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Where is my win?

Where is the line between advocating and complaining? This is a question that people in many marginalized groups ask. If they don’t ask, perhaps they should. Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes a difficult one.

The question that is probably better asked is the following. Where is my win? Often times we examine a situation, and we don’t like it. Perhaps we don’t like it because we perceive an imbalance of opportunity. Maybe we perceive unfair preferential treatment toward members of a group to which we do not belong. Where is our win?

In martial arts, especially in Guardian Kempo, the art with which I have the most familiarity, there exists a principle of effective movement. I can more reliably and effectively move myself, more than I can reliably and effectively move someone else. I can influence someone to move the way I want them to. (Wristlocks and pressure points can be used to this effect.) Ultimately, I cannot make choices for my attacker. I can only limit their options. Where is my win?

My goal, with regard to self-defense, is to go home and have dinner with my family. If someone intends me harm, and I can defuse the situation by talking them down, I can still go home and have dinner with my family. If someone is persistent, and I need to respond with physical, even lethal, force, I can still go home and have dinner with my family. Where is my win?

Sometimes our options are limited. If we are attacked, and we improperly throw a punch, we could injure our hand. We then have one less tool available to us as we respond to our assailant. We could spend our mental energy and time bemoaning the fact that we cannot as effectively use our hand, or we could use all of the other tools available to us. Where is our win?

Problems have solutions. Circumstances with no solutions are facts of life. My blindness is not a problem because I cannot wish myself able to see. My response to my visual impairment is my problem because that is where the solution is found. Where is my win?

My problem is not that people are mean. My problem is not that people have prejudices. My problem is not that people are unfair. My problem isn’t even that I can’t do many of the things my sighted colleagues take for granted. My problem is “What do I need to do in order to better my life and increase my opportunity for success?” Where is my win?

It is possible litigation may be necessary to gain equal opportunity as people with disabilities. It is possible that laws we have relied on for decades may be eroded because some misused them. It is possible that our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness will be pushed back by others. Where is our win?

Regardless of what others do, even those who misuse the trust or power we give them, we can still win. There is one thing that can never be taken from us, no matter what level of adversity or injustice we face. Nobody can take away our ability to choose. Even with limited options, there is still a way to win. There is still victory.

Knock me down 7 times; I’ll get back up 8. Kill me, and my spirit will live on forever. You can control my body, manipulate my mind, or prey upon my emotions, and yet there is something that you can never control. My will is mine. Nobody can make me surrender my spirit. I will always find a way. I will always find my win.

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Where do I go from here?

I’ve been doing some thinking. This is a dangerous thing. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated and inspired by stories of knights battling dragons. The Jedi, He-Man, Bruce Lee, and mutated turtles trained in the ways of the ninja fueled my imagination, providing me hope for what kind of life I could have, given the right circumstances.


For much of my life, the idea of walking a warrior’s path was largely hypothetical. Due to my particular eye condition, I was not allowed to study any kind of martial art. Kung fu, karate, judo, wrestling, boxing, fencing, Muay Thai, kendo, ninjutsu, jujutsu, and aikido were all unavailable to me. I satisfied myself with reading as much as I could about each of the aforementioned arts. Sadly, the information available to me was severely limited.


My earnest research began when I was in my middle school years. At the time, I was living in a small rural town in northeast Ohio called Garrettsville. This was in the early 1990s, and the internet wasn’t really a thing yet. I had to survive with Grolier’s Encyclopedia on CD ROM and the handful of books on martial arts our very small library had. (I’m not using hyperbole. I found no more than 5 books on martial arts in the entire library.)


I was a nerdy non-athletic kid. I was socially awkward, and, by all perception, I had an extremely unrealistic view of the world. By a very well-meaning family member, I was told the following. “Josh, you’ll never get your black belt. The guys who get that good put years of daily training in to reach that level. You’re living in a fantasy, if you think someone like you could get there.”


Those words stuck with me, and I believed them to be true. I couldn’t see well enough to play basketball, unless it was half court one on one. I had been in several schoolyard fights, but I got beat most of the time, and the only times I came out ok were because I got lucky. To put it bluntly, I was awful at fighting, and I expected to stay that way.


When I was 14, I moved from Ohio back to California. A little less than 2 years later, I was completely blind. At first, I was upset and scared, like most would expect I would be. Then, I realized I didn’t have to worry about losing my eyesight, and the idea of legitimately training in martial arts seemed much more possible.


When I was 16, I spent a little less than a year studying kung fu. I mostly learned some basics, some self-defense, and a handful of Chinese forms. The only kung fu I remember from this dabbling is how to bow (left hand over right fist) and how to do a “crane beak” strike.


I later dabbled a bit in ninjutsu and some more kung fu, but I never took my training very seriously. It wouldn’t be until August of 2005 that I would do so.


After over a decade of training, 11 years and 2 days to be exact, I would take the radical step of pursuing martial arts full-time. At first, I did this for myself. I did it because I wanted to pursue adventure, and I wanted to get good enough to compete. I still do, but pursuing martial arts for me isn’t enough.


Martial arts saved my life. It has given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning. My fitness is continuing to improve. My sensory awareness is much more developed. Jiu jitsu and judo have especially helped me improve my kinesthetic sense and ability to think under pressure. I am fascinated and continue to derive tremendous benefit from multiple styles and areas of martial arts. I love both the practical and the esoteric. Self-defense, martial arts philosophy, and the competitive aspects of training all have value to me. There is one facet of martial arts that still is even dearer to my heart, and it is this facet which guides my path now.


Martial arts training has the power to heal broken hearts. The empowerment which comes from consistent investment by a teacher who cares for their students is a treasure indeed. I have taught martial arts before, but I don’t think I did so with the proper mindset.


I will train just as consistently… Just as hard. My focus in competition will still be just as fierce. That being said, my drive doesn’t come from what I can accomplish, but what kind of life I can provide for others because I am on this path. My goal is to learn to be a sensei, a title that I was given almost 8 years ago, when I received my very first black belt.


Sensei means “One who has walked the path and can show others the way”. I must walk the path, but I do not do so for myself. I do so, so I can bring hope and help to those in need. I do so for my blind brothers and sisters, and for anyone who needs light in this too often dark world. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I am still glad to share what wisdom I find during my journey.

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Antibiotic Fueled Musings

Nothing gives me a better sense of purpose than training, teaching, and discovering life’s truths through martial arts. I am not the most accomplished martial artist I have ever known. That’s pretty easily stated, as I have had the honor of meeting countless masters over my short career. I’m not even the most decorated with regard to competition. I have won a handful of kata and self-defense trophies and medals, but I have yet to win a single jiu jitsu or judo competition. The medals I have earned in grappling competitions are because there were 3 or less in my division. That said, I don’t care about that, not in the larger scope anyway.
Martial arts mastery is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure, I have goals, and I would like to accomplish them, especially some significant success in jiu jitsu and judo competition. That being said, I am grateful for the experiences I have had, and I hope to help others through martial arts for many years to come.
The preceding chain of thoughts started this morning. I’m currently on antibiotics, and my energy level is low. When I get this way, I think and day dream even more than normal. The chain of thoughts continued further:
Some people dream of a big house with lots of cars and a home theater system. I dream of a modest home and private dojo, near trees and nature, in short walking distance to the ocean and/or surfing. Fitness equipment like kettle bells, battle ropes, a salmon ladder, a rowing machine, treadmil, and eliptical machine. Heavy bags and a speed bag. Makiwara boards and wooden dummies. High ceilings, to allow for use of long staves and naginatas. A small room set aside for meditation and prayer. An outdoor garden that is set aside for reflection, near where people can practice tai chi and other internal arts close to nature.
I don’t care if I am the most famous. I don’t care if I am the best. I just want to be better, and to keep going. Whether this dream of a place to train and teach those who want to learn from me is metaphorical or literal, the dojo, and the place where I study the way of life set out before me, will forever be in my heart. I am forever imperfect, striving for constant improvement, grateful for the grace God and humanity has shown me, despite my failings and rough edges.
Osu! 🙇🏽 

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Gratitude Post – Metal

Today I am thankful for metal. Whether it’s thrash metal, death metal, metalcore, power metal, world metal, or any other genre of metal you can think of, I love it! I like other styles of music, but no other musical expression scratches the same itch that metal does.

I’ve been a metal fan ever since I discovered Van Halen and Motley Crue when I was 6. I overheard construction workers building a house right next to the apartment building my mom and I lived in at the time. They were listening to KMBY, a rock station that played lots of hair metal. This was 1986 after all. I later discovered Metallica, Megadeth, and Pantera.. I really got into metal in high school. Sepultura and Death, along with Fear Factory, Korn, Corrosion of Conformity, White Zombie, and a whole slew of others. I was pressured to keep metal at bay, first by overzealous Roman Catholics at the church where my mom and I attended. Then, when I understood Christianity on a deeper level, my faith became more personal. Within six months of my conversion experience, for lack of a better term, I left the Catholic Church. I still have a lot of appreciation and reverence for the Roman Catholic expression of Christianity, but I digress…

One of my closer friends at the time was a very well meaning person, or so I thought. (He later turned out to be a child molestor…) He prevailed upon me to get rid of all my secular music… Secular music, for you people who dont’ speak Christianese means non-Christian music… Fortunately, I found some really solid Christian metal that didn’t suck. Tourniquet and Mortification (especially early Tourniquet and Mortification), Ethereal Scourge, Paramecium, Virgin Black, Narnia, and of course… Saviour Machine.

After going through a sort of crisis of identity around the time I moved to San Diego in 2003, I was easing up on my tightly held to beliefs and standards that had less to do with the essence of Christianity, and more to do with the seemingly arbitrary conservatism and traditionalism in American Church culture. It was during this time that I got really into System Of A Down. (Got to see them in 2011. That! Was! An! Amazing! Show!) (Also, don’t tell me System isn’t metal. The heaviness and the musicianship, as well as the complexity of composition, are all consistent with the markers of metal music.)

In later years, especially after my last band, Arimathea, broke up, I started struggling a lot with depression, anxiety, and some post traumatic stress rooted in some really nasty crap in my childhood. One of the things that has proven to be a huge source of relief is metal music. Often times, the angrier, the heavier, the more intense the better. It’s as if metal is a furnace, and my depression and internal sludge is being burned to mere ashes in the flames. If you’re a Dio fan, you may substitute dragon for furnace.

I may not be as knowledgable of a fan as others, but I am grateful for metal on a very deep level. I can feel like absolute garbage, and listening to “Angel of Death” or “Psychosocial” will make me feel like I can stand firm in the sheer assault of emotional daggers, no matter how sharp they are. There are moments in which I feel very far from God, and bands like Sleeping Giant (Yeah, I know they’re more hard-core) and For Today will draw me back in, inspire me to prayer, and remind me of the beauty of the Gospel.

Despite the fact that I am writing this a day later than I had wanted, it seems fitting. Today is the day that Christians all around the world remember Christ’s Sacrifice. There is no more metal person whoever lived than Jesus. Even if you don’t believe like I do, you can still appreciate the story. God born a man, grows up in the same way every human does, and then this same man, who has lived a sinless life, takes all the sins  of every person who has lived, is living, and who will live… He takes all that sin on to pay the price for that sin. Willingness to face pain and heartache, instead of trying to deny the reality of the situation is the most metal thing ever. The only thing that is more metal than that is rising from the dead three days later to demonstrate your power over sin and death.

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Gratitude Post – The Flores Brothers

Today I am thankful for Jacob Flores and Justin Flores. It is their instruction at Studio 540 which has most helped me to better understand judo. I took my first class with them a little less than a year ago. In a couple weeks it will be 11 months since my very first judo class.

That first class, I was already exhausted from the jiu jitsu class taught by David Reed. I was catching my breath from my last roll and the push-ups David had us do at the end. Then, I hear Justin’s voice. “Judo in 3 minutes!” I thought to myself, “Uh… uh… uh… ok…” Then I firmed my resolve. I wanted to pass out from the warm-ups alone, but I stuck with it through that first day, being thoroughly confused and thinking that my prior martial arts training wasn’t helping me in the slightest.

For the first few months, I was only doing judo once a week. Then, I started coming to the other 2 classes at 540. At Justin and Jacob’s encouragement, I started getting extra judo training at San-Shi Judo Club. Mostly randori on Monday and Wednesday nights. They told me they used to train there back in the day. After training with the guys at San Shi, I can understand why they recommended it.

I’m still learning judo. It’s a slow burn to be sure. I am grateful for Justin and Jacob’s help and encouragement. Thank you Coaches. I have definitely appreciated learning from you.

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Gratitude Post – Public Transit

I am thankful for public transit. It is true Andrea, a.k.a. Xena Warrior Princess, and I go a lot of places together, in which cases she usually drives. That being said, I have a lot of transportation options. Of course, I can travel by foot with the use of Hobbs or a cane. I can also ride a bus, a troley, a train, a plane, or a boat. I can use Uber or Lyft. Some forms of public transit take more time or cost more money, but I can still get where I need to go, even if I am not able to drive. For this fact, I am extremely grateful.

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Gratitude Post – My Health

I’m thankful I wasn’t hurt nearly as severely as I could have been. Almost 2 years ago to the day, I was hit by a slow moving car while crossing a driveway near Fletcher Pky. It definitely messed me up, but it was all soft tissue damage, and I have very few permanent effects left over from the accident. It could have been so much worse. I could have been killed or paralyzed. Sometimes bad things happen, but there is often some good to be found in the midst of those difficult circumstances.

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Gratitude Post – My Friend Ben

I am thankful for my friend Ben McCandless. It’s astounding the similarities between us. We’re both blind. We are both martial artists. (Ben practices tang soo do.) We are both Christians. We both play bass. We both would like to open a tea shop or a cafe some day. We both love fantasy literature. We both write; though, Ben had his first novel published, and I’ve yet to complete my first book. (Check hout his book Sword of Dreams: Book 1 in the Portal Walker series by Alexander Bentley. Yes, that’s a pen name.) He lives across the country in Pennsylvania, but he’s been a huge encouragement to me as a Christian, as a martial artist, and as a man. (As an aside, he makes some of the best barbecue suace I’ve ever had. When he starts selling it on a large scale, you’ll do well to try some.)