He grew up in a small town, Bancroft, near Charleston, W.Va. Over the years he taught karate and ran a school. In 1997, he came to Colorado Springs for the USA National Karate Championships and “fell in love with the city,” he said.
Eleven years later, he landed a job with USA Karate, headquartered in Colorado Springs, as director of member services and events in 2008. This year, at age 31, Lease was named CEO of USA Karate.
As one of the youngest National Governing Body executives, how did you come to be involved with USA Karate?
I became involved with the NGB in 1992 as a competitor. I went on to participate as a referee, becoming the youngest licensed international official in the U.S., while volunteering in many roles. In 2006, my sensei (teacher) became president of the organization and I began to work in an administrative capacity. Following a U.S. Olympic Committee led restructuring in 2007, our office was moved to Colorado Springs and the new CEO, Luke St. Onge, brought me out as the director of member services and events.
What is your No. 1 goal for the organization?
It’s time for this organization to take its rightful place in the world of sport. USA Karate has limitless potential for growth and progress. Right now, of the 6.5 million people practicing martial arts in the United States, only approximately 125,000 are participating in USA Karate related programs. We, along with USA Taekwondo and USA Judo, have an opportunity to reach out to those other participants and bring them into programming that is affiliated with the Olympic movement and ideals.
What is your favorite part of the job?
All of it! I’ve been very fortunate to be able to take something that I’m passionate about and make it a career. I enjoy working with our national team, and coming from the event side originally, I have a very soft spot for our signature events. Our USA Open, which is held each year at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, is the largest karate event in the world with more than 2,000 competitors and 55 countries in attendance. It feels like my child at times. We have a great staff working and developing the events, and I’m proud to be able to work with them year after year. I really do have the best job I could ask for.
How do lessons of karate translate into everyday life?
Karate is about making people better. This isn’t just physical. It’s about developing the whole person. The life lessons that are a part of this concept are carried out of the dojo (karate school) and critical to success. We learn goal setting through our belt promotion process, we learn the value of hard work and disciplined training in that repetition that is a critical part of learning karate, and we learn perseverance every time we’re knocked down and have to get back up — and I mean knocked down in the literal sense.
Your organization has a big push to get more youth involved in karate, what is your strategy?
Karate is fun. We have to appeal to youth through making sure that they are enjoying the programs that are presented in our member clubs. That is what grabs the interest of the kids and keeps them coming back. The parents are willing to invest because they see the life lessons that karate teaches. Less than 1 percent of students who walk into a karate dojo will make our elite teams. However, they can all be champions as they grow and develop and go on to use the lessons they’ve learned in their karate training their entire lives.