Category Archives: New Year Resolution

Attract Opportunity

Opportunity. It comes in many shapes and forms, often appearing without warning when we least expect it.  I have had a lot of time to contemplate the topic of opportunity over the last two years. I dug deep into my past in order to better understand the missteps I made, with the intention of using that knowledge to improve.

Two men, both named Jerry, had a big hand in shaping my views during my younger years.  They both left a lasting impression that ultimately impacted my actions.

One was Jerry the Cop.  He was not the kind of law enforcement officer that you would want coming to the rescue.  Jerry and I spent a lot of time hitting nightclubs and bars. He urged me to go into a place radiating confidence.  He taught me to convince myself and everyone else I was “the man.”  His approach worked great for attracting a superficial crowd.  That was what I was looking for at the time, so I embraced it. I was a criminal on the rise, and I wanted to get bigger.

Jerry Z. was the other man instilling life lessons on an impressionable young Kenji.  Imagine that at the age of twenty you are standing in the office of a six-foot-eight-inch Jewish gangster, well known for running with a Colombo crime family crew. In fact, Jerry Z had just stolen a couple hundred million dollars in gas tax from the government, and he was about to take me under his wing.

He is sitting behind the desk schooling me on how to meet guys who can make me the big bucks.  He says, “Listen, kid, you have to relax. Let ‘em come to you. You got to act as if ‘I am the man,’ and you got to plant the Greed Seed.”  He was telling me to keep my mouth shut.  Let people see what I capable of, let them see I am earning, because nobody wants to work with a bust out.

Jerry Z. and Jerry the Cop had that same philosophy about working with others. You let people think they can make cash with you and you let them come to you.  Make them feel like it is their idea.

That worked for me to a point, just as hard work and determination work, but something was missing.

When I moved to Illinois, I was really starting over.I didn’t know anybody. I thought of Jerry Z.  He used to say, “You can drop me in place in the country.  As long as I got a place to hang my hat, I’ll make money.” This time, for me, the money was not the main goal.  I had recently placed my faith in God, and this time, I was building my life on a different foundation.

It hit me one day that yes, hard work is part of what I need to do to realize new opportunities, but I would be selling myself short if that was all I did.  I needed to change the way I approach life. Instead of the old days, where my dark past was an asset, I had to change my character to match my foundation, so that the right opportunities would come.

I had worked for twenty years to have a bad reputation, so I knew I could not expect to build a good one in just a few years.

I needed to surround myself with people who had the type of character I wanted, and those who are successful in the fields I wished to work in.  If I could not physically be around the people who helped me excel in certain areas I was working on, then I could contact them and keep up the friendships. I could also immerse myself in books about other people who had successfully embarked on a similar path.

I needed to change my life by doing new and different activities. If I kept doing what I always did, then the results would ultimately be the same, as the old saying goes.  We are what we think about and do on a daily basis. I needed to change up my familiar daily patterns and be prepared when the right opportunity came into my life.

I began dedicating time every day to reading the Bible and at least one other book that I could learn something from. I love reading, but I can also admit that I had become lazy, reading only fun books for entertainment.

Regardless of your beliefs, the Bible is full of wisdom and important life lessons.

I also kept focused on my health. If you exercise and feel good, everyone can see. With a healthy body and mind, you are ready for anything that comes your way.

James 2:18

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

 

Does Complaining Make life Better?

I have made an effort to stop complaining in the past year. I never liked to complain in public, but  I would complain to those closest to me.  It is a terrible thing to do to anyone.  Complaining drives people away and only serves to solidify the thing you are complaining about in your life.  

Complaining is a disease.  I’ve heard it said that what you think about on a daily basis is what you become.  Dwelling on something bad only causes it to become a bigger part of your life.  It gives power to the negative instead of to the positive.

The gym is where I interact with a diverse group of people. I can look back over the years, and thanks to social media, I can see where most of the people I have trained with at different points in my life have ended up.

For the most part, the guys who never spent time complaining at the gym, they just showed up, trained hard and even took extra time to practice after the rest of the team had finished, have gone on to accomplish big things in life.  One such person that comes to mind is a lawyer in Orange County.

I remember the day he first walked into the gym I was at.  At that point he was overweight.  I was paired up with him during practice, and to be truthful, my inner dialogue of complaints started in my head.  He is not in shape…. he is not going to stick with this… why am I stuck working with him?  He proved me wrong, and I am ashamed of the way I judged him.  He lost weight, he got in shape and he became a friend.  The last I heard he was still training Jiu Jitsu, moved up to a purple belt and became very successful in his law office.

I can think of many others over the years who have come across my path for periods of time and moved on to accomplish big things.  Why were these people able to overcome obstacles that to others, like me, appeared to block their path in life?

Combat sports teach those who participate that it is up to the individual to do what it takes to achieve goals.  If you want to succeed, quitting is not an option.   If you give it your all and fall short, you must come back again and keep working hard.

I have other friends I have known for years and years who I cannot speak to for more than a couple of minutes before they start in with the complaints about life and its unfairness.  It is hard for me to speak to them for long because of their bad attitudes.  They have never understood that their problems stem from within. They do not want to hear it and they just keep on blaming everything else – circumstances, people, bad luck, the weather – anything at all except themselves.

 They do not realize that they have to go straight to the source and tackle that problem head on.  The solution is within you.

When I feel myself start to voice a complaint I stop myself both vocally and mentally because I know it is a waste of valuable time that I could instead use to solve my problem.

I can see why people fall into the trap, and when I watch it happen I wish I could help them.  Most are so caught up in their own perceived misery that they cannot accept any solution.  They never realize they alone hold the key to their happiness.

I enjoy doing many things in my life that most people would consider work.  I go to bed early so that I can wake up early so I can enjoy walking my dogs each morning.  I like to eat the right foods so I feel good and get the most out of what I put in my body.  That, in turn, makes me want to push myself in the gym because that also makes me feel better.  Being in shape and strong makes boxing, kickboxing, and Jiu Jitsu fun.

Life is hard.  A big part of it is adjusting to changes, challenging ourselves, finishing what we start and knowing that in the end, hard diligent work pays off.  Complaining will only work against each of those tasks.

I am reading a book at the moment in which the author points out that we all have access to the greatest mentors from history, and we can sit down with them on a daily basis.  He is referring to the Bible, and that is the truth. Each time I spend time reading in the Bible I find a new lesson to apply to my daily life, and the lesson to stop complaining came directly from there.

Philippians 2:14

Do all things without grumbling or complaining.

Ephesians 4:29

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

 

Pursuing Your Passion

Years ago I wrote a book and I sold the movie rights to FOX studios.  They wanted a screenplay written. I had never given much serious thought to writing a screenplay for the big screen or the small screen.  After writing a book and being approached about a screenplay, I thought, “Hey, that’s what I want to be in life – a screenwriter!”

They asked me to write it with an Academy Award winning writer.  The writer invited me to lunch at their home.  It was an informal lunch eaten around the pool with the producer of the project and myself.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from successful Hollywood individuals, so I thought the best course of action was for me to keep my mouth shut and take it all in.

I learned the writer, like me, had never gone to school for writing.  I learned the producer had built up an international production company in Scandinavia and sold it for a huge profit, then moved to Hollywood and started a new company in a new country.  Instead of retiring, he started over and continued to work hard.

During my time working with both of them, I was given a crash course in writing for a studio.  It was like a private lesson in screenwriting.  Looking back now I can see that I was already losing interest in writing for Hollywood, the more I learned about the business.  What I thought I had wanted, I was realizing was not my passion.

Even though I was unsure about my next steps in life, I learned valuable lessons and kept pushing forward.   In the end, my show was not picked up by Fox, but I learned enough to write my own western screenplay and sold that to History Channel.

Through my contacts on that project, I was able to secure a writing/consulting job for a movie production company in Stockholm, Sweden.  I grew up immensely while going through this Hollywood period of my writing career. The screenwriting work was a chance for me to work with people from all walks of life.

People like to talk about overnight success.  I learned that successful writers toil away for years before they get an opportunity to shine, and even then, they may end up losing it all.

Projects will come and go, but the people you work with along the way are important, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.  Work hard on every project, big or small, and always go above and beyond.

We each have our own paths with unique wants and needs.  If we follow someone else’s path we may have limited success, but it is fleeting.  We are all on our own journey, and as long as you keep learning from every opportunity and developing your skills, no project is a failure.

Opportunities often come in life when we least expect it, and they often come from unexpected people or places.  Work hard, keep a positive attitude, treat everyone with respect and pursue the passions that God has put in you – and you too will fulfill your purpose in life, even if you aren’t sure what it is right now.

Philippians 2:3

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Ecclesiastes 3:1

   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

 

Clarity Of Purpose

Regardless of who you are today, you had dreams and goals in mind when you were young. Maybe you dreamed of playing professional baseball or maybe you aspired to be an astronaut.  

Life happens.  As a result, those dreams may have fallen by the wayside. Why is that?  A lot of times we settle for jobs we don’t love just for the paycheck, so we can live.  The cash starts rolling in and now you have a lifestyle that you have become accustomed to.  You cannot change and do what you really want because you have so many obligations. Does this sound familiar?

I understand this situation very well because that is how my life played out.  I was on that treadmill for almost forty years.  I did things I did not like, only because of what I could put into my pockets as a result.  Many times, I tried to convince myself that I liked what I was doing. Even though I detest gambling and alcohol, both played a role in my livelihood.

I learned how to “take action,” or bookmaking, from an older gambler named Mark. Mark had been a bookie for at least twenty-five years when I met him.  In fact, I am sure he is still taking action to this day – well into his eighties.

I had expressed interest in making money through bookmaking and loansharking (also known as shylocking) to a number of men associated with the Los Angeles cosa nostra family.  They all knew me as a kid who worked hard and brought in cash, so they put me in touch with Mark.  I began to work for him, and during that time I mastered the art of running a sportsbook.  This was in a time before either cell phones or the internet.  We used a series of payphones, hardlines and answering machines to run the business.  We got our updates on odds and point spreads from what was known as the “Island Line.”  We also had Las Vegas contacts who helped with lines and laying off some of the action.   Mark pulled in a great living from sports gambling and he also ran some after hours card games.

I took to this “job” because I liked the attention, and most importantly, I liked the cash that came with it. I used to tell myself that the money I brought in gave me the freedom to do what I really wanted to do in life.  Looking back that is funny because I can tell you this: I never did much of anything else.  I spent all of my time running the business and living it.

It’s important, to be honest with yourself about your gifts, your goals, and your dreams.  You must decide if what you are doing or will be doing is right for you.  Does it align with your values? Is it what you were created to do?

You will most likely spend years working at something to get it working well enough to put dollars in your pocket.  This where your own personal values come into play.  When I was young I had some vague, at best, personal values – and it showed in how I conducted myself.  Once you have a good personal value system in place, the decisions you make will help guide you toward lasting success.

Clarity of purpose is key to living a successful happy life. Once we find our purpose in life, it will help guide and shape our decisions.  In the end, being successful looks different for every single person.

I was lost for so many years until I came back to living a life that wasn’t about my desires but about God’s purpose for my life.  I was lost and broken, but I could never understand why I  was feeling the way I did.  When I found my faith I realized that life was not all about me, it was much bigger than that.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

2 Timothy 1:9

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

 

Grateful For My Life

It has been an unusually busy week for me.  Nothing like the go, go go of New York or Los Angeles, but it was more than the regular schedule I have become accustomed to in rural Illinois.

Part of my old world collided with my new world this past week.  On March 31, 2017 my friend King Mo Lawal was coming to town to fight Rampage Jackson in Bellator 175 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. I first met Mo many years ago at Jokers Wild Fighting Academy one day during a fight class. I was told that day that I would be working with him, which was a huge step up for me. We trained a lot more over the following years.

As his trip to Chicago approached, we made plans to meet up when he arrived in town before his fight.  He had told me to bring my gear because we might train.  I arrived at the hotel and left my gear bag in my car since I wasn’t sure what our plans would be.  Right when I walked into his room he asked me if I had my stuff, so I went back out to grab it.

Soon we were inside the “blue team” training room.  It was nothing more than an empty conference room that had wrestling mats laid down wall to wall.  He had his coaches from American Top Team there, and he had Jeff Mayweather started running him through some boxing drills.  They had him do three minutes of boxing followed by three minutes of wrestling with me, back and forth.  It was a surreal moment for me.  Here I was wrestling with the headline fighter for a Bellator fight in front of coaches from one of the premier mixed martial arts gyms in the world – in Chicago of all places.

It got even stranger for me when I looked up and saw former UFC champion Matt Hughes watching us.  After we finished the training session Mo had a press interview to do and I ended up sitting next to him for the interview.  Dinner came next, where I found myself speaking with the matchmaker of the Bellator promotion as well as Royce Gracie, the man who really brought Brazilian Jiujitsu into the mainstream.

The next day I drove back up to the city again to train with Mo.  This time I brought an Illinois friend who is a casual MMA fan with me.  I was worried that he would be bored, but we ended up having a great time.  When we were hanging out with Mo I was watching to see if he was affected by the upcoming fight – less than twenty-four hours away.  Was he stressed?  He was not.

We sat around talked about old times, people we know and politics.  “King Mo” is the character the fans see in the cage, “Mo” is the guy his friends know.  Mo cares about others and is a genuine person.

Driving home later that evening I thought about my life, and all the old memories of helping other fighters prepare for big fights.  I realized I missed the time I spent hanging out with my fighting friends, but not the life that came with it.  I found myself very happy to be headed home to my new life on the farm and the nearby town of eight hundred and thirty-seven people.

I thought about all the things that fell into place in throughout my life to bring me to this place.  I have been truly blessed in life by being in the right place at the right time.  I was able to recognize that and make the most of my situations.

This past week somebody posted an old picture on facebook and I was in the background. It brought back some memories both good and bad of my past life. While I am not proud of many decisions I have made in the past, I am thankful for where they have brought me today.

The army friend I’ve often written about on this blog posted a picture this past week that was taken when he was deployed in Afghanistan, laying against a dirt berm, geared up with his M4.  He wrote, “You know, I kind of miss this. I remember vividly this moment and being so tired. It seems a lifetime away and I have almost completely disconnected myself from this old me.”  I too have disconnected from my old life. I recognize who I was then, but it no longer seems like me.  I have changed.

I was written about in the local papers this week.  This time, the spotlight was not due to my past.  The article was about what I am currently working on.  It made me realize just how grateful I am for my life.  My past has brought me here, to this place. Training with top coaches and athletes for all those years has prepared me for this important endeavor.

This time I am not fighting for money, I am not training an athlete for a big fight or an actor for a big role. Instead, I am using all those skills to train up a new team of people to fight back against Parkinson’s disease and all the degenerative effects that come with it.

I am so blessed.

Philippians 4:11

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

You Get Out What You Put In

There are a few simple rules in life.  One of those is you get out of life what you put into it.If you look back throughout your life history you will come to the same conclusion.

Take stock of your life today.  Are you reaping the benefits of years of work put towards a goal? Or have you been coasting, putting off the work?  Are you letting your circumstances dictate your schedule, or are you making your goals a priority with your time?

So you want to write a book?  I hear this a lot.  What is stopping you from writing?  Common answers: no time, no money, I don’t know how or I do not have the education.

You want to write?  Then you must write.  Everyday you write so you get better. Writing is like a muscle and you have to use it in order for it to work properly.  You have to become a wordsmith, a person who is constantly working on their writing so that they become more proficient.

Writing has got to be one of the cheapest hobbies around, because all you need is some blank paper and a writing instrument. I have a friend, Matthew, who has written six books – good books – in eight years.  Three have been published and the others are in various stages.  He has written screenplays and edited other people’s work, all while holding down a full-time job.

He is married with a child, is active politically and he never went to school to be a writer. He just does it, day after day, until it becomes second nature.

I train a number people in all shapes and sizes in the art of boxing. One group really stands out –  the fighters in Rock Steady Boxing Minooka.  They all have Parkinson’s disease.  It has been over a year since I first watched Leslie Stahl from 60 Minutes do a story on Rock Steady Boxing.  Leslie’s husband has Parkinson’s and he started training at Rock Steady Boxing.  The difference in his life has been huge.  Before the video segment was even over I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.  I went to the Rock Steady Boxing headquarters and took a weekend seminar on working with Parkinson’s patients. It change my life. I realized that everything I had learned and trained over the years could actually be used to help others fight back against a debilitating disease.

My first Parkinson’s fighter has been training with me for almost one year, three times each week.  His wife is his “Cornerman” and she trains with him every workout too.  They have stuck with it and pushed themselves.  They have missed very few workouts in the entire year. All of their progress has been amazing.  It has improved their strength, balance, coordination, footwork, speed, form, posture, health and cardio. Why?  They show up even when they do not feel like it.  They show up when they are tired or have other things to do.  It is important to them.  This is the same for all of us, no matter what age or fitness level. If you put in the time, you will see results.

If you wish to improve your body, you have to do the work.  Any magic plan that promises fitness with no work is a lie.

Have you ever noticed that when you really wanted to do something, you found the time?  When you really do not want to do something, or it is not a priority, something will always come up. If you are just doing something for money or just doing enough to get it over with – it shows.  Quality in = quality out.  Mediocre in leads to the predictable outcome.

The ability to get good at anything takes a lot of work, but to do so as a full grown adult is rare. It is not because we can’t, but because we are not willing to invest the time or go through the hardship of change. We have, to be honest, harsh and merciless with ourselves and most people are too sensitive get a lot better at anything.  If you never intend to work hard, then anything you wish to do well – will be impossible.

This extends to living a Christian life.  If all you ever do is go to church once a week and sit through a sermon, do you really feel you are giving God his worth?  We are all sinners and not one of us is perfect.  It is a constant battle to live a life that honors God.  If you work on every day, you will see change. If you continue to just show up weekly at a service what can you really expect?

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Proverbs 13:4

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Challenges to Change

What is holding you back? What is preventing change, in your life? In my life, the biggest hurdle to change was myself.  If you look back at your life up to this point, what are some of the things that have caused you a lot of grief?  Could they have been of your own making?

My life was full of what I like to call now, ‘ill-advised short cuts.’ I was always looking for a way around the rules.  I never took the time to build the proper foundation.  That meant everything I did to be a house built on sand.

When it came crashing down, I would just walk away and jump into something new. I did not care, because I thought I knew what I was doing.

Nobody cared what I did because I brought in money enough for everyone.  As a result, not one person ever instilled in me the way to do things right.  I never made long-term plans, because in my words, “Who knows what tomorrow will bring.” I was always one step away from being locked up.

I was in love with my lifestyle, because as long as I kept producing more and more cash, I never had to think about what I was not doing with my life.  The life I chose gave me an excuse not to live like everyone else.  In my mind, the rules of the world did not apply to me. I didn’t have to have normal relationships because, “Hey, my life isn’t normal.”  I could lie, I reasoned, because it was part of my job.  If I didn’t like something, for whatever reason, I could just make it go away.  People wanted to be around me even if I was not a good person, because they felt they could get something from me. This kept me from facing the truth.

It has taken me many years and a lot of mistakes to write this today.  I had to really examine my life and be honest with myself.  I would work on one small problem area and then begin on another.

I kept thinking the life I chose was what caused me problems.  Then one day I knew what caused them.  It was me: I made the choices, I took it on myself to live the way I did.  I was the one who would not listen to normal rational people.  I always felt I knew better than everyone and I knew what was right.

I left what we referred to as “the life” in 2005, but that was just the beginning of my journey.

I had removed the work part of the equation from my life and yet I would still find myself having similar problems.  I had heard often that life was not about making money.  I was still doing things I did not like (legally this time) for money.  My reasoning was simple, I would use the money I made to do what I really wanted to do.  It never worked out that way, because I became involved in producing more and more so I could keep up with something that was only in my mind.

I was not happy and therefore I never felt any success.

I speak to people on regular basis that wish to obtain certain goals.  Most of these goals have to do with fitness and health.  Sometimes they feel they need to lose some extra pounds.  It could be they wish to be stronger or more coordinated. They might want to win a fight.  They need to figure out what their challenges are in order to change.  Whether or not they succeed comes down to one thing, and that is mindset.  In the end no matter what they decide, I can only bring out what they already have inside.

The formula for getting in shape and losing weight is simple.  The diet industry in the world hopes that people will never figure it out.  You have to workout and eat right, that is all. There is no magic formula or easy way.

Just like people are in search of a magic pill that will allow them to lose weight without a change in diet or exercise, I was in constant search for the magical off-road course that would take me where I wanted to go in life.

The whole time the map was in front of me and I ignored it.

I had to admit to myself that I was not as smart as I thought. I had to work hard and even when there was no visible change I had to keep moving forward doing my best.

Once I let God into my life, things became much more clear.  When I started living in faith and stopped believing I was the captain of my soul, I began to really live.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Matthew 19:26

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”