I get a lot of questions about my how I got started in my physical training (gymnastics, martial arts, all around badassery), so I figured it’d be nice to share some of my background and why I love training and teaching so much.
Like every good story, there’s a healthy mix of heroes, dragons, women…you get the idea.
Meeting My Mentor
I was in the fourth grade when I met a man who would change my life.
Mark Folger was my PE teacher, and our classes always included rope climbing, pull-ups, tumbling, and balance work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was scouting out talent for his gymnastics team.
Mark was an NCAA Silver Medalist in the 80’s as a gymnast and in 2009 voted USA Gymnastics National Coach of the Year. He must have seen something in me, because he convinced my parents to sign me up at his gym. I started training with him and continued all the way into high school.
I remember countless early Saturday mornings when my dad would drive me all over Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, and anywhere else we had a competition that weekend. I competed under Mark’s guidance at the state and national level, worked hard, and we racked up lots of medals. Looking back at it now, this is definitely where I developed my competitive drive and my devotion to hard training.
As I would later find out, this would be both a blessing and a curse in my life.
Mark was, and remains, amazing at creating incredible gymnasts. He not only values the importance of garnering medals, but also of keeping his athletes healthy and happy.
It’s because of Coach Folger that I am where I am today in my training. He was the first coach that instilled the concepts and practices that allowed me to excel as a movement artist. There aren’t a lot of people like him. Besides being a great competitive coach, he’s just a flat out great person.
I consider myself lucky to have him as a coach, friend, and mentor even to this day.
Enter The Gaijin
Like a lot of young kids, I started practicing martial arts after seeing a movie.
The movie was about Aikido, and I was intrigued by the flowing movements and how they talked about the discipline as a way of life. This was when I was fifteen, and I began practicing martial arts along with all those hours in gymnastic practice.
Needless to say I was pretty busy, but when you’re a teenager you can train that much and still have energy to spare!
But I guess you can say it finally caught up to me when I injured my knee right after graduating high school. You’re probably expecting a super cool story with a crazy death-defying stunt, and I wish I could give you one (dangit! I should have just made one up!)
But nope, it was just a stupid thing where I was kneeling with one leg out and a guy fell on top of my knee. The medial ligaments of my knee were torn and I had to get surgery.
This effectively ended my gymnastics career, and I didn’t start training seriously with gymnastic movements again for almost 20 years.
After about a year of rehabilitating my knee, I started training in martial arts again, adding in judo to the mix. Because of my success in gymnastics and with Coach Folger, I knew that I wanted to find the best training possible so I entered an exchange student program to Niigata, Japan.
I don’t have to tell you this is a long way from Wichita, Kansas!
There I explored all that Japan had to offer and trained very hard with lots of great people, earning my black belts in Judo, Kendo, and Iaido. After I graduated, I moved to Osaka for work but the stresses of my job became overwhelming and I couldn’t train often or enjoy the arts as I did in Niigata.
Facing Off With The Dragon Lady
Next came a time in my life that, though it came close to killing me, helped me to find the path I am on now.
I was originally hired to work for a company’s advertising department, but on the way over it changed to the “information planning” division, which really had no meaning at all. They told me on my first day of work that the manager I was supposed to be under had quit and they hadn’t figured out what to do with me. They were to give me three months to learn certain skills (which I was not prepared for at all) and if I couldn’t perform they would send me back.
Luckily, or unluckily as I would soon find out, I passed and was put onto another department with a boss that I’ll politely refer to as “the Dragon Lady”…
It was an incredibly difficult work assignment, made even harder since I was still learning the local dialect at the time. I spent most of my time out in the field in Osaka, Tokyo, or Nagoya doing research and traveling. I was supposed to have Sundays off, but since I was usually away from my apartment, or out of the country, I was essentially working seven days a week.
The job took me to Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, and all over Japan.
It was hell because I’d usually start off at seven in the morning and wouldn’t get home, or wherever I was, until past midnight every night. I was running around with no sleep and a ridiculous amount of stress, and it completely burned me out. It was absolutely horrible and completely different from what I was originally hired to do.
The average resignation rate was six months, which was very different than the typical Japanese company. My boss was constantly telling me I was worthless and that I should pack up and move back to the U.S.
Being the stubborn son of a bitch that I am, I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of quitting!
What Doesn’t Kill You… Makes You Smarter?
As you’ve probably figured out by now, my personality and life revolved around being able to excel and succeed at whatever I put my mind to. I stuck it through to the end of my one year contract, but the unyielding stress along with no support system made me very ill.
After resigning from the company, I spent the next six months getting well with the use of holistic medicine, yoga, and returning to my regular exercise training.
My time in the Japanese information planning industry nearly killed me, and it may have been foolish to gut it through because of my pride, but the experience taught me so much about my life and my priorities.
I knew that I would never let that happen to me again, and I decided I would devote my life to helping others find the balance in their lives as well.
The Next Chapter…
Looking back at some of these early experiences, I can really see how they’ve shaped me as a person and shaped what GMB has grown into as well.