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.)
I am thankful for my bro Chad Rivera. He’s a BJJ black belt where I train. He’s also visually impaired, but he can see a little better than me. He’s definitely helped me up my jiu jitsu game, helping me understand new techniques and concepts. I especially appreciate his help on Tuesdays in the no gi class and at 10:00 AM with Jeff Higgs.
I am thankful for Hobbs, my guide dog. He’s a bit high strung, but he’s lovable, and his guidwork is absolutely fantastic. I just have to remember to keep him nice and occupied if I am practicing kata or sparring or training in judo. (He hates the sound of the crash pads especially.)
I am thankful for beer. I’m not a huge drinker, but I rather enjoy a well brewed beer more than any other alcoholic beverage. I’m especially appreciative that I live in San Diego, the craft beer capital of the world. Lots of great local beers in multiple styles.
I am thankful for judo. Judo is scarry, and I have a long way to go with it. That being said, in the less than a year that I have been studying judo, it has toughened me up. It has helped me be more aware of my relationship to the ground. It has given me the opportunity to meet some cool people like Adnan Gutic, Heidi Moore, Stephen Scott Moore, Kevin Brousard, and Rolando Romero just to name a few. It allowed me to travel to Texas and experience what judo competition is like at the national level, if only just. I’ll still never forget my match, as a yellow belt, against judo black belt Ryan Jones. A very worthwhile learning experience. Beginning to practice judo, however late in the game, has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I am thankful for Pulp Fiction. I don’t even know how many times I have seen this movie. For me, the film is about redemption, grace, and second chances, as well as consequences for our actions. Quite honestly, I see the Gospel Message played out in this movie. I admit I am an unconventional Christian… Maybe I’ll write a Bible study using Pulp Fiction for illustration…
Today, I am thankful for the Guardian Martial Arts and Soke-Shihan Scot Conway. I have been training under his leadership since August of 2005, just 5 months after Andrea Loya and I were married. She started training right alongside me.
The Guardian Arts consist of the 3 core arts, Guardian Jujutsu, Guardian Karate, and Guardian Kobujutsu (weapons, along with Guardian Kempo, the parent art of the other 3. Andrea and I hold 3rd degree black belts in the 3 core arts, and we qualified for our 1st degree black belt for Guardian Kempo this January. This will be officially recognized on May 6 of this year.
My technique got a bit sloppy after I was hit by a slow moving car in April of 2015, followed by very sedentary employment for almost 2 years. Not once did Scot… And yes, I call him Scot. In a martial arts context, I will address him using his martial arts title, but outside of class, it’s just Scot… Not once during that time was he anything but encouraging in my progress. Never once during that period, nor the several years before, did he break out the bamboo sword and teach me the old school way because I needed to improve. He told me what I needed to work on, and he told me when he knew I was ready to hear it. He did this, even though he came up the old school way, where pain was a more commonly utilized motivation.
Just so there is no confusion, Guardian Jujutsu is not the same as Brazilian jiu jitsu, and it isn’t represented as such. It’s primarily counter grappling, and serves as a foundation for the more advanced grappling and ground fighting skills of Guardian Kempo.
That is one of the many things I appreciate about Scot. He is confident in what he knows and what he teaches, and he has no problem admitting or clarifying differences when asked. Even when he fought Royler Gracie in the early 1990s, he spoke very positively about the Gracie Family and their jiu jitsu in the article he wrote for Black Belt Magazine, readily admitting he did not win the Gracie Challenge.
The training I have received from him has laid an extremely valuable foundation for more advanced study in specialized disciplines. A lot of my ability to learn techniques and concepts in other arts is because I have some reference point for them. This doesn’t mean I learn the technique right away, but it means I can make a mental picture more easily than I could without some prior training. Admitedly, judo is the most different from the Guardian way of things, but I still think my prior experience helps every so often.
Soke Scot has not been possessive in any way, as I have branched out to get more specialized training in BJJ and judo. He is happy I am making progress as a martial artist, even though I only train with him once a week, and I am no longer regularly teaching at his dojo. This is refreshing. I have spoken with several other martial artists who have trained with profoundly possessive and territorial instructors. “You can either train here or there. Make your choice.” Were the words of one instructor of a colleague who will remain nameless.
What I am most grateful for is the life principles I have learned in the Guardian Arts and from Soke Scot. In particular, I am appreciative of the relationship principles Andrea and I have both learned. From June 2008 to December 2009, over a year and a half… During that time, Andrea and I were separated. (I’ve written about this publicly in other forums.) It is, in large part, because of the principles we learned from Scot that we were able to fix the most crucial aspects of our marriage. I am solidly convinced that, were it not for Scot, she and I would not be married today. For that, I am forever thankful.
Scot, you have also grown to be a friend. You did not typify the scarry Asian martial arts master stereotype I had cast you into when we first met. (Your In Living Color reference comes to mind.) You have supported me in many ways, always wanting the best for me. You have strived to be your best for me. You have always helped me, even through very difficult times, so I could experience transcendent joy. This post is dedicated to you and the genius martial arts system you have created. Thank you.
Today I am thankful for our new car. Thanks to the generosity of several people, including one very awesome anonymous donor, we were able to purchase a 2002 GMC Yukon. The miles per gallon on this vehicle art great, but having no car payment is pretty awesome! Lots of room for cargo, people, and dogs! A lot of really unique timing was involved in us having this car. There are, most certainly, logical explanations for why all these pieces came together The way they did. Nonetheless, I choose to give credit to God. My prayer is that Andrea and I will be worthy of this very significant blessing in our life. Hopefully, there will be some opportunities to pay it forward in the very near future.