Tag Archives: winter

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.

 

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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.

 

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.

The Turning Point

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I wrote about my friend who went into the Army to change his life last week, but how did the first of many turning points in his life come about?

In the 1990’s my Army friend’s mother passed away.  This threw his life into a tailspin because he had largely relied on her for his lifestyle.  With her went the business, the house, the cars etc.  He still tried to live the same lifestyle and it did not work. He ended up with no car working at a hotel where he cashed his paycheck and carried around the cash in his pocket.

One week he was robbed and he couldn’t pay rent to the friend he was living with, and as a result, he was kicked out.  He moved from place to place.  He knew his chaotic lifestyle was not working to get him ahead, and that it was time to make a drastic change or he would end up on the streets.

He faced his fears and took that first step: walking into the US Army recruiting office. He was then forced to tie up loose ends before going to basic training. It was there that he began to understand what his previous choices had done to his life.

Another friend of mine changed his life around completely in the last few years.  He came to this country from the Ukraine with his parents and they settled into the close-knit Russian community in Hollywood. He was soon part of a Russian gang, doing and selling drugs.  He was taking up to thirty painkillers a day along with anything else he was given.

He started doing armed robberies for the rush and to hustle up money.  In his words, “The devil took over for awhile.”  He was picked up on a weapons charge and it cost his parents around a hundred thousand dollars in lawyer’s fees, but he continued on the same path.

The pills and drugs distorted his thought process, until one night at a rave he nearly overdosed on a mixture of strong drugs.  He describes that experience as being in hell for many hours.   When he finally came home he found his mother reading the Bible and crying because she thought he was dead.

Something clicked inside him that day, and he knew that he would be dead unless he turned his life around.  The guy he did armed robberies with had his house shot at one night and disappeared.  Many others in the Russian community had died from drug overdoses.

He knew that he needed to go to school, establish a career and help his parents pay off the debt. He realized that all of his problems were the results of his choices, and that all the pain his family was dealing with was because of his life actions.  A lot of us never take into account how much our choices affect others, both directly and indirectly.

He took the first step and threw away his pills.  He went cold turkey – no rehab, no group, just stopped.  It was a difficult six months, but after he got over the withdrawals he knew that he could accomplish anything that life threw at him.

My friend Andre, on the other hand, has made good choices since he was very young,  but things haven’t always been easy for him.  He grew up with a father that did cocaine and gambled, never paying much attention to him.  If Andre had turned out bad, it would have been no shock to anyone.

There were key turning points early in Andre’s life. One was when he wanted a BMX bike so badly and his father laid out a challenge for him that seemed impossible for him to accomplish.  When he met the challenge, he decided there wasn’t anything in life he couldn’t accomplish.

He made a decision that he would never do anything his father would do or did, so that he would not end up like him. Andre used his father as a reverse role model.  If his father drank, he never would.  If he gambled, Andre would not.

He went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and an master’s degree in Social Ecology, both from the University of California at Irvine.  He kept his eye on his end goals, and he uses his story to encourage others and has been a huge encouragement to me personally.

Andre’s Ted Talk, if you would like to see more of his story is here: http://tinyurl.com/TedX-Andre

Regardless of the hand, you’re dealt in life, our current circumstances boil down to our own choices.   It is difficult to accept and many never do accept it, because it is just easier to blame others or bad luck.

My life has had many turning points, and one I remember happened at an Italian Restaurant in Culver City, California. I was at what is called a “sit down” in the mafia world.  It is where two higher ups decide your fate. At the meeting I was told that I was now out of an operation we had going on.

I was so mad that when I left the meeting I was planning revenge.  I felt that I deserved to remain part of the operation and that they were stealing from me by taking it away – nevermind that it was all stolen money, to begin with.  As I analyzed the situation and looked back on everything I was invested in and angry about, I began to see my life for what it was – a series of bad choices that had left me an angry criminal.   I had wasted my life and I knew that I wanted out of it altogether.

It would be only months later that the FBI offered me a way out.  I began to make different choices.

God had another plan for my life, I just didn’t realize it yet.

No matter who you are or what your life has been like in the past, our lives are shaped by the choices we make. Throughout our lives, there will be many turning points where life can become something else.

Big changes in your life can grow out of very small seeds of the choices you make.

Matthew 13:32-32

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

Seasons

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Fall

I realized this week that our second winter on the farm in Illinois is quickly approaching and I am looking forward to it! Living most of my life in California, I never experienced the changing seasons or the beauty of fall in the countryside.  When I lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan I would just get on a plane and head back home to California for a week each month when it got cold.

I never dreamed that I would be living on a farm with chickens, honey bees, ducks, dogs and acres of corn and beans. The chicken breasts I bought in the grocery store always came wrapped in plastic. I’ve learned that they do not start that way.  

It has been a period of learning.  I have learned about another way of life and I have also learned a lot about myself.

My life has been a series of small changes that have taken place very slowly because I was afraid of change. God wanted to heal my stone heart, but I resisted it along the way.  Looking back I have to laugh at myself because all of this could have been much easier.

 I took the long way.   How many of you resist change?  I did for so long because I wanted to hold on to some vague idea I had about myself.  I was a slave to ideas and thoughts that kept me in various states of the same place in life.

Today, I want to work on everything in my life that I feel could change for the better.  I want to do it all at once, but I know that I have to work on one thing at a time.  Trying to move fast or working on too many problems at once will just lead to failure. Do you try to accomplish so much at one time that you end up getting nothing finished?

I think about where I am now in life and I feel this is where I should be at this time.  It is another learning stage where I will be until I have grown and am ready for the next stage.  Have you ever thought about the stages we go through and what purpose they serve?

Growing up we had a small lawn that took me at most a half an hour to mow.  When I was older I just hired a gardener like everyone else.  Mowing the grass on the farm takes me four to six hours and at some point it in the seasons it may even need to be done twice a week. There are days that can be so hot that I’m drenched in sweat or it can be so cold that I have to cover every part of my body to stay warm.  I enjoy mowing, it gives me time to think about everything.  It is a little like hitting a heavy bag with music blaring.  The rest of the world does not matter.  I am concentrating on a simple task, from start to finish.  Do you have anything in your life like that?

Living in Los Angeles I used to wake up at 4am so I could hike with Phoenix (my dog) every morning.  It was a perfect time when the city was quiet and dark.  I loved being up in the hills of the park when it was dark.  Here there are no hills but there is plenty of open space and lots of stars to see. I had to change things up after we adopted Henry (our other dog) so that I had more time in the morning. 3am is my new time to hit the road with the two dogs.  I am often asked how I do it at that time.  It is easy because it is my regular schedule.  I am committed to take out my dogs for a walk every morning no matter what.  Do you value your commitments?  Will you keep them even when it is hard or the weather is bad?

There is an added benefit with the early walks.  I get to see a lot of wildlife that most people never get to see.  I have seen coyotes, skunks, a bobcat, lots of raccoons, owls, a bald eagle, and many deer.   I get to learn about the land and what it supports.  I also add a few miles of cardio to my day.

Our lives are not straight lines to our destinations.  Life isn’t one long season, but more like the weather in the midwest, with seasons of growth, harvest and some cold hard winters and other lighter winters.  I have enjoyed the beautiful colors of fall this month and I am looking forward to this coming second winter.  Then, a new spring where everything comes back alive.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

1 To everything

, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ezekiel 11:19

19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.