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Reactions vs. Choices

What has become a fairly routine experience for me is to teach my morning judo class, grab a quick shower, and head over to one of the hundreds of coffee shops in downtown Portland, OR. I usually utilize this time to put some music on and collect my thoughts or listen to an audio book and take notes. If possible, I would recommend taking an hour out of your day to do something like this, as I have seen many benefits in my life once I made this ritual a consistent weekly staple.

I was almost done with my iced coffee when I wrote this journal entry, a definite caffeinated epiphany. I copy the exact paragraph from my journal below:

11/8: The ability to think in the long term is something I feel I have improved on. Thinking about techniques, dealings, trades, relationships, and actions in general, in the long term, allows you to see things as “investments” rather than “costs”. I write this knowing that there is always room for improvements, but based on where I once was I can say I have advanced.

When moving with this mindset, it allows things to slow down and you can judge opportunities as they come. Before, I remember leaping and grabbing everything that came my way. Now, I can see how present actions can set up and synergistically build future results. This can also work in a detrimental sense as well.

I guess it allows you to CHOOSE opportunities rather than REACT to them. It’s a mindset that helps rearrange the chess board of power. 

While this thought may already be common sense to some, for me, it was a realization of something I was either too ignorant to fathom or was oblivious to it being a reality. Either way, writing it down allowed me to pull the thread of the idea further, like, how can this be applied to time on the mat?

I found myself digesting this idea for a few days and after a recent morning judo class, I believe I took a step forward in understanding it. I had my judo class do a 5 minute drill that is geared towards getting them exhausted. They can choose how far they want to push themselves, but the point of the drill is to work until they are exhausted. It’s meant to be fairly intense. Anyway, when it was done, I felt like it was a good chance to see if I could connect this idea to putting in time on the mat.

The end goal is exhaustion. Students can either CHOOSE to push themselves to become exhausted or they can REACT to the designed drill and reach exhaustion that way. Either way, exhaustion will be reached, but the two paths getting there are completely different.

– One was pushing their ceiling of physical fitness, the other was accepting it for what it is.

– One was approached with a mindset of aggression and attack, the other was approached with difficulty and defeat.

– One was decisively handled, the other was a mere reaction.

When put this way, it is easy to see how a CHOICE versus a REACTION is clearly different, even if the end remains the same. Now imagine this in other aspects of your life, business, education, relationships, etc. Chances are, I was already unknowingly operating on this idea, but I have always been the type of person where my awareness of something can bring with it a new focus and polishing of whatever it is I have become aware of. The new goal is to become aware of the things I am currently unaware of.

Choices may be between many things, some all good, some all bad, one thing, one hundred things, but the fact that you are in a position in which you can CHOOSE means that you are in a higher degree of control versus a situation in which you must REACT. While there are people who are great improvisors, those who find the most powerful version of themselves when reacting to a situation or circumstance, I believe that if you are often reacting to situations, you may be often reeling on your back foot due to never being able to CHOOSE what you wish, but simply reacting to what is coming along. If this is the case, when do you ever believe you will step forward? Make the CHOICE to advance, do not wait for a REACTION, for they are rarely ever in the direction you desire to go.

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Timing uchikomi in the AM at Portland Judo.


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An Irreplaceable Journey to Black Belt

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July 30, 2016. One World Jiu Jitsu Academy, Newark, CA. Prof. Mike Prudencio awards me my belt.

I wanted to let the moment settle in. I didn’t want to rush and write something that was not an accurate encapsulation of my feelings. But the truth of the matter is, after 8 years of focused training, I achieved one of the most challenging goals I ever set my mind to. I earned my jiu jitsu Black belt.

I wouldn’t change one thing about this journey. Not one. The ups and the downs were tailor fitted for me and gave me nothing but perspective and experiences that are priceless. Below, I attempt to encapsulate a few of the most major lessons I learned along this 8 year journey. I also dedicate a section where I thank key people who pushed me when I needed it, when I didn’t need it, and even when I thought I didn’t need it. This journey was not an individual effort.

Achieving this belt was much more different than my judo Black belt. I earned my first degree of Black belt in judo when I was 16 and at that age I did not know what was ahead of me, I was simply doing judo because it was fun and my brother did it. At that age, it was something I just kind of did. For this jiu jitsu Black belt, I can honestly say it was one of the first things I ever put my 100% effort in to. Not school or grades. Not even my collegiate judo career. In fact, I remember somewhere along the way I made up my mind that I would not look at this journey the same way I looked at my judo journey, it would be different.

Different in a sense that I wanted to apply myself and see how good I could get at something when I gave my everything to it. So I approached this journey with a more cerebral process, one that blended thought, emotion, effort, and purpose like no other journey I ever ventured on.

This mindset allowed me to become a witness. A witness to what is possible when one can attach something bigger to the process other than just going through the process itself. I attached my father to this journey, somewhere when I started PDXBJJ and earned my Purple belt. In hindsight, I believe I attached him to this journey because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Jiu jitsu is really, really difficult when done at the level I wished to achieve. I knew there would be trying times and I needed something larger than myself to get me through it, so Alan Hung became that.

I would imagine him at work telling his friends at Pearl Harbor Shipyard about his sons. Or maybe while on a break from riding his Harley around Oahu, how we started Portland Judo and what we were up to. How my brother started his Barefoot Strength & Conditioning business and how I began practicing jiu jitsu. How the dojo was growing and seeing how we were trying to establish a community based on positivity. These thoughts pushed me through training sessions, mental blocks, fatigue, injuries, and gave me strength when I needed it.

These thoughts became fuel for me to overcome all obstacles that stood in front of me. Around the age of 27, a Purple belt at the time, an indomitable, relentless, and often restless spirit overcame me and it allowed me to think differently. My view of the world had changed entirely, from the music I listened to, to the books I read (I never read anything more than the back of a Limp Bizkit CD cover in college), to the value I placed on the relationships in my life. It was crazy to be waking up at 27 and viewing the World completely differently. I learned I knew nothing.

I learned to be forever a student and how to dig, often deep, to find the smallest gems of knowledge that people other than myself possess. 18 years in and I still get my mind blown by some of the information that others freely drop. To have an insatiable thirst of knowledge is something that I will forever be blessed with from this journey.

I learned to wage war on yourself before waging war on others. There’s nothing like being completely ruthless towards your faults to keep you up at night. That sting of realizing that I can always be improving, that I am in a constant state of flux, is sometimes scary, but it allows me to view my weaknesses and ignorant tendencies. That sting is something that pushes me to try and do the right things, say the rights things, and leave the World a better place than when I found it. For the record, I’m trying!

I learned to find value in others. Man, how can someone go 31 years on this planet and never fathom this?! What was my thought process before? I believe the majority of people are trying their best to do what they can with what they have. I want to be a synergistic force in people’s lives and aid in growth.

One of the greatest lessons I learned, and still in the process of learning, is patience. Patience is a m*******g virtue. How often have you heard this cliché too? Until one day, it hits you in the face and you become aware of it’s power. The ability to sit at belt colors and go beyond, “What do I need to do to get my Purple belt? My Brown belt? Black?” How about, you wait. You marinade on techniques and concepts. You allow knowledge to seep in to the wrinkles of your brain and allow your technique to speak for itself. You see the longer term goals rather than the immediate satisfaction. It’s a life long journey, not a temporary trip. Which lead me to…

Time. What does time mean to you? I recently wrote a blog post about it, here. How often can someone say that a journey they have been on, changed their entire concept of Time? I’m fortunate.

I learned to value the journey over the destination. I was the one judoka who thought that judo trumped all other martial arts. It was judo versus the world. Incredibly narrow minded, I know. In my early stages, I found success utilizing judo techniques in jiu jitsu. But once it stopped working and I didn’t win everything, it made me reassess the reason why I was walking this path. It honestly sucked to realize this. But the challenge was laid before me, and I had to think of different ways to work around the issue. I became fascinated with this question: “When you’re faced with the same question day in and day out, how many different answers can you produce?” I asked myself, did I start jiu jitsu to do judo in jiu jitsu? Or did I originally start jiu jitsu for jiu jitsu? This shift in thought allowed me to push pass judo biases, judo techniques, and forever change my approach to learning and teaching jiu jitsu for itself.

I learned that my technique has been forever altered, to the point where I can no longer think or remember what it was before. The movements have become ingrained in to my fingertips, movements no longer require thought, but only feeling. This journey has given me the opportunity to commit myself to a craft, a reason to chase mastery of something. A purpose to at least strive to become great, a reason to focus my attention solely on one task.

I learned so much from this journey, and from the company around me, they’ve educated me that it’s just the start of something new. Many people ask, what’s next for me. And honestly, upon achieving this goal, I failed to look past what was next. The last 8 years of my life has been chasing this achievement, I never looked past it. Now that the moment has arrived, I want to enjoy the present time. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, but also think. Think about what the next step is for not only myself, but for my students, programs, and life in general.

Lastly, I want to dedicate this portion to a few people who took this journey with me.

To Danielle: You were there the day I put marker to board and wrote this dream in to reality. “Jiu Jitsu Black belt by 2016.” You’ve literally been around the world with me as I walked this path. You’ve eaten enough açai to be a jiu jitsu Black belt. You’ve documented this entire journey, a master with the GoPro. I wouldn’t want to have anyone else to share these memories with. You allowed my training to literally control our lives together while being completely unselfish. For this, I love you.

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To Louie: You’ve been my measuring stick throughout this entire journey. In both life and on the mat. If it can work on my brother, it can work on anyone. You have pushed me to reach a realm of technical ability and mental toughness that would otherwise be unattainable alone. Your determination continues to be something I draw from when I fail to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You inspire me to be creative in the way I approach difficult situations, plowing the path for me is something you’ve been doing for 27 years. I look forward to exchanging knowledge upon your return from Japan.

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To the Students of PDXBJJ and Portland Judo: I learned how to practice again through teaching you. You supply me with a canvas every day in which I can express myself on. Through lessons, techniques, drills, and conversations, you allow me to be a creative individual who can live out one of his passions. You teach me something Every. Single. Day. For this, I am eternally grateful.

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To A Person Who Has Ever Trained With Me: I am a product of you. The techniques you applied to me has left an impression on me both physically and mentally. Through pattern recognition and mental conditioning, you have sharpened my technical skills. You provided me with a living riddle in which I attempt different answers to solve. Some are easy. Some are challenging. Others,  I still have to learn the language in which the riddle was asked in, the thirst for knowledge continues. For this, I look forward to our next round.

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To Alan Hung: We did it. Every time I look down to tie my belt, I remember your smile. I remember your love and strength. For this, I will continue to bear your name as we walk this path together, from now until we meet again.

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Mindshifts and Time

“How long are these rounds?” I overheard.
“I’m not sure, 6 to 10 minutes maybe. It seems short.”

I smiled.

This brief exchange between two of my students whisked me away to a reoccurring thought I keep having: The idea of how the entire concept of Time, and what it meant to me has changed, well, over time.

I attempted to encapsulate the mind shift and what time meant to me after the class, but how do you explain something so deep in a 6 minute-end-of-class speech? It’s difficult, but perhaps via text, I can clarify. Below I attempt to sum up three of the main changes on how I view time. These changes occurred in a brief moment, between the ages of 27-30.

1. Take Ownership & Responsibility for Your Time.
Upon reflection and current reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that my time is literally the only thing I truly possess in this entire universe, and because of this, I must strive to efficiently use, exponentially grow, and maximize every second of it.

Think about what that means for a minute. The time in which I have in a day, a man-made 24 hour label used to describe the movement of stars, is what I have to work with for 365 days out of the year, until I die. So I asked myself, isn’t that time worth fighting for, worth attempting to maximize and grow? Isn’t this a question worth seeking the answer to?

I’ve learned that if I was not careful or even made aware of who or what was owning my time, I could find myself squandering my most precious asset. I guess you could say I developed both a deep fear and new understanding of what time increments meant to me. There is absolutely nothing like fear as motivation to change habits, so I found myself reading more, watching TV less. Making sure what I was doing, and who I was doing it with, was worth both my energy and focus. At this point, you may find certain activities, or even people, that are a drain on your time. Look to eliminate or significantly downsize time spent here.

I had to reorganize my life and training, but in doing so, I took a step towards what I believe to be more efficient use of my time.

2. Patience.
Man, if I could go back in time, this would be the one characteristic I would have focused much more of my energy on sooner. Prior to this mental shift, I believe I was extremely impatient. I felt like a true Veruca Salt, minus the singing of course. I wanted it all and I wanted it NOW.

I discovered that I lacked the patience and foresight to see my future, how my current actions would hamstring future results. I lived almost exclusively in the selfish present. But awareness brings upon change and knowledge follows the realization of ignorance. Once I realized I lacked patience, I began to deliberately put myself in situations where my patience would be tested. You know, going to the DMV. Attempting to simply mail a letter at the post office. Stopping at yellow lights or purposely driving behind a slow driver. My favorite? Teaching a 5 year old how to do, umm, anything.

Anywhere I could find an opportunity to boost my patience, I took it. I began to see small changes at first. Less anger and reduced stress. More understanding that other people are probably not deliberately wasting my time, and why would they? Am I the center of the universe where all time revolves around me? Christ, no. I found myself slowly coming to terms that there is rarely ever a true need to rush anything. On the flip side, I also realized that slowness to act and utilize time can actually be used as a weapon. Art of War status achieved, shout out to Sun Tzu.

Via the pursuit of patience, I stumbled upon how to wield time as a weapon and how to make it work a bit more in my favor.

3. That Fleeting Feeling.
The 2 books which contributed the most to my mind shift were Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Essays in Idleness by Kenkō. One was an Emperor of Rome. The other was a Buddhist monk. I figured they knew a little something about time, and life.

What I took away from both of these books is that human time is in a constant state of use. It goes by whether you want it to or not, controlled or out of control, by choice or forcefully deprived. Time waits for no one. Because of it’s limited characteristic, time actually fuels me to do things that I normally wouldn’t do. Make a statement and follow through with it. Dream big and be completely unreasonable with what I ask of the world. Because in the end, I want to be able to say I did what I could in the time in which I was given.

When I approach my life with this mindset, I find that I think less of what people say can or cannot be done, the thought fuels my ambition to do things that were at one point, larger than myself, out of my reach. But with this understanding, I find myself asking the question differently. No longer is it, “What am I capable of doing?” It has become, “What am I not capable of doing?”

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Uke for Ilias

This whole story starts back in maybe April of 2015. I was sitting with a man I’ve known for 17 years, we regularly meet over coffee and bounce these caffeine-induced schemes off each other. Some hit the chopping block floor and never see the light of day. Others become so real you can hold it in your hands. All are crazy.

Uke for Ilias.

Leading up to this particular meeting I was reading a lot of books by Robert Greene. Mastery, Seduction, 33 Strategies of War, and 48 Laws of Power. In these books are a wealth of knowledge, but one of the concepts that resonated with me was the idea to allow your ideas to be literally, spoken. I made up my mind that I would put my idea out in the universe, “I’m going to bring Ilias Iliadis to Portland after the 2015 Judo World Championships” I said to Roy. His response was one of belief, but I knew this task was to be my own. He gave me a look, “prove it.”

Did I know how? No. Cost? No. Any leads? Not that I knew of. How? When? Where? I was dreaming.

But the universe rewards those who know exactly what to ask for.

Portland Judo 2015.

After reading the books stated above, I found myself gravitated towards the idea of speaking ideas and concepts in to reality. By verbally stating your goals you not only remind yourself of what you seek, but you begin to see existing opportunities to execute on. Once you know what you want, it’s only a matter of time and effort until you possess it.

Fast forward to the three weeks leading up to the event and we were already operating on every cylinder possible. A digital flyer, featuring a hand drawn portrait of the 2004 Athens Olympic Champion, two set locations in one day, official event tees, planned Social Media posts, dojo expanding, logistics, meals, it was an absolute whirlwind of action. The buzz in the Northwest was humming and whispers of the clinic drifted as far as Kentucky. It was going to be huge.

Autographed gi: Check

Autographed gi: Check.

But let me take a step back. I felt I wasn’t ready for this type of stage. I mean, I was honestly starstruck. How did we even get to this point? Is this really happening? Feelings ranged from thrilled to nervous. Thrilled for the opportunity, thrilled for the fact that we turned a spoken dream to reality in less than 6 months of thread pulling and planning. Nervous for the grand stage that we were setting, nervous for plans failing. In the end, it only catapulted me to another level of personal development.

Needless to say, the experience was absolutely stellar. You would have to be there to believe it, but it was a once in a lifetime scenario for me. It not only made me realize what was possible with continuous effort, but it also opened my eyes to dreaming bigger. It was empowering and made me hungry for more experiences at this level.

Overlooking downtown PDX.

Overlooking downtown PDX.

On top of capturing this experience, I wanted to make sure my future self remembers the 3 major steps I took to execute on this dream. I state them below.

1. Verbally state your dreams.
Say your dreams out loud. It is my belief that the world rewards those who are brave enough to stand up and state what they want. Before you go to sleep, repeat your goals out loud or look at yourself in the mirror and state what you want. Get used to sharing your goals with people, but not just anyone. Share your desires with like-minded individuals that you can trust. Form a Mastermind Crew of individuals that you feel connected with and brainstorm ideas with them, don’t hold anything back. No idea is off limits.

2. Form a dominant team.
In order to convert something that only exists in words and thoughts in to tangible items or memorable experiences requires a tremendous amount of individual effort. However, the individual’s effort is dwarfed by the amount of effort required by a solid team. Look to form a synergistic group with people who possess different skill sets than yours. Surround yourself with people who are masters at other crafts or industries. Seek knowledge from others, become a collector of perspectives. Sharpen this in to an insatiable appetite.

“No two minds ever come together without creating a third invisible, intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind itself.” – Napoleon Hill

3. Foster a Patient and Relentless attitude.
It is my belief that when these two characteristics are blended together, they help formulate Success. I feel that Patience is like money, you can never have enough of it and it is extremely valuable to anyone. Patience will allow you to become not only more calculated in your steps, but will also sharpen your eye to details you used to rush past.

Being Relentless will help you push through difficult times, the times where you need to work extra hours to get something done. The times when people doubt you or wish to throw shade on your goal. If criticism is all it takes to shoot your prized idea down, perhaps your idea never meant that much to you. If you wish to execute on a goal, a mindset must be formed that “impossible” is already done.

Here’s the proof.

Iliadis 9


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Do You Still Compete?

In conversations I am regularly asked if I still compete in tournaments. Students, friends, family, and strangers seem to always ask me when my next tournament is or if I’m fighting in X Tournament at Y High School.

My answer has changed over time, but in a way, it never really changed at all.

Yes. Yes, I still compete. In fact, I fight in 365 tournaments and 52 Championships a year. The arena has changed from losing in loud coliseums in Germany to winning in a storage space less than 400 sq. feet. It’s changed from fighting for a taste of International success, to fighting the economy of the world. It’s changed from losing first round in London to calculating how to write an email to a customer. I’m keen to the strength of the Euro and Yen to the Dollar, but I travel a lot less. It changed from cutting weight for my category to making sure I have enough weight in my pocket to run two businesses. I still study the competition and can name all the names in my category. It’s changed from making a National point roster to writing down business expenses and tallying receipts. Forget what an Olympic caliber opponent will do to you, you know how hard the IRS hits?

Where I currently sit in my life, my thought process is, what is any tournament compared to what I’m facing in life? At the same time, my life mirrors a competition, one that has higher stakes than what color medal hangs around my neck.

I’d be lying if I said that when I’m asked this question that it doesn’t bother me. Having been a mild competitor, I know how much effort it takes to actually compete. Ask any serious competitor, it requires your utmost attention, strict discipline, and sacrifice. At the highest level, any time spent not trying to advance towards victory is time that should be called in to question. I know what competitors do with their time, the intensity in which they train, and I can answer honestly that I am no longer able to, both physically and mentally, get near to training at that level anymore. Nor do I have the desire to.

No podium place can make me feel the way I feel when a child executes a technique I shared with them.
No amount of medals can take the place of the feeling I get when I train with my students.
My purpose of training has shifted from being selfishly centered to asking what more can I give to others?

I spent the majority of my life chasing podium Gold, only to find that it was so close in front of me that I was blind to it.

Despite all of these realizations, people still ask me if I compete.

All I can do is laugh and reply, “You’re standing in the competition.”


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Marinade

Marinade. Usually a term reserved for cooking. However, I look at this word differently. When you think about it, it’s actually a term to describe time. I may be wrong, but I never heard of a 30 second marinade, unless a vacuum is involved or something. Marination takes time.

I have been back from Japan for just about a month now and I have allowed the experience to soak in my mind. Thoughts have been broken down and new ideas have emerged. Staying true to the reason I started this blog, I look to write them down so that Future Andy can learn from and remember the past.

1. I’ve fallen in love with judo again.
You’d think that owning and operating a judo dojo and merging my life with Dojo Outfitters would prove my love for judo enough. I thought so too. But my relationship with judo has been a line graph of many ups and downs. Success, medals, trips, and friends. Injuries, both physical and mental, and the mileage on my body weighs me down more and more each year. I feel like an arthritic time bomb, I feel 40.

However, the good outweigh the bad, and this trip to Japan has injected me with a new found appreciation for what judo means to me. Perhaps it was just being back to Japan, the country where judo was created. Perhaps it was training with Budo University judoka, who cleaned my clock, but proved to me that my technique can still land true. Perhaps it was seeing my brother’s dedication to judo, moving to the country in April to pursue and advance his dream. Whatever it is, I feel like I have sunk to another depth of understanding.

I watch whole matches now, no longer fast forwarding just to see the quick ippon. I look for gripping patterns, I look for fatal mistakes, I look for displays of dominance, down to the way the judoka arrives to the tatami. The level of detail that has emerged before my eyes is sometimes overwhelming.

I do uchikomi again, not just to sharpen technique, but to simply just do judo. I feel like I’m 13 again, mentally, not physically.

2. Memories of Japanese culture.
The cleanliness of the county is beyond impressive. I spent many minutes walking around train stations searching for a place to throw away my Pocari Sweat bottle, only to have to carry it all the way home. No one litters.

Children playing at Shinjuku Station. Why did this strike me so deeply? The culture and society embraces the innocence and ALLOWS children to be able to do this seemingly simple task. I do not believe parents in Los Angeles or New York City would allow, or even WANT, their children to catch subways alone. It amazed me, but struck me with a tone of sadness. Sad because this sight is becoming rarer and rarer in the world we live in.

Full-sleeve tattoos will get you looks, but no conversations. People side eye and looked at my tattoos in awe, but once I made eye contact with them, they would look away. At first there was a charm to it, after a week it was exhausting. I get it, I’m tattooed, but I’m not from this country. I was only in the Yakuza for 7 years…

3. I’m fortunate. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the people I am.

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My girlfriend, Danielle, planned and executed the trip flawlessly. We never took a wrong train and we had a place to stay everywhere we went. Without her, my experience would have been incredibly dull and limited. I am glad she took me along her journey.

Tokyo Station 2015
My brother, Louie. To see him finally execute on what he has been dreaming of for years instills in me a new definition of dedication. It’s not a vacation for him. It’s a grueling training schedule in a foreign country, adapting to a new culture with a new set of rules. Spending a day in his cleanly, organized dorm room and watching Bloodsport with him will be a memory I cherish forever.



The friends I have made along this life. I’m grateful.