I don’t have one of those motivational stories about coming up from nothing. My story is actually quite the opposite. My story is about having everything and throwing it all away to discover my true purpose in life.
When I was in my early 20’s and was working as the vice president of sales and marketing for Tough Country Products, one of the leading companies internationally for heavy duty truck accessories. It’s a family owned business and the job provided me with a nice home on ten acres of land and a custom show truck. I was engaged to my amazing and talented wife, Beverly, who had recently moved back in from college. We leased a BMW Z4 for her to drive when I was using the truck. We enjoyed traveling and got to do it often both for work and pleasure. We loved our house, our cars and we got a German Shepherd that became like our child. We had a great relationship with our families and lots of friends. From the outside we had it made and our life was off to a great start. Inside however, something was missing. It was eating me alive from the inside every day that I went to work. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the job, we did lots of cool things and I was into the work. It was different…
“IT WAS AS IF THERE WAS AN INTERNAL COMPASS THAT WAS GETTING ANGRY BECAUSE I WAS OFF COURSE.”
It wasn’t so much about what I was doing, it was more about what I was NOT doing. I had a calling, something I was destined for that would not allow itself to be denied. That calling caused me to make a decision that would alter the course of our lives. Most people tried to talk us out of it, some were angry, some thought we were crazy, but we knew we were destined for something more.
Beverly and I got married at my family’s ranch in November of 2014. After the honeymoon we started packing. We pawned a lot of things and did our best to pack up the rest. We sold my prized 4x4 diesel show truck and bought a used SUV. We turned in our leased convertible and handed over the keys to our beloved home. Beverly, our dog Kali and I loaded into the SUV and pulled the remainder of our belongings in a U-Haul for the 30-hour drive from South Texas to Northern California. I will never forget that first drive. With 30 hours on the road you have a lot of time to think, lots of time to be excited and lots of time to be afraid. We had hopes and dreams and we were searching for knowledge and answers. What we got was more than we could have ever imagined and it changed our lives forever.
My passion had been martial arts since I was a kid. I caught the martial arts bug the same way most did, from seeing Kung Fu movies on TV. I became obsessed and I wanted to learn but growing up in a small, country town in South Texas there was not a lot of opportunity for quality martial arts training. I ordered every book, magazine and VHS tape I could get my hands on. I turned my parent’s garage and backyard into my own personal dojo, and did what I could on my own until I started my official training when I was 10 years old. I had two older brothers who felt it was there job to make me tough. I am not sure if I was more concerned with getting good so I could make them proud, or to fight them off, but it was probably a bit of both. Either way, I was looking for something that allow me to learn to fight quickly. I started my training in a Karate class at a local boys and girls club, but at that time, I failed to see the value in the stances, katas and discipline that was being taught. Instead my interest led me to a local garage group who trained Jeet Kune Do Concepts. The curriculum was pretty much like an MMA blend of Boxing and Muay Thai with a little bit of basic Filipino Kali added in. We also did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but it was done as a separate stand-alone class. I continued training up into high school where I had transferred from a private middle school with only about 25 classmates. Moving into the much larger high school we were the new kids and obvious targets, especially in the athletic programs.
I despised bullies and would not allow anyone to pick on me or my friends. This combined with the fact that I had a temper and short fuse made getting into fights inevitable. My emotional state and temper improved a little through simply having the outlet to let it out with the martial arts training, but at this stage in my training, everything was purely physical. I had not discovered the philosophical side of the arts. I didn’t know about meditation, discipline, and character building as these aspects were not really part of my training. Upon reflecting on this time, I realized that this was a major gap in my training as. To make sure this gap is filled for the next generation, my team and I have worked extremely hard to instil mindset, meditation, and character development training into all of our youth programs today.
Word started to travel and people soon began to approach me asking about training. The group I was training with at that time had kind of dispersed and moved to Houston. The local classes had dwindled down to one day per week so I saw the opportunity to have test dummies to work on. Previously, I had taught a couple of my friends privately so they could better defend themselves and watch my back, but never created anything official. I started doing small group classes after school in my parents’ garage. At this point the drive was purely for selfish reasons as I wanted people to test concepts on, but this soon became a major turning point for me. I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching. I enjoyed sharing what I loved and watching the positive effect it could have on people. My first taste of the real benefits of martial arts training didn’t even come from within, but came from me seeing the transformation in others. Just as the Zen was starting to peak through while we were using the training for something purely positive, the wild teenager in me had to shake things up. We decided we needed more bodies to train with and wanted to make a testing ground for our current students. In order to recruit more people, we built a makeshift ring in the pasture behind my parents’ house with pool sticks and rope tied around them. We used an empty Ozarka bottle and hit it with a 2x4 like a gong for the bell. I would hold pasture parties and we would use the car headlights to light up the ring for boxing and MMA style fights.
This “Fight Club” went on far too long as it began to get too big and out of control. During my senior year, we finally came to our senses and shut down the fight nights but my classes continued on. After high school I attended college for a short time but ended up applying the majority of my college funding towards training. I had been traveling the country since I started my training to attend seminars with other Jeet Kune Do Instructors, but I was curious what else was out there. I knew martial arts had a lot more to offer and I wanted to find it. For the next few years, I traveled all over the country training with over 50 masters of various arts and combative systems. I wasn’t trying to master all these arts, I just wanted have a wider understanding of what all the other arts and systems were about.
During my travels there was one person that stood out to me above all others. I first met Sifu Singh in 2005 and he was now a JKD instructor from the same linage that I was a part of. Even though he was teaching the art I had been studying, most of my life I felt lost training with him. He was operating at different level than what I had ever seen physically, but more so, it was the way he lived and breathed everything into a way of life. Training with him made you feel like you were in a Kung Fu movie. I started doing the majority of my training with him, and in 2008, after 12 years of training, I was awarded my Full Instructorship in Jeet Kune Do, and Kali along with an Edged Weapons and Law Enforcement Instructorship. That year Sifu Singh asked me to start assisting him with seminars around the country, so I began to travel with him to New York, California, Las Vegas, Colorado, Chicago, Florida, and also taught in my home state of Texas.
2008 was a big year for me as it was the year I met my future wife, who eventually found her own passion in martial arts and also the year I opened my first official school. Because of the law enforcement training we had been doing at the time, in addition to the firearms and tactical training that I had been doing on my own, I was really gravitating towards the combative side of the arts. I named the school “Tactical Defense Academy” based around my current mindset and target clientele.
During my travels I also made frequent trips to the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance. They approached me about an opportunity to take part in an Instructor Certification program for a curriculum they had originally designed to teach Jiu-Jitsu to Army Rangers. I signed up and returned a few months later for the first ever Gracie Combatives Instructor Certification Program. We trained for 10 hours a day, for 10 days, logging over 100 hours for the course. At the end of the course we had to teach the material back to Ryron and Rener Gracie while Rorion watched stoically from the side. Those that made it through the process were then given a six-month probationary period to teach the material to a student. If the student could pass the test, it proved we had successfully retained the material and more importantly, that we could pass the teachings onto others. This was all long before the DVD’s or any online support systems that are in place today, and I believe the entire process is different now, but this was the first ever group that went through this process. I cannot remember how many of us there were in the beginning of the training, but at the end of the six months I was 1 of only 10 people to pass all qualifications and become a Gracie Combatives Instructor. My school became the first Certified Gracie Combatives Training Center in Texas. I continued to train at the Gracie Academy when I was in California and also started to bring Ryron and Rener Gracie down to my school for seminars. I assisted them with seminars in San Antonio and Austin as well as the UFC Fan Expo in Houston. I continued to teach and promote their programs through my school until my move to California in 2015. Aside from all the great training this provided, two major things stuck with me from this time period which still affect me today. The first was an eye opener on application, I had experienced rolling on and off throughout my life, and although I wasn’t officially belted at that time, I knew my way around the mat and had even competed and won in some local NAGA and other No-Gi tournaments. In all the time I had spent rolling or learning techniques, no one had ever been punching me while I did them. Even some of the higher ranked practitioners in the room seemed to not know how apply their art against a striking opponent. I learned an important lesson that day:
“THE ART IN WHICH SOMEONE CHOOSES TO TRAIN IS FAR LESS IMPORTANT THAN WHAT THEY ARE APPLYING THE ART AGAINST.”
If you study Wing Chun you may be great at Chi Sao, but can you apply it against boxers and wrestlers? If you’re a Tae Kwon Do practitioner, man you are going to be very good at applying your kicks against someone who is also staying within the kicking range, but can you land your kicks against a fighter who’s crashing in? There is no superior style, only superior people and training methods. Even some of the more experienced BJJ practitioners who were confident in their Jiu-Jitsu skills, only knew how to apply them in rolling. BJJ is a great art and their limitations do not lie within the system. Rather, the limitations lie in what they were applying their art against. If more people would understand this simple truth rather than continue to argue about what art is better, it would make the world a better place. The second eye opener was the time and effort we would spend working on teaching methods, presentation methods and how to structure lessons and classes. So many times teachers are certified based on their ability to perform the art, but just because someone can do something does not mean they can teach and pass the lessons on. I really appreciated the emphasis on mastery of teaching being just as important as mastery of application.
This whole time I continued my JKD training with Sifu Singh and in 2012, 4 years after receiving my Full Instructorship, I was promoted to a Senior Instructor in Progressive Fighting Systems. This was a coveted rank that, at the time, was only held by a handful of people and it was one of my proudest accomplishments. In 2013, Sifu Singh created his own organization called the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association, and I immediately joined. Once again everything changed. I had just earned my Senior Instructorship, but now in the JKDAA I had to start over as an Apprentice. It was a humbling experience but I fully understood the reasons as Sifu Singh started to unveil his qualifications and expectations. After a physical, verbal and even written testing process, I was promoted to Coach Level 1. That year, we changed the name of our academy to the Texas Jeet Kune Do Athletic Club to better represent the direction we were heading. Tactical Defense Academy was changed to just Tactical Defense and used as a separate branch of our business specializing in Law Enforcement Training. Because Sifu Singh is a huge believer of functional fitness and attribute development training for martial artists, I started training in the Action Strength system which includes Kettlebell Training, Body Weight Exercises, The Gada (Indian Mace) and Tai Chi. After a few years of training in this system and an extensive testing process, I was certified as a Level 1 Action Strength Coach and began to incorporate functional fitness training into all of my martial arts programs.
All of my training had been squeezed in while still working the full-time job in the truck accessory business. I had already accomplished a lot by some standards in my martial career, but it was as if everything I had accomplished had just opened my eyes further to what I could do. Leaving my job, home, family and friends wasn’t the only hard decision I had to make. I have always been deeply invested in my students and couldn’t stomach the thought of them not continuing to receive good training because of my absence. One of my top students, Gunnar Davis, had made tremendous growth and displayed the dedication, drive and loyalty every instructor wants to see from a student. He was my personal private student, training partner, and assistant instructor in addition to being a great friend. He had recently earned a Coach Level 1 Instructorship in the JKDAA, and became a Level 1 Action Strength Coach. Handing over my car or turning in the keys to our beloved home was nowhere near as difficult as handing over my school and students, but I had full trust in Gunnar’s ability and integrity. So, when the day came, we turned the school over to Gunnar and set off on our Kung Fu Adventure.
Everything wasn’t simply sunshine and rainbows though. We were about to face some of the biggest challenges of our lives. Mostly financial, as living in California was burning through our savings faster than anticipated. For the first few months we stayed in a spare bedroom in Sifu Singh’s home, but with his first son on the way, we had to quickly make other arrangements. Unable to find anything nearby that we could afford, or that would allow an 80lb German Shepherd, we finally rented an apartment in Monterey, California. It was a beautiful place to live but a one hour drive each way to get to Sifu Singh’s for training was tough. Our car became our second home as we spent many nights sleeping in it rather than driving back and forth to save gas.
There were many days where Beverly would be on the phone during the drive to training trying sell a T-shirt or sign up a new student so we could have gas money to get home. We always brought our dog with us in case we couldn’t make it back to our apartment. We cut as many corners as we could, sometimes having only protein shakes as our main source of meals. We also got creative being in Monterey which was a tourist town that had a boardwalk full of restaurants. In the evening, all of the restaurants would serve free samples of clam chowder, so the times where we could not afford groceries, we would walk our dog up and down the boardwalk until we filled up on free samples. We still traveled back and forth to Texas to visit and check on our students back home when we could, always sleeping in the car and cleaning up in bathrooms or truck stops. Sometimes the 30-hour drive would take much longer. When money would run out, we would live out of the car until we could afford to buy gas again.
We spent many days living in truck stops and hotel parking lots in Arizona and New Mexico. We did our best to hide most of this situation from our families as well as Sifu Singh because we didn’t want anyone to be worrying about us. They obviously knew we were struggling at times but they never knew how bad it was, or for how long we’d been living like this. We made it our mission to focus on the positive. We had an apartment and a car which is more than many people can say, and we knew we were blessed. We were receiving the most amazing training in the world, and we knew all the sacrifice would eventually pay off. Most importantly, we reminded each other that we chose this and this is what it was going to take to achieve our goals. Even now this is the first time I have shared this side of our journey with anyone. However, I feel like it is important to share both sides of our story.
Our ability to endure our challenging living situations, and still stay sane enough to soak up the training we were going through, can’t be solely chalked up to our will power and commitment as the training itself played a massive and surprising role. When we arrived we were overwhelmed by the next level of physical training, but what allowed us to get through some of the toughest times was the fact that the training became just as much about the mind and spirit. Sifu Singh started to introduce us to the meditation and internal training from Tai Chi and Qigong, and we became the test audience for his new “Mind Boxing” book and curriculum. When Sifu Singh got booked to teach the program at the “Breakthrough to Success” conference put on by bestselling author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and success coach, Jack Canfield, Beverly and I traveled with him and spent a week on the stage teaching this program to over 200 participants of the conference. This was my first experience seeing the power of martial arts training, healing, meditation and philosophy being applied to business and life of everyday people.
As we were developing more respect for the traditional arts, Sifu Singh began to expose us to the more traditional teachings of Wing Chun which was one of the main arts Bruce Lee studied in Hong Kong. Although it was a major influence on Bruce and a backbone of Jeet Kune Do, it had been mostly nonexistent in my previous training. Through Sifu Singh, we got to meet and train with his teacher Sifu Ben Der of San Jose Wing Chun. Sifu Ben represents the Leung Sheung Linage and he brings not only amazing skill, knowledge and energy, but being a childhood friend of Bruce Lee, he provided priceless insights into Bruce’s mindset and philosophy. This whole experience of learning Wing Chun from Sifu Singh as well as meeting, training and talking with Sifu Ben had an incredible impact on my understanding of Jeet Kune Do.
Miyamoto Musashi said “A man cannot understand the art he is studying if he only looks at the end result without taking the time to delve deeply into the reasoning of the study.” This hit home with me as my understanding of Wing Chun deepened my understanding of Jeet Kune Do. Because of the extra Wing Chun training we were doing, we were invited to travel with Sifu Singh as well as Sifu Ben Der, Sifu Kenneth Chung and a small group of Wing Chun Disciples from the San Jose and San Francisco groups on a training trip to China and Hong Kong. Visiting and training in historic places like the Shaolin Temple, Chen Village, and Ip Man Tongs further ignited our love for the traditional Chinese martial arts and also allowed us to share Jeet Kune Do by teaching a seminar in Hong Kong.
All the struggles and the hardships endured to this point were far outweighed by all the positives, and it finally started to show. In 2015, I was awarded the JKDAA MVP Award for my hard work and assistance to Sifu Singh with all of his projects. I was also promoted to JKD and Kali Training Officer for the JKDAA. I started teaching our JKD for MMA program to my students back home and it was an instant success. I coached one of my original students from my garage days for his MMA debut with Legacy MMA, as well as 4 more fights undefeated including a fight on the Bellator MMA Gracie vs. Shamrock card, then on to win the Legacy MMA Title. I additionally applied the training methods to coach both adult and even youth competitors of Boxing, Kickboxing, Grappling, and Traditional Tournaments. Our school in El Campo currently holds 7 World Titles from the US Open World Championships in Orlando, Florida; 3 of which are titles held by my wife, Beverly. These accomplishments led to me being awarded the JKDAA Coach of the Year Award in 2016. All the things Sifu Singh and the JKDAA were doing started to catch the attention of Masters Magazine who started to come out for DVD projects. Beverly and I have been a part of every major video project including Three Hands Deep, Sight Beyond Sight, Mr. Mook Jong, The Fast and The Furious, and most recently Combat Chess. We can also both be seen demonstrating JKDAA Kali at the FMA Legacy Long Beach event filmed on the Queen Mary. Additionally, we were featured in the Digital Seminar, Martial Arts for Everyone by Budo Brothers. I continued my Tactical Training and have been honored to assist Sifu Singh in training more than 25 different government agencies, including the Secret Service. Sifu Singh later granted me the only level 6 Instructor Rank in the Military JKD and SPECOPS KALI program, and I am the only person authorized to teach the program and issue official ranking.
While teaching a JKD class at a Jiu-Jitsu school in Monterey, we met Sifu Kelly Ryan Lake who was teaching Tai Chi at the same school. Sifu Kelly is a Daoist Abbott, Medical Qigong Doctor and the last disciple of Legendary Tajiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan master and Daoist Senior Abbott, Sifu Jerry Alan Johnson. We did some mutual Kung Fu exchanging as we shared some JKD principles, and he shared his knowledge of the ancient arts. Sifu Kelly became another teacher to me as well as a close friend. Beverly and I attended his Tai Chi group class and took private lessons in Daoist Mysticism for a few months until the school closed down. Sifu Kelly later approached me about an opportunity to train directly with his teacher Sifu Jerry Alan Johnson who was coming out of retirement to teach a 3-year Neigong class. I had heard of Sifu Johnson only through stories, and getting to train with him in person was like training with Yoda. We were only able to attend the first year of the class before we moved back to Texas, but the time with him was some of the highlights of my martial arts career. Beverly and I continue our internal training and are currently in our second year of a 7-year Daoist mysticism course training to become Daoist Priest with Sifu Kelly and the Temple of Original Thunder. Additionally, we continue to learn Tai Chi, Qigong, and Neigong applications from Sifu Singh. That exposure to the deeper levels of the Internal training once again changed my whole understanding and perspective on Jeet Kune Do. Rarely does anyone in the JKD community ever talk about internal training, but Bruce Lee referenced Tajiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan in his research. His book is called the “Tao” of Jeet Kune Do, and he put a drawing of a Daoist priest on the inside of the cover. Even the Jeet Kune Do logo is from the Tao. It’s a Taji logo with Daoist philosophy written around it. Once Sifu Singh started pointing all these things out and I dove deeper into the training, I looked at everything differently. I was also blessed to get to meet and talk with Bruce’s sister Phoebe who shared a lot of insight around the internal side of Bruce which was very inspiring.
Sifu Singh was always one to balance the training out, and as much as we were diving into more traditional training methods, we always keep things real with the street fighting and sportive training methods. I trained in wrestling with Coach John Clarke and was certified in his RFLX Wrestling program. After countless hours of rolling with Sifu Singh he took me to his BJJ Coach, 6x World Champion Marcel Louzado, who awarded me my purple belt in BJJ. Being a part of the JKDAA provided us access to the JKDAA Advisors which make up some of the best in the world at their respective styles. We got to train Serrada Escrima with Grand Master Darren Tibon and Angles Disciples. We trained Boxing and MMA with Coach Derek Sierra, Small Circle Jiu-Jitsu with Professor James Hundon, Wing Chun with Sifu Ben Der and Tai Chi and Qigong with Sifu Arnold Tayam. Training with so many masters gave us an incredibly open mind and allowed us to see the value in each and every one’s different perspective.
We are now living back in Texas full time. Gunnar kept his promise and kept my school alive and now the three of us are running Texas Jeet Kune Do, which is currently operating in El Campo and Houston, Texas. I offer short term immersive training packages as well as online training and mentoring for serious practitioners and instructors. I teach seminars on the JKDAA Curriculum and specialize in helping school owners and instructors of all styles to implement our programs into their schools existing classes or operate them as stand-alone programs. My law enforcement branch Tactical Defense is thriving and has allowed me to work with Homeland Security, SWAT, US Marshals, Border Patrol, DPS, and many local police departments. Our latest efforts in that world have been dedicated to weapon retention in which we have also branched out to civilian concealed carry applications. We continue to develop our youth program called JKD Kids and we will be releasing curriculum, training and certification programs in the near future. I have also been busy working with Sifu Singh on his latest project JKD for Black Belts which is being released by Century Martial Arts and Black Belt Magazine.