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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : March/April 2007 : Frontlines


The New Renaissance Man
Amid today’s increasing obsession with making money, one man is using his own resources to make the world a better place.

by Tiffany Downey

Say the words “Renaissance man,” and most of us immediately think of Leonardo da Vinci, an extraordinarily accomplished man—painter, sculptor, engineer, astronomer, anatomist, biologist, geologist, physicist, architect, philosopher and humanist. Oh, and he was also said to be quite tall and handsome. In fact, in some ways, Leonardo da Vinci’s extreme giftedness stands out as an anomaly rather than as an example, and in the end does little to further the Renaissance Ideal.

During the European Renaissance period, the true gentleman was not celebrated for mastery or accomplishment in one area alone. He ideally spoke multiple languages, played a musical instrument, wrote poetry, was a skilled athlete, and pursued his fullest capacities both mentally and physically, in a well-rounded manner.

Leonardo da Vinci represents a rather intimidating persona—the epitome of the ideal man—and measuring our current role models against him, well, it wouldn’t even be a contest. We’ve become satisfied with celebrating the singular pursuit, or perhaps we’ve just become lazy. Our current cultural obsession with money—that includes money earned, won or inherited—supersedes respect for nearly any and all talents. Today, one can rocket to stardom just for being in close association with wealth.

So, how is it that 488 years after the death of Leonardo da Vinci, with all of our technological advancements, we seem to have grown less capable as human beings?

Thankfully, there are signs of hope. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world (in fact, so rich that he reportedly paid $30 million for one of the original da Vinci codices), has announced that he will leave Microsoft to focus on his philanthropic work and the charity he created with his wife. That philanthropic statement was matched by Warren Buffet’s astonishing charitable act that is believed to be the largest ever in United States history. Buffet has revealed that he will donate $37 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And recently, Richard Branson released the details of a $25 million prize he is offering to the scientist who comes up with a way to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

These new directions must be leaving some people confused. I mean, weren’t we being led to believe that the accumulation of wealth and power (by any means necessary) was the ultimate goal and answer to the pursuit of happiness? Obviously, these gentlemen who have had the opportunity to experience this level of affluence are focusing on new priorities.

And, there are some younger people who seem to have already figured this out, and who have abandoned our somewhat mercenary modern ideals. Without specific representations in the present, they have chosen to go backward in time to resurrect the pursuit of the Renaissance Ideals of the past. Enter the new Renaissance man revival.

One example of this new Renaissance class of young men and women—who set their own standards despite the direction popular culture role models seem to be taking—is a gentleman named Jason Olive. Olive embarked on his life journey with a conscious intent to pursue this model. Knowing it would require that he constantly challenge his comfort zone, Olive made the commitment to develop his potential to the fullest by pursuing a broad path covering both the arts and sciences.
“I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Olive says. “Growth is pain; pain is growth. They are really synonymous, given the appropriate perspective.”

As a gifted athlete at the University of Hawaii, Olive was awarded First Team All-American honors in volleyball after leading the team to its first-ever Final Four appearance. While on campus, he founded the university’s first Black Student Union, and graduated with the university’s top honor, the Jack Bonham Award for Academics, Athletic Leadership and Community Service; and the state of Hawaii’s top academic award, the Governor’s Award for Academic Excellence.

Then, Olive turned what had started out as a whim—modeling in college—into a very successful career as a top male model, with campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Versace, Armani and Ralph Lauren. Next, it was time to apply his bachelor’s degree in English literature and theater with a go at acting. This endeavor landed him some commercials, several series-regular roles, a supporting role in Garry Marshall’s film “Raising Helen,” opposite Kate Hudson, and then a spot on the critically acclaimed HBO comedy series “The Comeback,” starring Lisa Kudrow.

“Leaving sports for the arts was a terrifying thing for me, but that is why I knew I had to do it,” Olive says. “I also feel that the arts are something that stay with you. There are few experiences that allow you to have continued growth over your lifetime.”

At this point, one could assume that we would find Olive resting on his laurels, but he has always been focused on giving back to his community. When taking part in others’ philanthropic organizations and events wasn’t enough, Olive decided to form a charity to improve the lives of children through the sport of volleyball. His Jayo Foundation hosts an annual event, the Jayo Invitational, which has become the largest and most prestigious volleyball charity event in the country.

“When people think of ‘changing the world,’ rarely do they imagine the immense power they already possess to do so,” Olive says. “Often times, people believe that they must first reach a position of power to become powerful. The irony is that no one will ever be what they are not now already.”

Olive was left to conquer his next pursuit in business, and answer his own question, “How do you find ways to generate income that have a net-positive effect on the world?” The answer came while helping a friend, celebrity bodyguard Cameron Shayne, change career paths. Shayne was looking for a way to segue out of the entertainment industry, in which he had been working for 12 years protecting actors like Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen, and choreographing stunts for Chris Tucker. Olive helped to expedite a new direction by partnering with Shayne to create Budokon, the hottest new exercise and philosophy trend, based on Shayne’s years of experience and discipline in martial arts and yoga.

“For me, getting Budokon out there became really important, and I believe that Cameron is one of the great teachers of our generation; probably the greatest teacher since Bruce Lee—of the theory and the movement,” Olive says.

“Really what we are doing is enabling people to experience the power of the ancient traditions of mind, body and spiritual practice that have been taken advantage of for thousands of years in numerous cultures,” he continues. “Combine these practices with the industry of American people, and you have this wonderful phenomenon called Budokon, or ‘way of the warrior spirit.’”

The two best friends and Budokon founders live by Shayne’s Budokon philosophy: “The way you move reflects the way you think, which reflects the decisions you make that creates the world around you.”
Olive will make one of his next appearances as a celebrity host and producer of the sustainable fashion show at the Rock Your Planet! Earth Day Event April 21 at the Santa Monica Pier.

Tiffany Downey has been working in the entertainment industry for nearly 20 years. She is an entertainment business executive, independent film producer and writer who enjoys physics and philosophy. Downey is passionate about sustainability as an environmental, social and business concept. Contact her at

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