Sunday, September 21, 2014

Great Investments

(thanks for the inspiration RA)

Had a quick chat with a friend about investing... he asked me about transferring JPY to GBP.  I recoiled in horror - JPY has been trending toward weakness for the past few months (especially USDJPY, which I watch) while GBP has just rallied due to the NO vote on Scottish Independence.  Not exactly an opportune moment for the conversion he mentions.  "why the hell would you want to do that?" I asked.  He replied "I have to.  I may need to send money back home".  I shook my head.

Investment is like many thinks in life - having options is key.

As I told him, anytime you are FORCED to take an action, it will end up costing you dearly.
Whenever you HAVE to buy or sell anything, you can guarantee that the market timing will be against you and you will lose out because you could not pick and choose the time that was best for you.  Thus, having a good distribution, some foresight, and a plan is of enormous benefit when dealing with the unpredictability of the markets.  One of my early mentors had a method - he would document each position he held and exactly what he would do if the position went up (a little or a lot), went down (a little or a lot), or stayed the same.  Every day he had a plan no matter what the markets did.  This way he was never surprised or caught without a strategy.  It was a discipline he kept all the years I saw him trade, and it served him (and I) very well.

Why am I telling you this?  This is supposed to be a martial arts blog, right?

Well, one of the other notably unpredictable situations is combat.  As I have written many times, fights are chaotic and messy, and it is not possible to know completely what will happen or the outcome.  Events occur in real time and we must adjust to them.  That being said, having some foresight and a plan is of enormous benefit when dealing with the unpredictability of a fight.

Just as in investing/trading, anytime you are forced to take an action it will cost you dearly.
Whenever you HAVE to do something, like break a lock or choke, step in a certain spot, breakfall, block a certain way, and so on, you can guarantee that you will lose out.

Thus fighting, like trading, depends on freedom and flexibility - having options.

Kali Majapahit is the excellent system it is not only because we emphasize FLOW - the ability to keep moving/hitting at all times until the situation is resolved, but also because we have it as our most basic strategy to take away the opponent's structure/posture and by so doing force him to try to recover it.  These are opposite sides of the same coin.

By FLOWING, we continue to move in/around/over/under/through any attempt to block our motion.  This means we ADAPT.  By taking the balance and structure, we remove the enemy's strength and force him to take specific (and predictable) actions. These actions can (and are) used by us to resolve conflicts in the most expedient manner, with the lowest risk of unintended injury, especially to ourselves.

Just like my trading friend, we spend a lot of time and energy exploring so we can have plans for any scenario.  We drill endlessly to develop core muscle memory and improve our flow.  We train standing up, lying down and everywhere in between involving striking, kicking, grappling, weapons and short, medium and long ranges, leveraging inside, outside and center line theories.  We combine, take apart and reassemble our techniques so that we have an endless library of possible options no matter what happens.  We challenge ourselves to master our environment so that we can use it to our best advantage.  We train by improvising weapons out of anything at hand, so we will never be unarmed if the need arises.  This is the true beauty of FMA, and in particular of Kali Majapahit.

"It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own."
 - Hagakure "Hidden Leaves" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Real Deal

This post was inspired by an article on Cracked.  You can read it here

Saw an article on Cracked about fighting (yes, I read Cracked - and LOVE it!).  I felt I had to comment about what is really going on in a fight and how it relates to martial arts.

1) Chapter 1: Broken Hands
The article correctly calls out that the most common fighting injury is not a broken nose or split lip (hopefully on your opponent) - it is your own broken hands.  Punching properly takes a lot of practice.  In fact, if you have not spent enough time to have this as part of your muscle memory it is probably more dangerous for you to punch than it is to your opponent.  With proper alignment of the fingers/wrist/forearm and good conditioning of the wrist tendons it is possible to hit with damaging power.  Otherwise, you are far more likely to break your fingers, dislocate your joints or break your wrist.  None of these are any fun at all.

A lot of what we teach in Kali and Silat is open handed.  I especially prefer to hit with solid bone or muscle mass rather than joints.  This means striking primarily with elbows, palm, forearm/biceps, and headbutt.  On the low line I also like knees.

2) Up Close and Personal
Distance matters.  It may seem counter intuitive, but the safest place is right next to your opponent.  At arm's length you will get the full force of any punch thrown at you (even if they break their hand, it still hurts to be punched).  Up close, you can deliver the strikes I mention above easily and they are far more difficult for your opponent to block or evade.  In addition, for a smaller guy like me, being up close negates any difference in reach, allowing me to handle people far bigger than I am.  Of course, if you can hit someone, they can usually hit you too, which means...

3) The Need for SPEED
In an actual fight, the first hit can be the last hit.  Even if someone is not immediately knocked out, the first hit, especially to the head/neck, can disrupt the concentration/balance/posture/structure and yield a chance to press the attack.  "Blitzing" in this way, aggressively, can end an encounter before the other person has a chance to respond.  This is the preferred result if things look like they are going to get ugly.  Hit first and get it over with on YOUR terms.  The most successful fight is the one the other guy never knew started.

4) Getting Your Kicks
I am not a huge fan of kicks in actual fights.  I never kick above the waistline, and I generally prefer kicks as a setup to something I want to do with my hands (usually closing distance to blitz).  That said, good low kicking techniques can be powerful and hard to avoid.  Done well, these can cause horrific damage to the enemy's knees, ankles, thighs and legs and end the fight by themselves.  Of course, feet are like "hands on your legs" and contain even more little fragile bones which tend to break when kicking with the instep. Kicking well also involves a lot of practice, and it is key to develop the muscle memory to give full hip rotation and use the proper striking surface (base of the shin or heel) when kicking so maximum force can be delivered.  There will usually be only one good chance to deliver a kick before the opponent realizes it and takes countermeasures.  If you kick, it has to be a show-stopper.  Again, knees are a bit different and have great applicability up close.

5) Ground and Pound
Statistically, most fights end up on the ground.  Therefore, it is crucial to have some skills for getting out of a situation like that,e specially if you are facing more than one opponent and need to remain mobile.  One need not be a BJJ master (although it certainly helps), but knowing even a few ways to get someone off (thumb in the eye socket/tear the groin) can help.  One of my favorites in the grapple is a bite.  Not a loving, gentle nip, but a ferocious chomp and rip designed to tear a chunk of flesh out of the nearest available soft tissue (cheek, neck, bicep, etc.).  This can make an attacker no longer want to be in close physical contact with you, and is a technique nearly anyone can easily master.  It is very much a part of FMA close quarter/grappling technique.

6) Adrenaline
Adrenaline is a funny thing.  As part of our "fight or flight" response it protects us from pain and increases our physical abilities for a short burst of activity - but at a cost.  Sometimes adrenaline can cause us to freeze.  Not good.  Other times, the crash when it wears off can be extreme and involve nausea/vomiting, chills, shakes, headaches or even make us pass out.  Ironically, the aspect of adrenaline which suppresses our pain response can also cause us to overlook our own injuries, especially when knives are involved.  The study of the adrenaline response, and practice controlling it, is worthy of significant study by anyone likely to be in life-threatening situations.

7) The Right to Bear Arms
Real fights come in two categories:  ritualistic and predatory.  I have written about these before, in that ritualistic fights aka "the monkey dance" are for social reasons and have unwritten social rules (watch a John Wayne movie).  We are expect to "fight fair" in order to demonstrate our social dominance to the victim and observers.  Sorry.  IF I HAVE TO FIGHT I FIGHT DIRTY.  The other type are predatory (robbery, rape, murder, etc.).  These will usually involve multiple attackers, unfavorable environments (darkness, uneven terrain, limited mobility) and are highly likely to involve weapons.  The keys to survival in such situations are: awareness, aggressiveness, and improvisation (rapidly finding or acquiring a weapon).  The odds will always be bad here, and this is not to be taken lightly.

8) Under the Influence
It is often the case that one or more of the participants is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (hopefully not you).  This can change the dynamic from comical (see Youtube) to homicidal.  These substances dull the pain receptors, so some of the standard controls and pain compliance become ineffective.  This re-emphasizes the need to attack structure and balance rather than just deliver pain.  In Kali we want to disrupt the posture and structure immediately, and this can make it easier to have a range of non-lethal, non-permanent options to end a violent confrontation without excessive harm.

9) The Long Arm
Sadly, the law exists as much to protect criminals' rights as it does victims' rights - sometimes more so.
This means that even though you may consider your actions justified as self-defense, the courts may not believe you and serious criminal/civil suits can be levied against you.  KNOW THE LAW.  In predatory situations, be as aggressive as needed so you can walk away.  Luckily, predatory attacks rarely occur near crowds of bystanders, so it is more likely you can flee the scene easily once the matter is resolved.  In ritualistic encounters there is a high chance the police will end up involved so choose your actions wisely.

Do not underestimate how savage and unpredictable an actual fight can be.
It is SERIOUS business.
Be sure you are the one that walks away.

See you in class.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Giving Thanks

This is Xie Xie.
She is our second pug, who we got from a shelter just over a year ago.
I wrote before about Butch and the lessons I have learned from him, but Xie Xie's story is no less important.  Let me explain.

When we got her, she was tiny for a full-grown pug, barely half her current size.
You could feel her ribs jutting out through her fur.  She had been neglected, left with a pack where she did not belong, and had to fight for every meal with a surrounding group of Pomeranians that abused her.

At the shelter I could hold her in the palm of one hand.
My wife, Sanae, never imagined we would be chosen as her new family.  There were others who said they wanted her.  Right away I KNEW it would be us - it would be fate. Healing her would heal us.
As I held her she shook, her little heart racing.  She did not try to bite or snap.  She looked at me with her big, brown eyes and I could feel the spark of life in her, the love she still had - her hope for a new family and a new life as she sniffed me.  She looked pitiful; helpless.

With us she recovered.  She gained weight. She bonded with Butch, Sanae, myself and the boys.  She became completely attached to Sanae and fiercely loyal to her.  She learned how to love and to be loved in return - I felt sad imaging no one had ever even petted her before she met us.  She found her home with us in Yokohama.  Who she was before was forgotten - her past, her name, her suffering and torment.  Now she is just Xie Xie (謝謝).  Her name means "Thank You" in Chinese.  We felt it was gratitude from both she and we for the chance to be together as a new family - our pack.

If you saw her today, happily taking her daily walk, tail wagging, head high, you would never know what she had been through - dogs live fully in the moment - except at mealtime.  Because she had been starved, and had to fight for food, at mealtime she gets very excited.  She circles and barks, jumping at the counter to try to get her food and crying for attention so she will not be ignored or forgotten.  She never believes that she will get her food, despite over a year of getting her meals twice a day, every day, regular like clockwork. She always believes she will starve.  She can never have enough.

Xie Xie is very special to me for many reasons.  I came to realize she and I have so much in common.

We were both neglected as infants, both given away and rescued to new families for a second chance.
I was also tiny, underweight, weak - my constant crying so much  like her barking.  Like her, I kept my spark and had my hopes for a better life, not fully understanding what was going on as I went from home to shelter and finally to my foster family, Charles and Dorothy Leonard.

We both had to learn to love and be loved, both of us taking time to heal.
We both had to learn to put our trust in strangers we had never met before - that they would take care of us and not leave us alone.

Unlike Xie Xie, who I was could never be forgotten - even though I often wished I had.
Asa foster child I kept my birth name and struggled to understand why my family's name (Leonard) was different from mine (Honeyman).  It was long years before I realized how lucky I had been.

From outward appearances, ours would have seemed to be like any other family.
However, under the surface I carried the pain and fear of loss over what had happened to me.
Where Xie Xie has trauma from food, I have trauma about love and attention - fear of abandonment.
For all of my life, I feared I would be ignored; forgotten.  I dreaded being cast aside or left behind.
I had trouble believing I was loved or could be loved. I had trouble loving others, or just accepting that my new life and family could be real or that I could deserve the good life I have had.

I am grateful for my life, just as I know Xie Xie is grateful for hers.
I am fiercely loyal and protective of my pack - just as I know she is.
I try to live in the moment, and Xie Xie is a constant reminder of how important this is.
I do not ask for pity any more than she does - just to be taken at face value and not judged for my past.   She and I both have scars from what I have been through, and maybe always will.
Maybe I will always be starved for love and attention.  Maybe, like Xie Xie, I can never have enough.

All any of us can do is try our best to live every day to the fullest, love those around us completely, and accept the good life we deserve.  If we keep the spark of love and hope, a bright future is possible for all of us - as long as we do not give up.

Xie Xie and I are thankful to you all for your constant support.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Taking a Break from your Break

(Thanks for the inspiration beautiful dork)

I know just how you feel.  Work is busy. Weekends you feel SO TIRED.  The routine is boring but inescapable.  Your energy level drops ~ you stop going to the gym.  Finally you stop going to the dojo for training... will you ever come back??

Day by day you feel your skills fading away. You wonder what the teacher or, worse yet, your fellow students, will think about your absence or what they would say if/when they see you again. Will they be ashamed of you??  Fearing the confrontation, you avoid it by not going back.  In your effort not to disappoint, you disappoint. Your despair grows...

The longer the break, the smaller the chance that you will will ever go back to the dojo.  The years go by and you experience the worst of emotions ~REGRET...

We all have peaks and valleys in our lives, and as we get jobs, develop life partners, and build families, martial arts training is not always priority #1.  That's OK.  The purpose of our training is to make us better people ~ more resilient physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  This should help us adjust to some short-term pressures without additional stress.

Martial arts is not a race.
There is no prize for finishing "first", since there is no finish line.  The only thing which matters is going forward, even inch by inch if that is all that we can do.  We have to keep moving forward.

Likewise it is not a competition with anyone other than the self.  This is important because mastery of the self must be the ultimate goal.  Competition degrades martial arts to a sporting contest.  Sports are noble endeavors to be sure, but martial arts training can be so much more than that.  Our training can be the key to having the life we want to have.  We should use it to transform ourselves and our lives.

Simply put, you should train whenever you can, as often as you can, without shame or guilt for times when you cannot.  When you train, be there 100% and focus on the task at hand.  You deserve it.  You need it.

Martial Arts would be easy if it were just about punching and kicking.  Believing that would be naive, shallow and, frankly,  wrong.  The training is for being better at every aspect of living.  As humans, we are overly concerned with our own mortality, and martial arts is relevant to us psychologically and philosophically because it is our human nature at its most primal - the struggle to survive.  To understand ourselves best, we explore this most base element of our existence and examine it until we can face this moment without fear.
Martial arts is about becoming unafraid of death, so that we can also be unafraid of LIFE.

My friend said that she practices "self-defense" by not letting others into her life or close to her.  As a result, she feels lonely.  I told her this is not self-defense, it is FEAR.  Self-defense is about CONFIDENCE.  It is about allowing others into our lives and to be close to us precisely because we are not afraid.  Martial arts training gives us the power to be ourselves and to open up to others and let ourselves be connected to them, because we are no longer scared of being hurt.

At the heart of this understanding in martial arts is the awareness of CONNECTION.  It is easy to understand in Aikido, since Aikido is the method of redirecting aggressive force through a single touchpoint/connection on the aggressor's wrist, arm, shoulder, head, etc.  It can be harder to see the connection in other arts, but I promise you it is there.  WE ARE ALL CONNECTED.  WE ARE ALL ONE.

There is no shame in taking a break.  That said, we owe it to ourselves to keep moving forward - in our training and in every other aspect of our lives.  To this, the ADD/Parkour words really hit home.

"we start together, we finish together".  LIVE CONNECTED.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back to the Mothership

It's time to go back to the Mothership.

Next week I will be taking a few days off from work to attend the Instructor Training Academy (ITA) level 2 intensive course at Kali Majapahit headquarters in Singapore.

Details here:

I attended the level 1 intensive course last year and it was fantastic!
It was excellent to go back to see my brothers and sisters, fellow instructors, and so many new faces as well.  Here's what it looked like:

This time there will be a revised curriculum for level 2, as well as much more detail in how to make our classes the best for our students, which has been the goal of Punong Guro Fred Evrard and our teaching staff since day 1.  As I have told my own students many times "it is not about me, it is about YOU."  Kali Majapahit continues to grow and evolve, and I can't wait to experience the new discoveries and bring them back to use here in Tokyo.

I started training in Kali Majapahit at the school on Yan Kit Road, near Tanjong Pagar MRT, and it was a ramshackle 3 story traditional Singaporean shophouse building behind the wet market.  It was hot, and the paint was cracking, but it was HONEST.  We all trained very hard there and it was busy with many students coming and going.  While I was there, the school outgrew that location and plans were set in motion for the new location on Carpenter Street, a very short walk away from Clark Quay MRT.  A huge amount of work went into making the facility what it is now - a totally modern, fully-equipped, state of the art professional martial arts school.

When I walked into the new facility on opening night my jaw dropped.
It was simply the most beautiful dojo I had ever seen.
Hardly the largest or most expensive, it was tasteful and elegant, and immediately it felt like "home" - like where we belonged.  It was always a joy to walk up the stairs and into the expansive studio.  I miss it terribly.

Now it is home to over 200 students of all ages, races, and sexes, passionately training in Kali Majapahit, Tahitian Dance, Parkour/ADD and boxing.  Once could argue that it is the best such facility in Singapore.  It is definitely my favorite place to go and train.

In February at the legendary Bali Camp, KG Alison tested for her Kadua Guro and blew everyone away.  She showed everyone her courage and spirit and reminded us what a warrior's heart truly looks like.  I was proud to observe her test and can't wait to hear how she has done teaching class - bringing her explosive energy and mischievous smile to her students.

The other teachers have grown and changed too, and I am very excited to see their progress, and show them mine.  The bond we share is unbreakable, forged by our hard work and commitment.  I am humbled to be counted among them as a fellow instructor.  This time, I am attending with one of my senior students, Frank, and I can't tell you how proud I am for him to see a place so special for me, and to meet some of the many people who have changed my life.  It's going to be a great few days.

For all our students outside of Singapore, you owe it to yourself to get to Singapore to visit Kali Majapahit HQ and train there.  Once you go, you will experience the community we have built (that you are a part of) - a global network of people who want to be better than yesterday.  People committed to our Kali Majapahit and to each other.  The energy and magic are hard to describe.  You need to FEEL IT.  Plan ahead and get out there.  You deserve it.

For everyone else, I remind you that the power to take control of your life is always in your hands.  We have a great team of people to help show you the way, and an even better family to walk the path with you.  This journey could make all the difference in the rest of your life.
Give yourself a chance.

Time to go and pack my bags... see you there!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Mastery

(Thanks for the inspiration Paul)

An interesting conversation yesterday on the subject of mastery.  It was prompted by an FB post I shared of Guro Dan Inosanto with a caption that read "The goal of the Martial Arts is not for the destruction of an opponent, but rather for self-growth and self-perfection."  My friend called out that it is really only martial artists that are so vocal over the aspect of "non-violence" in their practice of something with to the general public looks designed specifically for violent applications.  He said "you don't see gymnasts or marathon runners or piano players touting about how their goals of self-growth and self-perfection are non-violent, do you?"  Point made.  He further asked "Can you acquire self-growth and self-perfection ( whatever that entails ... ) without hitting people ?"


One of the many things I love about Kali Majapahit is that we express our Southeast Asian martial arts through a very Chinese lens.  That is, our practice places strong emphasis on health and longevity.  We learn about the body, mind and spirit (through martial arts) with a desire to understand its inner workings, specifically with respect to our connection to other people.  The mastery of Kali Majapahit is a mastery of ourselves, and with it freedom from fear and limitation (physical, mental and spiritual).

This is completely consistent with the origins of martial arts as practiced by monks in India and China, where health was a principal goal of the training.  This was deeply connected to their spiritual practice and combined with yoga and meditation to create an integrated well-being.  Yes, acupuncture and other traditional healing arts are a core part of this.  In Kali Majapahit, it is our study of Hilot, traditional Filipino homeopathy, and practice of Kali Majapahit becomes very limited without this important aspect.

Could you achieve this self-growth and self-perfection only through meditation and yoga?  YES
However, this is not for everyone.  The spiritual path is formless, and there are no longer many teachers who can teach it properly.  It also requires a level of patience most modern people find difficult. The study is easier when it has context, and this is something martial arts can and should provide.

Using the context of martial arts as a vehicle for spiritual growth is not new at all.
The relationship between Japanese swordsmanship and Buddhism is a particularly deep spiritual connection - anchored on an understanding of the impermanence of this world and the importance of all living things.  For warriors whose life revolved around death, this insight and awareness was profound.  There are many practical lessons for us in these modern times as well.

Many books on sports fitness also emphasize the spiritual side of training.  They talk about "runner's high" or discuss breathing and its relevance to training.  For reference, meditation elevates the consciousness firstly through three factors: deep breathing, proper posture and muscle relaxation.  Most sports focus on these as well.

I would go even further to say that "The Way" can be anything we choose it to be.  The only prerequisite being that through the practice we are able to willfully elevate our awareness and understanding to connect to our SOUL and hear that "inner voice".  There is no single "Way" and martial arts is only one path to the Truth.

I quote "Hagakure" (hidden leaves) which is one of the most widely read texts on Bushido, wherein Tsunetomo Yamamoto writes:

"It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all Ways and be more and more in accord with his own."

This strongly suggests that what is important is a commitment to your own "Way" and the awareness to use other "ways" to improve your understanding of your own.  Of course, to Buddhists this makes perfect sense, since we are taught that duality does not exist and all things are connected.

In another post I wrote about the rule of 10,000, which suggests that 10,000 hours of practice is the basic requirement for mastery of any skill.  However, on further examination, this is not enough.  While practice can develop skill, practice alone does not automatically yield mastery in the sense that we seek in martial arts.  We must have a willful desire to use this training for its higher purpose - connection to the SOUL.  Otherwise, we simply learn to move the body without gaining the benefit of enlightenment.  In this example, a master piano player could be skillful at playing pieces they are given, but never achieve the freedom of just playing free-flow or writing their own music.  Connection to the soul yields spiritual freedom, and this is the ultimate goal of martial arts training when we say "self-growth and self-perfection".  We must learn to think beyond what we can see, the physical body, to the true self - The SOUL.  It is the soul which we must grow and perfect, not the physical body.

OK, this post has been a bit top-heavy on the spiritual side (especially for writing it at 7:43 am).
Don't despair.  Trust your training and keep moving forward every day, step-by-step.

I wish you every success, whatever Way you choose.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Really Matters

What makes success?

I suppose everyone has his or her own answer.  Some would say "intelligence" or "luck" or "skill" or "confidence".  Yet others would say "environment" or "having good teachers/mentors".  Still others might think it is about "timing" or "talent".  What would YOU say?

I have no doubt all of those things are contributors to success in some way.

However, the more I read about people's success stories, and think about the successful people I know, the more I am convinced that success is really defined by a person's level of effort.

It is true that people come in all shapes and sizes, some having greater natural gifts than others. It is also true that we all know plenty of people we think should have been successful but for some reason or another just did not apply their natural talents to the relevant tasks at the right times.  Many of them waited, expecting someone else to make the effort on their behalf, and ended up shocked and disappointed to discover that doesn't happen.  Only you can do it.

In martial arts, as in every other aspect of life, what matters most is your own effort.

It is singularly important to direct your energies and devote your time to those things which yield the best contributions to your success.  For this to be possible, you first need to spend enough time and energy discovering what success means for you.  This makes it very important to go and do as wide a variety of things as possible during your formative years.

However, make no mistake, even once you identify the things you love and that matter to you, only your focused and concentrated maximum effort will make those dreams reality.  The bad news is that there will be no one else to blame for your failures.  The good news is that those failures are only temporary reminders to increase your effort until you succeed.  When you do, you will know in your heart it is because of your own hard work.

Over ten years in the fast-paced securities business had me surrounded with smart people. Most of them were far smarter and better educated than I was.  It was a dawn-to-dusk pressure cooker that took a high toll on all of us.  However, only very few put the effort into learning the business completely.  Most people were content to do only the bare minimum required to get their bonus, or their promotion, or their next job in another firm.  If I had any advantage, it was that I already knew I would have to work harder to achieve success because everyone around me was smarter and more qualified than I was.  The good news is that this work ethic has allowed me to move almost seamlessly from industry to industry over the course of my career through real estate, consumer electronics, office imaging, system integration, securities and financial IT, having achieved a reasonable outcome at all of them so far.

In martial arts as well, I was not gifted with great natural athleticism.  I was always smaller, weaker, slower than the other students.  My assorted injuries and health issues meant I had to work much harder to learn the basics, and was never able to do many of the things the others could.  Learning each technique was a battle against myself.  After more than 30 years of struggling, it has started to make sense, and I am now able to teach a class and make the material accessible to and enjoyable for my students, which is my definition of success as a teacher.  I continue to work and train very hard, never forgetting that is effort, and effort alone, that makes success.

I am most grateful not for the fact that I never gave up, but for the fact that others never gave up on me.  Their belief in me has allowed me to continue to believe in myself, even when many times I have felt overwhelmed and unable to continue.  This has been true of my students and friends, but also co-workers and bosses --- most importantly, it has been true of my family.

For me, the greatest success I have achieved in my life has been to rise above my broken home and fragmented childhood and to achieve a family of my own.  This has involved no small measure of luck, confidence, environment and other factors.  It has also involved effort.  There have been many times the ghosts of my past have haunted me and caused me to become my own worst enemy and try to destroy my good life.  Despite this, I have made every effort to remember what is important and stay focused on my success - both personal and professional. Despair waits around every corner, and it is a constant and vigilant effort that keeps my demons at bay.

Every one of us - EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US - has in us the capacity to define and achieve our own success.  It is the destiny of our souls to do so, and doing so brings us the happiness that will sustain us throughout our lives.  We are born to achieve. All obstacles can be overcome by effort.

Be inspired by the people around you.  Most importantly, be inspired by your own effort.
Work hard and earn your success.  Make yourself proud.  YOU DESERVE IT.
I hope I can be there to celebrate it with you.