OB/GYN Draws Passion from Focus on Humane Living

Michael Foley, MD, finds passion in his martial arts school, teaching classes and inspiring young people to go out into the world and be part of the answer to society's breakdowns.

Michael Foley, MD, was at a crossroad. It was his sophomore year in college, and he was torn between playing professional baseball or moving on to medical school. His future wife, whom he had known since he was 15, cast her vote for medical school. After much contemplation, Foley decided to follow her lead.

“I did so because I really wanted to offer those skill sets, and the fulfillment that one gets from caring for other people,” says Foley, who today is the academic chairman and program director for the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Arizona-based Banner Health, and a tae kwon do black belt instructor.

Any regrets? Foley laughs and says, “It’s more along the lines of thank goodness I decided to move in that direction.”

And the hundreds of people whose lives he has touched feel the same way.

Training the mind and body

Foley was a 7-year-old growing up in northern California when his brother, who would go on to become one of the first Navy Seals, brought him to a hand-to-hand combat training session. His status as an observer quickly changed when the instructor involved him in the training. And as a young person during the 1960s, the Bruce Lee era, Foley found himself drawn to the martial arts.

“It’s the narrative that most of us have about martial arts, you know, the punching and kicking,” Foley explains. “And then as I continued to train with a number of masters over the year, I’ve come to learn more and more that the true intent of the martial arts is about understanding and developing relationships within yourself, and with others and the environment.”

Foley says he learned that a peaceful resolution to conflict is the ultimate victory, thus avoiding the violent aspect of the training. The purpose of learning the physical aspect is to be able to feel comfortable and confident enough that you don’t have to defend your ego, and need only defend your wellbeing.

“There’s a big difference,” Foley says. “In society, people tend to tie wellbeing and ego together, and they get just as insulted by getting cut off in traffic as they do if someone put a gun to their head. They have the same fight-or-flight mechanism. The martial arts training over the years taught me to understand what a real threat is, and how to deal with it.”

Humane living

In the early 1990s, Foley and his family moved to Arizona, and he sought a martial arts school where his children—2 daughters and a son—could benefit from the training he has received. But all he found were the schools that advertised to the widely accepted narrative the public had about martial arts: competition, trophies, and championships. That wasn’t what Foley was looking for, so he took a different approach.

“I actually talked my wife into building a martial arts school in the basement of a guest house that we had here,” Foley recalls. “From then on I brought in patients, kids, nurses, and doctors. And I did it for free. I did it under a pay-it-forward model. So, if you train with me, then eventually you’re going to have to give back to the community the gift of training that I’m giving you.”

Fast forward to today, Foley has opened 8 schools and has approximately 25 former black belt students who are following his lead. Everything has been built around his Center for Humane Living, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing participants’ personal and spiritual growth.

His entire family is involved. His wife is a fourth-degree black belt; his oldest daughter a fifth-degree black belt; his middle daughter and his son are third-degree black belts. And the entire organization has grown to more than 500 families, with expansion aimed at California and Pennsylvania.

Two books Foley has written—The Art of Humane Living-Martial Arts as a Path to Peace (published in 2004), and his new book, Ancient Wisdom for Life Fulfillment—act as a primary curriculum for the school. And, in addition to classes at the Center, he still offers instruction in his home.

“I still teach classes myself because I think it’s a great opportunity for mental health and a break from the stresses that surround the world of medicine today,” he explains.

Passionately driven

Foley also maintains a clinical practice in maternal-fetal medicine.

He and his obstetric team use PeriBirth®, PeriGen’s EHR designed specifically for obstetric care, to document patient care. Last year, Banner Health earned a Showcase in Excellence Award from the Arizona Quality Alliance for successfully instituting a “hard stop” policy reducing unnecessary early-term elective deliveries by 22% prior to the 39-week gestation across its 19 facilities. The health system used PeriBirth to analyze the data reporting of the policy’s impact to establish a baseline for measuring future performance and to monitor ongoing compliance. As a result, 2,600 more babies per year are being delivered at term at Banner Health facilities.

Foley uses analysis in martial arts as well. At the center, they identified the top 10 major breakdowns in society, and the goal is for the center to provide the solutions, not through answers, but through people.

The continued passion Foley has for martial arts is based on a very basic concept—not unlike the development phases of moving from child to adolescent to adult. At the center, they provide answers to societal problems in the form of inspired young people, according to Foley.

“For me the passion comes from watching these young adults become doctors and lawyers,” he says. “They graduate from the Air Force Academy, and they go out and lead and start their own schools and be productive individuals in great, great relationships.”