Never Quit

When you admit you want something, inability to have it will cause pain.   You will then either put that pain into working harder, or you will let it shut you down.

In my early days of martial arts training, I had great success, taking 2nd place at the National Korean Karate championships in 1972.  I was feeling froggy. Then I saw Steve (Sanders) Muhammad at the Martial Arts Expo in  1974. The speed, power and precision of his motion in a “Mass Attack” skit were devastating. And just as impressive was the fact that despite all the chaos, he never seemed to hurt anyone.   Knees, elbows, palms, fists…all flying with unbelievable speed, focusing within a half-inch of the faces, groins, knees and skulls of the four young men attacking him with no evidence of actual contact or damage.

Steve Sanders_001.jpg

(I knew I was looking at something special.   In later years I was actually one of those four attackers, and rather than practicing exhaustively, Steve just told us: “Come at me.”   Unreal. And yes, I felt his palms and foot-scoops impacting with a loving precision that was beyond anything I’ve ever seen since, like Aikido randori taken to some strange and alien level of mastery.   Unreal.  I digress).


One day I was in the BKF school on Crenshaw boulevard (across the street from Jim Kelly’s school with ‘Black Belt Jones’ in a karate pose above the window. Another story) when a kid, maybe fourteen years old, asked me to spar.  “Sure,” I said. And…


He totally kicked my ass. I mean I couldn’t touch him. He just…smoked me. And then strutted around bragging “I beat a man!!”


And…it broke something inside my head.   Suddenly, I was right back in junior high school, getting my ass kicked by Rudy or Mark or Bryce.   I’d never learned anything. I’d never BE anything.  Logic fell apart and I fell into an abyss, the gap between the ego I’d developed to protect me and my actual feelings about myself.


(To be fair, that fourteen year old was Alvin Prouder, who later became Welterweight Champion of the World. It had been like playing a duet with Baby Mozart.  No contest.)


Years later, a young black belt sat quietly next to me and asked “when will I stop being afraid?” and I had no answer. And about six months later…he killed himself.

That “gap” will kill you.   Yes, you have to “throw your hat over the fence”, move forward on faith dragging your real sense of self behind you trying to catch up.  If the “gap” is too large, the inevitable disappointments are shattering.   Killing your body will seem less painful than watching your ego-shell crumble.  If it is too short, your lack of daring and ambition will kill your dreams.   Being pessimistic can  your life as much as being  “too optimistic.”


For the next years I dropped out of that school, started up somewhere else, got better until the senior students wanted to work with me, and I got scared and dropped out again, repeating that cycle again and again and again.  Unable to quit.  Unable to move forward. I remember one day leaving a Levi jacket in a school and being terrified to go back and get it, for fear someone would  ask me to fight.


Trapped in the “gap.”   I remember driving down La Brea avenue, tears streaming down my face, begging God to either give me the strength to go forward, or the wisdom and clarity to quit. I could just quit.   Couldn’t I?  Why keep beating myself up, banging my head against the wall?


Because somewhere, on some level, I knew that if I quit, I would never know who I was.  Never find my true strength.  Always be afraid.


I went from instructor to coach to therapist to guru to sensei to sifu, begging them to help.  No one did.  I remember sitting in front of a famous Kenpo teacher named Larry Tatum, baring my soul, and asking for help. He stared at me and said: “have you read my book?”  Yeah, I had. Nothing there.


Being sent to Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield, a fabulous strength athlete known for his master of the “inner game” of iron, interviewing him for Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness magazine, and taking the opportunity to ask him if he knew how to help me.  He was wise and kind, hooked me into a biofeedback machine, and got me to visualize the problem situation, then relax.


It didn’t help.


Not his fault.  This poison went deep.   For over a decade I struggled with this, SOMEHOW, somehow, keeping faith that if I kept pushing, kept going, kept sweating and bleeding and crying and feeling like I wanted to vomit every time I walked in the door…


That some day I would be on the “other side” of the problem.



And then one day, I asked my fateful question for the thousandth time, with no hope that there was an answer.  Asked it of a man named Terry Lettau, a Shorei-Chito Ryu instructor who taught in his garage.  And for the very first time, I got an answer.   He spoke with such clarity and simplicity that I was stunned.  I tried what he suggested, and…and…


In about a month, something happened.   I…shifted.   I saw who and what I was, and what the problem had been, so clearly that it was devastating.  I was stunned, and asked him “where in the hell had he learned that technique?”


He pointed me toward a man named Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan, a martial arts master who also taught spiritual practices and sexual magic. I sought out Harley (definitely one of My Most Unforgettable Characters), and through him met extraordinary people like Dawn Callan and Mushtaq Ali Al Ansari, and learned to connect the physical with the spiritual in a way that made sense of everything I’d learned before, opening the door to a personal evolution I’d craved all my life…


In an instant. In a single conversation, everything changed.


There really is “another side” to the walls you’ve run into.   There really are answers. But you have to keep going, keep asking, keep moving.  Keep the faith.  Otherwise you’ll stop, until the pain gets too bad, at which time you will move forward. Until you reach the point where faith is required. And devolve.


Forward and back, and forward and back, until you run out of life, and energy, and lie to yourself and say you never wanted it in the first place.  A horrible lie. A terrible place to live out the rest of your life, pretending you didn’t want more.



Some forget about finding soul mates.  Others despair of fighting for the career they deserve. And then another group never connects mind and heart with body to produce a natural animal grace and function.   They never saw the honor and joy in the process, in keeping FAITH with the childhood dreams, in honoring the wisdom of their Elder self which says: “no matter how small you live, death will not ignore you.”


You want it.  On some level you KNOW you want love, and success, and the kind of body that you yourself are attracted to.   And you KNOW when you lie to yourself, and that lie will cost you more than you can imagine.


Tell the truth.  Find the people who have achieved your goals.  Ask the question. Take the action.  Over and over and over.   Realize you are fighting for your childhood dreams, and that NOTHING is more important.


Never quit.






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