Martial Arts



A young lady struggling to pass the PT test to become a Marine was my coaching client a couple of years back.  She PM’d me a month or so ago, thanking me.  She was in!   I am so happy for her, and so grateful to have had something to offer someone who just wanted to serve her country.   My very great honor, and it would be false modesty to refuse to accept her thanks.


No.  I have the ability to help people. In person.  From a distance. On the phone or Skype or email.   And although I outgrew that stage of my teaching (I no longer do personal coaching: I’d have to charge the very people who need the most help more money than they can afford) I know what it took to develop a way to help people, make money,   and have fun in the process.


But as I said, about six or seven years ago I was curled into a knot on the floor, crying…


Because the entire map of my life, built in childhood and reinforced and refined for decades, had been blown up by a family emergency.  For the first time, I lost faith that I could create a desirable future: the best of my life seemed to be in the rear-view mirror.


My decision to try to sell my skills in a different way ran into every “But…” imaginable.


But…who would pay me money for the things I give away?

But…I don’t know how to structure my time and energy to do it.

But…I don’t have the technical expertise to build an on-line business

But…I don’t know enough people locally to build a business

But…I’m in emotional overwhelm. People will smell that desperation on me, and reject the notion that I can help them.

But…I’m too old





All that stuff. And more, that I wouldn’t even write down in public.  But I asked myself one question:


If I was thirty years younger, would I pay me money for the knowledge I have?  If I could go back and give that younger me lessons in love, or writing, or martial arts, would that younger me be happy to pay for them?


And the answer was…hell yes.  IN FACT THE VERY PAIN I WAS IN RIGHT NOW WAS EVIDENCE. I knew how I’d messed up, and some very simple changes would have made a world of difference.  (Specifically and most simply?  Saving 10% of my income in an investment account.  That would have created an enormous safety cushion that would have removed all immediate fear and given me plenty of room for brainstorming.)


Once I realized that I, personally, would pay me for what I knew, everything changed.   The truth was that I didn’t need to attract “everyone.”  In fact, I didn’t have the TIME or ENERGY for more than about twenty clients a week, and really, I didn’t want more than ten.   If I used the World Wide Web, were there ten people in the world who were enough like I had been, who I could reach and present my case to?


With three BILLION people on the web?  Yeah, I kinda think so.


It stopped becoming “poor little me” and started being “who can I help? Who needs what I have AND CAN AFFORD TO PAY ME what I need to support my family with integrity?  Who would be FUN to work with?”


And that was a different set of questions.    It all depended upon loving myself, respecting the time I’d invested.  Seeing my own heart and soul in others, and not hallucinating that I was so unique that no one else would want to cook with my recipe.


No: the principles of real success were general enough that I’d profited by studying others, training with others.   All I had to do was realize that I was another link on a long, long human chain stretching back to prehistory: one human being teaching another. We are the only animals with more information in our brains than in our genes. As individuals we aren’t much smarter than chimps. It is the NETWORKING and sharing of information that we excel.


In other words…to NOT believe I had something of value to offer, I had to say


  1. I’d wasted my entire life
  2. All my teachers had been wrong
  3. I was so unique and brilliant no one could profit by my life lessons
  4. Only people with X or Y credential could teach (that certainly hadn’t been true for me!  I’d learned from people who had created success in the real world far more than those with “mere” academic credentials.  Now…those with a Masters or Doctorate who ALSO created in the real world were often the cream of the cream)


In other words, I had to either put myself WAY down, or put myself above anyone who asked me for help.   But if I’m just a human being, flawed and fearful but so focused on what I believe is true about the world, and myself, that I pick myself up day after day after day and work like hell to create the life I love…


I can show other people that path. And for those who want something similar to what I wanted, I can guide them. That’s all I have to do. Not be all-wise, or psychic, or perfect.


Just someone with genuine skills who wants to help, and knows how to communicate value. Who respects himself enough to demand to be treated with the respect I extend to others, and has a sense of the structure of life that says it is right and appropriate to teach…and be rewarded for that teaching, charging whatever I myself would have paid for that knowledge and support.


That’s all it is, really.  What have you learned? What have you become? What would you tell yourself thirty years ago?


If you can define that…you have something to offer the world that can build you a career you can be proud of IF AND ONLY IF you are willing to be adult about organization and communication.


If you are…I have something for you, a free gift.   Coming very soon.



Share the wealth!


(and if you need to believe in yourself, NOTHING is more powerful than the first step I often taught clients, the MORNING M.A.G.I.C. program.   If that’s your stumbling block, please go to and get that handled.  Your future will thank you!)


What Might Have Been

I was badly bullied when I was a kid.  I remember one guy, “Bryce”  I went to Mt. Vernon Jr. High with who simply insulted me and pushed me and mocked me daily, until it was almost more than I could bear.


Then one day I was at the bookstore   and saw a copy of a book called BRUCE TEGNER’S INSTANT SELF DEFENSE, and begged my mother to buy it.  Oh, it was a revelation.  When I was even younger I’d seen the line drawings for “KETSUGO! UNSTOPPABLE SELF DEFENSE!” or even “BLACK DRAGON FIGHTING SOCIETY!” in the backs of comic books, but never gotten up the nerve to purchase one.


Well, Mom got it for me, and I remember practicing chops and kicks on the poor grapefruit tree in our back yard.  I was still too frightened to actually USE any of this, but I was starting to channel my fear into action.   (I would not understand the power of this approach fully for another two decades, unfortunately).


I carried that book with me everywhere, even to school, where I probably hoped that people would see it and be intimidated into leaving me alone. Didn’t work. Bryce took my book and played keep-away with his buddies.  Humiliating.  The teachers didn’t help.  Bullies are great at knowing when there is no authority figure to help.


This kept up for six years, through   high school.  Then, finally, just the week before graduation, he insulted me one final time and something just SNAPPED inside me.   “I’ve had enough,” I finally told him one day.   “Meet me out behind the school. Bring your friends.  Bring a broken bottle.  I don’t care.  Let’s settle this.”


He looked at me, laughed, and said: “Aw, man…I know you know that karate shit” AND WALKED AWAY.


I stood there with my mouth hanging open.  WTF?  You mean all I had to do was call his bluff?  I had suffered through six years of hell because I’d been afraid to fight?   That was the first glimmering I had of something which, again, I didn’t fully learn for another twenty years: EVERYONE FEELS FEAR.  The only question is what we do with that emotion.


He coped by inflicting fear on others, trying to control through intimidation. I coped by becoming an intellectual “brain in a box” and then later through meditation, therapy, and martial arts.


But then, at that moment, he had pushed me out of our social game (him bully, me nerd) into reality: a real fight is two cats in a sack.  No social rules, just using “every fang and claw in the awfullest way you ever saw.”


He’d pushed me until I had forgotten my ego identity as small and weak.  I was just focused on hurting HIM.   I was ready to crawl into the sack with him (so to speak) and he was not.    Shit had gotten a little realer than he wanted.


It was an important rule, and one of the hidden principles of the martial arts:  “it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” is one way to put it.   “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me” is another.

Sporting contests are decided by size and strength. That is why there are weight classes. The real world is determined more by who is more willing to go ALL OUT.  Who hits that point first. No bluff. No bullshit. No social rules.   Enter THAT space, and predators will leave you alone: they know they will be injured.

My own version of this: “no matter who you are, no matter what you know, no matter what you do to me…I’m going to take the left eye out of your head.”  You don’t SAY that, because if you say it aloud you challenge their ego.  You have that in your body language. In your voice, in the calm certainty of every action.    You cannot bluff this.  You have to mean it.  And the only way to actually mean it is to be very, very clear on what you are or are not willing to die for, and fight only for that.



The way I put it is that in every animal is the survival drive, that all-or-nothing response to fight or flight.   Fear arises from anticipation. Actual survival is IN THE MOMENT, and if you are acting, you don’t feel fear the same way at ALL.   That energy is going into fighting or fleeing.   The “I’ll get hurt” isn’t a factor because you are IN THE SHIT already. Its happening.  Anticipation will kill you.  Living in the moment sets you free.




The same thing is true in so many arenas.   Most of the really, really excellent people I know, in any arena, were not people with “innate talent”, they were and are people who love something so much that they obsess about it.   Artists draw all the time.  Singers sing.   Writers write, athletes play their sport and do drills all day.  And on and on.


And those afraid to enter that burning core, to commit, will talk about “talent”.   They never committed because they didn’t have the “talent.”   That’s fear of admitting they want it enough to be willing to give it EVERYTHING THEY’VE GOT.  They never picked the hill they were ready to die on. So…they often die for nothing.


I remember the day I realized that I’d rather FAIL as a writer than SUCCEED at anything else.  Boom. The world got simple. Ride or die, man.  This is me.


It wasn’t really any different from realizing I simply wasn’t going to take shit from Bryce any more, ever again.  Maybe I’d have gotten my ass kicked. Hey, I’ve had my ass kicked before.


Maybe I’d have died.  Hey, I have to die anyway.   What matters is how you live, and if you are totally absorbed by what you are doing, one day at a time, you really aren’t thinking about dying.  The people most afraid of dying aren’t doing much with their lives NOW.   If they were, they’d be too busy. Similar to worrying about “talent.”  If you are really focused on what YOU are doing, you are having such a good time (and you did choose something you love, right?) that you don’t really notice where other people are.


If you aren’t “observing yourself” you don’t notice if someone is ahead of you, or behind you.  It is said that a musician like Prince was hugely kind to other musicians and performers. He adored the icons who were ahead of him, supported those on the path behind him, and jammed with his equals as often as possible. He loved the PATH.


The time I attended the party at his house, and he jammed for us, he asked us to listen to the music and dance, NOT to look at him.  Enjoy the music, and the moment.   If our attention was on him he had to think about his performance, and all he wanted was to flow with the groove.   If we could be there with him, we were all One: lovers of music. Dancers, listeners, musicians, singers. All together on that patio under the stars.


The Path. Focus on it, and you enter a timeless space. If you notice fear…you aren’t there. If you are worried someone is better…you aren’t there.  If you take pride in being better than others–you aren’t there. Not at that moment.


What you want is to be “there.”  In the flow. Doing the thing you love. The people ahead of you have spent more time on that path, in that space.   They DESERVE the greater success, and it would be a cruel world if they didn’t have it.


And the greatest success is spending your life being what you want to be, with the people you love, doing what turns you on.    Being an authentic ‘you.’  That person is not your ego shell.  It is the “real” you and you can glimpse it in the moments you lose “yourself” in the moment.  Sex, by the way, can be GREAT for this, the most common human experience that extinguishes the ego, at least for a fear moments.  You know what I mean…if you can remember your name, it wasn’t good sex.


At the moment I told Bryce to meet me, I couldn’t remember my name.  At the moment I was deepest into any story I’ve ever written, I don’t know who I am.   When I’ve pulled off the best martial arts moments of my career, I wasn’t “there” at all.


How to learn this?  Focus on being present, five times a day, in sixty second increments of breath.  Focus on what you intend to accomplish today, and what you need to do and who you need to be AT THIS MOMENT to make it happen.


Connect those core outcomes to your survival, sexuality, power, love, communication, intellect and spirit.  Balance the child and adult, the male and female of “you” until you lose your language and enter the flow state, a world of emotions and images and feelings.


So wonderful. That part is the best and strongest “you”, and a wealth unknown to those who cling to their identities. Let it go. Eventually, you will, you know. Everyone does.


Don’t wait until your last moments until you learn this.  “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'”– John Greenleaf Whittier





A Major new 5MM “Life Hack”?

I’m a mad scientist when it comes to personal development, and that’s kept me engaged with the process for decades.  On one level I ALWAYS feel that “the Perfect Program” is just out of reach…it’s a game I love to play.  Tananarive or Toni or Nicki could tell ya.  Notebooks full of plans.


Been percolating a notion for about a month.  It has to do with the cross-referencing of several things.


  1. 5MM.  The fact that if you take 60-second “breathing breaks” every three hours, you transform your relationship with stress.
  2. According to Pavel, the perfect number of reps for an exercise is 5: after 5, you cannot focus total concentration.
  3. Synaptic Facilitation suggests that a skill is best learned by practicing it in short sessions throughout the day, rather than all at once.
  4. There are Five Tibetans
  5. Islamic prayers are practiced five times a day
  6. The more often you remember your primary outcomes and motivations, and check where you are, the easier it is to maintain focus, and the more you accomplish.



What if I combined these?  Not “more time” spent meditating, exercising, renewing, but distributing and coordinating that time differently?  Can you see where this is heading?


I have longer blocks of time for some things, but that “Five Minute Miracle” every day…what can I do with that, as sort of a separate “track” of action?  Well…


WHAT IF YOU COMBINED THESE?  Here’s a sample protocol:


  1. Every three hours perform 5 reps of one Tibetan.
  2. With each, focus on the breathing, with a “cat vomiting” “be breathed” style exhalation/compression built into the rep.
  3. As you do, think of the Most Important Outcome for the day.
  4. Feel gratitude for the health to do this activity. Remember: one day you will NOT be able to.   Enjoy your body while you have it…remember it is just on loan.



How long would this take?  Five minutes a day.  What would the next level be?

  1. Increase the number of reps.  What would happen if the 21 reps of five exercises were distributed through the day instead of “clumped”?’d lose the mild “cardio” effect but raise the amount of focus on structural integration.  If you focus on the breathing, you are accelerating the rate of re-programming the body-mind for extraordinary function.   SERIOUS intervention.    Imagine a night’s sleep where you have to get up five times to pee. How restful is that?  YOU CAN INTERRUPT THE “WAKING DREAM” state exactly the same way.
  2. Add another action (like practice three minutes of martial arts or a yoga asana)
  3. Extend meditation/focus time.


Minimum investment?  Five minutes a day.   But I could add a yoga asana AND a minute of Kali/Escrima, for a total of Fifteen minutes a day.  That is an AMAZING amount of re-programming.


I don’t know for a fact that this is an effective protocol. It is a theory, and the experiment it suggests is obvious, and exciting to me.  I’ll letcha know!



(p.s. This is NOT to replace the block of morning exercise time. There are aspects of fitness/wellness that require extended engagement (triggering the neuro-immuno-endocrine response requires 12-15 minutes of steady-state activity to enter “second wind” which is great for a whole host of reasons, especially managing fear) But in an emergency…its an amazing five daily minutes, providing basic integration and mobility, focus, energy, motivation, positive emotions, discipline, centeredness, and much more.

A great little “Hack” for you to try!)



Steven Barnes

What will this week be for YOU?

Every Sunday, my primary “work” is to figure out the most important thing to accomplish in the next seven days.  Last week:


WHAT:  The most important thing I had to accomplish last week was a fabulous 20th anniversary celebration with Tananarive.

WHY: Because I adore her, and thank God every day that this fabulous, beautiful, brilliant, exceptional woman chose ME as her life partner.  And I never, ever want to take her or my life for granted, or let time pass without celebration.

HOW: An Air B’nB beach house in Malibu while Jason was off for a week of camp.


Get that?  Clear goal, clear reasons so passionate I vibrate when I think about it, and only then figuring the “how.”  Now…this week.


WHAT: Launch the “Your First 100k” course I’ve been working on for the last three years.   Rewrite the “Danakil” story for the blockchain “Celarius” project.


WHY: To provide a clearer road-map to my friends and students of how to take their passion to help people and turn it into the ability to support their own families and fulfill their dreams.   To finish a terrific shared-universe story


HOW:   By consulting with my tech guy Michael to be sure all the pieces of the marketing funnel are in place, all the contracts handled, the sales pages designed and executed, all the pieces of the course ready for download.  By editing five-ten pages of story a day.


WHAT then WHY then HOW.  Clear?




Once upon a time, I was a kid from a financially challenged, broken home, filled with fear about a world I had been told would destroy me if I was weak…or if I was too strong.  No role models, no one who believed in my dreams, and a mother who loved me but was destroying herself with stress and fear and toil.  But…she gave me a fantastic gift: the notion that our minds control our destiny.


And even if she was so rigid and wounded that she wasn’t able to take this notion to its logical conclusion SHE INFECTED ME WITH THE MEME.  And I spent my entire young life studying, searching, training…trying to find mentors, gurus, therapists, coaches, ANYONE who could help me achieve the things I needed to avoid catastrophe.  And…although Mom was limited by the rigidity of her traditional belief systems, I started seeing that all of these people, all these religions, all these philosophies were saying the same things in different ways, and slowly began to put it together.


Gaining success as a writer by writing every day.

Gaining success as a martial artist by training every day.

Building a beautiful family by being there as a husband and father every day.


I made mistakes.  Failed many times.  And deeply regret some of the choices I made along the way.  But…kept learning.   And growing.  Until one day I looked up, and realized that I’d literally achieved every goal I’d ever had as a kid.


Time for new goals.




The most evolved “Master” of any discipline I’ve had a chance to sit down and speak with one human being to another is probably Danny Inosanto, arguably the world’s greatest expert on Filipino and Indonesian martial arts, a walking encyclopedia, warrior, and gentleman.   At 82 years old he still teaches and trains every day, traveling the world every weekend to share his knowledge.


He is complex, not “complicated”.   In many ways a simple man of true genius, who teaches the history of his people as much as sharing their martial wisdom, which is phenomenal, music and mathematics on the kinesthetic level.  And all that makes him what he is is a clear goal:


WHAT:   to   be the best he can be.  To learn and grow and go as far as he can in his lifetime.

WHY: Because the weak deserve a chance to be strong.  Because bullies bleed too.  To fulfill a sacred promise to the great teacher of his life, Bruce Lee.

HOW: To train and teach every day.


That’s it.  A clear “What”.   An empowering “Why.”  and the “How” is simply doing it daily.


As the lady said, parenthood isn’t hard. Its just daily.  The same with ANYTHING else you want to master.


Know what your lifetime intentions are.   What your yearly outcomes need to be to reach them, and have a raft of kickass reasons to GO FOR IT.   What you have to accomplish this month to stay on track. What you need to do THIS WEEK to continue to refine your life physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually.


Know those things…and then know the minimum you have to do TODAY to make it happen.


Then…raise your energy by engaging with your body physically while visualizing your outcomes, chanting your gratitudes, and clarifying the ONE THING you MUST do today to take another step.


That’s all it is, people.   Mastery is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position.  It is being on the road, and learning and giving a little more every day.  Every.  Damned.  Day.


And, of course, celebrating your victories so that the little kid inside you, the sprite that generates all the energy and creativity, knows it is all worth while.


Do that, and the rest of life takes care of itself.  One day you’ll look up and have been married to your soulmate for two decades, have published three million words, and hold three black belts…


Or whatever the equivalent of those things is for YOU.   Or let’s put it more simply:


You’ll be happy to have been here on this planet, taking this journey.  One step at a time.





OMG…That’s Jason!




Oh My God. That’s my baby boy on the extreme right.   Getting ready for his first game.   Its one thing to no longer be able to just pick him up in one arm.  Its another to realize that he is so close to being a man.


I figured I had one job with my kids: to help them safely to their adulthood.   And all I can do there is to teach them the very best things I’ve learned over the course of my life.   Over the summer, Jason has really matured–I’m hoping the pressures of high school don’t crack him.


I have to take everything he needs to do and connect it to a long-term goal of his. As he hasn’t really gelled his adult outcomes, I have to be more general, and use Milton Erickson’s pattern, unless and until I get a clear indication of a refinement or healthy aversion.


On a basic biological/social level he needs to learn to care for his body, hunt and gather, satisfy his sexual needs with integrity, create goods and services he can enjoy creating and exchange with his community to support himself and two other people, understand his values and beliefs clearly enough to be a good father and husband, become a contributing member of society on the level of charity and pure giving, age with dignity, and die at peace.


Infinite refinements on that process, but those are good basic safety rails.   The single most important thing I’m doing, the “atomic” minimum dose, the mountain I’m prepared to die on, is that five minutes every morning. Checking in, evaluating the previous day’s work, clarifying what needs to be done today.  Being sure he knows WHAT to do, WHY he is doing it–in a way that aligns with his own personal goals, and only then turning him loose into the chaos of a school day.


WHAT does he have to do? WHY does he want to do it?  Only then going to the HOW.


I wish I could get him in a full-fledged “Morning M.A.G.I.C.” program, moving and chanting at the same time, but he’s not ready for that yet.  I’ll be happy with what I can do, slowly asking him to remember all he has to feel grateful for, what his clear intentions today and for a lifetime might be, the strength of his conviction that he can and should accomplish it, and what ACTIONS he is going to take to make it happen.


That’s enough. But one day…one day he will have a goal, and come to me and ask what he can do to maximize his chances of reaching it. This is where Football is hugely more happy-making than Skate Park. The kids at Skate Park tend to be somewhat counter-culture. The smell of pot wafts from the benches nearby.   And skating is fun, but dead end for all but a tiny few.


Football is a team sport, so he is associating with young men who are focused on winning as a team, being strong. They have to keep their grades up to play.  There is a route to college scholarships for athletes in some sports, and Football is his first introduction to the level of discipline and focus it requires.   Those coaches are screaming postive messages while the kids sweat and strain and push–(hey!  That’s like the missing piece of the Morning MAGIC program!)


He will experience the focus of a crowd’s attention. Learn to deal with the girls who are attracted to that power, and ask himself what he wants for a life partner, not just a dance partner for a night (ahem).   What was the single strongest step I took toward maturation?


Wanting the respect of the men I respected

Wanting to attract the kind of women I was attracted to.


Choose those men and women carefully, and life gets very simple.


This is a good step for my boy. There are downsides, of course, but I’ll keep my eyes open for them. Meanwhile…Summer 2018 goes down in my book as a dividing line between a big boy and a young man.  He is on the other side of that divide now.  The risks get bigger.


So do the rewards. Time to roll up my sleeves: the work is about to get harder. And a lot more fun.





(if you want to create your own “Morning MAGIC” program, go to:

Today’s Morning program


So what I brought with me to exercise on the deck overlooking the Pacific is a yoga board, and two 36 lb kettlebells.  So the schedule today will be:

  1. Tai Chi with morning ritual.  Primary focus today?  Rewriting the story “Danakil” and having a GREAT time with Tananarive.  That party, if its any of your business, has already started.  Ahem.
  2. Martial Arts.  Basics of Silat, Kali, WAR, and Kenpo.   I paid blood and sweat for those skills, and damned if I’m gonna give ’em up in THIS lifetime.
  3. Kettlebells.   Now…I’m experimenting with an adaptation of a double KB complex designed by Steve Maxwell.  I’m gonna do a “ladder” ( 1 rep, then 2, then three, then four then five) resting as necessary, continuing up the ladder as high as I can go in 12 minutes.  Here are the techniques:
    1. Double Clean and Jerk
    2. Double Clean
    3. Double Jerk
    4. Double front squat.
    5. Double Dead Lift and Burpee
  4. Get that?  One of each, rest, two of each, rest, etc.  It is BRUTAL.
  5. YOGA.  One rep of each of the 24 (?) poses of the Bikram series.   Yoga is no longer optional in my life. It is mandatory.  If I don’t do it, my body remembers my  birthday, and the presents it has for me ain’t to my liking.


Total Time investment: about an hour.


So that’s getting started.  It is all built around the notion of focusing myself with my Morning M.A.G.I.C. program, then building energy with exercise and cooling it down with Yoga, re-integrating my structure.


Then…launch into my day and KICK BUTT on that story (which is already cooking, but needs to be strengthened in the second half).  Then…more fun with T. She’s working on a short film script, and her novel, THE REFORMATORY, which is going to blow minds.


Anyway…I know it will be a great day because everything is hooked into my easiest access to my own passions: love of my family.  Work, meditation, Morning M.A.G.I.C., martial arts, kettlebells, yoga…all are about raising the energy, aligning it, and protecting my body from its own dynamic flow.  Connect that physical drive to my emotional, in the same way that if your house is burning you will FIND the energy to save your family.   I’ve got every reason in the world to kick ass today: survival, sex, power, love, contribution, discovery, pure fun.


You can’t stop someone who aligns themselves like this. You can kill ’em.  But you can’t stop them as long as they have a breath in their body.


THAT is my commitment.    Now…hey…it’s time to buckle down and kick ass.  Later





“The Martian” and balancing thought and emotion

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?“–Matt Damon as Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN.


When your life is on the line, you have to access your problem-solving ability, or you will die. The survival emotions motivate you…but if they overwhelm you you get stupid.  And that means there can be answers right in front of you, and you won’t see them.





I keep hearing people begging for help with their stress levels.  These are generally people terrified by the news, and disheartened by the viciousness of internet arguments.


In other words…they engage with the world to try to improve their lives, but are overwhelmed by all the ugliness, see nothing they can do to improve the situation, and therefore fight the urge to curl into a ball and cry.


The trick is that by the time you feel the stress you are often in a “tunnel” where you can’t do the very things most efficient and effective to deal with it.  What if you can’t do anything directly about a problem?  Then seek peace and joy in your own life, and be a role model for others.  When there IS something you can do…act with power and precision, be effective and efficient.  That’s how it gets done: when you can do something, act. When you cannot…live.  And prepare.


The Morning Ritual is a “sigil”, a compression of dozens of different ideas about human performance.  Let’s tease out a few of the most important ideas dealing with stress.


  1. Stress creates perceptual “tunnels” in which you cannot see anything but the threat.  In other words, denies you access to the very tools that could solve the problem.
  2. Stress is not the real problem–“STRAIN” is the real problem.  Stress is just the amount of pressure you are under. But if you can handle it, stress actually trigger growth: you NEED it to become strong.  Strain is a negative response, an “overload” situation. THAT is what you must avoid.
  3. External events don’t directly create internal response.  Your perceptual filters, beliefs, values, expectations and so forth will determine how you react to the things that happen in life.
  4. The more important the situation, the more dangerous, the more critical it is that you remain focused and balanced.  Especially if you are a leader of some kind–people look up to you to determine how they should react.
  5. The emotions are controlled by what we focus on, our self-talk, and the way we use our bodies.
  6. The most important aspect of the physical is the breathing, the only process that is both voluntary and autonomic.
  7. Your perfect choice is to integrate proper breathing and motion daily, BEFORE you need stress-relief.  By the time you are panicked, it is often too late.
  8. Tai Chi folks have a good idea: twice a day for 10-20 minutes, morning and night.  You focus, breathe, refine posture, control the internal dialogue. This maps over to life situations beautifully.
  9. IF YOU BREATHE AS IF YOU ARE CALM, YOU WILL FEEL CALM. It really is as simple as that.
  10. So…at a minimum integrate slow, steady, deep, diaphragmatic “belly breathing” into the Morning Ritual.  If you are stressed, do this every three hours for sixty seconds. If you are REALLY stressed, do it at the top of every hour.


As simple as that. If you don’t interrupt the cycle of stress with PHYSICAL MOTION, you are pretty much choosing to be unhappy.  Choosing pain. Which is irrational, and contrary to core survival programming.   That implies that some part of you associates more pain to RELIEVING the stress than suffering through it.


Why?  Perhaps we believe that fear and   panic are NECESSARY.  I submit to you that they are USEFUL in that they get your attention and begin the “preparation for action” spiral. But necessary?  No.  If you find that your fear turns to anger, and you are using that anger to motivate you to action…GREAT!


But if it is chewing you up alive, I suggest that you are pouring too much gasoline on the fire, and cannot control the burn.


The more important the situation, the more life-threatening, the more responsible you are for the welfare of others…the more important emotional control is.


And this is where a daily, a MORNING ritual of focus, motion and emotion can literally save your life.  You don’t have to be lost on Mars to need every “little gray cell” in your head.





The Thousand Mile Road

Larry Niven asked me what I was working on.    I mentioned a couple of short stories, a novel in deep outline script form, and a movie deal currently under negotiation. He laughed and said that I was as productive as six ordinary writers.


To the degree that this is true, it is due to one thing only: I know how to harvest every day’s supply of creativity.   Sometimes it’s a drip, sometimes it is a gusher. But there is SOMETHING every day.


God knows that sometimes it is a grind.  But I know my commitment is to writing for legacy, working to create the very best work of my life. But to do that, to produce Quality, there has to be Quantity.


And the urge for Quality can crush your ability to create Quantity. Why?  Because your ability to judge your performance will usually be more refined than your ability to perform.  Your own mind will crush your heart.


When I was a kid, I wanted just three things: to be a martial artist, to be a writer, and to have a family to love and protect.   Problems: I was a geek, no one I knew knew any writers (and in fact my mother destroyed my stories) and I was a total failure with The Girls.


There were times I felt totally rejected, crushed, defeated.   But then, one day I remembered that everything I could to: walk, talk, ride a bike, do basic math, read and write…I had once been unable to do. That if I looked around I could see that EVERYONE struggled with new things, and that I actually couldn’t think of anyone who kept working at their goals who didn’t make progress.  The only problem was that they sometimes didn’t make progress fast enough. So they quit.


But everyone who kept trying, as long as certain conditions were met, got better and better.  That suggested that maybe one day I would be a fighter.  One day a writer. One day know how to relate to the opposite sex.   But I needed to see what experts in those different areas said about how they developed their skill.   And then do THAT.


Ray Bradbury suggested writing a story a week, or every other week.

Musashi Miyamoto said “The Way is in Training”

And every popular guy said asking women out was “a numbers game.”  “Imagine being at a dance. You ask a girl to dance.  She says no. You smile, thank her, and move to the next girl.  Repeat until you are boogying.”


There are refinements, of course.   I never really got the “hang” of asking women I don’t know to dance.    I didn’t let that stop me, just realized that I needed to be in a social context where I met enough women that SOMEONE at that dance would be familiar to me. Ask those.


With writing, I would have to get used to rejection, experience it as evidence of my own courage and persistence.   Just like Rocky re-defining victory to mean simply being on his feet at the end of the fight.


With martial arts, I remembered Steve Muhammad’s advice:   “The only thing that cannot be overcome is death.   I will find a way, or make one.”


So…I didn’t have the raw emotional strength to just fight my way up through the ranks. I had to nibble around the edges. To study art A until I couldn’t get any further and my fear pushed me back out.  Then go to art B, until the same point.   Then art C.


Had I been able to stay in a single art, I’d be more advanced: go deep, and only after you have reached “unconscious competence” (somewhere between Brown Belt and 3rd  Black) branch out and study other disciplines.


But…every time, I learned a few different things. Not techniques–that’s garbage.  Ephemeral.   Expressions of some deeper truth applied to a specific situation.  What you want is to understand the intent behind the techniques.   The principles  that make them work. The mind of the master who, in a moment of stress DID SOMETHING and then tried to explain why and how they did it to a baffled observer or  eager student.


Given the right insights, you can create a hundred techniques an hour.  Ed Parker’s Kempo is chock-a-block with complicated combinations, and they mean NOTHING if you don’t understand the very simple principles at the core.


So by putting myself in the learning situation as much as I could, whenever I could, my emotional blocks were slowly worn away.  The “water” of martial progress seeped over, under, around, and through the blocks.  I was picking the locks, crawling through the transom, visiting neighboring spaces, seeing pictures of my destination, getting glimpses,  and occasionally moving into that new room for just a while.


And I remember attending a “Soft Work” seminar with Scott Sonnon, where by some arcane technology I don’t understand he choreographed an “ah-hah” moment that let me see, for about 48 hours, the flow demonstrated by masters.   If I hadn’t KNOWN it would fade, I’d have been grief-stricken to watch it run out through my fingers, until I was almost back where I started. Not quite.


Every experience gave me just a clue.  Either a step along the road, or a refinement of the map of internal and external territory.


Not one step was wasted, ever.   EVER.


Thousand mile road, indeed.




When you define the basics needed to reach your goal, the 1/1000th part of the process, and you commit to taking one such step every day, something magical happens. You see the territory. You begin to understand the value of work, and courage, and planning.   You see how the quality of your allies and companions affects your progress.  You take pride in being one of the few with the ability to get up to bat and swing again and again.


Because from time to time, you hit the ball, and DAMN that feels good.   Yes, some people hit the ball more often, but if you love the game, that’s all right.  Your only task is to do the best YOU can.  Nothing trashes you faster than comparing your progress to other people rather than to your own being.


Yes, this can seem contradictory: don’t you need role models?   Shouldn’t you compare your results with theirs?


Yes.  Carefully.  But always remember that no two people really have the same resources or experiences.   Not even possible. You can get as close as possible, but “identical” is out of the question.  So if you perform the experiment and don’t get the results, sometimes the equipment or context is faulty, sometimes you performed improperly, and sometimes…the theory is just wrong.  It’s an art.


But the only way you adjust is by modeling experts, taking actions and noticing the results, while keeping faith that you can reach your destination.  Some combination of these things produced every success you can point to in your own life, the lives of teachers and mentors and companions…anyone.


Magic Equals Action times Gratitude times Intention times Conviction.


And if you only have a “1” or “2” in the other categories, but have a “9” in “Action” you are going to dominate.  You will get so many results that if you sort through them and double-down on what worked, that cycle of action-evaluation-course correction-action will change your life faster than anything I know.  You do have to have control of your emotions (Gratitude and Conviction) and must have a clear intent (Intention) but Action is king.


Walk the thousand mile road.  One step at a time.  It is true that some paths, however energetically followed, don’t take you to your chosen destination…


So please enjoy the journey too, o.k.?





The Sneakiest Way To Fail

You could be the strongest man in the world, and lose every competition.  Know how?  Its easy: simply put one more pound on the bar than you can actually lift.   In fact, that’s also a great way to fail to develop a potentially world-beating skill level: just always take on a LITTLE more than you can do.  Do this, and you’ll develop a pattern of failure that will crush your heart.

But few will ever blame you.  It is an elegant way to be able to always say “I’ve done my best” while never taking responsibility for actually becoming a new person.


I was tagged to a page where a guy has injured himself, and wants to rehab.  His intentions are to practice a variety of different athletic and martial and dance disciplines.   And asked me my advice.


Well…first, I’d look at that list.    Each of those  disciplines he wants is a full-time study, in terms of skill, fitness, and MOST importantly if you aren’t a teenager…RECOVERY time.  Just looking at that list screams injury.  Each of them demands different things from your body, mind, and emotions. Different coaches. Different supplemental training programs, nutritional programs…sheesh.


Trying to get to a level of biomechanical perfection where you can practice at full intensity without blowing out joints, muscles and tendons with a SINGLE discipline is hard enough. But…four?


Listen carefully: instinct tells me that this person is programming himself to fail.  To be disappointed and unhappy.  He reminds me of an obese person who wants to lose a pound a day.   An unpublished writer who wants to write a novel in the next three months.  An Incel with no idea how to navigate relationships joining a speed dating service.


The chances of actually succeeding are small. How do you eat an elephant?  ONE FORKFUL AT A TIME.


I was asked today: “How do I succeed?”   The basic answer is: find at least three people who have succeeded at what you want to do, whose initial conditions were as close to your situation as possible. find out what they had in common.  Figure out what their daily rituals of action, thought, and emotion were.


Then…Do that.


People programmed for success will look for the similarities.   Those programmed for failure will focus on the difference.


People with PERMISSION to succeed will look for simple small actions they can take daily that will take them to their destination, then develop a higher and higher tolerance for intensity, as well as greater efficiency and effectiveness, so that they accomplish more and more every month.


People without this permission will either take on LESS or MORE than they can really do. Both are paths to failure.


Yesterday, I spoke with a lady who started at 125 pounds.  She married an abusive man who crushed her spirit. She has struggled with depression and weight for decades, and is now 240 pounds, and reached out to me.


Wow.  I know a few things: that she has for all these years practiced daily rituals of action that led her to where she is today.  And…she knows it.  She exercises, but has never been able to SIMULTANEOUSLY exercise efficiently AND control her diet effectively.  And she knows it was fear, and anger, and guilt all mixed together.    Her brakes were on.   She could “do something about” her weight by EITHER “dieting” or exercising, but not both at the same time. When she did, she lost weight. When that happened, her fear rose up and sabotaged her, in an endless cycle that has beaten her down.


My suggestion?   A medical professional to help her set a target and plan of action to get down to 160.  Specific therapeutic and meditative work to deal with the emotions that will come up (AND THEY WILL).  And a “Morning Ritual” that will either take her to her destination, or provide real-time feedback of her process, things to talk about with doctor and therapist weekly.


Look into Intermittent Fasting.  Speak to her health professional about the possibilities.  If her wellness circle is onboard, if she finally has internal PERMISSION to move forward, then and only then does it make sense to strategize.


WHAT does she want?

WHY does she want it?  Is there more pleasure than pain associated with action? More pain than pleasure associated with the status quo?

Now and only now does the HOW factor in.


This stuff is hard. Whether it is a writer doing “a sentence a day”, an Incel connecting with his “Ancient Child”, a couch potato doing a few Tibetans every day or a desperately broke person learning to save a percentage of ever dollar that comes their way…


All you have to do is make the “Minimum dosage” small enough that there is no rational reason not to do it, and the raw emotions beneath are revealed, so that you and your wellness team can deal with them.   GET YOUR ALLIES IN PLACE. The harder it has been in the past, the more times you have “failed”, the more important this clarity is.


WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

HOW can you take a tiny daily action that moves you in the right direction, with real-time feedback?



Do this, and the Hero’s Journey suggests that you will have your very best chance to move to the next level of your life.


One step at a time.




“It’s Just Daily”

At a recent convention, we Guests of Honor were given slips of paper with questions for us to answer for the pleasure of the audience.   IMO the best of them was: “what was the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?”    A lady to my right, the artist guest of honor got that one.  Her answer was great.

It was a neighbor lady in her 70’s.   The artist commented about how raising children was hard.  The neighbor said: “raising children isn’t hard. It’s just daily.”


When I meet extraordinary people, what I want is to understand how they see the world, themselves, their lives and goals. What motivates them, at the deepest level.    In some ways, understanding this is more important than the specific arena they manifested their excellence.  In other words, once you see mastery, you know that this human being would have mastered ANYTHING.   Yes, some seem to have “Seven League Boots” and have advantages. Others seem to be crawling over broken glass every step of the way.


But ultimately, all there is is the road.  And if you stay on the road, and keep moving forward, you are as much a master as anyone else who has ever walked the path, even if their skill is horizons beyond you.



The most advanced human being I’ve had a chance to be close to, to speak to just one person to another might be Danny Inosanto.   Anyone who is on my short list for “Greatest X who ever lived” is going to be fascinating to study.   He is a walking encyclopedia of martial arts, a genius level teacher, a physical marvel in his 80’s.   Because of a confluence of happenstance, he is sitting at the right place in history, geography, temperament, mentality, physicality, technology and personal “being” to have had opportunities to learn of movement patterns, tactics, and strategies from every continent, dozens of cultures and many, many thousands of gifted individuals from around the world.

Some spooky old monk on a mountain top could have greater genetics, greater focus, and even a couple of similar genius teachers…but they wouldn’t have the options of travel and Internet access that would bring as much knowledge to them.  They couldn’t be Danny.


But just as when I had a chance to observe Prince at close range what I saw was something surprisingly simple, the same is true with Danny.  When I trained with him in the late 70’s I was frustrated that he taught so much, so fast, a dozen options a minute.  Frankly, my ego kicked my ass: I couldn’t keep up.  Left every class feeling like my brain had been pumped full of helium.

When Leo Gaje, one of Danny’s teachers,  brought a nephew for Danny to train, the kid had no chops.   At first. But then Danny took him under his wing, and within a couple of months he was thumping us.


I was outraged.  Knew that Danny had taught him secrets that he wasn’t sharing with the rest of us.  In fact, what I thought had happened was that the oldsters in the Filipino MA community said: “you must not teach the outsiders.  Give them only scraps.”  And that Danny had smiled and said “I will not teach them too little. It is better to teach them too much.”


I had spent years there. Been on his demonstration team, fought my way up through the Jun Fan kickboxing classes to the senior class…and felt I deserved better.   I let myself get lured away to Hawkins Cheung’s Tai Chi class, and while I am happy to have learned that beautiful art, I look back over my life and realize that this was one of the larger errors.


It is not Danny’s nature to hold back. It is his nature to TRUST US that he can lay out a banquet and we will eat according to our needs, wants, and capacities. That he has beginners as well as masters in his audience, and must work with all of them.


And Leo Gaje’s nephew?  I think Danny taught him just a couple of things, designed specifically to his needs, and the kid drilled down on them until they became almost instinctive. When that happens, you can improvise like a mother.   You can just flow.


What is mastery?  Here defined: it is a verb, not a noun. A vector, not a position. And once you have learned your basics, and committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a master as anyone else on the path.


Danny can be such a loving, open-hearted giving person because every person who wants to learn is just another companion on the path.   He is what he is because he is ALWAYS learning, and ALWAYS teaching.  And the point in the middle is where he walks. One step at a time, one day at a time.


The greatest master of anything I’ve ever met, and all he is is a student. And a teacher.


That’s all I want. To learn, and teach.  To walk the Path without losing my way. To accept life’s constant unfoldment of mystery, without getting “spun” when my results don’t match my expectations.


This is my life.   Lived one day at a time.  My road, walked one step at a time.


Thank you for being my companions.  I couldn’t be me without you.