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Act Two

Did your life seem to be right on track, and then it ran right off the rails?  Modern life is filled with pitfalls such as divorce, losing your job, sickness and the list goes on. It is filled with distractions that would like nothing more than to keep us from moving toward our goals.  We have to keep moving forward.

Forgiveness is something frequently discussed in terms of the people close to us, but we often forget to forgive the closest person of all: ourselves.

It’s good to look back on your life and acknowledge your past mistakes and learn from them.  It’s also important to forgive yourself for them so that you can move on with your life.

No good comes from putting your life are on pause to live in the past.  We cannot go back and change the things that have happened. What we can do is move on, refusing to repeat the same mistakes.

I can remember the night very vividly, yet it was already almost two years ago.  Fortune Gym, the gym in Hollywood where I had worked for six years, threw my wife and I a going away party.  As I looked around at all the people in attendance, it hit me hard how much I was going to miss them all and how much I was actually going to be missed.

One of the people at the party was a young man I had met at the gym about two years before.  We had chatted briefly and I had taught him a little Jiu Jitsu.  The next time I saw him he told me he had read my book.  He knew someone in the book, so we had a good laugh about it.

Over a two-year, period I trained with him often.  One day I had a talk with him about his line of “work.” He was selling large quantities of pills and marijuana.  I was worried about him because he had not yet been arrested for anything, but he was playing a dangerous game and it was bound to happen.  You commit crimes, you will get caught.

I told him that it may look good and it may seem like easy money, but in the end you will pay the price.  I could see he was unsure of what to do with his life, but I could also see that he took note of the message I was trying to get across.  A few weeks later he had an unrelated legal scare and was facing some serious problems.  The legal problems ended up going away, but I am pretty sure it helped guide him toward making better choices in life.

Although I haven’t seen him since the party, I speak to him about once a month on the phone.  Thanks to social media I can follow the things he is doing with his life. He opened a music studio, started managing talent and even started his own music label.  He got a chance to live his life differently, and he took it.

A second chance is always there if we are willing to sum up the courage it takes to change.  It is never easy giving up what is familiar no matter how wrong it is.

I left Brooklyn, New York and drove to JFK International Airport on a cold November morning.

I parked my car in long term parking and took the train into the terminal. I knew deep inside I was not coming back.  I had two suitcases and a laptop. I knew life was about to change for me, but I had no idea how much.  In that moment, I was just relieved for fresh start.

That was twelve years ago.  I still had many lessons to learn and places to live before I reached where I am today.  I had to learn to forgive myself, to forgive others and to accept God’s forgiveness and plan for my life. Leaving Brooklyn was only the beginning of my second chance.

I have been reading the Gospels this week.  It is clear to me that Jesus took those that were considered broken and gave them new purpose and everlasting life. He even forgave Peter after he denied him in public.  If we know someone who denies Christ, who are we to give up on them when Jesus did not give up?  Who are we to shun away people who may have not done the right thing in the past, if Jesus did not do that? How can we hold our past against ourselves when he does not?

America is the land of second acts, it is still the best place in the world to reinvent yourself.

I am over a decade into my second act, and I am still learning new lessons and moving forward every single day.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

 

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.

 

Accomplishing The Impossible

How many times in your life have you told yourself that something was impossible to do, yet you ended up accomplishing it? We all have the ability to make the impossible possible.  It comes down to mindset.  If you believe you cannot do something, you won’t be able to do it.

If instead, you have an unwavering belief that you will reach your goal, you will.

There is an author that I have admired since I was a little boy. To date, he has sold over 300 million books in many different languages. He was even a favorite of Presidents like Ronald Reagan.

He was never a book critic favorite, but he nevertheless could produce books that people would read.  He wrote over 100 novels and 250 short stories in his lifetime, passing away in June of 1988.  He never went to college and in fact, he only ever made it to the 10th grade. Times were hard, so he had to quit school and begin working to support himself and his family. He might not have had any formal training after that, but he read as many books as he could get his hands on.

He was a professional boxer at times, a trainer, a merchant seaman, and an officer in World War II.  He held so many jobs that I could not even begin to list them all here.  He later used this vast experience and the knowledge of the people, landscape, and history to fill his books.

He had no formal training, he just sat down and wrote.  The man was Louis Lamour, who today is mostly known for his Western books.

People around him early on urged him to get into a career that would pay so he would have something in life.  He believed that he could accomplish what everyone told him could not be done.

Deep down we have to believe that we can do what we set out to do no matter our situation or what others tell us.

You have your own unique ability to do what most people will tell you is impossible.

 

Throughout my life, I always felt that I could do anything that I worked hard enough towards.  I directed my energies in the wrong direction many times, but I did complete what I set out to do.

My main problem was I would take short cuts. I was willing to do whatever it took to get to where I wished to be.  This works on the short term, but it has long-term effects and nothing is on solid ground.  In a society where there is so much emphasis on the outcome and reward it is easy to fall into that trap.

I decided that I wanted to fight an MMA bout years ago and my coach told me that I would have to fight at 145 lbs, which was much lighter than I walked around.  He based it on my height, body type, strength and skill set.  I thought he was kidding because even in high school I was never that small.  I doubted I could get that low.  The good thing was that I was in a good gym and we had many fighters that passed through. One of those was a fighter named Cub Swanson.  Cub was getting ready for a fight and he was cutting weight.  We all rolled with him and trained hard.  Cub was going to fight at 145 lbs at the end of the week and yet he was stronger and bigger than me.  Cub made weight and won his fight.  After watching Cub make weight, I knew that it was possible for me.

My time came and with the help of two fighters: Tim and Arian, I was able to make weight.

I learned that I could lean out and I learned that I could stay fit and strong while weighing less.

We can never forget that what seems today impossible will only be so until we complete it.  If others have done, it so can you.  If you have the courage and drive there will never be anything out of your reach.

There was a man who died 1,983 years ago who was only actively teaching for 3.5 years, yet today 2.2 billion people claim to follow his teachings. When he was alive he had 1/1000 of a percent of the Roman population following him. In just a few centuries 56 percent of Romans were believers.  That man is Jesus.  His story would seem impossible, yet here we are today.

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 17:20  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Jeremiah 32:17 ‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

Self-Discipline

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Every dream, goal and plan comes down to being self-disciplined enough to get through the rough parts and the ability to stay committed until completion.

Self-discipline is our unique ability to control our urges, wants, desires and our emotions in order to reach our goals. It is a mindset that must be built upon so that we make the right choices daily to guide our lives in the direction that is best.  It means we must give up small momentary pleasure in order to gain lasting happiness.

I was thinking about where I learned self-discipline.  One place I am sure I learned it was when I was at Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, California.  The morning wake-up bugle call reveille would sound at 6:15am.  Your bed had to be made, you had to dress with shined shoes, brass for inspection.  I used to get up at 5:30am so I could shower with plenty of hot water and take my time.

I was never in a rush to get ready and out to the quad for formation.  There really is something special about being awake while the world around you slumbers.  I committed to waking up early at a young age, and it has followed me through my whole life.

When I lived in New York I used to walk two miles every morning at 5am, then get two newspapers and a coffee before I came home.  This would set the pace for my day. I felt like it let me get in front of the day before others were awake.  I also feel like I have been able to get more finished in my life with this “extra” time.

People always talk about how they do not have any extra time.  Why not find that time before the day starts?

Many people feel that being self-disciplined will mean that they will have to give up much of what they feel is good about their lives.  There is no doubt that when shifting towards a more disciplined lifestyle your life will change.  It does not have to be bad or painful.  Examine your life and decide what is important to you.  If eating and drinking whatever you wish with no limits is what is important then look at the inevitable outcome.  You get to live with obesity, heart disease, and a host of other ailments.  How about staying up late to surf the internet or binge watch your favorite show? You must accept being tired at work or school the next day, and not performing well.

What if instead, you choose to eat food that is filled full of nutritional value.  Drink more water, keeping yourself hydrated. How would those choices harm you? Eating healthy foods does not mean a diet, it just means choosing the right tasty things to fuel your body. How about choosing to read a chapter of a book each night before bed and get to sleep at a reasonable hour?

Everyone has heard the phrase, “You just have to do it.”  It is much easier said than done for the average person with years of bad habits ingrained in their life.

So start small with something that you can do very easily.  If you need extra time in your day, how about waking up an hour earlier?  If you would like to lose weight, how about starting with a walk every morning before breakfast without fail.

If you make a commitment and stick with it, no matter what, it will translate into other areas of your life.  That means you must throw out all the excuses of the past… the  “I’m too tired,” “I have no time,” “My alarm did not go off,” or “I’m not feeling well.”

Once you make a habit of the first small change for a month, it’s time to commit to another small change. After a few months of these small victories under your belt, you can clearly see the changes that have come from your new found self-discipline.

This is something that you cannot buy.  There is no magic pill.  You have to be committed and work on it a little bit every day.  Think about this for a minute: why does the diet and self-help industry bring in billions a year?  They know that people do not want to put in the hard work necessary for lasting change.  A lot of people are looking for the easy way because we all hope there is a way.

The bottom line is that every journey begins with that first step and then continuing to step even when you don’t feel like it.

You must decide what it is you want in the long term. Once you have the goal in mind it will help you push aside the many distractions that will inevitably arise. You may feel discomfort along the way, but knowing that is part of the process makes it bearable. It is time to make decisions that benefit you for the long term.  Surround yourself with other people who are self-disciplined and cheer each other on.

Hebrews 12:11

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.

Proverbs 5:21-23

21 For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. 22 The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. 23 For lack of discipline they will die,  led astray by their own great folly.

 

Fear

Fear.  It can stop you in your tracks.  Hold you with an iron grip.  It will impede your growth if you let it.  It comes in many forms, but today I will write about the kind of fear that holds you back from achieving your goals and dreams.

Have you ever thought about why you do certain things in life but avoid others? So many of us choose to do nothing rather than face uncertainty.  We often feel it is better to stay where we are than to risk failure or embarrassment.  The irony of this train thinking is: the more boldly you go after what you want and fail, the better your chances at future success will be.  Our failures help us on the path to success.

We avoid certain situations by making up all kinds of excuses.   When I first wrote my book I was asked to speak in front of a law enforcement conference.  They booked me for 90 minutes, so I would speak for an hour and the rest would be a question and answer period.

I said yes right away because I had gone undercover with one of the detectives who asked me and I didn’t want to look chicken.  I had never spoken in front of a crowd.  I don’t even remember speaking in front of a class in high school.  I had no idea what I was going to say.

I went to Youtube and I watched a few people speak. I bought a how-to book.  It was a couple of months off so I pushed it to the back of mind.  When it was only a few weeks off I started getting real nervous.  I started thinking to myself, why did I agree to speak?  Maybe I could play sick, etc. I actually thought about calling them and canceling. I pushed that all aside and made some note cards to use.  The day of the speaking engagement arrived and when I arrived there were, even more, law enforcement officers than they had told me would be at the event.  I was scared I would get up there and choke.  I was afraid that those people would laugh at me because I never went to college or learned how to speak in front of people.

I saw a couple of detectives that I had a history with.  We had been adversaries years ago when I was a criminal, but today they were joking with me.  I watched an FBI Special Agent speak before me, and he told a great story.  I tucked my notecards into my back pocket, took a deep breath and got out there.

That day I sold three cases of books and I even sold the one I had stuck under my car seat without a cover.  I could have sold more books, but I was out.  I ended up speaking for two hours total, and it only seemed like a quarter of that because the time went so fast.

It worked out better than I could have imagined.  That day gave me confidence that I could do anything.  I came to realize we all have the fears and that by embracing them and moving forward, it makes us stronger.

We each have certain strengths and weaknesses.  What if, instead of always building on our strengths, we learned to chip away at those weak areas?

I was speaking to my army friend last week.  We were talking about working out.  He has tried out a variety of fitness programs, ranging from Jiu-jitsu to just weight lifting.  He settled on Crossfit a few months ago.  He recently had to change to another gym, because the one he had been going to closed.  This new gym was farther from his home and bigger, with a lot more people.  He was nervous about going there to train.  He took a class on weight lifting, and he met some cool people.  He found out the other people he met were nervous just like him. He was really glad he pushed himself into going.

We all express fear and discomfort in different ways. Some people act tough, others laugh and others may cry.  I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone this week.  Take that risk, face your fear, and find out what you are capable of.

Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

2 Timothy 1:7

For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

1 Peter 5:6-8

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

 

Lessons from a Dojo

Martial arts have been a very big influence in my life.  When I was in sixth grade I heard about Red Dragon Karate, and wanted the chance to learn it.  Instead, I found myself in Military school.  After that, I ended up in Irvine, California. There my father found a place for me to learn Martial Arts.

That place was a Martial Arts Supply company in Santa Ana named Musashi Martial Arts.

The owner, David Miller, was ahead of his time. He was a former kickboxer who had written a book about the business of Martial Arts. He held kickboxing, Kali and Jeet Kune Do classes in his warehouse.  

One of the teachers was a man named Ted Lucaylucay.  He was the first student from Dan Inosanto’s school allowed to teach Jeet Kune Do.  Dan Inosanto was very close to the founder of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee – and he had learned directly from the source.

I loved every class.  I followed Ted from that school in Santa Ana to a place in Huntington Beach, where he opened up his own little studio.  I trained with him until he moved away to Washington.  I have never forgotten any of David or Ted’s training.  My problem was that I didn’t always implement their instructions.

After Ted moved away, I began to train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an offshoot of Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which has been around in various forms since the 1400’s.  It was brought to Brazil in the early 1900’s as “Kodokan Judo”  where it was taught to the  sons of Gastao Gracie by a Japanese man named Mitsuyo Maeda. The Gracie brothers modified it and adapted it to its current Brazilian form.

In the art of Jiu Jitsu there is no immediate payoff. You will get tapped, also known as “submitted” many, many times during every practice.  Unlike other martial arts that teach form against mitts or pads and often without any opponent at all, Jiu Jitsu is always taught against an opponent.  As a beginner, everyone you train against is better than you. This taught me humility, patience and how to relax when faced with crushing strength.

I was already trained to relax when punches and kicks were coming at me – but the oppressive grinding, smothering claustrophobic hold of a Jiu Jitsu opponent is another thing entirely.

You cannot learn one move and expect it to work on everyone you train against.  You have to adapt it to your body style and to your opponent. It is a game of human chess and in order to excel, you must think many moves ahead.

In Jiu Jitsu, technique prevails. I had to learn to let go of my anger, because there is no place for it on the mat. Strength is important, but not as much as technique.  You will always encounter someone bigger and heavier.   It is an art where there is no room for “I know but..” You have to listen to your coaches or you will not progress.  You must be able to perform, there is no faking it on the mat.  Those who do not put in the work fall behind.

When I walk into a gym or a Dojo for the first time, I always look for the best person and that will be who I work with first.  In order to become a better fighter you must go against those who are better than you, and learn from them.

Jiu Jitsu has a belt system of promotion.  Belts are blue, purple, brown and black, each of which represent an advancing stage in your training.  I never trained in a commercial gym where they had monthly belt tests, we always trained until our coach felt we were ready, and only then were we given a new belt.  In a real Jiu Jitsu gym, a belt acknowledges that you have put in the time and hard work necessary to be at a certain level.  Each belt represents years of hard work and daily practice.

I have met many people over the years that I would not have met if not for Jiu Jitsu.  The mat is not about winning a match, it is about you and what you can do to improve yourself. It teaches you that you can overcome any obstacle in life with hard work and determination. I have learned that it does not matter what you do, where you came from or where you are today.  If you are willing to put in the hard work you will see results.

I’ve heard it said before that some Christians believe that martial arts are not compatible with Christianity because of the involvement of Eastern Mysticism in the past.  I firmly believe that God used Martial Arts, and Jiu Jitsu in particular, to bring me back to Him.  I cannot tell you how many Christians I have trained with over the years.  Their words, lives and actions all served as a testimony to me.  Whether it was sitting me down to talk about faith after practice, saying a team prayer before a match, or just being an example in the way they carried themselves.

Now, I am the one one ready to share the Good News on and off the mats.

In today’s instant gratification society it is not normal to commit to training in a sport or an art for many years. For me, Martial Arts has been a lifelong pursuit that has had an effect on every aspect of my life.

What is the special thing that motivates you? What do you have a passion to become great at?  Are you willing to put in the hours, days, weeks and years of training?

1 Corinthians 10:31

Therefore, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.