Setbacks and the grandiosity of ego #280

Me getting my elbow dislocated after dealing with an ACL/meniscus and shoulder surgery the past two years… When you play with fire, sometimes you get burned.

Recently I was set to compete in ADCC’s Open tournament just days before the highly anticipated and prestigious Pro Event for trials winners and returning champions or medalists. ADCC has been colloquially dubbed “the Olympics of Jiu Jitsu” due to the fact it takes place every two years along with the incredible talent of participants, where one might face a two-time, back to back ADCC champion like JT Torres or a seven time IBJJF World champion and two-time ADCC champion first round like my Sensei Xande Ribeiro. Additionally competitors can score an invite by winning the trials or being a returning champion which means that it is nothing short of difficult to make the list of 8 females or 16 males that make each weight category. Needless to say it is a mega event, with this year boasting ticket sales of over 12,000 and the almost sold out arena indicating a demand for an even bigger venue in the year of 2024. For grapplers in the sport, competing at this stage is a dream and since I didn’t participate in the trials I set my eyes on the ADCC Open (a tournament hosted just days before the main event by the same promoters) where I would get to face some of the best fighters who although hadn’t won the trials were more than respectable athletes and competitors themselves. To provide some context in regard to the difficulty of winning the trials, this year had divisions with as many as 250 competitors, all matches being finished that day. As you might imagine, many were able to win four or five matches while still leaving the tournament without a medal. I apologize for the rather seemingly unnecessary information that I thought to divulge but I felt it was worth explaining the overarching scale behind the ADCC Open tournament which I had set my sights on. It was my belief that this would serve as a great test for me, being the second time competing in this ruleset (since being a brown belt in 2017) while providing valuable information and insight in regards to what I might improve to participate in upcoming trials and possibly ADCC in the future etc. After running it by my brother and a couple team members whose opinions I value, they agreed it would not only pose a good challenge for the skills I had been developing but that my style seemed to fit this type of tournament which favors takedowns, reversals and submissions. It is worth knowing that the sport of Jiu Jitsu is unique in the fact that many of the best practitioners can achieve success with little to no skill on their feet due to their proficiency on the ground by reversing their opponent or securing submissions. New spectators are often surprised to see athletes choose the bottom position immediately, by “pulling guard”, guard being how you defend and attack from the bottom position, which nullifies the need for takedown skills unlike the sports of wrestling, judo or sambo where success is almost entirely dependent on it. You might be interested to know that even the sports of Muay Thai and Sanshou incentivize staying on the feet and taking your opponent down from the clinch which results in spectacular shows of takedown ability whereas most Jiu Jitsu tournaments do not penalize opting for bottom position. ADCC however, penalizes pulling guard in order to encourage more action on the feet and provide a more fan friendly viewing opportunity.

Flash forward to Monday, the week of the tournament where I am set to compete that coming Thursday. There remain only a couple training sessions just to help me make weight and feel sharp, as the hard portion of preparation has already been completed. During an exchange with my training partner I got excited and in an attempt to quickly get up and take my training partner’s back I heard a loud pop on the outside (lateral aspect) of my right knee (lateral collateral ligament) followed by a sharp pain. While I attempted to finish the training session I knew that I had likely damaged my LCL which would be more than a reason to pull out of the tournament. While the severity of my injury was not too high and as appealing as the Open was, with the No-Gi Pan Americans and World Championships being just months away, I wouldn’t be able to justify missing the more major events for the Open which would in all likelihood, worsen the knee I had just hurt. It dawned on me in that moment that I was very likely going to have to miss the tournament and swallow the bitter pill of missing out. On top of that, as I felt the inflammation creeping in and my knee stiffening, I also had to prepare for an afternoon of teaching. This is the life of an athlete/business owner, you wear two coats and while donning one, forget about the other. As the day proceeded, my knee continued to get stiffer and tighter but I told myself that I would decide in the morning as that is usually the most revealing time following a trauma injury.

To little surprise, I woke up to a lot of stiffness and pain when I would walk. I had trouble flexing my knee past ninety degrees and took a good amount of effort to be able to walk. While I knew that it would likely improve as the day went by, I also knew that I was out of the 64 man bracket that I had been set to compete in in the next 48 hours. In my momentary lapse in training, I had lost sight of my immediate goal which should have been to sweat and not get injured which resulted in the tournament being snatched away from me and possibly something more serious. What’s done is done but there are always lessons and I make up that mine was one of learning to control my ego and stay on task. While there is no doubt that a competitive spirit is healthy and necessary for life, I had to learn the hard way that the bigger picture is more important than short term satisfaction. The more we can realize this in all aspects of our lives, the better decisions we can make on a regular basis. While there was no reason to push myself two days before a competition, I allowed my ego to take the wheel and although hindsight is twenty twenty, it does make you wonder in what other aspects one might be allowing their ego to lead us towards setbacks that could otherwise be avoidable. The lesson I now took is that there is no reason to feel “big” in training just days before an event and hopefully that will not only serve me but you the reader in the many other endeavors that lie ahead.

Relationships in BJJ #279

My mom, my brother and my three nieces. My family is pretty awesome, wouldn’t you say?

A man is not measured by age but by his achievements. -Robert Bradley

Not too long ago, a friend and BJJ student of mine, suggested that I write a blog about “relationships within the BJJ or Jiu Jitsu community”. Unknown to her at the time, I initially met the idea with resistance until I came to understand that what she meant was not “dating within the BJJ community” but rather to touch on the many friendships, bonds and connections that are formed between a vast and diverse group of people. It was in this topic which I found immediate interest, as it was vividly apparent to me that beneath the superficial joint locking and strangling that Jiu Jitsu is known for, there is a unique ability to bring people together unparalleled by other arts and sports. Part of the reason is that it demands complete and total presence in order to effectively synchronize techniques in a harmonious fashion with another independently thinking and reacting body. This is akin to a dance but with the choreography only existing to learn the basics of a technique which you must then learn to apply with people of all different types and sizes and reactions in what we refer to as sparring. This alone calls for variability in training partners to develop your timing and reactions to the most subtle of movements from a multitude of characteristics such as size, age, speed, weight, strength and skill. By engaging in sparring with such a wide span of partners, then will you arrive at the only true way to understand the effectiveness of what you are learning to apply while at the same time connecting you with people of different backgrounds. This also raises a need to develop people skills and learn how to treat people with respect and kindness, resulting in a myriad of training partners who you have won the support of. Failure to do so will result in you having no one to train with or ending up in a bad environment that is not conducive to your overall success and what success you do achieve being short lived.

On another note, there exists an interesting student/teacher dynamic in Jiu Jitsu or BJJ where a Sensei is often significantly younger than their students yet are looked to for guidance inside and outside of the academy. Quite honestly, many Jiu Jitsu professionals have no business giving advice that is beyond their domain but that is not meant to take away from the degree of responsibility that accompanies a black belt and the opportunity for one who takes their work very seriously down to each and every interaction. Something I have learned to do in my field of pain management and rehabilitation is to quickly assess whether or not something is beyond my scope of practice and refer them to someone who can provide a solution. For example while I may have little desire to offer relationship advice to students the mats, coupled with educating myself through books like Dale Carnegie’s bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, have taught a great deal about how to treat people. This desire to educate yourself outside of Jiu Jitsu and make an attempt to apply the same curiosity and passion that you dedicated to the art and sport is paramount for success beyond simply being the best grappler, and it is something that is lacking in my humble opinion. If you do not desire to educate yourself outside of a martial arts capacity, one would hope that you didn’t feel confidence offering financial advice to your students by instructing them to liquidate all their assets and throw a Hail Mary at the crypto market. Nonetheless we as Sensei often find ourselves in a position where students look to us for guidance and support in matters beyond fighting, not a matter that should be taken lightly by any means, seeing as some students have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for their teachers and oftentimes naively act on their advice out of good faith. While the Sensei might have the best of intentions it is important to recognize that they may not be qualified to give you advice on whether to sell or buy a home given the current market state. A good Sensei will remain humble and always look to learn and share their knowledge but will also know when they are just feeding their ego rather than helping their student. On the other side of the coin, being a Sensei can provide you with a wealth of knowledge at your disposal and connections with doctors, very educated and successful business owners, and people with skill sets in many different fields. This allows you to educate yourself on many different topics if you are humble enough and willing to learn. You can also solve many of your students problems by simply connecting them with other students who have experience in what is troubling them. I for one aim to take full advantage of the ability to learn from each of my students each day, understanding that teaching is a two-way street and regardless of their age there is much I stand to learn from them even as old as four to six.

There is also a connection that exists solely between those who participate in the art together. This is like many sports and arts, however it is unlikely that as a gym-rat you can travel across the world and simply be connected and accepted by the other gym-goers in that area. Through Jiu Jitsu I have been blessed with true friendships all throughout the world with whom I can visit and train with, teach and learn from while exploring some of the world’s most exotic locations from Singapore’s industrial city to the metropolitan Shibuya District in Tokyo Japan, or the clear waters of the Dominican Republic to the beaches of Niterói Brazil. Through training and sharing this art form we know as BJJ, mutual respect and bonds are formed and lifelong relationships are developed, through students, teachers and practitioners alone. While you could argue that this exists in other realms such as golf, cycling, tennis. Many of these lack the physical and spiritual connection that Jiu Jitsu presents. Physically I get to hug both my seventy year old parents in Jiu Jitsu while they try to kill me outright (especially my mom), at the same time it is interrupted by the occasional laugh, smile and feeling of love. I mean how many people can say they get to spar with their seventy year old mom? It is a great time and it is truly a blessing to be able to share this with them. I can also train with my six to twelve year old nieces in the same way demonstrating the gentleness that Jiu Jitsu is known for while also teaching them to defend themselves. On a more serious note, Jiu Jitsu will tell you a lot about who some people are. A mentor of mine, Saulo Ribeiro, explained to me years prior that Jiu Jitsu reveals who you are. Are you kind, crafty, manipulative, smart, tough, hard working? There is no denying that many of your characteristics are displayed on the mat over time. It has even guided me in a business capacity, revealing what people are made of and whether or not they will quit when the going gets tough or problem solve their way out of life’s endless adversities. To me Jiu Jitsu is not only a way to live but also a way to approach and solve problems, as Master Jigoro Kano believed “with maximum efficiency and effectiveness”.

While this may serve as an oversimplification there is a depth that BJJ offers just in terms of people. For some it is a family, others accountability, practicality, for many an escape, as well as social reasons. Whatever your “why” may be, it exists for an unbelievably vast demographic from the youngest ages to the most advanced. There will always be someone just like you that is having fun, achieving their goals and improving themselves daily with like-minded souls, and if not, maybe there’s someone out there just like you looking for a role model like you to pave the way for them with the confidence, compassion and security you represent from your journey through Jiu Jitsu and Martial Arts.

Start writing your tombstone. #278

Have you ever wondered to yourself what your tombstone might read? What got me thinking along such mortal lines was a business course I took years ago which encouraged setting three, five and ten year goals before picturing yourself in a coffin and planning out the details of your funeral from what kind of food you would have all the way up to the eulogy. The point of the exercise was to have a daily course of action which correlated with the impact your death would have on the community or on a larger scale, the world. If you envisioned having your family there mourning, it might occur to you to investigate how your relationship with them is doing. Who showed up to it and what they said about you would directly correspond with how you lived your life. Maybe all you wanted was money so you were ok with not many people caring or having bad relationships. Perhaps you were highly involved in your community which would result in the attendance of many other community leaders as well as the many lives you’ve impacted in your efforts to enrich the local ecosystem. When your friends and family spoke about you, your values would be illuminated. Whether you were known for your hard work, your kindness and how you treated people would all be predicated on what you did in the days past.

The fact of the matter is, that every day is spent “writing our tombstone” through our actions and efforts towards what we truly value. By recognizing this, we can have greater direction and purpose towards how we spend our time. We’ve all made an appointment that was months and months in advance only to have it show up what seems like the very next day. Point being, although our death may seem very far away and I wish this to be true for you, it is coming and when it arrives will you embrace it willingly or will you be tormented by regret until your last breath. Many entrepreneurs know that a successful outcome is reliant on having a solid plan, and while it may seem somewhat morbid for some to be planning for your death, it is the most reasonable way to live your life the way you truly want. It might incentivize you to treat people more kindly, give a hug to the ones you love and really go after whatever it is that you wish to do with your life. They say “plan for the future” and death is one that we certainly all share, so why not make it as great as you can and paint the picture you want for yourself. Whether you want to or not, you are by how you live your life every day.

Motivated by Our Fear #277

Just less than a month ago I sat sweatily in my assigned corner, waiting for my name to be announced, then signaling my entrance to the stage where I would face my opponent in a submission only no gi (without the traditional uniform/kimono as seen in karate) match. These types of events differ from a tournament, they are what we in the sport refer to as a “superfight” with oftentimes select rulesets that vary from one promotion to the next. Some super fights contain a point system in the event that the victor is not decided by a submission or tap out, and on the other end of the spectrum a submission-only rule set where the outcome is based almost primarily on one opponent submitting due to a joint lock or choke. In the event no submission is attained by either athlete, the promotions themselves feature their own individual variance in format, regarding length of time or scoring criteria to determine the winner. Historically while there have been submission-only matches with no time limit they generally make for poor spectating especially in regard to the casual observer but I digress.

As I sat there like I do before every bout, breathing and calming my nerves, attempting to maintain an almost meditative state, I took notice of the fear or nervousness that every fighter finds themself intertwined with prior to a match or any competitive bout set to take place in front of an audience. As humans we are quite adverse to losing in front of others, it is an inescapable truth due to our built in demand for self-preservation past a physical sense. There is an existence of irony in the fact that our fear stands to guard us from an experience that we stand to gain from, which is the pain of failure in front of others. Without subjecting ourself to such criticism and public defeat the motive towards self-improvement would be greatly diminished. This is true for artists, athletes and business people alike. By confronting our fears, whether they be public speaking, singing, making people laugh or charting into the chaotic and unpredictable world of free market, only then can we stand to reach the heights of our greatest imaginable human potential. I have always found motivation in the fact that the repercussions of not giving your best in training, in preparation in discipline will be reflected in your performance by way of you being choked unconscious or knocked out cold in front of your family and friends. As dramatic as that may sound, for many it poses a very martial dilemma (hence the term martial arts) that they may then use to look within, ultimately finding their success and/or greatness. Without such loss at stake, there is a tendency for us to stray from what is right, growing ever complacent and succumbing to our human emotions and desires. We are all human, we all err, but we can always improve and by challenging ourselves and driving towards discomfort will we find the gold that we are truly made of.

Get over yourself… #276

The awesome part about being a white belt is the sole expectation of trying hard to get better. Me with Olympian Judoka Jimmy Pedro trying to become more dangerous on the feet.

When I started Jiu Jitsu as a teen, I had the privilege of seeing my brother Steve experience success in the cage as an MMA professional and on the tatami in the sport of BJJ. I remember being so accustomed to seeing him win, it was a almost a shock for him to lose. I was fortunate to be able to witness the fighting spirit that he possessed up close, knowing that not everyone can be blessed with such role models and needless to say it kindled a desire to compete and especially to want to win. Little did I know that although I did desire the gold medal or getting my hand raised, I didn’t understand the essence of competing itself, something that would translate to my life later on as a business professional and community leader. I am instantly reminded of something my older brother Steve used to tell me which was “a lot of people want to win, few people want war”. Steve was the type that if the match went into deep water, he was likely to prevail, and he demonstrated it again and again from blue belt all the way to black belt. In my case however, the explanations for losing always seemed to me, to be technical or strategic, which benefited me in terms of becoming a very well rounded, skilled fighter, but blinded me from the truth of the matter. As humans we tend to avoid the things we underperform at and put our emphasis on the things we do well. While this is not necessarily good or bad, as we do need to focus on having strengths that we can execute at a high level, we stand to benefit greatly from having fewer weaknesses which, plots twist, comes from us working on them obsessively. From my perspective, it took me somewhat over a decade to truly get to a place where I could push myself farther than most people, conceivably because it took me a long time for that truth to finally corner me and deliver the brutal honesty that I wasn’t doing enough of the right things. Even in my colored belt days when I was waking up at 4am to run, where my freezing hands were the most painful part of it, I wasn’t fighting as often as I could have, I wasn’t in a constant state of preparedness, and I was allowing distractions to steal my time and my focus. When this realization finally penetrated my thick skull at black belt, it drove me to change my ways and then the medals just started to pile up. It’s funny how often the answers are right underneath our nose and it took me a painfully long time to realize that what held me back for so long was the fact that I cared what people thought. I felt like if I lost, well I was a loser, when in reality that was true anyway. When you are focused on the wrong things, you are a big fat “L”, no matter what anybody tells you. The results will speak for themselves. I would try to strategize how I was going to win instead of setting my sights on giving every single person in my division hell so they knew what it meant to fight Christopher Hargett. Instead of focusing solely on how I was going to win or get better, I cared about what people thought about me or my performance. Rather than winning a match in an untamed, ugly, raw fashion, I wanted to look good and display perfect technique. When in reality I needed to show up, compete like a fucking savage, and do whatever it takes to win. Over and over and over again. Period. It is easy to get lured into the drama that if you win you’re the best and if you lose you are nothing, but this type of self obsession is not only self-destructive but it is a complete and utter waste of time. In reality, what other people think is none of your business, for one. A majority of people, or the people who matter, will look at you with admiration for the effort you put in and the lifestyle you live. Medals are no indication of how respectable someone is, it is only a fraction of how they live their lives and operate as professionals. We tell the kids in our program that “champions lose but they never quit” and that message holds true. Do you know any quitters in your life you have respect for? No, they are champions even when they lose. They suck it up and get back to work, and they never stop coming. Plus, the people who would look down on you for a loss are not people you care about anyway. So the key is to get over yourself, your image and what people think and wage an all out war to get the most experience, fight the most matches with the most people, keep learning to hustle and repeat the process until the magic starts to happen. Once you are able to stop feeling sorry for yourself after a loss, will you truly begin to fall in love with the process of fighting. The best chefs have been in the kitchen perfecting their routine and adapting to unforeseen challenges for years and years, competing is no different. On the mats, in life or any domain for that matter.

I was listening to one of Kobe’s last interviews in which he was talking about how he had airballed five shots in the last game of his first or second season in the league, playing the Utah Jazz after which his teammates came up to him to ask if he was ok. His reaction was that he was fine because the public opinion didn’t matter, what mattered was what he needed to do to fix his mistakes which he accredited to a lack of a proper strength and conditioning program at the time. He said that the reason he was fine was that he learned to get over himself at a young age, that he wasn’t as big or as important as he thought he was. All that mattered was fixing the errors. Nowadays when aspiring competitors ask me what my best advice to them would be I start with asking them their goals. If their goal is to be a champion they need to recognize that their most important training is competing. Nothing will ever prepare you for fighting another person like the act of it, so if you really want it, forget what everyone thinks and compete as much as you can and fix as much as you can along the way. It really comes down to love because while you may suck, as you should, you will be the person that was in the background at all the tournaments before one day exploding on to the scene, an “overnight success” if you will. But first, you have to harden yourself by accepting the fact that how you feel after a loss doesn’t matter, in practice or in the most important tournament of your life, it’s just your ego struggling to accept where you are at and the sooner you can get over that and focus on the improvements and the adjustments you need to make, the sooner you will reach your goals. Then your performance will be be able to back up your ego which will turn into a deadly blend of confidence and ego which is necessary for competing at the highest level. If you don’t think that you’re not going to step on that mat and crush someone’s spirit and make them quit, you’re not ready, because someone with that mentality who has put in the work is going to take you to school and give you a lesson you will never forget. As Tim Grover says, it’s only arrogant when you’re all talk. People who are accomplished have huge egos because they’ve done a lot and that feeds the belief that they can do the impossible, but if you allow the way people view you to influence any of your actions, you won’t do what you need to do which is take the risks and miss the shots you need to in order to eventually succeed.

If I had a million dollars… #275

If you won the lottery today how much in your life would change? Would you buy a new house, mistreat people or become dangerously overweight? Would you control your money or would it control you? My good friend and mentor has always said to me “money has it’s cachet”, and this is true when it comes to your survival, education, opportunity to create more wealth or even the ability to perform charitable acts such as build a school in an underdeveloped country. Despite the undeniable need for money in our lives, and the clear positive implications towards not just our own but many others, there is something to be said for the habits and character that you are working on and how profoundly they affect your ability to live a life of fulfillment and joy.

Can you remember a buying a new car? At first, each moment getting inside it is accompanied by excitement as you take in every detail or simply enjoy that “new car smell” while experiencing the feelings of admiration and elation for your latest prized possession, compared to your last hunk of junk you had. Only to have those feelings disappear just a month later, leaving you with yourself and what you have built within. Please don’t be mistaken, money is definitely a high priority in my life, as it should be for anyone who desires freedom, security, comfort, or those running a business who are taking care of the people around them. Making ALOT of money to support your ambitions and dreams is certainly of great importance as well as a worthwhile challenge or so I make up. But… not at the expense of your health, your relationships, your sense of purpose, or the opportunity to do something great. At the end of the day, many will attest to the fact that you can have all the money in the world and feel like you have nothing at all while some are destitute but are able to find happiness as long as they are able to live and get by. It is not to say that poor people are happier in comparison to those who have made a fortune or anything of that nature, such a proposition would clearly break down under scrutiny.. There is however, something to be said for being able to achieve both happiness and money due to your physical and emotional wealth. I observed this growing up in Vietnam, where I witnessed struggling families who made up the majority, due to the communist regime which doesn’t tend to favor the poor or low class but that is another matter. What struck me was the fact that these families seemed to show great generosity with what little they had and seemed genuinely happy to play soccer together, share a coke, let you stay with them, partake in their meals, borrow their motorcycle, etc. It is worth noting that at the time, the general outlook on westerners was also not entirely welcoming given that the Vietnam war was not too far removed from people’s minds, having ended in 1975, roughly 30 years prior. To be fair, my Asian appearance due to my Japanese heritage definitely worked in my favor but my dad who bears Caucasian ethnicity was also on the receiving end of many genuine acts of kindness and warmth, one of them being permanent residency status, something that was rare for foreigners at the time if you were not a diplomat.

If I were to win the lottery, and become an overnight millionaire I would like to think that little might change about my habits. I would definitely get more sleep for one (I average five hours a night) and have less financial stress knowing that my business would have a cushion and the obvious fiscal implications that would accompany millions of dollars. I would own a very nice home, maybe send my kids to private school etc… As far as my routine, I would still get up early to make my bed (with my girlfriend still in it), read, practice guitar, lift weights, train and teach Jiu Jitsu, knowing the value that a steady routine delivers in terms of mental clarity. Or for the simple fact that I also enjoy those things greatly and receive satisfaction from doing them. I might be able to put more effort into this blog and explore ways I could reach a wider audience. Perhaps dabble in projects that satisfy me such as “vlogging”, writing more books, understanding the crypto space so I can be the next dogecoin millionaire LOL. But my point in all this is that assets and money only represent a portion of our lives that is our security, which most often made possible financially or so I understand. My landlord was not overly appreciative of my attempt to pay rent in copper wire… but I digress. I reiterate this point because grand acts of charity are made possible through such wealth, but your lifestyle and habits should not be affected drastically if you are in fact, living your best life or achieving your most optimal state.

So… if you had all the money you needed in your life, what then would change? This is a valid question and thought experience my older brother Steve has posed since I was a teen. Would your discipline plummet to unforeseen levels or would you continue the path of developing your character through life’s trials in order to become your best version. I work with some highly affluent clients who own basketball teams, islands, private planes and the like (it’s worth noting that some of these people appear to not afford to shop at target besides the 120k vehicle they hopped out of), some with excellent relationships with their health, family, kids, etc who seem to have just figured out life. And while they have all the money in the world you could just as easily peg them for a blue collar worker, while others have relationships that could modestly be described as dysfunctional. Point being, no amount of money should affect the value of what you have created inside, because in my estimation, that is the real prize that you can sleep well at night knowing it can never be taken from you.

Choose Death #274

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles – Sun Tzu

It is easy to sit back and tell yourself and others “what is”, while it is another thing to go out of your comfort zone in order to know your truth. On a daily basis I am inspired by the few who choose to confront the fears that reside beneath our skin in order to pursue their own greatness by facing and knowing our true self that hides behind the mask or persona we have created. We are all victim to this rationale as it serves as a method of preservation, physically and emotionally, by not showing weakness or mortality we might be more accepted by our peers, or so we think. Beneath the surface of every human, so magnificent in appearance, lies the same beautiful soul that is plagued by the earthly desires, flaws, insecurities, and temptations we are no strangers to. “We are all human”, as the saying goes. The difference lies in the fact that some possess a greater sense of the principles needed to deal with the negative emotions we all face like greed, jealously, anger, hate, slothfulness, deceit, along with the challenges that we are certain to encounter through this life. Philosophically speaking it is fair to say that over the course of our life we each face an equal enough number of opportunities to choose between good or evil, decisions that will ultimately spell our fate. In the book Bushido, based on the Hagakure by Tsunetomo Yamamoto, the opening line communicates , “I have found the essence of bushido: to die!”. What this means to me and as the book further elaborates is that we are constantly presented with two choices in life, a fork in the path if you will, one being comfort and life (cowardice) and the other being death (the right thing). The aim of the bushido principles was to develop discipline within the samurai in order to better serve the community, those around them and most of all themselves. Those who lacked such principles were the infamous Ronin (masterless samurai), who acted on emotion and impulses, satisfying their carnal wishes and desires. While choosing death over life is a very black and white perspective it delivers an advantage to anyone attempting to better themselves and foster a higher level of discipline within. It is 4:00 a.m. and the alarm goes off… Hit snooze or “choose death”? You realize someone accidentally gave you $100 instead of $20, keep it and accept your karma or choose death? Time to choose death and do your cardio or push it back until tomorrow? While it may sound extreme, I find it to be an ingenious and clever compass to guide me in the right direction. Oftentimes I am tempted to do the easy thing, the thing that serves me best, ignoring the principles of honor and what will likely add to my legacy or future in exchange for the short-lived bliss that accompanies choosing comfort over sacrifice. If life is about improving and changing yourself to ultimately find your happiness and live your best life, I hope you too find it within yourself to choose death.

We Are All Artists #273

A student, a teacher, an artist, a warrior, a family man, a killer, a peacemaker, a destroyer, a creator all woven from the same fabric. This is a martial artist.

Life is a canvas and we are designed to create as much as we are to consume and destroy. Only a human being can give life to a piece of wood with steel strings and produce an Album like Abbey Road or Let it Bleed. Ever since we were young the desire to build burned within us. Think back to the days of building a Lego set of gargantuan dimensions with infinite possibilities only to tear it down and start over again. You could’ve chosen to build the Death Star or something abstract that reached beyond the limits of imagination, like the artwork we see from Beeplecrap. By recognizing that life is art and we each play a unique and special role in adding to it we unlock a part of ourselves capable of unimaginable contribution to ourselves and society. Around ten years ago I watched a video by Steve Jobs titled The Secrets of Life which impressed upon me that life was not always what you were told (get a job, get married, have kids, retire.. not that there is anything wrong with that if you so desire it) but in fact you were capable of having a direct impact on the world itself. It is worth mentioning that Steve Jobs was one of the most influential figures whom I studied in my early twenties who, while not infallible particularly in his personal life, taught me to think in terms of pursuing your passion over money, along with the importance of fostering creativity and the necessity of developing other positive attributes such as public speaking or communication. Not to say that I do any of those things well, certainly not to the degree which he did, but watching videos of him releasing the iPod nano, iPhone years later or in interviews, etc. were awe-inspiring to say the least and motivating to see someone articulate such revolutionary ideas in an eloquent and compelling manner. Even communication itself is an art form that we are all in someway connected to the benefits of.

For in everything that we do the body is useful; and in all uses of the body it is of great importance to be in as high a state of physical fitness as possible -Socrates

Starting with one’s physical state, many Greek philosophers spoke about the importance of seeing the full potential of the human body. The benefits mentally, functionally, sexually, practically are not beyond anyone’s comprehension. In my humble opinion, this is your first canvas and the decisions needed to express brilliance are common sense but peppered with a need for discipline. I feel sorrow for the many who fail to ever experience the beauty in life that accompanies peak physical health. If someone told you that tomorrow you would be able to fight, perform every physical task you wanted to, have great sex or look good naked would that not be of interest? While overnight successes do not exist, look at your self physically with acceptance and honesty while treating “your canvas” as if you were the famous Michelangelo creating the famous sculpture of David. You will love yourself for it and experience life in its fullest capacity and the richness it has to offer. If our ancestors were able to understand this without a computer and the wealth of information at our fingertips you can easily become the Picasso of your own health. It starts with a single step. The biggest realization for many is that they have more power than they think as artists. An artist doesn’t wait to be told what to do, their fascination lies in play. With their tools, they get to work and through trial and error, failure and loss they produce a work of art that is timeless. I am inspired by people in their seventies and eighties who have truly lived and take their health seriously, who show up on a daily basis with vigor and energy that would put your average twenty year old to shame. It is not meant to be a criticism on anyone, but merely a comparison that should incentivize us to paint our greatest work of art which is ourselves. Steve Jobs started with a typewriter, others with a brush, or a musical instrument, all you need is your mind followed up by the traits of a martial artist that will see the job through to bring your perfect picture to life.

Still don’t give a f*** #272

In 2019 I made a commitment to get myself to the gym at 5am Monday through Saturday.. This was a huge catalyst for much of the discipline I have today.

In the spring of 2018, my life had met an all time low. I had just undergone reconstructive surgery after sustaining a fully torn ACL and meniscus, which had kept me from training at any championship capacity, once the MRI revealed that surgery was in fact the necessary step to return to competition. On top of it, my girlfriend of five years had left me just weeks following the surgery, leaving me a crippled shell of a man. On the business side, the Jiu Jitsu academy my brother and I had decided to salvage was in its infancy which presented a host of challenges and consequently stress. Our main business was suffering, partly due to the Jiu Jitsu academy hemorrhaging money under the management of the black belt who was formerly in charge and other dynamics that I won’t bother to disclose. My brother Steve whom I share unconditional love and admiration for, were at a rocky point in our relationship. Another consequence of my surgery was that I found myself using it as a crutch to escape from work and try to deal with my problems, which no doubt burdened the other business partners involved. Furthermore, I used addiction as a coping mechanism, mostly in the form of alcohol, women, and occasionally cannabis to distract from the root of the problem which unbeknownst to me at the time was myself. Of course, in the fog of my own self obsession I failed to see a problem that didn’t have to do with anyone but myself. Hindsight really is 20/20, and if I had continued down the path I was on, who knows where I would be although presumably nowhere good in relation to work, my athletic career and most importantly the relationships of the people close to me. In my present state of mind I struggle to see any value that alcohol or other mind altering substances add to your life. That is just my opinion, however, before my commitment to sobriety I held the belief that as long as I was able to perform when called upon and accomplish everything I needed to do, it didn’t matter if I was out till 3am, so long as I showed up at five or six o clock in the morning to carry out my due diligence. At this time, I hardly consider that word to be appropriate, seeing as there was little to be perceived as “diligent” when it comes to staying up late and catering to your carnal desires. If it were not for the journey of Martial Arts to help keep me somewhat honest, it would be hard to see myself, or anyone for that matter, achieving any semblance of a heightened state. Call it luck or fate, somehow I chanced upon a book by Mark Manson titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. My brother Steve would call it “a dangerously named title” for reasons to come. To honor this impactful shift in my thinking I titled my blog as appropriately as I could and growing up a fan of the artist Eminem, who has the same title of a song, but for the reasons a rebellious teenager would relate, I found it fitting. While it is easy to assume what “not giving a fuck means” explicitly, what the book actually entails is “giving a huge fuck… about very few things” such as your goals or your purpose. This was a key shift for me in my thinking because over time it helped me eschew many habits that most would consider to just be a natural part of life, like drinking. This is not a judgement either on people who do drink or party, if you have your life together and that is how you “live”, who am I to say what’s right or wrong. I am simply sharing my experience and how removal of things that I never questioned like having a drink when you went to a bar, elevated me in unimaginable ways. December 26, 2022 will mark three years of alcohol sobriety for me and I can’t see it ever changing. Nonetheless, slowly but surely, I began to remove aspects of my life that didn’t necessarily cause problems, or so I thought but we’re not essential to my life’s purpose.

Perspective is certainly an interesting thing. While there were definitely low moments, there is often good depending on how you choose to see it. For example, I was able to greatly explore the extent to which one can operate with a fully torn ACL, which helped me understand how an athlete such as Yianni Diahkomihalis could win the NCAA championship with a torn ACL, or perhaps Kim Jae Bum (2012 Judo Olympic champion) could win his finals match with his leg dangling from a thread. I also learned a great deal about recovering from surgery and taking my preparation more seriously. The two years that I missed (also due to a shoulder surgery) put me behind in my competitive career and in my opinion drove me to cultivate a level of work ethic and discipline that I had lacked prior to my injuries. I also believe that these hardships were necessary in order to learn some hard lessons which led to me becoming my most improved version. Ultimately from all of this, what I have come to understand is that no matter how hard you fall, no matter how dire your circumstances, how bleak the present and possibly future may seem, you are always capable of getting back up and rising from the ashes by being willing and determined enough to reinvent yourself at any stage in your life. This way of handling life’s problems and challenges is the ethos of a true Martial Artist. Over time, you should look back on your journey and see the undesirable layers of yourself that you once shed while understanding that there is always a higher peak for you to climb. The way you will reach such heights is by using martial arts as a vehicle to transform yourself by developing such traits as discipline, integrity and honor within. This will ultimately lead to astrong sense of character needed to act as a leader and create a ripple effect within the community. This also falls in line with the thinking professed by philosophers such as Ludwig Von Wittgenstein that “those who want to change the world must start by changing themselves”. I’m paraphrasing but the point should be crystal clear. While it is also understandably easy to think “who I am to try to change the world or help those around me?” but the truth is that much of life’s enrichment is in fact correlated to how we go about improving ourselves intellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally and we all have loved ones around us we want to affect in a good way. So start with the man or woman in the mirror and see what a year of working on yourself does not only for you but those you want to affect positively.

Acceptance #271

In Jiu Jitsu, one of the most challenging aspects that we face is learning to accept force or energy from your adversary. This valuable tenet stems from the understanding that in order to manipulate your opponent’s energy, you must first absorb it rather than meeting it head on with your own strength and energy. This is the principle of ju yoko go o seisu interpreted as “softness controls hardness”, one of Master Jigoro Kano’s rudimentary philosophies. A prime example of this being applied in a Martial Arts setting, is a situation where you are faced with a larger, stronger opponent. When they push into you, if you push back with all your strength you will accomplish little and perhaps tire before eventually becoming overwhelmed. Alternatively, if you chose to move yourself in an effort to off balance your opponent it may result in their strength being equalized or diminished in comparison to yours while presenting you with an opportunity and angle to attack them as they attempt to regain their balance. Additionally you could use the momentum created through your elusive movements in an effort to off balance them, creating yet another series of off balancing maneuvers and attacks. In life too there exists a fascinating parallel. While our nature is to resist many things that have the potential to benefit us, such as wanting to stay home rather than attend a school function or work party where we might otherwise come across the future love of our life, grand business opportunity or run into a old friend with whom you instantly rekindle a former relationship. I in my teenage years, for example, hadn’t a chance of knowing that my destiny lay in Martial Arts. Even as I grew older I never envisioned it to the extent of owning an academy or enjoying building leaders in the community. Which leads me to the idea that part of the reason we avoid leaving what some will call the comfort zone is because we have in some way, arrogantly or naively, “made up” the outcome that should take place instead of accepting that so much of life is beyond our understanding or control and that many of the greatest experiences are completely unintentional. It’s worth pointing out that the experience itself is oftentimes the reward. A great example of this to me is found in competition, many athletes are hesitant to try a competition for the first time because they have convinced themselves that they are not ready, yet they were conceivably also “not ready” when they stepped into a dojo or tried a new sport for the first time. Oftentimes students begin their journey to achieve some higher state, whether it is fitness, security, confidence etc. which requires that they surrender themselves enough to come in and accept the guidance of a Sensei or a coach. A tournament or competition is arguably no different, one must accept it for what it is, a method of developing oneself through trial and error from raw feedback that oftentimes stings your ego. This is the part that is far more terrifying about competing than the risk of physical injury or bodily harm, after all, it can all be over as soon as you decide it’s over. It’s no different than the Navy Seals in BUDS training who ring the bell when they’ve had enough. So why the hesitation? Is it in fact the ego’s reluctance to risk losing in front of everyone? It escapes me which Greek philosopher declared that public humiliation is the single greatest human fear and no one is truly immune to this way of thinking as long as they are human. I recently had to overcome such a mental block that had me fixating on whether or not I could win a tournament that I was considering attending, little did I know that I had been distracted from the reason I fight to begin with. It took a close friend to remind me of the fact that I compete because I enjoy it and overcoming the challenge is what excites me more than the fight itself. The upside of a mindset that constantly seeks challenge rather than wins is that you will eventually find that you are capable of more than you ever thought. It’s important to know that we are capable of becoming victim to the obsession with winning or losing rather than being grateful or excited for the opportunity to be where you are and try something new. Sometimes those lessons are what it takes to realize that the biggest achievement we can gain from sports and competition is identifying with the process of becoming a champion, not a medal or trophy to validate our self worth. We are all capable of falling victim to this way of thinking which results in our esteem being directly correlated to whether or not we won or lost, not recognizing that the competition serves us as vehicle into the unknown where our true merits can be uncovered (courage, discipline, humility, toughness, persistence) and thus applied into your every day life. This is the meaning of living like a true samurai, having purpose and a martial practice to keep you grounded and connected to your mortality. Such a lifestyle where your ego stands to be crushed intermittently demands the ability to accept that which is beyond giving your best and the fortitude to let things go, knowing in the end that your actions are steered by principle and the rest is in the hands of the ever powerful force of life itself.