Tag Archives: winter


I have taken many trips in my life but none have affected me as much as my recent trip to Israel.  During my ten day pilgrimage to the Holy Land I packed in a lot of sites.

I have visited other Holy sites around Europe in the past, including the Vatican, but they never made me think of anything beyond the beauty of the craftsmanship.  Israel is a different place entirely.  It is the living history of our Living God.

It is a land dripping in history and bloodshed. It has been conquered and reconquered for many centuries. The land is not rich in terms of resources.  They have to irrigate the land and desalinate the soil to make it fertile.  It varies greatly around the region, but overall it is very rocky with little water.  One plant seems to thrive there naturally, and that is the Olive tree.  Olive trees grow all over.  The olive is a hearty tree that lives for many centuries, so if you plant them today your great-great grandchildren can enjoy their fruit.

The modern State of Israel has turned a once barren land into rich fields of crops.  They have planted countless trees and made many improvements, despite being surrounded by enemies on all sides.

“Israel cannot bring you to God, but experiencing Israel can bring you closer to God.”

I heard these words shortly after landing in Israel.  This phrase went through my head a number of times as I explored the country.

People travel to Israel for many reasons.  My main reason for the trip was my love of the history.  I wanted to walk where Jesus and the disciples walked.  I wanted to see the land they knew, worked and loved.

I saw first hand the small desert village where a child, fully man and fully God, was born.  He would go on to impact people’s lives around the world for over two thousand years.

I could feel the tug of history when I visited Caesarea and its great theatre.  I knew Paul had been on trial and yet here I was sitting in the same arena where it took place.  It was there that the Pilate Stone was discovered by archaeologists. The stone was a dedication stone from Pontius Pilate to the emperor Tiberius.

Capernaum is a small fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is written about in all four of the Gospels and it is at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught.  The house of the disciple Peter is located a couple of blocks from the synagogue. When you walk the streets of Capernaum you can begin to appreciate what the early Christians went through.

Traveling the country by bus is easy with modern highways and roads.  A trip from the shores of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi takes under two hours. Jesus and his disciples walked it, and it took weeks!  

The Dead Sea looks amazing when you first set eyes upon it.  It is only when you wade in and feel the water that you fully realize why it is called the Dead Sea.  The high saline content of the water feels more like a syrup.  You cannot sink and there is absolutely no life in it.

I was highly anticipating my trip to the old city of Jerusalem and when I first saw it up on the hill it took my breath away. It was when I arrived at the Western Wall of the first temple that I felt my trip was complete.  It was a huge victory for me, not because it is a holier place than any other place, but because of my former life.  I had only ever expected to see the wall in pictures.  

I saw people crying all along the wall.  I saw others who were clearly praying and had been for hours.  In other places on my pilgrimage I saw worshipers falling on their knees crying, brought to tears by the act of touching a rock Jesus may have touched.  

The best sign I saw was inside the Garden Tomb, which was most likely the Tomb of Jesus. It reads “He is not here, for He is risen”  That pretty much sums it up if you are a Christian.  There is no place, no rock, no statue, no clothing and no ritual that will bring you closer to God.

God is accessible whether you make it to Israel or not.  He wants to have a personal relationship with you regardless of your location, background or station in life.  If you do get a chance to visit Israel, I urge you to go.  It was a life-changing trip for me.


Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.



Don’t Ignore Today for Tomorrow

I must have read and heard the following advice thousands of times throughout my life:

Always do your best. Make do with what you have.  Life is a journey, not a destination.  You get the idea.  Instead, I always viewed everything I did in life as a means to an end.

Let me explain what I mean. I have always been goal-oriented.  I would have a big long-term goal in mind and I would work towards it. The problem is that whatever I was currently engaged in did not matter to me. It was just a step toward reaching my bigger goal.  I wasn’t worried about the quality of my work or life, as long as I was closer to the next big thing.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

In my former criminal life, bookmaking (sports bets) was my bread and butter.  It was the fuel for everything else. It paid for my travel to chase after the big scores. It paid for every side project I launched. I did not care about it other than it kept putting enough cash into my pocket to do what I wanted. I also ran stores and other businesses but I would neglect them, to focus on a new venture or bigger money-making scheme.  

The problem I encountered in my life, again and again, was this: I would make enough money doing something to get what I wanted in the short term, and then I would be off again on some crazy adventure.

I wasted years of my life not giving one endeavor my full, undivided attention.

I caution you to learn from my mistakes.  No matter where you are at in life, no matter what you are doing – make the most of it!  Give it all your attention, work hard, master it, make it work and you will have no regrets. Don’t spend your life looking for the next big thing, make the most of every day and be the best version of yourself today.  

God has given each of us a specific set of skills that sets us apart from everyone else.  Invest your time in growing those skills and working with what you already have right now.  Stop viewing your time and your job as a means to an end. Each day is a gift and an opportunity to improve.

Become A Success By Helping Others

I spent many years viewing life through a flawed belief system. One of the faulty views I lived by was that life is a competition and that I need to get as much as I could for myself.

This turned out to be a lonely, miserable way to live, no matter what I was able to acquire.

I falsely believed that in life there are only a few real winners and the rest, well… were losers.

I have no idea when I came to the conclusion that there was only so much success to go around, but it was at a pretty young age.  It has taken me years to realize that there is always plenty to go around! Success is infinite and has no quota, and success is not defined financially or through social validation.

It was a real lightbulb moment for me when I realized that helping others to succeed ultimately helped me, and didn’t hurt my own strive for success.

Martial arts helped me learn that important lesson.  Jiu-Jitsu, in particular, is a sport that you cannot practice alone. You must learn by doing, with the help and patience of others. Many people took their own time to work with me and help me grow when I was just a newbie. I, in turn, pass that along by working with other newbies.  The feeling I get when I watch others reach their goals and grow their skills is actually far better than some solitary success.

What is your skill?  Everyone has something they are good at.  We are each gifted in different areas and we all have invested our own time over the years working toward something.  I challenge you to take your skill and invest back in the people around you who could benefit from your success.  

Our contribution to society can be far greater than a number in a bank account or an exciting biography page on Wikipedia.  Those that we help, will, in turn, be more likely to do the same for others in the future.  You can become the starting point for a big cycle of “pay it forward.” Your investment in one person could affect thousands down the road.


2018 Is Here!

2018 is here! What changes will you make? The new year is a great time to commit yourself to better health. Sadly, New Year’s resolutions to get into better shape and go to the gym rarely last out the month of January.  I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself to make fitness a regular part of your life and stick with it.

There is no use getting a gym membership where you either have no real idea where to start or you get into something that’s not a good fit for you.  

Fitness is not a quick fix.  Instead, it is all about the steady, long-term, day-to-day training.  If we all take an honest look at our lives, we can all get an idea of how long we have been abusing our bodies.  The changes for the negative did not happen overnight, and it is going to take some time to get it healthy again. There are no shortcuts.  If something promises a quick fix, run away from it.  

It will be hard to stay committed. You will be tired and sore and there are many days you will not feel like training.  Excuses are a dime a dozen, but those of us that stick with it will find that reward worth it.

There will come a point where you will be amazed at how great you feel.  You will eventually come to the realization that you accepted feeling bad as normal.  

Life is short.  We have no guarantee for tomorrow.  Take care of your body while you are in it.

This could be the year that more of us come to the realization that food is fuel for our bodies. It’s purpose is not to make us happy or comfort us.  Good food, unlike medications, has no negative side effects.  Proper diet is important to our health and can keep us functioning at our best.

You have heard it before,“Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”

Eat smart, train smart, make it fun and stick with it. You will be amazed at the difference it will make in your life.


Why Details Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 7:7-8

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

Proverbs 13:4

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


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.


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.