Tag Archives: Vacation

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.

 

Clarity Of Purpose

Regardless of who you are today, you had dreams and goals in mind when you were young. Maybe you dreamed of playing professional baseball or maybe you aspired to be an astronaut.  

Life happens.  As a result, those dreams may have fallen by the wayside. Why is that?  A lot of times we settle for jobs we don’t love just for the paycheck, so we can live.  The cash starts rolling in and now you have a lifestyle that you have become accustomed to.  You cannot change and do what you really want because you have so many obligations. Does this sound familiar?

I understand this situation very well because that is how my life played out.  I was on that treadmill for almost forty years.  I did things I did not like, only because of what I could put into my pockets as a result.  Many times, I tried to convince myself that I liked what I was doing. Even though I detest gambling and alcohol, both played a role in my livelihood.

I learned how to “take action,” or bookmaking, from an older gambler named Mark. Mark had been a bookie for at least twenty-five years when I met him.  In fact, I am sure he is still taking action to this day – well into his eighties.

I had expressed interest in making money through bookmaking and loansharking (also known as shylocking) to a number of men associated with the Los Angeles cosa nostra family.  They all knew me as a kid who worked hard and brought in cash, so they put me in touch with Mark.  I began to work for him, and during that time I mastered the art of running a sportsbook.  This was in a time before either cell phones or the internet.  We used a series of payphones, hardlines and answering machines to run the business.  We got our updates on odds and point spreads from what was known as the “Island Line.”  We also had Las Vegas contacts who helped with lines and laying off some of the action.   Mark pulled in a great living from sports gambling and he also ran some after hours card games.

I took to this “job” because I liked the attention, and most importantly, I liked the cash that came with it. I used to tell myself that the money I brought in gave me the freedom to do what I really wanted to do in life.  Looking back that is funny because I can tell you this: I never did much of anything else.  I spent all of my time running the business and living it.

It’s important, to be honest with yourself about your gifts, your goals, and your dreams.  You must decide if what you are doing or will be doing is right for you.  Does it align with your values? Is it what you were created to do?

You will most likely spend years working at something to get it working well enough to put dollars in your pocket.  This where your own personal values come into play.  When I was young I had some vague, at best, personal values – and it showed in how I conducted myself.  Once you have a good personal value system in place, the decisions you make will help guide you toward lasting success.

Clarity of purpose is key to living a successful happy life. Once we find our purpose in life, it will help guide and shape our decisions.  In the end, being successful looks different for every single person.

I was lost for so many years until I came back to living a life that wasn’t about my desires but about God’s purpose for my life.  I was lost and broken, but I could never understand why I  was feeling the way I did.  When I found my faith I realized that life was not all about me, it was much bigger than that.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

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.

 

What Drives you?

 

DCIM101GOPRORecently, when I was taking inventory of my life, I realized that there were several activities that I have always had a passion for in life.  The first I wrote about last week: my love for martial arts.  Another passion is books.  I love all kinds of books, on a broad spectrum of subjects.  In the old days, when there were bookstores all over Los Angeles, I would go inside a used bookstore or a chain bookstore and spend hours looking through the shelves, discovering new subjects and new authors.

 

There is no way to replace the lost environment of a good bookstore.  Sure, Amazon will still sell you just about any book. The problem is, you have to know the title or the author ahead of time.  Publishers pay for advertising on Amazon, and so you are in their algorithms viewing the books they want you to buy.  When I used to frequent book stores I enjoyed the fact that many of the employees were avid readers and they would recommend their favorite authors or set aside books for me.  I could browse the aisles and subject matters until I saw a book spine or a title that caught my eye.  I would find wonderful obscure books that might lead me to others.  I was never big on following the New York Times Bestseller list.

 

I would find an author I enjoyed and then I would read everything they put out. I’d be sad if it turned out that they had been dead for twenty years and would not put out any new books. I would research their lives, read their interviews, etc.  I wanted to find out where they got their ideas from, find out what helped them put words to paper.

 

Today, researching an author is much easier.  Thanks to Youtube I can see many authors speak on many subjects. In all of the available interviews and talks, I found a few things that all authors seemed to have in common.  They are passionate story tellers, most never attended special writing programs. They never gave up, they did not listen to the doubters around them.

 

I wanted to be a writer. The problem I faced was that even after all of my research, I still had no idea what it took to write a book.  I never paid much attention to writing or grammar in school.

 

To begin, I found books on writing and started reading them.  This didn’t get me fired up to write. So I tried another approach. I started seeking out authors.  Many told me to emulate the writers whose style I liked.  I was also told I had to put in the time it would take to learn to write. This is where most people would give up, because the task seems daunting.  I had no college education and no background in writing, but what I did have was the desire to write.  

 

I started by writing a blog, which was a relatively new thing at the time. It was bad: lots of typos and technical errors. Yet my content was finding an audience and it became popular.  I had a tremendous amount of traffic.  I had just as much negative feedback on my blog as I had positive feedback, and I would respond to it all.  The blog served two purposes for me: it got me noticed and it helped me gain experience writing stories.

 

As a result of the blog, I was able to get an agent for my writing and a co-author who was willing to work with me and help me with the storytelling and the editing.  Our agent sent the finished manuscript out to over fifty publishers.  They all rejected it, most answering with, “Whoever heard of a Japanese mob guy?”  It finally found a home by accident, a young woman who was running a publishing house and heard the story mentioned by a friend read the manuscript and wanted it.  

 

Being a published author was an awesome experience.  I quickly let go to my head. I started getting contacted by Hollywood producers and directors.  Some took me out for meals, others just had me over to hang out.  I sold the book rights to Fox Studios and I was soon writing the screenplay with an Oscar winning screenwriter. Through that experience I learned that anything in Hollywood labeled “based on a true story” means that there is only a very vague resemblance to something real.

 

The end product was not something I was proud of. In fact, I was relieved when Fox passed on it two years later and it didn’t get made into a movie after all.  I learned some valuable lessons, but I still wanted to be a screenwriter.

 

I decided to write something in a different genre.  Another screenwriting partner and I wrote a story about a former Confederate Cavalry soldier named Clay Allison who became a successful cattleman in Texas.  Clay Allison referred to himself as a “Shootist” because he was a known gunfighter.  

 

We went to History Channel with the script and we sold the idea of the show.  We then spent the next year working on it, until they decided to pass on actually taking it to the production stage.

 

I was pretty devastated at that point.  I had been given two bites at the screenwriting apple and failed to have either make it to the screen.  I kept thinking about it.  Then one day it dawned on me. I had lost my passion for the story.  I was writing for money, for the fame and success that would come with the money.  I had compromised myself as a writer for the sake of the paycheck.  I knew that I needed to return to my passion for writing stories that would connect with the reader, inspire them, the way I had been inspired by so many important authors in my life.

 

That is the point that I decided to move away from Hollywood.  I still pursue writing, but not for the same reasons.  If you keep at something and work hard at it, learning the attributes you need to succeed at that endeavor, you will be successful.  God will provide opportunities to open up where you never thought they existed.   It is easy to quit, to give up when you realize you have hit a dead end in one part of your journey.  It is important to keep learning and moving forward after a defeat.  Keep in mind that after your worst defeat many times your greatest victory is just ahead.

 

Matthew 6:21

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

  Galatians 6:9

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

 

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.

In the footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder

After Wyoming we drove into South Dakota which is beautiful.   We passed so many small towns and each can be spotted from the distance by a large grain elevator that dominates the town.  We drove through many and they all have a sign pointing to their “business district.”  That is funny because one was nothing more than a gravel road with three shops, all closed for the weekend.  I saw one small tavern that had a hand written sign taped in the window saying it was closed until Saturday night.  We were looking for a coffee shop, to get slightly better coffee than the gas stations had to offer.  We struck out in every small town.  Even most of the “big” towns didn’t have coffee shops or Starbucks.

We had zero cell reception through most of six states.  We went back to how we used to travel, by map.  We had to stop at the gas stations in each state and pickup a state map.  It works most of the time but some of those small highways just come to a T and there are no signs, so we had to guess.

We hit Pierre, the capital of South Dakota, and I now know why it is the smallest state capitol.  The people are great in all these small places.  We saw very few police and almost no helicopters.  Living in Los Angeles I had become used to seeing BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi’s, but those were all missing.  Chevy, Ford and Buick were the norm.  The further I got from Los Angeles, the better I felt.  After Pierre, we drove a bit further and arrived at the Pheasant Ranch that backed up to the Missouri River where we would spend the night.  The people who ran it were great.  It was large and very clean with great food.  My dog didn’t want to leave when it was time to go.  I am glad we stayed here at the end of the trip because we would have been spoiled.

Traveling across the great rolling plains of the heartland, you cannot help but think of Little House on the Prairie.  Most of us grew up with the tv show.  The show was based on a series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life as a pioneer.  They are geared toward kids, but the offer a rare insight into the day-to-day life of a hard working pioneer family.   She brings to life all the reality and hardship that the life was when the country was not settled.

My wife and I have both read all of her books, and we decided on our road trip to stop at some of the places where Laura and her family lived.

When we left the Pheasant Ranch we headed to Desmet, South Dakota where Laura spent many of her youth and young adult years.  We were able to see the surveyors home where they spent a long, hard, cold winter. It was smaller than I had pictured.  They also had turned the schoolhouse where she taught into a museum, and it was tiny.  We drove down the street and saw the house that her father built in town. It was very well made and bigger than I thought.  Most of the family would live their lives in that house and end up dying there.  The house still stood exactly how he built it, same windows and cupboards inside, everything.

We then took a ride out in the prairie where the Ingalls homestead was located.  They would live on the homestead while farming and move into town for the winters.  The trees Pa planted are still there!  We passed Silver Lake and the Big Slough.  We also saw Laura and Almonso’s homestead, where they lived when they were first married.   We then headed to Walnut Grove, the little town where the TV Show setting was based.  When Laura and her family first moved to Walnut Grove they lived in a dugout next to Plum Creek, until Pa built a house next to the dugout.    Plum Creek was a place where they allowed my dog!  So we had fun by Plum Creek, visiting the dugout site and learning about the local nature.  We saw the Big Rock she wrote about often in the book, and we imagined Nelly Olsen getting attached by leeches in the still water.  I could picture Jack the dog playing in the fields that are much the same today as they were in Laura’s time.  We saw three van loads of Swedish tourists, so they must read Laura Ingalls Wilder in Sweden too!

When we left Plum Creek I felt a little sad because our journey was coming to end.  In reality, it was just another bit of good change coming.