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Expectations

What drives you? If you are driven by money, you are setting yourself up for a disappointing life. No matter how much money you bring in, the temporary happiness of success will wear off, and it will never bring lasting fulfillment.  I lived that way for many years.

Maybe you are driven by relationships.  If you are looking to another person to make you happy, you may find yourself jumping from one person to another as each one lets you down.  

So should we lower our expectations?  Never!  We just need to adjust our goals.  If we place all our hope on the people in our lives, or on material goods, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Life is not about raising or lowering our expectations, it is about making sure our expectations are in line with our God-given purpose.  Each of us has a purpose.  We have special skills that will enable us to make an impact on the people around us.  

Get to know who YOU are. What makes you tick? Dig deep, find that inner passion, because it will show.  When you find things you are passionate about, dive in.  Keep growing and strengthening your skills in those areas.  Become the best that you can at it.  Then use it to make a positive impact on the world.

I spent so much of my life searching for fulfillment and yet wherever I turned, for so many years I never found it.  I had a lot of high expectations of myself.  I was willing to work hard, put in the time needed to move up in the world.  I became successful in many areas, but it never brought me peace or joy. At one point I even spent a period of eighteen months all alone working on myself – focused solely on building my mind and body. Even then, I was left looking for something more.

Fast forward a decade.  I was living in Los Angeles, working in Hollywood.  For most of my life I had been a guy who thought people who needed “religion” were weak.  Yet over that decade, people kept coming into my life who I respected, and they would talk to me about their faith.  They would give me a Bible or tell me they were praying for me.  They would share their story with me.  They were not weak. They were not pushy.  They made an impact on me and they got me thinking.  Thinking about things I had learned when I was a very small kid in church but had not thought about since.

I decided I wanted to look into the matter a little deeper, and I started attending a local church.  Immediately, I realized I had it all wrong.  I became a believer and slowly started changing my life as I learned about what it meant to be a Christian.  Instead of living my life for myself, I needed to live it for my creator.

Soon after that big change, I was headed for another big change.  I was driving away from Los Angeles, leaving behind the life I knew and was comfortable in.  I had always been a city boy.  Now, I live in the Midwest.  I wake up in the country each morning. It is peaceful and beautiful here.  I have a new perspective on how I want to spend my days on earth.

Training Rock Steady Boxers with Parkinson’s disease has also changed my way of thinking.  I see first hand their struggles.  I also see how they respond to my encouragement, how they learn and push themselves to be stronger and sharper. I get to share in their triumphs. It is so rewarding as a trainer to see them fighting back, and winning, against something like Parkinson’s that will take over their lives if they let it.

The money-driven younger self I once knew would see my life at this point as a failure.  But the funny thing is, I am much more fulfilled using my strengths to help others and living my life in faith than I ever was when I was moving “up” in the world.  

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.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

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Destination or Journey

Often we focus on the destination with so much intensity that we completely forget about the journey. Each of us has a unique story that goes along with our journey in life.  We are exactly where we are today because of the roads we have chosen.

In 2005 I could have never imagined that I would end up in the Midwest.  I became adapted to living the big city life during my time in New York, and the minute I left, I missed it.

I spent a lot of time in a mountain state after that, but I never enjoyed it or even considered living there.  I spent all of my time training, writing, reading and on Fridays, watching movies.  That was probably the longest time I spent living away from a coastline, until now.  Los Angeles began as my home in my early years, and became my home again.  It was the place I thought I would live the rest of my life.

Looking back, the funny thing is that I do not miss it at all.  I was going over all of the choices big and small that brought me to where I am in Illinois today.  I do not regret my past because it shaped who I am today.  I regret certain choices and actions I chose.  I never dwell on my past in a negative way, because it shaped the person I am today.  I am thankful for my journey and most of all, that I survived.  

I learned a lot of things the hard way. The lessons of my life come from experiences both good and bad.  Now, I hope to pass on my experiences to anyone who cares to listen, and save them the trouble of learning the hard way.

I lived in a state of constant dread.  A life of,  “What if?” or, “How long?”  Even after I began the change process, I still felt uneasy all the time. Looking back, I will sometimes catch myself wondering why did I not seek change sooner.  I know now that it is because I was not ready and God’s timing is perfect.

My journey taught me that we can all accomplish what seems impossible as long as we are dedicated to improving and staying the course.  We may not get exactly what we set out for, but what we do receive will be more than we could have dreamed.

Destination or journey? The real prize is what we learn along the way.
Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

 

Why Details Matter

Sometimes I like to just hang back, watch people to see what they do and how they act.  If you pay attention you can easily determine why some succeed and others fail at certain endeavors.

It has become easy for most of us to skip over the small details in life.  We live in a quick on the go society.  In reality every detail, no matter how small, matters. I have the luxury of hindsight because I am able to look back on my life and determine why I was successful at certain times. I can also be sure of why I failed at other incidents.  It comes down to the details.

Why are Vincent Van Gogh’s works of art so amazing and thought provoking?  After all anyone can paint a starry night.  In reality, very few can capture the mood and feel with a brush.

Last week I watched a championship fight between two fighters at the top of their game.  One of them was hit by a huge hook and right away he came back with a wicked cross.  The hook seemingly had little effect on the one hit.  Two still pictures reveal the reason behind it.

The hook was “winged,” which means the hips were not used and it was only a palm strike.  He didn’t hit with his knuckles, but his opponent did use his hips and turn over his punch.  Those tiny differences made the difference between being able to walk through a punch and being thrown against the ropes.

How many times do we fail to take each step we need to accomplish our goals? Are we using our hips to throw our hooks (hypothetically), or are we just slapping with our hands? I have been and am guilty as the next person when it comes to cutting corners.  I used to never worry about the small things, I always figured I could go back and fix them. This faulty way of thinking has cost me a lot over the years.  I think about all the time and heartache I could have saved myself and I realize how ignorant I had been.

We walk through life without realizing that God has provided us with everything we need to live a prosperous life of fulfillment.  It is hard because we cannot see the big picture or the final outcome. This is where faith comes into the picture and helps us get through the rough periods.  The good news is, that even though we can’t see the future, our job is not to blindly walk in faith, he has given us clear guidelines of how we should live in the Bible.

Our lives are made up of thousands of tiny actions that take place every hour of the day and night.  A chef cannot put a culinary masterpiece on the table without careful attention to each of the ingredients.

I listen when someone is explaining something unfamiliar to me and I absorb the information.  If I don’t understand something, I will ask questions.

I make every effort to do whatever task I set out to do right in the first place. I know I will fail at times, but I learn and I never continue to make the same mistakes again.

How could paying attention to details make your life easier?  The next question is why are you not sweating the details?  When we cease to learn, life is over.

Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Proverbs 13:4

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

 

Digging out

 

I am sure many of you have experienced the art of digging yourself out of a hole. I have spent my most of my adult life coming back from many poor decisions I have made.

I was on a perpetual merry-go-round of highs and lows as a criminal until 2005 when I was finally finished with the streets.  I had the next two years to work on myself and figure out how I was going to live as a normal citizen for the rest of my life.  My main objective was to keep being myself and doing things I was good at, but this time without breaking any laws.  

In the past, I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself.  I did whatever I wanted.  In my new life, I would have to consider how my decisions would affect those around me.  The stakes were much higher.  In my past life, I had many experienced criminals mentoring me.  Now I was unsure of what steps to take or even who to speak to for advice.

Life presents many opportunities to us, we must keep our eyes and our minds open.  I had to change my way of thinking and my outlook on life.  Writing this now, I can tell you it is much easier said than done.  

I had to learn to trust that God had a plan for my life.  I had to have faith, which is something I never put much thought into other than believing in myself.  I stopped looking at what I could do to bring in the most money and instead starting thinking about where I felt God could use me the most.

It was hard to walk away from the life I had built in Los Angeles because it was comfortable to me.  It was even harder when life did not go my way in Illinois right away and I had very few friends.  I felt like I kept hitting dead ends, and to be honest I felt like giving up and moving back to California at times.  Instead, I kept pushing forward, putting in the days, with the belief that with hard work and prayer the right doors would open.

One of the turning points in the past year was when I threw myself completely into my work and decided that no matter what I was doing, I would do it to the best of my ability.  It was hard when I could not see immediate results, when doors always seem to close as I was looking for a space to teach or open a gym.  Even when I found space and started out, there were so few people I wasn’t sure if we would make it.  But I kept at it.  Kept showing up, putting in the work and praying for direction and God’s blessing.  

Life is by no means perfect, but I know I am on the right track.  I wrote out my goals and started chipping away.  Slowly but surely I have made progress. We all can…. with hard work, determination, and prayer.

Philippians 3:13

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead

Circumstance

There are many uncertain things in life, but there is one thing I have always been sure of: I am responsible for what happens to me.  In the late eighties, a friend gave me a book he found at a yard sale. It was, “A Man Thinketh,” by James Allen, written at the turn of the twentieth century.  It opened my eyes to how much our mind influences our lives.  I later bought another book by James Allen, “Man: King Of Mind, Body, and Circumstance.”

I cannot even begin to guess how many times I have read and re-read these books by James Allan over the years.  

One day last week there was a brief period where there was nobody in the gym but me.

I had the music up loud and I was moving around in the ring.  I was trying to shadow box, but something someone had said to me earlier kept going through my mind.

They had said I was lucky to be good at boxing and to be in shape.  

So as I was moving around the ring fighting my imaginary opponent I had that thought going through my head.  I chuckled a bit when I thought of James Allan’s books, because now that I am a Christian his books have a much deeper meaning. I used to read them and only take away what I wanted to use. He also writes a lot about being moral and honest and those were the parts I skipped over.

I am today where my actions and thoughts have placed me. There was no luck or chance involved.  My mindset, thoughts and work ethic determine the outcome of my days, weeks and years.  

My current circumstance is actually the culmination of thousands of seemingly unrelated small choices over the years.  I am not saying that I am defined by my past choices, because I know that good or bad they are just temporary.  They will change with the present day and depending on the decisions I make now, they will either put me closer to where I wish to be or set me back.

My boxing skills and fitness are not by chance.  Each day is an opportunity to push myself closer to my goals.  I want to encourage you to keep pushing forward.  Dreaming and setting lofty goals is important, but so is the day-to-day grind and hard work that will get you there.  God has given you the tools you need to accomplish the plan he has laid out for you, and it’s up to you to use those tools to the best of your ability.

Philippians 4:11-12

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Colossians 3:23-24

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

 

Structure

In my lifetime I have come across many people who wake up whenever they please, go to sleep whenever they feel like it and basically do whatever they want to do. Many people choose to live their lives with no structure.

I always had a bedtime and a wake-up time growing up.  My bed had to be made and I had to eat breakfast every morning.

When I went to military boarding school we had a set schedule for every day of the week. My experience there taught me that everyone was more efficient when they had a structured life.

It was while I was at military school that I learned to love waking up early, before the rest of the world is awake.  There is something special about the magic time before dawn where I find I can accomplish so much.  I used to wake up an hour before our official school wake up call, shower, get dressed and read. I liked not being rushed, so it worked for me.

I do the same today as I did then.  When I first moved to Illinois I had no place to be early, yet I still woke up before first light, walked my dog and got in a workout. I made a timetable for myself that I followed each day.  I would devote a set amount of time to writing, reading and getting other things done.  

I have found that when I have a routine there is no room for wasted time. I am happier, I accomplish all the things I plan to and I still have some flex time for fun.

I have planned out my years as far back as I can remember.  It is never so restricted and structured that I cannot change along the way, I just have a plan, basically a guide to where I would like to go that year and what I would like to accomplish.  

I have observed people who live without structure and it causes them anxiety and other problems. It often leads to wasted time and impedes them from reaching goals.

I wake up at the same time every day. If I feel tired during the day, the next day I go to sleep earlier.  I eat my meals as close to when I should during the day to keep my energy levels up.

It works and the best part of all this?  I never have to make excuses as to why I was not where I should have been.

I encourage you to lay out a plan and stick to it.  Start with small short term goals and see them through.  Commit to getting enough sleep and regular healthy meals and schedule out your days.  I’m sure you will see the benefits soon after you begin.  We must have faith, knowing that God has a plan for our lives and his timing is perfect.

These small commitments will help you when your bigger goals do not involve immediate gratification but take time.  We can all live a fruitful, fulfilling life when we have structure.

Proverbs 13:4

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

Psalm 68:6

God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

 

My Fitness Journey

I first started taking fitness seriously in 2005.  That was when I had finally had enough of not being fit.

Our creator provided each of us with a billion dollar machine when we were born, yet most of us treat it like it is an old junker.  I know this to be true of me – I have been through my share of ups and downs over the years with my body.

I have expressed my love for the martial arts a number of times before.  It was through Jiu Jitsu that it had become clear that I needed to make drastic changes or I would not be able to participate any longer.  At the time I was getting beaten, hurt and felt like crap all the time.  I had always lifted weights and did some form of cardio, but I lacked in either the diet or conditioning part of fitness. I was unwilling to step out of my comfort zone and take in new methods of approaching fitness.

I was stuck in the 1980’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding workout mode, which would be fine if I wanted to be a bodybuilder, but I wanted to have an athlete’s build.  I am short, stocky, bulky and look puffy if I pound iron like Arnold.

It just so happens that at the time I was about to start investing in my well-being a lot of information was becoming available on the interweb. I spent a lot of time reading material, researching everything I could find on training, strength, conditioning, and diet. I had to use my B.S. filter a lot because while there is a lot of great information, there is also a lot of bad.

It was then that I purchased my first kettlebell. It was not what I was used to at all, it was hard to grip, awkward and unwieldy.   

I am sure all of you have heard this statement or might have even spoken it. “I hate cardio.”  I have said those words many times.  I did, however, walk and/or hike every day depending on where I was in the world.  It is a good base, but not what I need for endurance or the energy burn of Jiu Jitsu or kickboxing.

And so, I became one of the zombies you will see at any big box gym in every city, town or village on a cardio machine: reading, watching tv, talking etc. I would spend hours on them and still I was getting smoked during practice because you cannot get functional cardio doing a repetitive session on a machine.

It was then I met Krzysztof Soszyński who was a UFC fighter at the time. He started training everyone at Reign Training Center in his KSOS system which was circuit training that mimics what we experience in an MMA fight.  It opened my eyes to unconventional methods of training.

The weight came off me and I really started to have a lot of endurance.  My cardio was through the roof.  I learned a lot from him while he was at Reign Training Center. When he was away at a fight or doing promo for the UFC I taught his classes using his methods. I had taught privates before when I was at Joker’s Wild, but I never took any money. One day after class a woman asked me if I would hold boxing mitts for her, and when we were finished she handed me some cash.  It was at that point I became a trainer.

I was training Jiu Jitsu under Lars Wallin in Los Angeles at LBS 4 LBS Boxing at night a couple times a week.  If I had a day off or I was in town early I would stop by and see Lars.  He is also a personal trainer who trains a lot of high-end clients. Lars also worked with his cousin Magnus Samuelsson who was a long time competitor and winner of the World’s Strongest Man competition.  Lars had a lot of really great training methods that I was able to learn and utilize.  Lars was always able to smash guys who were much bigger than him with his Jiu Jitsu, so I was willing to pay attention.

My friend Wade who trained with Lars and I told me to meet a guy named Justin Fortune.  It was my time spent at Fortune Gym where I was really able to put things together.  I learned the mental aspect of boxing and combat sports from both Justin and the legendary boxing trainer Macka Foley.  The first time Macka told me he was going to work on my mental boxing skills, I thought to myself, “Why can’t I just hit mitts and throw punches.” It did not take long for me to realize how valuable Macka’s lesson were to me and anyone who I would go on to teach.  

It was Justin Fortune who taught me how to work with fighters and how to pull the best performance out of others. Justin was a former powerlifting champion from Australia who became a heavyweight boxing contender. After he retired from boxing he worked with Freddie Roach as a strength and conditioning coach for many champion fighters.

I was able to watch Justin train boxers, kickboxers, MMA fighters, actors and regular people for over six years. I asked him many questions and sometimes he would just give me advice. There are a lot of trainers who went to school or took a class, but there are very few who take the time or have the opportunity to learn under the direction of current working top tier trainers. This experience opened my eyes.

I had been in pretty good shape for several years at this point, but I only pushed myself to peak shape if I was going to fight or compete. Afterwards, I would binge on whatever I felt I’d missed.  One time, after a fight, I ate a gigantic blueberry tart from an Armenian bakery all by myself.  Candy corn was another weakness, and trust me, when it hit the shelves every fall I was there stocking up.

It was not long after I became a Christian and I was praying for guidance that I began to see things more clearly. I felt that I needed to be more in control of my behavior and take better care of my body. I started cutting things out of my life that did not fit into the new life path I was on.

Two years ago I cut out sugar in many forms especially foods containing high fructose corn syrup (candy corn!). Alcohol was no problem for me to cut out, because I did not drink. It is amazing how much better I felt once so much sugar was out of my life. I had never realized the ups and downs of my emotions were so driven by food until that point. For me, there is no such thing as going on a diet, I had to make a lifestyle change.

Thinking back on all the people I have trained alongside over the years, including the world champions in various sports, they all have something in common: they all put in the work, day in and day out. They stick to the plan and make no excuses.

I love to hear the success stories of people I have trained with and trained over the years. Recently, a Hollywood director friend named Christian sent me a picture of all the clothes he was donating because he has lost so much weight.  

I then heard from a guy I had a talk with one night many years ago in the parking lot of LBS 4 LBS named Kenneth. Kenneth was over three hundred pounds at the time. I told him about my journey up to that point and I encouraged him to keep up the work.  We would see each other at the gym over the years and I would always speak to him.  He was shrinking fast and he even became a personal trainer!  When I moved to Illinois he started a website www.fatboyshrink.com and I still keep in touch today.

All of these people and experiences have really energized me to pursue my own fitness journey.  I studied and became certified as a personal trainer.  I spoke to coaches and researched as much as I could.  I began to refine and expand my training methods.  I found out about Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson’s and I went to Indiana to get trained so I could start that program at my own gym.

I pray every day for guidance, that the right doors will keep opening to lead me to where I’m supposed to be.  I have noticed that there are very few options for people over the age of forty when it comes to fitness.  They can go to a big chain gym and hit the machines.  They can get a trainer who is in their twenties with very little life or work experience.  Or they can go the discount rate at the YMCA.

When I began training in Jiu Jitsu I noticed that older people would want to train, but without the physical conditioning, they would always become injured. So, when I trained clients I would focus on their strength, mobility, and balance together with their Jiu Jitsu skills training.

That is where I am today. Fitness does not have to be an endless session of weights or cardio machines. I want to encourage everyone, regardless of age or diagnosis to find a sport they love and work on it.  Commit yourself to taking care of the body God has given you.  Once your mindset is right, and your body is strong, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.  We have a saying in our Rock Steady Boxing class, “Sharp Minds, Strong Bodies, Fight Back.”   This is my fitness journey and I feel like it has only just begun.  Where will yours take you? You too can fight back against the chains holding you down.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

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.

Hebrews 12:11-12

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.