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.
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.