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Be Inspired My Friend! Bruce Lee Remix

I’ve been in a lot of fights.  I’m not talking professional career here.  I’m talking elementary school.

There were multiple reasons but mainly it was because I really stood out.  I was a white kid living in black neighborhoods.  I changed schools quite a bit too so I was constantly the “new kid”.  Not to mention I was a skinny, geeky looking dude who was a physical threat to no one.  That might not seem like a bad thing but the places where I spent my early childhood were pretty violent, even my school teachers would hit you.  Not being tough looking sucked.

One of the things that I learned early on was that if someone said something, even a little bit derogatory about you, you basically had to punch them in the head.  Even if you thought that maybe they could kick your ass.  If you didn’t get physical, it never stopped.  Fighting kind of did solve everything for me.

If I had to fight then I had to become a better fighter.  There weren’t any gyms or martial arts schools for me to go to and there wasn’t any youtube.com either.  The school library was my only option.  The school libraries where I lived sucked.  I would always go to the sports section and look for karate books.  If there were any available they were usually crappy looking, hand drawn, black and white illustrations.

Then one day, I came across a book on the making of Enter the Dragon, a film by martial arts legend Bruce Lee.  Not only were there pictures of Bruce Lee actually kicking and punching but they were in full color.  I could actually learn something from this book, I said to myself.

The more I flipped through the book, the more I wanted to be Bruce Lee.  A skinny dude like Bruce Lee could kick a lot of ass and I was inspired.  There were many times where I imagined I was him, practicing his footwork and style in my bedroom.

I looked at that book over and over until I wore it out.  I practiced constantly and even awarded myself an imaginary green belt!  The way I figured it was that I was better than a white belt but not as good as a black belt.  Green belt was the middle belt from what I could tell in my karate books.

Gettin My Bruce Lee On!
Photo taken by Zack Lynch from mmaphotography.com during one of my fights.

But all of that practice paid off and I was getting pretty good.  Except the day I threw my first kick in a fight after school.  It was a disaster.  Not only did I fall down when I kicked the kid but kicking was considered “sissy shit” where I lived.  I was picked on about that kick until I actually knocked the wind out of a kid in a fight with it.  That story may make it to my blog someday.

Anyway, my family eventually moved to an area where they actually had a school that taught Bruce Lee’s martial art, Jun Fan Gung Fu – Jeet Kune Do.  It was legit too.  Sifu Kevin Seaman ran it.  He was certified to teach Lee’s art by Guro Dan Inosanto.  Guro Inosanto was not only a good friend and training partner of Bruce Lee but he was also one of Lee’s martial arts Instructors as well.  It was a dream come true.

Now there were 8 of us living in a house at that point and you didn’t get things like martial arts lessons.  It just wasn’t financially feasible for my Mom.  It didn’t really matter to me that she couldn’t afford it, I was already hustling night crawlers on the corner, gum and candy at school, newspapers in my neighborhood, and anything else I could get my hands on for a profit.  I paid the tuition myself at 12 years old.

I eventually became a certified Instructor with direct martial arts lineage to Bruce Lee.  Bruce Lee certified Dan Inosanto who certified Kevin Seaman who certified me.  I’m currently one of Sifu Kevin’s highest ranked Instructors and oversee 4 martial arts schools across New York State ( CNY MMA ).

Finding that book all those years ago was the tiny spark of inspiration that I needed to discover that I could do anything that I put my mind, body, and soul into.  I was inspired to improve and keep moving forward despite my environment or my situation.  It’s a very valuable lesson for me.  Maybe it will be for you too.

This video below is a mix of Bruce Lee’s cinema fighting and his philosophy put to music.  It’s so good.  Check into it.

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Keep The Change

I was running home from school one day, yes running. I would pretty much run home from school every day because I had a newspaper delivery route that I had to get done.  In selling some of my newspaper deliveries I promised some customers their newspaper would be delivered by a certain time.  I wasn’t going to disappoint so I would run home … rain, sleet, and snow.

Occasionally, I would ride my bike to and from school, when I had a bike.  There was a problem of thievery in the neighborhood that I lived in at this particular time.  It took me like five or six weeks to save up for a bike so after having three bikes stolen, I pretty much gave up on buying anymore.  I was sick of supplying the neighborhood punks with new bikes. I was stuck making the 1.4 mile trek home from school every day on foot.

Well one day in my mad dash to get home I happened to be the first person to go down this particular trail where this small gang of bullies would hang out. Apparently, what these punks were doing was waiting for the first person to go down the trail and then they would beat them up every day. This day was my day to get beat up.

I was embarrassed. I was angry. I was hurt. And I immediately thought to myself,” I need to learn some of that Bruce Lee crap so I can beat up three guys at the same time!”

I didn’t like feeling embarrassed and helpless. I wanted to make a change. If I was ever in that situation again I wanted to be able to defend myself.  I came to martial arts.

The majority of people who come to martial arts do not come for the sole purpose of becoming a better fighter, as I did.   However, we all came to martial arts for the sole purpose of becoming better.  Better physically.  Better mentally.  Better emotionally.

In our quest to become better we need to change.  Improving yourself and changing yourself go hand in hand.  They are not separable.  To excel at whatever it is we put our time, energy, and effort into we must be able to handle change effectively.

Street art from one of my favorite artists, Banksy

I’ve experienced many personal and professional changes throughout my life.  Since we are in the business of change here at CNY MMA I figured I would share some tips I have used to help me successfully deal with changes in my life.  Maybe these 5 tips will help you as well.

1)   View change as an opportunity to learn.  Welcome change into your life.  Resisting change leads to maintenance of the status quo.  The status quo is the archenemy of improvement.

2)    Have a long term vision and goal.  Change can cause temporary short term pain.  Focusing on the pain or discomfort that change brings only prolongs the discomfort.  Focusing on your goals makes pain and discomfort just a small part of the process.

3)   Stretch your ability to change in little ways everyday.  Trade an hour of watching TV for an hour of reading everyday.  Go somewhere without using a GPS.  Use a traffic jam to meditate.

4)   Ask yourself how this change will allow you to grow.  What is the improvement coming from your changes?  What benefits are there to handling this change effectively?

5)   Trust yourself.  Sometimes in life we screw things up so bad that we may lose trust in our own ability to change and improve.  Learn from your mistakes in the past and they won’t be your mistakes in the future.  You are capable of amazing things but you have to stick with it and trust yourself.

The more screwed up and out of control your life is, your body is, or your mental state is, means that change is going to be all the more difficult and challenging.  Be prepared to show strength and determination.  You can handle and learn from everything that comes your way in life.  I learned this from martial arts.

The Bullies: If You Can’t Beat Them, Don’t Join Them

In the neighborhoods where I spent a good portion of my childhood, I was the only white kid that I knew, other than my sister. Everyone else was black or Puerto Rican. As you can imagine, I stood out like a sore thumb and my sister’s big mouth didn’t help me either.

“My brother knows Karate and he’ll beat you up,” she used to say. I think she still says it.

"Telling people I was a Green Belt in Karate was supposed to scare them."

I remember the bullies on my blocks mocking my Karate and beating me up to the sounds Bruce Lee used to make in his movies.  And honestly, I didn’t know anything about Karate except for the two books I would constantly check out of the school library, one was a cartoon book and the other was a making of Enter The Dragon book or something like that.  Telling people I was a Green Belt in Karate was supposed scare them so they wouldn’t mess with me.  The bullies on my block couldn’t care less about what color belt I had, what I knew, or who I knew.

There was one incident that happened in the backyard of my Mom’s friends house while we were visiting her.  While my Mom and her friend smoked cigarettes and tried to come up with the next winning lotto number, these kids came over and started a fight with me and my sister.  When my Mom and her friend noticed this, they came out to help us.  Not only were these kids not afraid of adults but they started throwing rocks at us.

I would pray every night for God to get us out of there. By this point in my life I had seen people get shot, including my own mother and quite honestly, I didn’t believe in God, but since nothing else was working I figured I would try it … just in case He was listening.  I even made my sister start praying with me every night.  As the prayers went unanswered I became more and more resentful of my mother for putting me in this situation, of my sister who kept getting me in trouble with her mouth, and of being different.

I hated my life.  I didn’t know how to stop all of this.  I was thinking about suicide as early as 7 or 8 years old.

If only I was black.  Being black was something I would sit back and fantasize about.  If I was black, it would be easier.  My Mom’s boyfriend, who was black as well, would laugh when I would tell him that I thought being black was easier. Then he would follow with a lecture of how tough it is to be a black person in America.

I didn’t care about living in America.  For all I knew, we were in Viet Nam.  There was fighting everywhere.  At home, at school, at the playground, in the corner store.  Yes, in the corner store.  I actually got into a fight inside the store.

No, what I cared about was fitting in.  I cared about being able to go to the store and not getting into a fight.  I cared about learning my times tables in Math and not having to figure out who I was going to have to fight that day.

Plus, I wanted a kick ass name like my friends, Jamarico and Tamika.  Ha.  I’m serious.  That really did cross my mind as a benefit to being black.

This is what I felt like.

It was crazy though.  I had constant anxiety and constant fear with no help in sight.  I was falling behind in school because I would either not go or if I did go I was more concerned about protecting myself than learning what 6 times 7 was.

By the time we moved out of those violent neighborhoods, I was violent, physically and verbally.  I was violent towards my brothers and sisters, my Mom’s boyfriends/husbands, classmates, and even school officials.  At Southern Cayuga Elementary school my desk was literally inside the Principal’s office.  I had become something I hated most, a bully.

When I started my Martial Arts training, I was hoping to learn how to beat up multiple people at once.  You know, just like how Bruce Lee would do it in the movies.  Little did I know that I would find a mentor and a Father that would teach me not only what it was to be a Martial Artist but what it was to be a real man.

I was in awe by Sifu Kevin Seaman.  He could beat up anybody he wanted to but he didn’t.  He was respected and had this power that he didn’t abuse anybody to get.  People looked up to him, volunteered to do things for him, brought him gifts on his birthday.  I know, this sounds like I’m describing a scene from one of my favorite mafia movies but this was the real deal.  No guns and no violence.

He was an example to me that articulating your feelings, communicating honestly with others, and solving problems in a non violent way wasn’t just for pussies.  It was what real men did, powerful men.

Math is fun!

These skills were difficult for me to develop; like learning how to multiply when you’re in 5th grade and should have learned it when you were in 2nd grade, but I did it.  I learned how to solve problems, not create bigger ones.  I learned how to build people up, not break them down.  I learned how to take the negatives from my past and make them positives.  And even though I do lose my temper on occasion, this is my daily focus.

The point is, I’ve been on both sides of bullying and what I have learned in those experiences helps me, help others, every day.  So now that you’ve gotten through the longest introduction to a how to article ever … let me ask you to stay focused for 2 more minutes and read how to handle either side of bullying behavior.

If your child is a bully

The first thing you have to understand is that you have to address this.  Do not think ignoring your child’s bullying behavior will make it go away or that it will get better on it’s own.  If bullies are not taught more appropriate ways to solve problems, they become abusive parents, spouses, and bosses.

You also have to set the boundaries for acceptable behavior and accept no excuse from your child for not staying within those boundaries.  Bullies give us all kinds of reasons why they did this, why they did that but there is no excuse for abusive behavior, period.

There needs to be consequences for abusive behavior as well.  Apologizing is not enough.  They use abusive language, they lose their phone priviledges until they can demonstrate that they know how to speak properly and respectfully.  Let them know up front that this is the consequence of using abusive language.

Later, you can discuss with your child better ways to handle the situation that got them into trouble.

If your child is bullied

The best thing you can teach your child is not to respond to bullying, to get away. Most bullies will be less likely to pursue them and will move on to someone who is an easier target.  Teach them to avoid bullies, if they can.

They also need to know that if avoiding them doesn’t work, they need to get help from somebody who is more powerful than the bully, like you, a teacher, or police.  Your child should not have to fight because someone else is abusive.

Getting hit in school is assault and you parents out there that are reading this shouldn’t back off when it happens.  Make the bullies parents have to go get their child at the police station.  See if that doesn’t wake up the bullies parents to their child’s abusive behavior.

Teach your child that fighting back isn’t always about throwing a punch.  Be encouraging.  Help your child work through the situation.  Give your ideas to them.  Don’t just step in and take over.  Then your child will feel helpless on both sides.  Can’t deal with the bully and can’t work through things on their “own”.

Finally, let your child know that if this bullying doesn’t stop and/or the situation doesn’t improve, you are going to step in and protect the innocent whether it be your child or someone else’s.

It sucks to be bullied.  As a parent, it is your responsibility to provide a healthy environment for your children. There should be zero tolerance for violence and zero tolerance for bullying; in your house, in their school, and in the neighborhood.  Demand it and support it.

Find a good, reputable Martial Arts school, like CNY MMA, and enroll your child.  A good school will help bullies learn better ways to achievement, recognition, and solving problems than abuse.  And that same school will teach your child ways to avoid bullies, what to do if they are bullied, and how to protect themselves if it becomes physical.

It’s Not What You Have

What makes somebody extraordinary at what they do? What are extraordinary fighters made of? How do entrepreneurs, who seem to start out with so little resources, excel and create multi-million dollar organizations? There are many factors that contribute to the success of people in all walks of life.

One of those common traits that successful people have, from martial artists to millionaires, is the ability to use the resources, tools, and techniques that they have at the time, and to use them effectively. They constantly strive to get the absolute maximum result possible from their efforts.

Photo by Zack Lynch

I have an 81 inch reach. That is a considerable “advantage” when it comes to combat sports. I can hit you, you can’t hit me. The only reason that this is an advantage is because I make it one. I could have all the reach in the world and it would get me nowhere if I didn’t use it effectively.

Sometimes students will say to me “if I had your reach I’d be able to …” and I have to stop them. Saying “you just have the reach” is an excuse for you not performing at your best. It’s an excuse for not using your tools and techniques effectively. The problem with this type of “excusitus” is that it robs you of the opportunity to improve, because you’re not measuring your performance you’re making an excuse for it.

Many years ago, during a sparring session, I got whacked around by someone who had much less experience than I did. After the sparring session I was extremely frustrated. Why did this person have their way with me? I had no excuses. I was younger, quicker, I had the reach, and had been training almost as long as this person. I had also been in the ring a couple of times compared to zero for the other guy. So what was it? What was the “secret”? As I pondered over this question for several weeks I finally realized that there was no secret. That person had just used their tools better than I used mine, period. It was a simple, yet powerful realization. This lesson helped stop me from developing my own “excusitis” and made me a better Martial Artist and business person.  You see, your abilities are not based on what other people do or have but what you do with what you have.

Bruce Lee kicking Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the face.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of Bruce Lee’s most famous students, definitely had the reach advantage on Bruce Lee. I’d be willing to bet that Kareem never had the opportunity to say “Well, Bruce couldn’t hit me because I had the reach on him.” This is because Bruce Lee is famous for using what he had to get the maximum result. His footwork was phenomenal and even though he was small he could generate tremendous power from a very short distance. He maximized his tools, techniques, and resources.

Think about it, what makes a technique, a tool, etc. valuable? It’s your ability to use that tool or technique effectively. And the more effectively you use your tools and techniques the more valuable they are, in martial arts, in life, and in business.

In the nineteenth century, before the invention of the internal combustion engine, crude oil was a problem for land owners. If you were “unfortunate” enough to have crude oil discovered on your property the value of that land actually went down. We had no use for crude oil, it was a nuisance.

The Beverly Hillbillies' Jed Clampett

Then came the internal combustion engine, and the automobile, and the petroleum business. Suddenly, there was a huge market for crude oil because somebody made it useful. Now instead of it being a problem it was an opportunity and if you were “fortunate” enough to have crude oil on your land you were a, soon to be, very rich person. My point is that in order for something, anything to be effective or valuable, you have to know how to use, use it, and use it at the right time.

Knowing what to do with your tools is as important as having the tools themselves. Don’t get caught in the approach of making excuses for why your tools are not working and why someone else’s are. It’s the hardest way to learn and develop.

This way of thinking reminds me of people who are always trying to get “enough”. It never works because enough is never enough. You have to know what to do with “enough”. In fact, when you know what to do with what you have, you’ll discover that you already have enough. It’s a very powerful concept. It frees you from the dead end approach of making excuses and takes you to the next level of producing results.

So focus on ways to use your abilities and tools better and more effectively. Focus on improvement. Focus on growth. Focus on refining your skills and tools to the point of where you are getting the absolute maximum results from your efforts. It’s the best way to grow and learn, and since learning is internal only you can choose to do it.

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