In California I had slipped into that comfortable pace of life where I was not doing as much as I should or could have been doing. So we decided to leave Los Angeles behind, took a leap of faith and headed 2072 miles away, to a farm I had never even visited before. I have lived in big cities all my life. The times I had moved away from California in the past to live in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale, I had always kept a California home to return to. This time was different.
We arrived in Illinois a few days before the moving truck. In my travel bag I had a mouth guard and some training gear – gloves, shin pads, mitts. It had been a week since I had trained last at Fortune Gym in Hollywood, where I had trained 6 days a week for over 5 years straight. We started looking up nearby gyms where I could begin training in the Midwest. Jiu Jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, and MMA are all a way of life for me. Though I had left behind my gym and training partners, I had not lost my passion for staying active as a fighter and would need to keep growing as an athlete and training regularly with people who could improve my skill.
The first gym I found online in a nearby town looked promising. We drove over and met the owner mid-morning. I introduced myself as Kenji, and we talked about the gyms I had trained at and the professional fighters I had trained with, and who we might know in common. He invited me to return later that night for some sparring when his MMA fighters would be there to train.
I came back for a class that evening and waited on the side of the gym for him to finish with a kid’s class he was teaching. He finished the class and began walking around talking to other people, avoiding me. After waiting another thirty minutes, I went up to him as he was talking to some people, and he asked me to wait and he’d be with me in a bit. He had me wait over an hour before he would speak to me. I was new to town, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. As I waited, I talked to some other fighters who were warming up in the gym.
Eventually, he walked off the mat and I tried to speak to him again. He was angry and raised his voice, asking me my name. I told him my name was Kenji, as I had told him earlier. He said, “Kenji GALLO?” I answered yes – as that was the name everyone I had trained with as a fighter knew me by. We hadn’t discussed last names, but I wasn’t trying to hide anything from him about my past. Kenji and MMA trainer from Los Angeles, who used to teach at Fortune Gym and Reign Training Center is not too hard to find on Google. He told me to leave, accused me of lying to him and trying to trick him, and added that rats like me weren’t welcome in his gym. I thanked him for his time and left.
What a welcome to Illinois! I really missed my California gym and friends at that moment.
The way I reacted to the owner of the gym was not natural for me. In the past, I always thought I needed to teach somebody a lesson when they were out of line. That never worked out well for me. You can not fight every perceived wrong. This is part of life, and you had better get used to it because it will happen often. All you can control is how you react to a given situation.
When I walked away, it was amazing how at peace I felt. His goal had been to punish me for who I was, yet I realized that in reality, he had done me a favor. The funny part of the evening was how worked up my wife was – the normally calm and collected one. She had waited with me and witnessed this all unfold. I told her I knew this was not the right place for me to train, and that God had something better in store for us.
The next gym I decided to try in the area was just the type of place I like to train – and I have been there ever since. The people are professional, I have made friends and I have become a better fighter.
The good news is, no matter how bad your past is, God knows every detail of your life and still welcomes you with open arms. He is capable of changing you for the better, and has a great future in store – regardless of the difficult people you will run into.