Tag Archives: MMA

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.

 

Failure

There is no escape, no way to hide.  It will find all of us at one point or another during our lifetimes.  It has been said that a book of failures would be a great book to read, so that we could learn from other’s mistakes.

Have you ever noticed that there are never any “failure seminars”?  There are plenty of speakers on the topic of success.  You can catch a motivational seminar online or in a conference room in a hotel most any weekend.

I have failed at so many things I could not even list them all here.  The good news is, I took a valuable lesson away from each one.  One of the best thing about pushing yourself hard and ultimately hitting your goals, is that our minds tend to gloss over the periods of heartbreak and failure, focusing instead on our successes.

One day I decided to take up a new hobby: prospecting for gold in the mountains and deserts of California.  I really did not know much about it at all, but when my wife and dog and I hiked in the mountains we had seen several people panning for gold in the streams and it got me interested.  I started reading everything I could about gold prospecting and the history of the gold bearing regions in California.

The next weekend, instead of heading off on our usual hike, we packed our lunch, a few shovels, and some tools we had picked up for gold panning.  We headed to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.   We parked our car and hiked a mile or so up a path along the river.  We found a giant boulder and I started digging out buckets of dirt and passing them to my wife who would pan it out in the water.  We dug for hours and found nothing, not a trace of that elusive gold.  We did have a great time! Our dog fished in the river, we enjoyed the sunshine, cool water, amazing scenery and our hike.

We went back to that river many times.  Each time we dug deep holes and found nothing but black sand and tiny gold flakes in our pan.  One day, an older prospector came by our hole to chat.  He told me where I should dig based on his experience.  Later that day we found a small “picker,” which is what you call a tiny gold nugget that is big enough to pick up with your fingers.

We were doing almost exactly what the 49ers did during the gold rush.  Instead of iron pans, we used plastic pans, and unlike them, we were not trying to make a living from it.

It turns out that most of the gold is still there, undiscovered.  The early miners took the easy gold that they could find near the surface. It is back breaking labor with little payoff to keep digging and looking for the deeper gold. I enjoyed it because it was a challenge and a treasure hunt.

We graduated from panning to setting up a sluice in the water. The next stage was learning how to metal detect in the Mojave desert – which meant getting out there in the early hours before the temperatures rose.  Hunting for gold nuggets in the desert with a metal detector is called “nugget shooting.”  We joined the Prospector’s Club of Southern California, which gave us access to claims all over the region.  Then I graduated to operating a dry washer in the desert.

I learned to love the peace and quiet of the dry, desolate Mojave desert.  We started finding “color” almost every time we went out.

I wanted to find a good sized nugget with my metal detector before I left California, but it was not to be.  On my last attempt before moving, a solo trip early in the morning, I saw some fellow prospectors find a gold nugget just a few yards away from where I was looking.  I guess you could say I failed because I never found that fist-sized nugget I was seeking.  Instead, I would say that I gained some useful knowledge and made some great memories.

Prospecting mirrors so much of what we do in life.  Each one of us is seeking some kind of treasure.  There’s no guarantee you will find that big nugget.  Successes and failures: they all come with valuable lessons.  I look back on the hours I spent digging dirt holes and wandering the desert not as a failure, but as some of my favorite memories.

My friend Mark and I spoke about the topic of failure this past week.  After a successful high school and college wrestling career at Oklahoma State, where he was a two time All-American, Mark began his mixed martial arts career with the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting).  He did well enough to be picked up by the UFC when they bought the WEC.

When I first met Mark, I noticed that he carried himself differently than most of the guys I knew, and he was open about being a Christian.  Mark was not pushy with his faith, but he was setting an example by the way he lived and he was always ready to lend a hand to anyone who needed one.

I trained with Mark for his first fight in the UFC, which he lost.  It was a bad loss, but he was back to training within a week.  Mark Munoz went on to have a long UFC career and while he never won the belt, he always left the ring a winner.  He was voted as “the nicest guy in MMA” by the UFC.  I learned from Mark that in MMA, a loss does not equal failure.  When you keep fighting, improving and moving forward, you are succeeding, regardless of what the outcome of any one fight may be.

Mark told me that if you have a fear of failure you will fall backward.  If you embrace it, you will take away a valuable lesson.  We all fail.  We have to learn from it and keep moving forward.

Resilience, Adversity, and Desire: A real champion in life, whether you are fighting in a cage, prospecting for gold, or trying to get a promotion in your job, is the person that shows resilience even when they fail.  Adversity is something to use to make us better, not break us down.  We will all face it, but how we view it and push past it will define us.  Desire is what will make you get up each day with determination: study harder, work harder, train harder.

Mark also reminded me that what we speak about every day is what we become, so choose your words wisely.

 

Romans 5:3-5

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Proverbs 24:16

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.

Luke 6:45

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

 

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.

New Years Resolution

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Winter

We are down to the final days of 2016.  Many of us are looking back on our year and making plans for the one ahead.

The first day of the new year comes with a tradition in western culture where we promise ourselves that we will accomplish certain actions. We call them new year’s resolutions and while many people make them every year less than 8% actually accomplish them.

I have watched this unfold year after year at various gyms across the country. January rolls around and they are slammed full of people for the first week making it hard for the regulars to get in a good workout.  Some people begin the month doing two-a-day workouts.  By February 80% are no longer working out.  The excuses are always the same: I’m sick, my children are sick, I have no time, I got hurt, work is busy, I’ll do it home. Sadly, by March 98% have quit.  The key is not two-a-days, the key is patience: slow and steady progression.

Last year I decided that I would not eat refined sugar and I decided to stay closer to my former fight weight.  It seemed an impossible task.  I eat healthy for the most part, but I enjoy a few treats.  One in particular that I enjoyed is candy corn. I love candy corn, and they have recently come out with so many new flavors that I have wanted to try!  The end of the year is now here and I have made it the whole year without eating a single candy corn!

Another goal I had during 2016 that has been very hard for me to do is to let go of grudges and anger that I had towards others. I have made progress, but this is a lifetime goal and will take a lot more work.

I had a few other goals in 2016, all of which I worked on bit by bit, and accomplished.  This year I have a few new ones.

I will start by defining my goals with a definite finishing point. Goals don’t begin with, “I will try,” or “I would like to.” They will be goals that while difficult are achievable with hard work.

I will have to be patient, because nothing will happen over night or even in a month if it is worth it.  It is hard to see progress, but change will come.

If your goals are fitness related, you will reach a plateau – most likely more than once – on your quest. This is where it takes strength to keep going.  When you make it past these difficult points you will notice notable, change.

I speak to a lot of people who tell me they wish to write a book.  A common reason for not writing it is time.  Everyone can find an hour a day to write.  If you cannot write at home, go to a coffee shop or a library for an hour. It is work, you have to do it on a regular schedule.  The more you do, the better your work will be.  Don’t worry about getting it just right at the beginning, because the first draft never will be right and neither will the second.  Instead, get it on paper from beginning to end and then go back and make it better.

Vocalize your goals to others, they become real when you state them.  It helps when others are involved and keep you accountable by asking about them.

If you do something every day it is like putting money in the bank.  Some days I do not feel like training, but I do. Writing is the same, but as long as I do something, it will be better than nothing.

If something beyond my control happens or even if I just get lazy, I make myself get back into it right away. You might feel that you are starting over.  It will be easier if you string together as many days as you can without missing any.

People often say Friday is my cheat day, or rest day.  Try to avoid that and keep a floating day off instead. This way if something comes up on Sunday or Monday take that day off from your schedule and then go right through the rest of the week.

This year I will read the Bible start to finish. I will also write two books.  My last goal is to have a podcast or a radio show of my own.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

Philippians 2:3

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

 

Does Ethnicity Define Me?

 

minidoka

Camp Minidoka, WWII

 

I am half Japanese, and thanks to a DNA test I recently took, I also now know I am 13% Lakota Sioux.  My ethnicity is a part of my story, my heritage.

My father was born in America, but his mother and father were both born in Japan.  They emigrated from Japan legally at the turn of the century. They became farmers and had to lease land because at that time it was illegal for Asian immigrants to own land in America or to become naturalized citizens.  Property laws were written to exclude everyone but white immigrants and those of African descent.  My father and his sister were born in America, so they were the first US citizens in my family. The family built up a profitable agriculture business on the leased farm land and also exported GE appliances to Japan.  My father attended the University of Washington from 1939 – 1941 until the US entered World War II in 1941.

In April of 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.  Soon after, 120,000 Japanese (of whom 62% were American citizens) were relocated to concentration camps.

They gave these camps names like “Camp Harmony” which was located in Puyallup, Washington at a fairground.  The Japanese were only able to bring the things they could carry with them to the camps.  Many people lived in animal stalls of the fairgrounds or in makeshift shanties, which provided poor shelter come winter.  Their homes, businesses, and land were lost.   Family heirlooms such as swords and paintings left behind were taken by the Americans representing the United States Government.

My father and his family would end up at Camp Minidoka in Idaho.   My grandmother died in that camp.  My father, along with a number of other fighting-age Japanese Americans volunteered for the Army, which was the only way to be allowed to leave the camp until the war ended.

The war ended in 1945, and at that time the Japanese were free to leave and move to where they wished.  Many would start over in new places since their homes and businesses were taken from them.  Many who left the camps vowed never to speak Japanese again.

They worked hard to rebuild their lives. Even after the war, Japanese were prohibited from buying land in many states until 1956.

 

janm-pavilionbldg-600px

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

My father rarely mentioned those times to me.   Despite prejudices he encountered, he was successful in his career after the war.  He introduced me to the Japanese culture from a young age, but it was always made very clear to me that we were Americans.

 

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Massacre at Wounded Knee

 

 

When I hear people say the worst mass shooting in American history was at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida, I wonder where they learned their history.  On December 29th, 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota over 500 US Army and members of the 7th Cavalry opened fire on 350 Lakota Indians in their camp. They killed 300 Sioux, many of them women and children. The Cavalry dead numbered only 25, many of which were killed by friendly fire from their own Hotchkiss guns. As a reward for the mass slaughter of Lakota Sioux, twenty of the US soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award given to those in the military service.

These stories are a small part of the struggles of my ancestors, but they do not define me or dictate my future.  I am proud of being mixed race.  No derogatory words towards my heritage can harm me or derail my dreams.  If someone looks down on me because of my ethnicity, I know that I cannot change the way they think. That can only come from within them.  I can choose how I will act, how I will react, and how hard I will work for my dreams.  

Every ethnicity has a story of struggle at one point in their history.  The only way we can make this world a better place is to work on our own behavior.  While the setbacks are a part of our story, they do not define or limit us unless we let them.  The best way to combat prejudice is with success.

Galatians 3:82

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

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,

DCIM100GOPRO

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.