MARTIAL ARTS AS A VEHICLE FOR SELF DISCOVERY
Martial Arts to me, is about so much more than just punching and kicking. How many street fights or physical altercations are you really going to get in? Martial Arts is truly a journey of self discovery, it is about discovering the cause of your own ignorance. It is about removing your self limiting beliefs, ideas, and thoughts based on the opinions of others, experiences, and situations you have been in. When you can peel away the layers of self doubt, the acquired personalities, and the self defense mechanisms we have picked up in life, we can then learn to honestly express ourselves. Honest self expression, is what it is all about. Who are you truly, what is your mission in life, what is your purpose, I have learned all of these things through the study of martial arts.
At 6 years old, I started training in Japanese Karate, Wa Shin Ryu, at the University of Toronto Karate and Judo Club. I competed in Kata and Point Fighting for many years, finding a lot of success in Point Fighting, even winning several championships over the years. At the age of 13, I became an assistant instructor, and also lost my hair to Alopecia Areata, and went completely bald. This was one of the first times that martial arts came to my rescue. The support I received from my Sensei, along with the ability to focus and clear my mind from my Sanchin training, was essential in helping me deal with the shame, worry, and embarrassment that the alopecia caused. The discipline, courage, and focus I had learned from my Karate training and teachers, allowed me to stay confident, deal with the matter with my head held high, and march forward.
When I was 19 years old, I moved from Toronto to Davis, California to attend the University of California, to play NCAA Tennis and pursue a degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering. One fateful night, in the spring of 2001, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We traveled to Ocean Beach, in San Francisco to attend a graduation bonfire and celebrate the end of the year. We were the last two cars to arrive that night. I was with 8 of my friends, and we were celebrating having a couple of beers by our cars, before joining about 80 people down by the beach, about 100 yards away. When out of the darkness, appeared 25 local gangsters. They were hoped up on drugs, and looking for a fight. Before, I knew it they grabbed my room mate, formed a perimeter around him, and all out chaos broke out. One of the attackers swung a 2x4 at me, and as I blocked it, I instantly injured my elbow.
I had been in matches in the dojo, I had had a few one on one street fights, but nothing like this kind of organized chaos, with no regard for life or personal safety. The pure rage and violence of this situation was a true eye opening experience. I exactly remember the moment of Fight or Flight, where I had to decide weather to run or try to help my roommate. I eventually decided not to run, but I had no idea what to do. I had never experienced anything like this in my training. Two things happened. First, time started to slow down, it was like I was in the matrix, but I had no clue of how to help him. They were fighting in formation, they had him in the middle, beating and stomping on him, while about 10 of them formed a perimeter. It looked more like a football game than a street fight, as they chased me around cars, and I was running and dodging blows most of the time. Serendipitously after what seemed like an eternity, their focus shifted from us, on to two guys that happened to be walking by. Apparently these two guys were the targets that they were initially looking for. Instantly they forgot about us, and swarmed those two. I immediately grabbed my roommate and took him down to the beach. It was an act of God that we were saved. This moment forever changed the trajectory of my life.
This experience left me filled with anger, fear, and shame. This was the moment I dedicated my life to martial arts. After graduation, I got an amazing high tech engineering job in the heart of the silicon valley, right in the dot com boom days. I was able to afford to travel and train with the greatest masters on the planet. I eventually turned my focus on to two arts, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and Tai Chi.
I found the best street fighting teacher on the planet, Paul Vunak, and eventually became his top instructor, and eventually started traveling the world teaching seminars. I also spent time learning with Bruce Lee’s original students Richard Bustillo, Larry Hartsell, and Guro Dan Inosanto. My journey in Jeet Kune Do, was eye opening and enlightening. I learned that to be a complete martial artist, one had to be proficient in all ranges of combat. There are 5 ranges of empty hand combat, Kicking, Punching, Trapping, Clinching, and Ground Fighting. So to better understand these ranges I went to the masters in each range, and learned directly from them.
For Kicking I trained with the legendary Bill Wallace, and flew half way across the world to train street Savate with the great Dan Duby in Reunion Island, France. For punching I worked my boxing by sparring with former professional fighter, Derek Sierra. To fully understand the trapping, I spent over a decade learning Wing Chun from Sifu Ben Der, an original Ip Man student, and became his disciple. As Wing Chun was the mother art of Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s first and most influential art), I knew I had to grasp it’s concepts and principles to fully understand the evolution of Jeet Kune Do. With the influence of MMA, I knew I had to understand wrestling and clinch fighting. So I found former Strike Force Fighter and SWAT officer, John Clarke, and became his student in wrestling and MMA tactics.
Gone are the days that one can only be proficient in one style and system. We must be able to go where the fight goes, we must be able to change with the change, because that is truly the changeless state. If there is a secret, it is to be like water and adapt to your situation or circumstance, and in the fight game to be able to adapt to the range of combat. In this day and age you have to have a sound ground game - You can’t be afraid to go to the ground. So I spent the last 12 years training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and received my brown belt, from 6 time world champion Prof. Marcel Louzado.
Along with the 5 ranges of empty hand combat, one must be able to utilize weapons. From day one in my Jeet Kune Do training, we started with knife and stick sparring. You see, understanding weapons is so important because over 90% of street fights involve weapons and multiple opponents. You need to be able to utilize blunt weapons (sticks, bats, tire irons, pots pans, rods,etc…) and edged weapons (glass, bottles, knives, basically anything with an edge.) Weapons training also acts like a steroid for attribute development. By attribute development I mean things like footwork, body mechanics, timing, distancing, and line familiarization. So I found the best Kali and Escrima master I could, in GM Daren Tibon, of Angel’s Disciples. GM Tibon is a direct descendant of the legendary Angel Cabales and Serrada Escrima. Over the last 16 years I have spent hours upon hours training diligently every day trying to master myself through the martial arts.
At the same time I began my journey into the external street fighting arts, I also began my journey into the internal esoteric arts of Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Nei Gong. I immersed myself with Sifu Arnold Tayam, his teacher Sifu Jerry Alan Johnson, and his teacher in China Zhang Yu Fei.
You see I was filled with so much anger, after the incident at Ocean Beach, that I wanted to learn, “Dim Mak”. That’s right I said it, “Dim Mak,” or more commonly known as the Death Touch. I got every book I could get my hands on, and I noticed that everything pointed to a deep understanding of Qi (energy,) Chinese Meridians and acupuncture points. Being an engineer, I knew that no one would openly teach me such a thing, so I decided I would enroll in a 4 year Chinese Medical Qi Gong program, and then reverse engineer the process of healing for my own fighting purposes. Yes, I was pretty twisted in my thinking at that time. I swore that I would never be so vulnerable again like I was that day at the beach.
As I started my studies in the Internal Martial Arts, something interesting started to happen. My wounds, started to heal. As I did the work, I learned how to process my anger, rage, resentment, fear, and shame. The meditations, and movements, transformed my anger to love. I was able to forgive my attackers, and let go of the anger and fear. I literally went from seeking the Death Touch to developing the Healing Hand. With Tai Chi and Qi Gong, I had a new obsession, and it was in seeking stillness. Stillness in stillness, stillness in movement, and stillness in chaos. I realized that the real war was being waged within. That the real enemy was internal, and it showed up in our thoughts, and unprocessed feelings from traumatic events.
I realized that there was a new battlefield to be conquered, and this battlefield was on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual planes. I realized that that same moment of peace, and calm, that I felt during the attack at Ocean Beach, could be experienced daily. This state of heightened levels of attention and awareness was just as necessary for survival in life and death situations, as it was on a daily basis. That we need to be in the moment, not worried about the future, or obsessing over the past, but in the now. I like to call this moment of stillness the High Performance Zone, where time actually starts to slow down, and we can unleash our natural super powers of connectivity, adaptability, and creativity.
We need to be able to connect to our opponents, we need to be able to listen to them, and feel what is going to happen. This skill is not only necessary in combat, but is paramount in building good relationships, with our families, children, students, and co workers. Next we need to be like water and adapt to situations and circumstances. The art is in making yourself comfortable in uncomfortable situations. We can’t control other people or the environments we may be in, we can only control how we adapt to them. But as Bruce Lee said:
The most important part of this statement, is to empty your mind, which again refers to being still and in the moment, and not up in your head worrying and obsessively thinking. Last but not least, creativity - your ability to create solutions and solve problems - is huge. A street fight is really violent problem solving, in an instant, under chaotic conditions, and high degrees of stress. If we begin to worry about the outcome, or do not know which tactics or strategies to employ, we will panic, and become our own worst enemy. So at the end of the day, our ability to perform at high levels, on the battlefield, in the boardroom, or in the family room, come down to our ability to master the moment, and master ourselves. We need to truly understand who we are, what we stand for, what we fear, and what are the obstacles standing in our way. As Miamoto Musashi said:
I love the martial arts, because everything that I have done, accomplished, overcome, and continue to do is driven by the Fighting Spirit, the spirit of victory that I have learned from the martial arts and the warriors way of living life. I have been blessed to have the greatest teachers, and students on the planet. Without them I would never be able to discover my true self and honestly express it. I have had the honor of teaching members of over 150 elite military, police, and government agencies. They are the real heroes, and I bow to them in respect. Without them we would not be able to enjoy the freedoms that we do. I have also had the pleasure of helping elite executives and professional athletes to raise their performance levels through my “Mind Boxing – How to Win the War Within” program (book to be released in July 2018.)
Martial Arts allowed me to “Fear-Less”, and see the Limitless possibilities in life. I am truly grateful for this journey, and am enjoying the ride every step of the way. I can’t wait to see where it takes me next. So brothers and sisters, use the martial arts as a vehicle for self discovery, and unleash the warrior within. Become strong, become powerful, become fearless, and help those in need. To paraphrase Robert L. Humphrey’s Warrior creed; Everywhere you go, you make the world a little safer. Everyone in need has a friend. And when you return home, everyone is happy to see you. It’s a good life.