Tag Archives: determination

Fitness & Faith

 

 

Moving from Los Angeles was exciting and scary all at the same time.  I knew I could always train people while I wrote on the side.  I had no idea if I could still sell anything I wrote, being so far away from Hollywood and all the producers.  

I love the martial arts and I love strength training.  In Los Angeles,

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Old School Boxing

I worked for Justin Fortune, a former boxer who fought Lennox Lewis the heavyweight champion who knocked out Mike Tyson.

Justin is a world class trainer who excels at strength and conditioning.  He is very sought after by elite athletes in combat sports. He trains Manny Pacquiao before his fights. I learned a lot from Justin and from all the top-ranked talent that came into his gym. Justin would pass off clients to me that he was too busy to train.  He gave me fighters and actors who I ended up training for a long time.  

One time Justin passed off a young kid named Santiago who was training for a film role.  He was not understanding the proper form for punches or the footwork, but he was willing to put in the time each day to get better. As I watched his boxing and physique improve over time, I also noticed his demeanor and confidence change.  Seeing someone change in front of my eyes was great.

My ministry as a Christian is helping those around me achieve their goals through physical health.  Ministry is about each of us helping those that we can, in ways that we are best equipped to do so.  I started training people in our basement and outside. My approach is simple, I teach each person like I am teaching a professional.  I explain it, show them, and if they choose to listen I show them some more. If they just want to get in a workout and aren’t interested in learning proper technique, I back off on technique.  Usually, after a time, they will also want to improve their form. I introduce them to a strength and conditioning program that is based on the programs we used for conditioning fighters in Los Angeles.  Each person can go at their own speed and level.

After the big move, I wanted to start training people again in the Midwest.  I knew it would take some time to build up clientele.   Not long after moving, I was sent this link to a video about a gym named Rock Steady Boxing that teaches boxing for Parkinson’s patients. You can see an improvement in the quality of life after a few weeks in every patient who trains.  I called them and tried to get into one of their weekend training programs, but they were booked until late in the year 2016. I added my name to a waiting list and received an email in March of 2016 that someone had canceled and they could fit me in that month if I was available – which I was.  

The three days I trained at Rock Steady Boxing were life changing for me because I was taught about the disease by leading doctors, researchers and professors in the field, and I worked with actual Parkinson’s patients.  One of the men in my group, Daniel, had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  I could see that it was weighing heavy on him.  Daniel was a pastor in the south who wanted to learn the Rock Steady Boxing program to help others while he helped himself.  Daniel had no boxing or training experience, so we partnered up and I helped him as much as I could.  I showed him how to hold focus mitts and to throw punches.

I worked with many patients over the next few days and I saw the same thing in every one of their eyes.  I saw hope!  It was the first time since they were diagnosed with Parkinson’s that they could do something to help themselves.  A way to improve their health and fight back.  I watched and trained them as they joked and laughed. I was excited to find a way to branch out my ministry – this was something I could do and be proud of doing!

I started training my first Parkinson’s patient just over three months ago, and the changes have been amazing.  He is stronger and his balance and coordination are off the charts now.  I have him doing complicated footwork drill and he can keep up. The bonus is that I train his wife at the same time and she has also seen some amazing gains.  Rock Steady Boxing gym always trains the spouse or caregiver alongside the patient, and they are referred to as “the cornerman.”

In my regular early morning fitness boxing classes, I recently gained another mature adult in my class, and I can see she is also making gains.  When we get older we tend to think there is not much we can do. Wrong!  There is much more that can be done, you just have to approach it in new ways.

Many people, believers, and non forget about their health or put it on the backburner.  They forget that we must all take care of our bodies. God calls us to take care of the bodies he has given us so that we are strong enough to do his work.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Or do you not know that your body, is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Rock Steady Boxing:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/boxing-program-trains-patients-to-beat-parkinsons/

A Warm Welcome

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.

 

The Challenge

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At 20 years old I believed I had life figured out. I knew how to put cash into my pocket and a roof over my head. I was able to do what I wanted whenever and wherever I wished.There was nothing I wanted from church, so in my mind, I didn’t need it. Same with God.

I determined to think positive, work hard and keep moving forward with my ultimate goals always in mind.

The formula was simple: get cash in whatever way possible, and keep it coming.

Why would I need God? I had science.  I knew why the sky was blue and the sun came up every morning. I didn’t need to read a book that was thousands of years old and had no relevance to my modern life.

If you were to ask me how the world was created, I would have said the big bang. If you asked me what caused the big bang, I would have answered, “It just happened.”

That was my limited way of thinking because my world was so small.  I had become a criminal at a young age.  Organized crime is not just about committing crimes, it is a way of life that takes over.  Everyone in the life looks at every situation through tinted glass: how can we benefit on a large scale.  Everyone around me did the same.  I cut my hair, shaved and dressed like I was told. Every person I was around was part of the life, or I didn’t consider them a friend.

I wanted to expand and become more successful which means I wanted more cash each week. I asked my capo, Jimmy, to put me with Mark – an older gambler who ran a sports book.  In other words, Mark was a bookie.  I had sold parlay cards and other sports gambling products so I knew the world.  Mark showed me how to set up my book and balance it.  I learned the lingo and the kind of bets gamblers would place.

The next year I was ready to go out on my own.  My first year I did well because I had older guys like Mark helping me along.  The next year I did even better and I expanded.  Everyone gambles and it does not hurt anyone – this is what I told myself over and over again.  This was a big lie because a person who is addicted to gambling will do anything to feel the thrill. Even when faced with ruin, these people kept gambling.

I soon swallowed up smaller bookies and they began working for me.  The money came easily because I was the house and the house always makes 10% on any bet.  I used the extra cash to loan out and gain more cash through loans.  Gambling is unlike any other business because you are not out any real product, only figures on a sheet of paper.

After twelve years I couldn’t stand my life at all. I wanted out of the life, but I was not willing to go through the uncomfortable period it would take to change.  The criminal’s dream is to find something that will bring in the same amount of cash that they are making except the profit becomes legal.  Until I realized that my way of thinking was broken and had to change, I would go no place fast. It wasn’t until my dream became getting out of the life altogether, profit or not, that I would find the answer.

God’s timing is perfect, but I didn’t know that at the time.  The FBI offered me a chance at a fresh start, and that was the turning point. I spent the next 8 years trying to undo what I spent my life before doing.  While I was still a part of the criminal world for the next eight years, I was no longer there as a criminal but as an informant for the FBI.

God gave me a fresh start, but it took me almost another ten years of trying to start over on my own before I turned to Him.

The challenge for me was to let God guide me instead of trying to find my own way.  It is a process that I am still going through and will be going through for the rest of my life. I know that everything I encounter is part of His plan, and I have to surrender my plans to His. When I look back at my life, I see a lot of mistakes.  I also see God’s hand at work. Success, I have learned, is all relative to what you consider successful.  The things our world considers success we learn in the Bible are very different from what early Christians, like Paul, considered most valuable – knowing Christ as our savior.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

I have learned some very hard lessons and all that I have learned about true success has helped me in two ways.  The hard work and positive thinking is still a part of my life.  I learned that I cannot be successful with doing what I feel is right, true success comes from knowing we are flawed and Christ bridged the gap between our flaws and God, offering himself as a sacrifice.  All the success you think you have or aim for will never be enough until you ask God into your life and make knowing and serving Him your definition of success.

 

Is There Grace For Me?

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The Farm

Years before I came back to God, I was under the impression that there would be no more church for me. I had these childhood thoughts in my mind that if I went to church again someday people would judge me. If they did ridicule me or look down at me, how could I blame them?

In 2003 I was still on the streets of Brooklyn as a connected guy to the Colombo family.To all those who knew me, I was just what I had always been: a mafia-connected thug.But I had a secret. I had been working for the FBI since 1996.  I was playing the role of a criminal at this point.  The operation was only supposed to last for six months to a year, and here I was in my seventh year.  It had taken it’s toll on me, both mentally and physically.  I was in the life, but not really – a kind of limbo.  I was constantly facing what all of my actions and decisions had done to people.

It had taken it’s toll on me, both mentally and physically.  I was in the life, but not really – a kind of limbo.  I was constantly facing what all of my actions and decisions had done to people.

One day stands out for me during this time. I was out with Uncle Manny driving around to construction sites.  Uncle Manny was giving me my daily lesson on mafia wisdom.  It was the  mafia’s form of indoctrination.  We were up in the Bronx when I received a call from Eddie G, a Colombo associate who ran a trucking business.  Eddie G wanted to know where I was at that moment.  I told him where I was at, and he told me I had to come see him at his truck yard on Staten Island. I must have looked upset because Manny asked me what was going on.  I told him Eddie G wanted me to go to his yard ASAP.  Manny asked me if I wanted him to come with me.

Eddie G was Manny’s nephew, so really what good would that do? I was scared right then and I had good reason to be afraid.  In the life, nobody wants to get sent for out of the blue.  So many thoughts were going through my mind, did they know the truth about me?

I got back to my place in Brooklyn and was soon in my car. I called the FBI and the New York office was closed, it was after business hours.  I called the Los Angeles office and got ahold of an agent I knew.  I told him where I would be going.  He told me I did not have to go, but in my mind, I had to, because if you did not come when sent for, it was over.

The drive was thirty minutes, which was mostly a blur.  I kept thinking, “This is it.” I hoped it would be quick. I thought about my family.  Would anyone ever know what happened to me?

I didn’t pray, but I thought I could just ask Jesus to forgive me before I died and I would be okay.

I pulled into the yard and Eddie was standing outside yelling at some guy.  He smiled when he saw me and motioned me over.  He told the guy to beat it and then he shook my hand.  He said, “Let’s walk and talk.”

He then told me he was putting together a fund to buy our capo a truck for Christmas.  Instant relief! You never saw anyone give up four grand faster than me that day.  That cash was out of my pocket and in his hand in seconds, and I would live another day.

Did I learn anything? I guess not, because I kept doing the same thing for years.

I felt almost as much dread the day I went to the church in San Marino after thirty plus years of walking away from the one I attended as a kid.  I thought that anyone there would know I was a fraud. I thought they would stare and speak under their breath about me. It had been almost ten years since I left New York and my life in the underworld.  I had gotten my life on a better track, but it was still empty, missing something.  I also carried around a lot of guilt from my former life, which made it hard for me to get close to others.

I felt that sharp intake of breath that I had felt on the street with a slight burning sensation in my stomach when I stepped into the church.  Once we started singing and then when the sermon started, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

I have never felt so welcome and so at peace as I did that day when the service was over.

I found my way to Jesus and I was then fulfilled.

I signed up for and began attending Bible study the next week. I read the Gospels, and if you read them you’ll see the people Jesus chose to minister too.  He did not pick out the rulers, priests, rabbis or wealthy merchants.  He often chose regular people and those looked down on in the society, like a fisherman and a tax collector.

I read about Saul Tarsus who would become Paul later in life.  He was not who you would think Jesus would pick to be his disciple, yet it was who he picked. Jesus appeared to him on the road.  Saul had been a persecutor of Christians, but after his encounter with Jesus, he would be one of his strongest missionaries.

I understand Saul.  I went from meeting in truck yards, planning ways to make more money for a criminal organization, to today studying and sharing the word with anyone who will listen and spending time with fellow believers. This is my second chance.