How to Turn an Opera Star into a Sheepdog

Posted by Justin Green on

How to Turn an Opera Star into a Sheepdog

“I remember walking into the gym and looking around to see a room full of badasses, and here I was, the least badass of them all,” said Toby. “I immediately started wondering what in the hell had I just gotten myself into.”

Toby was attending his first Sheepdog Response Level I course.

As a professional opera singer, years of travel around the globe and rising success were taking their toll on his psyche. He felt like he was never anywhere long enough to develop a sense of community. His foreign excursions also left him wanting to be able to handle himself better if “things got dicey.”

Toby just never imagined that sense of community and personal safety would come in the form of a weekend spent with a group of special operations and law enforcement gurus. Within 48 hours, they would teach him how to fight with a gun, his hands, and most important of all, his mind.

The process of self-discovery

Recently named as one of the top 40 next-generation opera singers in the world under the age of 40, Toby has spent years developing his voice and acting abilities. He started winning vocal competitions in high school. Those early victories led him to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City.

After graduation, his career took him to a life on the road traveling across the United States and most of Europe. While in Vienna, he wanted to be able to better defend himself and find an active hobby outside of the opera hall. He found a small Aikido dojo and developed an affinity for the efficiency and poetry of the Japanese martial art.

Four years later, his career took him to Munich. There, the closest dojo was an MMA/kickboxing gym near his hotel. He walked in the doors and quickly discovered his Aikido was no match for the hard-hitting hands and feet of a trained opponent. He was looking for something more relevant and meaningful. That’s when Tim Kennedy entered his life.

To unwind after a long day at work, he would watch YouTube. One night, he stumbled across the documentary of Kennedy teaching a Sheepdog Response course. “I started watching Tim and realized…this guy is awesome,” Toby said. “I loved the passion he showed in helping people better themselves by using the skills he learned in the military. How he presented that as part of a balanced lifestyle really struck a chord with me. I needed to get to one of his classes as soon as possible.”

Learning how to be Hard to Kill

Within a year of watching that video, Toby finished a performance, rented a car, and drove nine hours to attend a Sheepdog Level I course. “I admit it, I was nervous that first night,” Toby said. “Even though I love a challenge, I was starting to feel like I was in way over my head.” “But from the moment the instructors introduced themselves and started the class, I quickly realized I was in the presence of a very efficient training system with world-class teachers.”

“Sheepdogs come in all shapes and sizes,” said Dennis Jones, director of training at Sheepdog Response. “The amount of time you have behind a gun or rolling on the mat doesn’t matter. What matters is that, like Toby, you have heart and a willingness to learn.”

The next morning during the first full day of class, the instructors taught Toby the basics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He immediately fell in love with its efficiency. “It is a beautiful art form,” he said. “You don’t need to be very to strong to use it to protect yourself and, if you want, inflict some damage.” “Even though I was new to grappling, the instructors took my training seriously. Their mentoring helped me make tremendous improvements in my combative skills.”

Once the class moved to the pistol portion of the course, Toby, once again, found himself overwhelmed. “I’ve never shot a gun or even been around gunfire before, so the loud sounds were distracting,” Toby said. “I was having a hard time absorbing all of the information because everything was so new. Fortunately, Dennis Jones took me aside and started working the fundamentals of marksmanship with me. By the second day of the class, he had taken me from zero to a skill level where I could really enjoy and learn from the tactical courses of fire.”

By the end of class, he was well on his way to becoming a Sheepdog. “The course absolutely tested my limits,” Toby said. “In some instances, it took me way past my perceived limits. The Sheepdog Response curriculum and the instructors forced me to grow in a way I never knew I could. It was the best experience of my adult life.”

Walking the Sheepdog’s path

Toby’s travel schedule with its never-ending flights, hotels, and lack of sleep makes it a challenge to get in as much firearms and grappling training as he would like. He is, however, always able to train his brain and continue to develop the situational awareness skills he learned.

“Before the Sheepdog Response course I would always openly trust people, or just completely ignore them,” Toby said. “There was no in-between. Now I use the techniques I learned in the course to make a conscious choice of whether or not I want to blend in or stick out. I’m more careful about who earns my trust.”

Although he felt overwhelmed at times and rose to overcome each of the challenges, Toby only had one reservation about the Level 1 course: it wasn’t long enough. “In hindsight, I wish it could have lasted for weeks,” Toby said. “With the rate of progress I was making in just one weekend, I think within a few months I could have turned into Captain America.”

To learn more about the Sheepdog Level 1 course, read the three-part blog, Becoming a Sheepdog. Better yet, sign up for the next course near you.


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