Monday, July 9, 2012

People Who Go Unnoticed

I am at a point in my life where I am realizing how my skills and gifts are to be used for more than just swinging weapons around. At this point in my life, I realize that my calling is to be used for something bigger than just myself or my gratification.

As a kid, I used to be obsessed with martial arts magazines. I remember going to the local library and bookstore and I would dig up copies of Black Belt Magazine, Inside Kung Fu, Martial Arts Illustrated...the list goes on. Every time I would open up one of these magazines, it wasn't uncommon for me to see advertisements with the phrase "I TRAIN THE NAVY SEALs!" or "TEACHER OF THE (fill the in the name of government agency acronym here)!" As a kid, I used to look at these advertisements and I would think about how badass that particular instructor must be. After all, if he trains some Special Operations unit or elite government agency, then they must be excellent martial arts instructors, right? And after all, the goal of any martial arts instructor is to train people to be as badass as he is, right? Well, at this stage in my life, I am realizing that while training elite commandos and government agents is definitely a good thing, I realize that I am setting out on a different path than other people in my field.

Now, let me first state that I have the honor, privilege, and pleasure of meeting, learning, and training under some individuals who ACTUALLY train elite military and government agencies to this very day. These instructors are my heroes, and they are among the best in the world. They are damn good at what they do. Their material is realistic, functional, and they wouldn't be sought after by these elite groups (or myself) if their material wasn't useful to them in real-life combat. However, I keep noticing sketchy individuals in the martial arts industry who either falsely advertise themselves as trainers of these elite units as a means to gain credibility, or they try to gain access to these elite units by networking, moving closer to military bases, etc...all as a means to build credibility to the efficiency of their system. This could be done for a wide-variety of reasons, but essentially, their goal is simple: Associate oneself with badasses and therefore, that makes them, in turn, a badass.

However, I am realizing that while training these elite units and groups is definitely an amazing honor, and while it is definitely something that I myself would love to do someday, I realize that the martial arts community tends to overlook individuals who need combative martial arts training just as much, if not more so, then our heroes in the armed forces or in the law enforcement field. These individuals include the blind, the wheelchair bound, the sick, and the elderly. These people are often overlooked not just by martial arts teachers, but by society in general. These are also the people most susceptible to attack by criminals who wish to do them harm. The fact is that not everyone out there is a badass Navy SEAL or government spook. Most of our society consists of everyday people who want to live the warrior lifestyle someway or another.

As a martial arts instructor, I feel it's important to improve as many lives as possible, and part of that is understanding that everyone has different needs. I believe that fighting is an essential skill, but I want to remind my peers out there that while it's a great thing to be a trainer of the elite forces, it's also just as important to reach out to those who may be overlooked by us everyday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sama Sama

I've been told that our life is impacted by our relationships. I just returned from Sayoc Kali Sama Sama 2012, and as I sit here, I realize there are so many parallels between what I experienced this weekend and what I have been going through in my personal life.

For those of you reading this who do not know what Sayoc Sama Sama is, Sama Sama (Tagalog for "gathering" or "get together") is a Filipino martial arts event in which all the members of Sayoc Global LLC (also known as Sayoc Kali) and their friends and affiliates come together for a weekend of training, eating, networking, and bonding as warriors. Last year, I attended my first Sayoc Sama Sama, and the experience was so life-changing that I decided to attend the recent one in Florida this past weekend. (Check out the following video about my experience last year: met so many amazing people last year, and I made many friends. However, the members of Sayoc Global tend to be from all over the world, and until the next Sama Sama, I resort to staying in touch via Facebook and other forms of online communication.

When I arrived in Florida this past Friday night, it became clear to me that despite the distance between me and my friends in the organization this past year, it was as if we saw each other yesterday. One of my Sayoc brothers, JD Wolfe, hooked me up with a place to stay for the weekend. My brothers from Sayoc New Hampshire and Massachusetts hooked me up with transportation and we were able to become good friends and enjoyed many meals together. My friends Eloy and Ervin Quintin (and their kids) saw me for the second time this past month after my recent visit to their hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia and I feel like every time I'm with them, I become part of their family. I also became reunited with my friends from Connecticut, California, Upstate New York, Oklahoma, and Philadelphia. I also made friends from Washington, Texas, Florida, and even Poland!

As you can see, there are very few members from my home state of New Jersey, and again, I barely see these individuals on a regular basis. Yet, it seems that our connection never left and our friendships still remain strong. I've been in martial arts for a long time, and I've come across many systems and organizations that call themselves a "family", and to this date, the Sayoc Global organization and all the systems within it (Atienza Kali, Sayoc Tactical Group, FCS Kali, and Filipino Combatives just to name a few) truly function as a family in a very real sense despite the distance between all of us.

For those of you who know me personally, it seems that the concept of long distance relationships also play a big role in my personal life. I've been in a long distance relationship with a beautiful, caring, and flat-out incredible woman for the last 8 months. She lives in Texas. I live in New Jersey. As you can imagine, it is not easy. It takes a lot of work to keep something like this going. There is a lot of communication both online and on the phone. We cherish moments that most other couples who live within close proximity to one another take for granted. On their first date, a man may drive to the front door of the woman to pick her up for a night on the town. On my first real date with her, she picked me up from her local airport.

It is not easy to keep a long distance relationship going, but it can be done. However, despite the distance, I am admittedly very much in love with her, and I still feel incredibly close to her. While we don't see each other as often as a normal couple does, I feel that we have a connection that cannot be explained just in words. While no amount of Skype, texting, or calling can ever replace holding her hand or looking into her eyes, I realize that as it was during Sayoc Sama Sama, distance can never truly separate one person from another.

In my relationship with my girlfriend, it's as if we have our own "Sama Sama" every time we meet. We travel a far distance, and pay considerable amounts of money in order to travel and be with each other. We enjoy each other's company. We eat tons of food. We become strengthened by each others presence. We push the other to be better. We learn from each other's respective "systems", and interact with the members of our respective "organizations". We learn from each other. We communicate with each other. We take tons of pictures. And, sometimes, we may test each other. As a result, our relationship, our "system", becomes reset and strengthened till the next time we see each other.

Whether the person is right next to you or miles and miles away, when you meet someone and there is a good foundation in what you both value and stand for, and if there is mutual respect and love (whether romantic or platonic) then it is more than possible to maintain a connection despite the distance. It isn't necessarily easy by any means, but at the end of the day, it is totally worthwhile and fulfilling. And, when you do finally meet that person face to face, it makes the time even more beautiful and worthwhile. But, it's important to meet. It's important to have your Sama Sama to keep that system going. Most importantly, it's important to remember what you both stand for. Once you figure that out, then the connection between you and the other person becomes stronger to maintain.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fitness, Exercise, and Conditioning

This past weekend marked the first "unofficial" weekend of the summer. It seems to me that everyone I know is trying to get in shape for the summer months. Last night, my mother came up to me and asked, "What do I need to do to lose weight?" The other day, a good friend of mine asked me, "What do I do to get rid of this gut?" I am not a fitness professional, but it seems that a lot of my family members, friends, and students are asking for advice. So, I figured I'd write it all out here.

First, let me repeat that I am NOT a fitness professional. I am a martial arts teacher, life coach, and fitness enthusiast. While fitness is definitely an important aspect of my job (training people and sparring everyday tends to require an athletic body), I am not exactly an expert on fitness. My approach is unique to myself, and to my goals as well.

It must be made clear that everyone's goals are different. Some people's goals are to lose weight (which means both FAT and MUSCLE). Others want to get more lean and reduce body fat. Others want to just be able to brush their teeth without seeing their tummy jiggle. For me, my goal is very simple: Maintain a healthy, athletic frame while developing functional strength, endurance, and flexibility. I disregard 90 percent of common fitness advice, simply because a lot of what is out there isn't relevant to my goals. As a martial artist, I want a body that not only looks athletic, but more importantly, can perform on an elite level while maintaining health and being injury-free. Swinging weapons, throwing knives, shooting firearms, and sparring require a level of fitness that is different to say, a bodybuilder or fitness model, and therefore, my fitness routine mirrors what I do when fighting and training. For example, I do not do bench presses, simply because I don't do that in a fight. However, I will jump rope, hit the heavy bag, swing heavy bats and pipes, and hoist sandbags, because that mirrors what I do in a fight.

So, the best advice I could start out with is this: Know specifically what your goal is, and from there, work toward that goal. Every goal is different, and every goal requires it's own unique path. Simply saying, "I want to lose weight" is not enough. What kind of weight do you want to lose? Do you want to lose fat, or muscle? Do you want to simply get leaner? These questions may feel nit-picky, but the truth is that fitness goals, like any other goal, require SPECIFIC vision as to what you are looking to accomplish.

Next, you need to formulate a plan to get to that goal. This plan will require that you do some research. You Tube is a great place to start. Growing up, I was obsessed with fitness magazines, which helped me understand the body on various levels. Another option is to get a personal trainer. While expensive, a personal trainer can get you started on your fitness goals. They save you the research and time it takes to learn to do things on your own. If you don't want to get a personal trainer, then I recommend magazines such as Men's Fitness and Men's Health (Women's Health as well for you ladies), simply because they have workouts and advice that are illustrated in plain English. But again, you need to know your goals. Without the specific goal in mind, there is no guarantee of success.

Next, and this might seem overly obvious: WORK REALLY HARD. While it's important to pace yourself in the beginning, don't get stuck there. Push yourself every workout. If you aren't sweating hardcore from head to toe, and not feeling every muscle in your body working to it's limits, then odds are, you won't get the results you want. If I could recommend one form of exercise to everyone out there, one that is guaranteed to get your whole body pumping and sweating, then it has to be hitting a heavy bag, or some kind of real kickboxing workout (No Tae Bo for me, thank you very much). Hitting a bag, or some focus pads, hits every muscle in the body, and you'd be hard pressed to find a workout that makes your body lean, tones muscles, and keeps your cardio up the way hitting a heavy bag does. I've seen marathon runners pass out after 2 rounds on the heavy bag. The heavy bag, next to jumping rope, is truly a workout that burns fat and builds muscle simultaneously.

Now, the number one thing that gets in the way of people is their motivation and desire. So many people out there fail only because they got lazy. The truth is, everyone gets lazy, even myself at times. So, what motivates one to keep working out even if they are tired or lazy? Well, the best advice I heard came from legendary rapper, LL Cool J. In an interview about how he maintains his physique, he told the interviewer: "The secret? Do what you need to do, when you DON'T feel like doing it." It sounds dumb, but it holds a lot of wisdom. The fact is that you need to do what you need to do, even when you don't feel like doing it. That's how Olympians are made. That's how champions are made.

However, while hard work is imperative, rest is also important. You can't expect to train like a madman everyday, but you can always challenge yourself everyday. Your body needs ample time to recuperate from tough workouts. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night, along with a solid diet (read the next paragraph) is essential for fitness success. I consider sleep a form of training, since the nervous system ingrains the skills and rebuilds muscle tissue as you sleep.

Now, the fundamental truth that exists regardless of what your respective goals might be is that your DIET dictates how your body will look. The belief that you can "eat whatever you want and burn it off later during your workout" is only true for people who train at least 4 hours per day (Olympian Michael Phelps is a good example), and even then, it's not guaranteed that your body will look it's best. You need to ensure your diet is balanced and clean. The two diets I recommend are the Zone Diet and the Paleo Diet. The Zone Diet was introduced to me by Tuhon Carl Atienza, my teacher and mentor, who used it with great results. I purchased some books on the Zone Diet and I felt that the results came faster than any diet I tried, and it was a lot less restrictive than other diets. The Paleo Diet is a lot simpler than the Zone Diet, but is also a lot more restrictive in terms of what you can eat. I tend to obey a balance of the two. Then, on the weekends, I like to cheat on my diet: chocolate, ice cream, burgers, fries, etc. Then come Monday, it's back to the diet. I feel this affords me a great deal of flexibility, since the weekends are the time where I actually tend to go out, socialize, and eat.

So, there you have it. Again, I am not a fitness professional, but the advice here has worked for me. I went from 225 lbs to 180 lbs in a year, then got back up to a lean 200 lbs recently, going from a 34 inch waist to a 32-33 inch waist.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Woman Walks Into the Tea Spot And...

It's interesting how life works sometimes. Something as simple as sitting in a tea shop and enjoying a cup of tea can lead to a spiritually-fulfilling experience.

I was sitting in my new favorite hangout in Cranford, NJ known as the Tea Spot. My friend and his girlfriend run the place, and yesterday, I discovered it's only a block away from where I teach, so I decided to come in, drink some awesome Yerba Mate tea, and work on some videos and advertisements for Bayani Warrior.

About an hour into my stay, a woman walks in, orders some tea, and upon the owner asking "How are you?", the woman says, "Oh, well usually people say 'I'm fine', but the fact is, I'm not...but who wants to hear an old lady's complaints anyway?" This struck me as unusual, because it is not everyday people say things like that to strangers. I figured she must really be in a rut, so I continued to listen to what she had to say. She continued and said, "I'm too old. I wasted my life away. Everyone I know turned into someone great and important, and here I am, just waiting around. I'm not sure what's wrong with me. I have nothing to live for."

I put away my computer, turned to her and said, "What exactly do you mean by that?"

She was stunned. I suppose she didn't realize someone was actually listening. She looked at me and said, "I'm so sad, nothing in life fulfills me anymore. I'm old...young people treat me different. I'm so jealous of all these young people who are beautiful and vibrant, and here I am old and withering." I then walked over to the side of the room where she was, extended my hand to shake hers, introduced myself, and pulled a chair and sat with her. I told her that I wanted to hear what she had to say. I don't know why, but I felt compelled to hear this woman's story, and lend her an open ear.

She went on to talk about her life these past few years, how she lost her mother 4 years ago to an inoperable disease, and how she herself almost died during an operation a while back. She told me how her parents were strict, disciplined Germans who raised her to be strong and disciplined as well. She is a musician, and after her father passed away, she was left a large sum of money and now lives a life of solitude and plays music to pass the time. She has no friends, although she attends Mass everyday as a devout Catholic. She believes she survived her near-death experience during her operation and said that God must have helped her survive to live for something greater. However, despite her faith, she can't help but feel like she's simply existing as opposed to living. She feels she has nothing to live for.

The more I interact with different people, I begin to realize that oftentimes, it's not their circumstances that define their mindset. Rather, it's their mindset that defines their circumstances. I continued to listen to her talk some more.

She then paused, and I said "What do you want most out of life?" She said, "I want to move to the Poconos, and live a life of solitude, music playing, and breathe fresh air everyday." I told her, "Nice! So what's stopping you?"

She paused, thought about it, and said "I don't know. That's right...what exactly is stopping me?" I told her, "It's you."

She sat there, and thought some more. She then said, "You're right. It is just me. I wish I knew why I'm acting this way." She continued to talk to me about her fears, frustrations, and doubts. She thought it was too late to do anything with her life. I told her, "It's not too late. You clearly survived this are meant for more than this. You can do anything you want. You just need to go get it."

I then told her what I do. I told her how I'm in the works of getting a program for women going, and that if she ever wanted to just talk to me, I'd be in Jersey Fight Club. She said, "You know, I need to get out there. I need to get healthier. When my eye condition gets better, I'll check out your place and train." As she left the room, I told her "You know, your life is yours. You can do anything you put your mind to. Perhaps God placed me in this place, at this time, to tell you this."

She turned and said, "I think so too."

I'm sitting here, in the Tea Spot, writing this blog realizing that at the end of the day, my purpose is to be the Bayani, or hero, regardless of where I am. The truth is that sometimes, I forget that. I'm good at fighting and swinging weapons, but I realize that in the grand scheme of life, my purpose in this life is to guide people and help them. I simply use Filipino martial arts as a vehicle to do that. Truth is that I'm not perfect. I'm flawed, and I have faults as anyone does. But, today, I realize that there's many ways to be a Bayani, and oftentimes, it just means listening to someone that really needs someone to talk to. I realize that God gave me a gift to teach and guide, and had it not been for my current path as an FMA teacher, I don't know if I'd be able to listen to her and guide her the way I did. It's for this reason why I take what I do so seriously.

As it is with all my students, I learn from them as much as they learn from me. I'm sure she thinks I helped her out a lot, but I don't know if she realizes how much she helped me out just now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Church in Need of Conversion

I don't talk about my faith, or about religion, a whole lot publicly as much as I used to. Like most Filipinos, I was born and raised a Catholic. However, in the past few years, I've struggled with my Catholic upbringing and have questioned and grown cynical regarding the Catholic community and the Catholic Church. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately and I realize that as a whole, the Catholic faith, it's Church, and it's people are not's the mindset and approach towards the Catholic faith that often causes division and dissent.

Growing up, I did the typical Filipino Catholic things any Filipino Catholic kid did. I went to Catholic school for most of my life. I went to Mass every Sunday with my family. My first Holy Communion was a milestone in my young life, and my Confirmation in middle school was treated like a rite of passage. I was active, very active, in my youth group and most of my childhood friends were met through the youth group, or through weekend retreats.

As I got older, and lived overseas, I saw how the Catholic way of life conflicted with a lot of the values I was encountering. I spent my early teens growing up in Bangkok, Thailand and while my faith was strong, I was living in an environment that greatly conflicted with the values I was raised in. When I moved back and entered a non-sectarian secular prep school in my later high school years, I realized how different my lifestyle was then other teens, and I was often questioned and even made fun of for my upbringing. However, I believe my biggest challenge to my Catholic upbringing occurred in college. I witnessed people I grew up who were raised in the faith, people I looked up to, totally deviate from their ways, often experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and usually delving into sexual promiscuity. Most of the childhood friends I had in Catholic school and in youth group were no longer Catholics. Upon reuniting with them, most of them were blaspheming and hating the Church, or at the very least, they were apathetic towards it and no longer practiced the Catholic faith. As people I used to go to Mass with and say the Our Father with, it totally made me re-assess my views on faith. To make matters worse, I witnessed the negative politics within the Catholic community I was raised in, and I even saw how truly un-Christian Catholics around me were treating those around them. I began to think "Is this what I've subscribed to? Judgement? Self-righteousness?" It seemed that the Catholics I was being surrounded by were more concerned with being right than being loving. I also began to read about the history of the Catholic Church and how it conquered the Philippines through the Catholic faith and subjugated the native people to it. None of these things made my faith stronger. In fact, it made it worse.

In light of this, I began to shed my Catholic identity and leaned more towards the evangelical and Protestant approaches to Christianity. Even to this day, I think the Protestant/Evangelical community is doing a far better job in making the Christian faith accessible and relevant to people, especially young people, than the Catholic Church is. However, I also noticed that the evangelical approach, while I admire it, is still very fundamentalist and in many ways even more conservative than what I was raised with in the Catholic Church. A lot of evangelicals have made it their mission to lash out at the Catholic Church as well, which I don't agree with.

Looking upon all this, I realize today that at the core, I am a Catholic. It's what I know, and it's what I grew up in. I have been to many churches, but there's something about a Catholic cathedral that just hits me to the core. However, I am still looking at the Catholic Church with a critical eye. I was at Mass recently and the priest on the altar told us that as of right now, 80 percent of Catholics have left the Catholic Church. My question was: "What was the Church doing when it was at a drop out rate of 50 percent? Why didn't they do anything about it then?" The fact is that I totally understand why people would leave the Church. The Catholic Church tends to encourage people to join them, but they don't often reach out, get their hands dirty, and recruit people into it (with the exception of missionary work, the evangelical side isn't the strongest). The highly institutionalized and regimented nature of the Catholic Church greatly differs from the way Christ presented Himself.

I really believe the Catholic Church is beautiful and has so much to offer, but I think a lot of changes need to be made. While I understand Tradition is so important, we need to realize that we live in the 21st century and there are things the Church needs to adapt to to make itself more relevant and applicable in today's society.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why We Do It

I have been training and teaching the Filipino martial arts since I was 13 years old. In that time, I have devoted myself wholeheartedly to pursuing what many of my training partners would call the "Warrior Lifestyle". This involves not only training in martial arts, but also other fields that relate to fitness, nutrition, survival, battlefield medicine, firearms training, outdoor survival training in different climates and conditions, as well as delving into fields such as religion, history, philosophy, psychology, and even researching motivational speakers and their self-improvement methods. I would never consider myself a master or expert, but I have been pursuing knowledge of these skills for almost over 13 years now, and I don't see myself winding down anytime soon. I'm constantly seeking to improve myself as a warrior in every aspect of my life.

This often begs the question from my loved ones, family, and friends: "Why do you do this? What's the point? When will you ever have to use a blade, stick, sword? When will you ever have to learn to survive in the wilderness? Why do you carry a bag of medical gear and other tools all the time?"

I've been hearing these questions since I was a teenager, and now as an adult, I feel I have come to grips with why I, and others like me, train the way we do and do what we do. In light of this, I have come up with a list of reasons that I hope can shed light as why we do, what we do. Now, before I begin, I am not saying that I am better than anyone, or that my lifestyle is superior. This is simply a life I, and others like me, have been called of discipline, desire, and the following...

1) Love: That's right. LOVE. The legendary Dan Inosanto (Bruce Lee's friend and teacher in Kali, as well as THE Ambassador of Filipino Martial Arts) once said, "You train because you love train because you love them so much that you wouldn't want anything bad to happen to them...LOVE is the highest art." I feel this is so true. There are people in my life that I love, and I never take them or their existence for granted. I am not perfect, but I do everything possible to make sure those I love are safe and taken care of. I also show love for my teachers, my training partners, and my students. I want to ensure that my skills bring out the best in me so I can love better and serve them better. Navy SEAL Michael Jaco, in his book "The Intuitive Warrior", said: "A true warrior's mindset is one of love. You love yourself and others...I have heard of men who didn't believe in the cause they were fighting for but fought to stand by their countrymen." From my experience, I have found this to be true regardless if the warrior is a Navy SEAL, Special Forces soldier, police officer, or even they are an athlete or a normal everyday citizen...people will fight to stand by those they love.

2) Moral Duty Towards the Preservation of Innocent Life: I believe that life is the most precious gift God has given us. It isn't always pretty or fun, but in the grand scheme of everything, it's always beautiful. As a result, I believe that all innocent life needs to be protected by any means necessary. Any enemy to innocent life must be eradicated and dealt with in a straightforward way. That "enemy" comes in many forms: alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, poverty, death as the result of overexposure or injury in a natural disaster, starvation, and of course, physical threats such as criminals, enemy combatants, and terrorists. All of the training I have has made me more aware of the value of innocent life, and it motivates me to acquire the skills, knowledge, and equipment I need to preserve and protect it. This can range from learning how to fight with learning first eating right, limiting alcohol, avoiding drugs, and staying healthy...and avoiding people and places that may be more susceptible to bringing negativity into my life.

3) Control: Another reason I live the way I do and train the way I train is that I want to know that I have true mastery over myself, my emotions, as well as some sense of control of the environment around me. First, I wish to seek constant mastery over myself. I am not perfect. I have emotions just like anyone else, but everyday I seek to gain control of those emotions and make them serve me, as opposed to making me serve them. This means being in a constant state of self-awareness and knowing my emotions as they happen, and controlling them properly. The training I have received, particularly my training in Atienza Kali, has trained me to think past emotion and think as analytically and logically as possible regardless of the problem I am facing. Again, I'm not perfect, but when I run Bayani Warrior, I know that in order to lead a group, I need to be able to lead myself, and that's where emotional control comes in. Also, there is control over circumstances. There are far too many people who say, "Well whatever happens, happens...if a loved one or myself get attacked/sick/injured/etc. then I'll deal with it then." In my humble opinion, this is HIGHLY irresponsible and even immoral. As I said before, innocent life is precious and must be guarded. This desire to maintain control of my circumstances also impacts my professional life as well. I never say, "Well, I'm okay with making a mediocre amount of money this month. Whatever happens, happens." I never think that way! I work hard to ensure that I am financially able to pay my bills and live an honest, fulfilling life in the process. I don't care what the economy is like. I don't care what people say. God put me on this Earth not to pursue mediocrity, but to live a life of inspiration of show that circumstances don't define us, but that WE define our circumstances.

4) It's Fun: I'm a big kid. It's the truth. I still read comic books. I still eat Gummi Bears and Peanut Butter M&M's to excess. I still get excited when I hear the Superman movie theme song. I still love being in my backyard and running around in it. In light of this, I love training and acquiring these skills because it's every little boy's dream to be able to shoot guns, throw knives, survive in the woods, and possess other cool skills reminiscent of childhood memories of James Bond or Chuck Norris. Now, it's not always painless, or comfortable, or even enjoyable at the time...but after all is said and done, I'm glad I challenged myself and pushed myself to my limits. And, these fun, cool skills are not only fun, but they can help protect those I care about as well. It makes me feel confident and happy knowing that I am capable of doing things that not many other people can do, and that my skills can possibly save a life someday.

So there you have it. I'm sure there are other reasons why I do what I do, but right now, these are the best I can come up with. The fact of the matter is that we all have a warrior living within us. We all have something we are fighting everyday. The reason why I do what I do is so that the skills I acquire can help me live a better life so that I am a better son, older brother, boyfriend, friend, and teacher.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Big Pile of Branches

We all have challenges in this life. One look through my Facebook mini-feed and after speaking to several close loved ones, I realize that we are all facing some sort of challenge. It may be work, it may be school, it may be relationships, it may be finances. I thought I'd talk about some of my thoughts about challenges and overcoming them...but first, I'd like to first tell a story about what happened this morning.

I went to bed last night, and had a dream. In the dream, I was facing against several exponents of another Filipino martial arts system, sparring them, fighting them, and defeating them. I felt unstoppable, as if no one could stop me. As I rose to victory in this dream, and at the height of my sense of accomplishment, I hear my dad's Filipino-accented voice saying:

"Mike, wake up!"

I then woke up and realized I was in my bed, and that it was early in the morning. It was cold, I was tired, and I was honestly rather irritated that I was removed from my dream of combative glory and victory to be awakened by my father and mother. Apparently, Edison, New Jersey decided to get it's act together and get rid of the hundreds upon thousands of fallen tree limbs and debris that was lying outside of the homes of my neighborhood, and my father and I had to get the remaining debris in the backyard to the front yard so that the landscapers could get rid of them. As I walked out to the backyard, I realized that the pile of branches that my father and I had to carry to the front yard was HUGE, and looked far too big for two people to take on alone. The pile was the size of a one car garage, and the pile was even taller than me, with branches of various weights and lengths. I thought to myself, "This pile of branches is way too big. This is going to take forever." Walking in mud in the freezing cold hauling off huge branches was definitely not the way I planned to spend my morning.

However, for some reason, my training in Atienza Kali kicked in. While the pile of branches was huge, I began to break down the pile one part at a time. We took the smaller branches out to the front, and the larger branches were put on the side to use as fire wood. This way, we wouldn't be carrying heavy logs to the front. Instead, we were carrying smaller, lighter branches to the front and setting the heavier ones aside. We went back and forth like beavers setting up a dam, carrying piles of branches from the backyard to the front yard (for those of you who have seen the size of my backyard, you know that the walk is certainly no small feat). Within what seemed to be no time at all, the once HUGE pile of branches in the backyard disappeared. Between two men, the entire operation took only 20 minutes.

Now, you might be thinking: "What does this have to do with Atienza Kali and problem solving?"

Truth is, it has everything to do with them.

In Atienza Kali, we view the blade as a gateway to solving problems. The problems can be related to fighting or combat, but more importantly, the problems can be more life-based: relationships, finances, work, school, etc. We are taught to break down a blade exchange in it's most specific details with as little emotion as possible. We are then taught how to apply this mindset to life's challenges. The fact is this: no matter how big the problem may be, no matter how challenging it may appear, you have it within you to break down the problem, one bit at a time, and eventually, the problem can be overcome. It simply takes a great degree of self-control, emotional awareness, and a focused mind.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in Atienza Kali is that our problems are only problems if we allow them to be. We always have control over the situation regardless of what is going on, because we have control of how we respond to the situation at hand. This is reminiscent of what I have read in the book "A Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. This book has actually changed my life, and for those of you who have not read this book, Viktor Frankl is a psychiatrist who was once locked away in a Nazi concentration camp. In this camp, he lost his wife, his brother, and both of his parents while being deprived of food and sleep, as well as undergoing regular beatings. However, despite all these challenges, Viktor Frankl survived and stated: "Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." While we may not always have control of what happens around us, we can always have control of what happens within us, and our attitude defines our future, and the quality of our life. Oftentimes, that bill to pay or that paper you have due by Monday may seem like a huge problem, but with the right attitude and approach, the problem can be solved.

Whether the challenge is financial, relationship-based, work-related, or even if it's just a big pile of branches, we can always overcome the problems we face. We simply need to regroup, adjust our focus, and break down the problem one bit at a time.