How Martial Arts Shaped Who I Am
I am grateful that I got to experience the life of an apprentice. It started with being a backup instructor in the kid’s class. At the time, I was around 14, and was asked by my instructor to come in and help a couple of days a week. It was incredibly challenging. I learned very quickly that different people, especially children, do not process information in the same way that I do. I also learned that there are a lot of details, errors, and corrections to be noticed that I had not yet developed the ability to recognize. Today, I love teaching, and realize that every person is a puzzle. As a teacher, you have to meet people where they are and figure out, not only how to help them accomplish their goals, but also how to make the information digestible. It is vastly complex, challenging, and rewarding.
As I struggled, Rob was there to help guide me. Like everything else, I got better with practice and consistency. Soon, I began bonding with the kids and was really feeling like a teacher. Many mistakes were made along the way, but I was eager to learn and improve. At around 16 years old, my dojo life was great. I had recently been promoted to first degree black belt in Shin Gi Do Kenpo-jujitsu, and I was now working and getting paid as an instructor. Overtime, my responsibilities grew. Every day after school I would go to the dojo, teach, train, and return home. I also had my first girlfriend at the time and a developing social life. Working at the academy gave me the confidence to better assert myself as a young man. Things were great.
Looming in the background were struggles at home. My mother was at her wit’s end. Health issues with my grandfather had escalated. Her brother had suffered a brain aneurism, was left partially paralyzed, and had to move in with us. On top of that, my mom was looking after my nephew while my sister was dealing with some personal issues. Things were super tough for her and, looking back, I see she was on the cusp of a nervous breakdown. My independence kept me out of the house and this caused a lot of strife between us. She has confided in me that she felt rejected. As I was finding myself, she was feeling abandoned and overwhelmed. After much arguing and some threats, she followed through and kicked me out of the house. I ended up angrily walking 8 miles from my home in Santa Ana to my girlfriend’s house in Westminster. The next day I talked to Rob and I made arrangements to stay at the school. I was nervous at first to be living at the dojo, but I soon found it to be more comfortable than one might expect.
I felt like a monk. I woke up early each day, put away my bedding, went to high school, returned to the academy, trained, taught, showered at a local gym, laid out my bedding, and went to sleep. I took lots of side work and scrapped for money. I did gardening, babysat, washed cars, and was an excellent dog sitter. Finances were tough, but I think the experience was good for me. I wasn’t on the streets or anything, but the added difficulty of day to day life gave me discipline. A couple of years later, I graduated high school and moved out of the dojo. Over the next few years I gained an AA degree at a community college and continued teaching and training. The relationship with my mother took some time to heal. It took a half-year for us to be able let our guards down and a couple more years to really be able to talk things out. We are in a great place now and can understand the situation with clearer heads. When I moved out, she was hurt and angry. My leaving was hard on both of us, but things turned out ok in the end.
In my early 20s I did a lot of no-gi jujitsu competition and oftentimes would place. I was a submission hunter and can only remember winning a couple of fights by points. I felt confident in my skills and really enjoyed the challenge of competing. In a few years, Rob made me an offer to be co-owner of the school. He knew that he would be retiring in the not too distant future and that this was the next step towards me taking over. We made our deal and I took on more responsibilities and was involved in the finances and business side of things. In 2014, Rob sold the rest of the school to me. The transition went smoothly as he still stayed on as an instructor. Changing ownership is a delicate process, even when done within the school. Since the business of martial arts is based so much on relationships, it can be jarring to students if a transition happens too quickly. Rob stayed on for 2 additional years helping out before retiring completely and moving on to new projects.
Now, with the school rebranded to match its modern style, Williams MMA is going strong. In 2019 the school was having its best year since I took on ownership. The following year was not so great, for obvious reasons, but we managed to make it. Through state grants, government loans, and most importantly, the support of generous and loyal students, we survived the toughest parts of the pandemic. Now, we are rebuilding, stronger than ever. I am thankful for the people I have had in my life to support and keep me strong all these years. I look forward to a long career of paying it forward by doing the best I can for my students.