a normal year, I would train two to three times a week at the dojang in addition to my teaching. When I’m training for a new level of black belt (I’m hoping to test for my third degree next year), I should be doing an equivalent amount of training outside the dojang, including running, strength training, meditation and pattern practice. The great thing about having the whole family involved is that everyone understands what the others are doing and we all make time for each other and our training schedules.

My wife and I will try and train together in classes Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6am. Seamus trains in the classes I teach during the week, and Mia and I take turns bringing Ciaran to his classes. We all train together on Saturday mornings at 6am in our black belt preparation class.

Martial arts provide me with a sense of fulfillment and vocation that I haven’t found anywhere else. It gives me a sense of balance (physically, mentally and spiritually), a way of dealing with difficult situations, a relief from stress, an outlet for both positive and negative emotion and a real sense of joy that comes through a passionate commitment to self-improvement. Most importantly it has provided my family with a shared experience that helps bind us together.

What (or who) inspires or influences your work?

I have a lot of influences on my work and have been incredibly fortunate to have had amazing teachers, mentors, supervisors and colleagues throughout my career.

My father has given me my sense of ethics and attitude towards work; my mother my firm belief in the value of service; my aikido sensei in Montreal taught me that knowledge is a gift that has to be shared with others; Avon MacFarlane (my first boss at U of T) taught me the value of integrity and laughter in the workplace, and my karate master, Veronica DeSantos, continues to challenge me to move beyond where I’m comfortable in order to achieve great things.

But my wife and kids are who really inspire me through the example of their lives, and by their support and faith in me. And that is something that I would have never learned if it were not for the martial arts.

Submitted by Lucianna Ciccocioppo, director of external relations and executive editor of Nexus, Faculty of Law