Craftsmanship, and a multidimensional life

“Now he’s going to build choppers…oooh-K.”

I don’t talk about my plans openly much (at least until started blogging) but when I do, I find that I will often catch wind of responses like the one quoted above. In fact, in the last year or two I actually left a friend behind due to how he reacted to me sharing about my desire to open another custom shop, albeit a private one. 

I even had my artist, Lorin Michki, do me up a straight BADASS logo for my shop, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone when it’s all properly protected and set up. I shared my logo and my plans with my friend, who I thought would be super receptive to the idea and think it was pretty cool. He wasn’t at all cool about it. In fact, he openly just pretty much doubted me and even trash talked some of my plans.

As they say,
“don’t nobody got time for that kind of negativity”
Adios, hombre.  

So, dovetailing off of my last blog post The One-Dimensional Dilemma, I wanted to dive deeper into the topics of craftsmanship and artistry, two things I spent a good part of my life chasing and will be returning to very soon. 

Roots run deep and wide

I’ve lived many lives. It’s true. I hit the ground running and I have never stopped. I go all in. I succeed or fail, walk away or crash and burn, and then get right up the next day and go head first into the next endeavor. I’ve chased many dreams, lost many fortunes and made more mistakes than I’d care to remember (some I am still paying for). But I fucking do it, that’s for sure. 

Way back into my youth my burning desire was to build custom cars and motorcycles. As a poor kid with no one to show me the ropes I just hustled my ass off, traded and bartered for blown up cars and parts, read every Hot Rod magazine or book I could get my hands on, and did the best I could. This was my small hope in between all the violence, drugs and drinking that went on in my whole world, and that I was a participant of, back then. 

I didn’t grow up with a dad that had nice tools or any decent skills. I was lucky to have a garage, even though it had no door and no heat. That’s where I got my start. 

I think I was 14 when I dragged home my first car, a running 1976 Camaro. Probably bartered or hustled to get the $200 I paid for it. Between then and when I went to prison at 19, I probably had over 20 cars and a few bikes, swapped a dozen motors and transmissions and had collected a respectable collection of parts. Man, I’d give anything to have those parts today, they’d be worth ten times as much as they were then.

Straight out of prison at 24, while I continued to train and workout, I attended the auto body program at Owens State in Toledo, Ohio. I graduated that program in less time than allotted by taking 20 hour weeks of coursework while I did 40 hour weeks at Larry Pahl’s Body Shop in Bowling Green, Ohio.

I also lived in an abandoned apartment that had no electricity for $150 a month. The nice landlady’s son was my cellmate in lockup, so she hooked me up. She even let me run an extension cord over, so I had that going for me. I spent 18 months there, and it was not a bad life at all. 

I left there and enrolled at Northwestern University in Lima, Ohio for high performance mechanics. I didn’t even finish two semesters though because I was offered a job from one of my hero’s, Scott Guildner, at Scott’s Rod and Custom in Van Nuys, CA. I mean, at that time Scott was literally on the cover of Rod and Custom magazine like every other month, so this was a fucking dream job. 

About two years out of prison, living on my own from day one, I owned about 8 cars and trucks: two 72 Torino’s, a 78 Camaro, a 70 Newport, etc. So I had to sell some off, move some around, and I took a beat up Chevy K20 with a smashed fender and slapped a brand new crate 350 4 bolt in it, and I broke that bitch in hauling my Uhaul trailer from Ohio to Van Nuys with my doberman pup, Thor. 

As it turned out, I hated LA, so I wasn’t there long at all. Thor was also killed there at the young age of 9 months old, so I was over it. But I had seen what I needed to see. I got to watch and study the work of a master fabricator. I lived in an apartment over the shop so I was there 24/7. My driveway was full of Barris customs, chopped 49 Merc’s, chopped 32’s…just endless cool shit. 

I high-tailed it out of LA (which I regret in some ways, I wish I would have stuck it out longer) and headed to Tennessee. I stayed with a cousin there and went straight to work for Bobby Alloway, back then the king of street rods and basically on the cover of Street Rodder magazine every month. I was the guy who slicked frames, and I slicked much of the Alston-built custom frame on the 1956 Ford Skyliner that went on the cover of Popular Hot Rodding March 2002 issue. 

Can’t say I stuck around Alloway’s place for long either. As with many industries, meeting your “heroes” can be pretty disappointing, to say the least. 

I worked in some production collision shops, and did a ton of insurance job painting, but eventually, I opened my own shop around the Oak Ridge, TN area. I was ahead of the curve and opened just before Fast and Furious hit the theaters. I was slicking body kits and building bagged cars and trucks like crazy very quickly.

This is where I really came into my own as a fabricator. I didn’t have any fancy tools or machinery. Luckily my exposure to both Larry Pahl and Scott Guildner gave me that old school fabricator’s eye, able to bend and shape metal using torches, hammers, dollies and whatever else is laying around the shop. I was back-halving trucks and cars, chopping frames and building completely new designs that came out of my head. I barely put any of it on paper, I just figured it out and built it. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I won some shows, too. The Ford Ranger pictured below actually took 2nd Place Ford at NOPI Nationals that year. I built it for a kid named Jordan Fox. He drove that truck for 2 years that I know of with no issues after I built it. A chopped up, bagged truck that can place high at the Nats and drive for a few years with no issues? That’s winning. 

I closed that business down about three years into it for personal reasons. I went on to work in a few more shops but the business had lost the luster for me. I started to hate it. 9/11 had knocked the market out, there just wasn’t the money being spent on custom cars anymore it seemed. I got swindled by some shop owners. I never even finished a car for myself enough to drive. I was done. 

Custom Guitars

Upon leaving the car world, I went and opened up a guitar shop. I had to have a place for my creativity to go, so I struck a deal to clean up a shitty old storefront on the main drag in Girard, Ohio for two free months rent. I had very little money, so I spent one month cleaning it up and the second month earning that first rent coming up. 

I’ll spare you the business details and save that for another story someday, but the fabrication work I did was next level at this spot. I took a course in Michigan under Bryan Galloup for luthiery, and began repairing guitars. It wasn’t long before I had the busiest shop around and hired a few techs to work under me.

I quickly became known as the guy who could fix stuff other shops would turn away. I didn’t care about the value of the guitar, I cared about how much the customer valued it and that they were willing to pay. Check out one of the crazy repairs I did:

It wasn’t long before I was hand-carving and custom building guitars myself. I was already a finishing pro, and shaping wood was a lot like shaping bondo and metal. It was easy, honestly. I also understood the wood really well. I could look at a neck and tell how it would bend and react to tension. Being a player myself I loved the guitars and I loved making them from scratch.

 

I built six total customs. They sold for $1800 to $2500 a piece. I kept one for myself, my Douglas fir topped tele. They were all beautiful and visually flawless. In the end, my bolt-on neck design wasn’t great, but my neck-thru and set necks were rock solid. 

One thing I will say about that adventure is that I owned about 175 guitars at the peak of my inventory. I literally had 2 floors of guitars and they were all paid for. I can remember years before, sitting in prison where I learned how to play guitar on a piece of shit $60 Hondo, and being super pissed because I couldn’t play a real guitar. I swore, “Someday, I’ll own a building full of guitars.”

Motherfucker, I did it.

Coming Home

I’ve told the story several times about growing up around the biker lifestyle, and how prison probably saved me from going too far down that path (or maybe it would’ve been better, who knows?) I wish I had pictures from my youth, the bikes were so fucking cool. I idolized those guys, my uncles and their friends, living the club life and riding built shovels and pans. I remember one in particular had a 56 panhead chopper with a springer front end and an open belt driven primary, it was my dream bike as a kid. 

Random old school chopper pic

Yeah, there were a lot of problems about the way I grew up. But there were a few amazing parts of it, too. The bikes, the fun, the way they treated me as a kid–as one of their own coming up–it was great. I will miss that for the rest of my life. I’m going to fulfill a few of those other visions soon, though. And I definitely have the skills to do it just the way I want it. 

So, 30 years after I first started wrenching, chopping and fabricating cars, bikes and guitars, I want to build stuff again, badass stuff, and I want to do it for myself. Fuuuucckk a customer build. I will have a shop, probably off of the side of my gym, and I’m going to build the old school choppers I grew up around as a kid and have wanted my whole life. 

Back then when I was learning and working all those jobs, I mistakenly thought that being in that business would lead to me owning all that cool stuff. It didn’t really work out that way. Add in trying to play by the rules, a few marriages and two daughters and all my cool cars and bikes disappeared. Now, it’s time for them to come home.

Not a chopper, but my current rider, 21 year old HD Road King, getting new rubber here after I installed the 14″ apes and new lines and cables.

It’s time for me to come home, too. Not “home” in the sense of where I came from, because honestly that would be my personal Journey to Ixtlan, that home doesn’t exist anymore. My home now is on the coast of Florida where I am working to open a small hardcore gym, hang out on the beach a lot, and build cool fucking bikes that I will ride up and down A1A until I can’t ride anymore.

And let me say, none of this comes fast or easy for a poor kid. Even today, at 45,  when I speak of opening my gym and having a small hobby chop shop, I have literally been buying and storing gym equipment for 6 years now (from when I opened my first gym), and I have started slowly buying equipment to work on my bikes here and there. It’ll take ten or fifteen years to accumulate what I want, but I will own it when I do. All mine, no debt. Screw the banks. 

To some, this story sounds like a full life, when in reality it was just a slice of my life. There is a similar story about my life-long pursuit of strength and fitness knowledge and business, much of which happened parallel to and in-between all of this. And of course, everyone knows my story about violence and training. Maybe it sounds outlandish because so many just live inside the safety of the common rules: don’t take risks, save your money, work really hard at one job…all that jazz. 

I lived in abandoned apartments, trailers with no interior walls, traveled on way less money than was ever safe to do and repeatedly gambled everything to get these experiences. 

I probably went as far as I could each time until it broke me, and perhaps shouldn’t have tried to do things I didn’t have the money or support to achieve fully. It has taken a toll on my life, on my financial and physical health as I age, and on my spirit.

But I wouldn’t change it for anything. I had zero guidance or positive examples or support in my life. Zero. I did my absolute best with what I had to work with, which in most cases started with nothing but myself.

 It’s not for the weak. I can work on my own stuff, and fix just about anything that breaks.

Go ahead, live that multidimensional life. 

So you want to be a Master? The One-Dimensional Dilemma

“Don’t try to compete with a zealot. They are one-dimensional, and you’ll never win.”

This is the advice a good friend recently gave to me, and I’ve thought a lot about it in the past month or so. I’m going to say that, at least in the context through which I see it, it’s definitely true. The one-dimensional person in the marketplace of a given industry will be forever stuck on that one topic. He will seek relevance in that field non-stop. In that arena, he can be a people’s champion, and he will gather all the attention he ever wanted.

But he will be denied the ability to show other sides of himself, if they even exist. The people don’t love him for that. They love him for the fast shooting, the tough talking, the whatever-it-is-that-he-does thing that brought their attention to him. That one, single, thing.

Sure, they’ll tolerate a bit of “showing your human side” as they call it. It’s good for business! They love to see the wife and the cute dog here and there. But he better make sure he’s right back in uniform doing the dance rather quickly, coming up with “new” ways to dole out old information before the audience of social media moves on to the next shiny thing, making him obsolete.

This seems to be the way of the world these days. But, I came up in a different world. Imagine this: I grew up, rode mini bikes, got in fights, built fast cars, went to prison, lifted weights, opened a couple of businesses including a custom car shop and a personal training business, rode motorcycles, and traveled the country…all before the invention of social media!

That’s right, there was no incentive to be immediately gratified by posting a picture on the internet so the world could see how cool I was. Shit, there weren’t even cell phone cameras around back then. If you wanted pictures, you had to use a camera and take the film to a little shop to get developed and pick them up later. No immediate gratification. 

And guess what? I still excelled at all of those things. In my teens I built cool cars out of junk. Camaro’s, Monte Carlo’s, Mustang’s, etc. For sometimes months at a time the cars would sit in my garage while they were getting finished, and no one would be able to see it. You would work on it everyday for months on end with no social gratification. I had to finish it and drive it just to be seen with it, and that was only locally. But we still did it. And it was still rewarding as hell to mash the gas and fry some half bald-assed tires when you were done. 

Varg 1990, 15 years old with first car, 1976 Camaro

The most interesting part, is that we didn’t have the record of accomplishments available on a device in our pockets to show the world all we had done. In fact, it flat out sucks that some of the coolest shit I ever did was never photographed at all, and it now only lives in my memories (like the badass Buick LaSabre Sport Coupe I dropped an Olds 455 big block into and jacked it up on some used Cragar’s…). But we kept doing it anyway. 

Same thing is true when I started bodybuilding and powerlifting in the early 1990’s. Shit, I have zero pictures of that since most of that was in prison in the beginning. I was 185 squatting 385 for sets and topping out at 405, but there’s no record of that. In today’s world, it may as well never have happened (except for the fact that as a coach I get people phenomenal results because I know what the fuck I’m talking about when it comes to strength training). 

But even after that, I went on to have a great career as a full-time personal trainer spanning several years and a few states. What do I have to show for that? One trainer picture from 2006. Did it happen? Yes, and the experience I gained is a part of what drives my success with my clients in my remote coaching business today. But there’s no cool pictures to show you, so it’s just a story you have to read about. Boring, huh?

Or how about the time I started a custom car shop on a serious shoestring budget and operated for 3 years, going on to win some pretty big shows including second place Ford at the NOPI Nationals in ’03 ( or maybe ’04? Damn, I can’t even remember now).

Fucking MySpace didn’t even exist when I ran that shop. But I was there fabricating and building crazy bagged trucks, frame draggers, cars with hydraulics and hot rods, and getting business from as far as the next state away. 

How’d we even do it back then? We just did it. We didn’t need something we didn’t have, and we don’t need it today. But the zealot, the one-dimensional and their followers can’t see that. They’ve either grown up in this social media world, or they have become so acclimated to it that they just can’t see any other way. And if you try to go head-to-head with them, you’re not just pitting skill against skill. Oh no. You’re battling it out with followers and social influence, and he who has the most money for the coolest gear and equipment, is the flashiest or most controversial, or has the coolest credentials will win that game all other things equal

Now you have this new level of rejection to deal with, so many people who openly like people who do the things you do, which you are good at, but you’re not as cool as that other guy so they don’t pay attention to you. Literally some dude half your age with way less experience in the actual skill set, but way more money, time and social media skills will eclipse you and leave you feeling like no one even sees you. 

Man, fuck all that noise. What are you people even doing? There were many of us who were out there doing awesome things way before cell phone cameras, smartphones and social media. And believe this, you had to be REAL back then, because you couldn’t fake your way into an income very easily, not one that would last anyway. The good news was you could also be a real person. You didn’t have to be a one-dimensional dancing monkey for an audience that will leave you the minute you feel stale. 

I have spent ten years watching that exact thing happen in the social media realm of the tactical training industry (yet another career I excelled at). Guys who were once the literal heroes to the training world, and who held legitimate credentials, have went from being the authority on the subject to being made fun of and laughed at, and even called fat and other derogatory shit.

The one-dimensional champion has one shot at the plate, and that’s all you get. Make it last as long as you can, because when they’re done with you it’s over. 

(If you’re still reading this, kudos to you. I love long-form blogging and I love the people who enjoy reading it.)

I often write about the different jobs I did, or the businesses I’ve owned. Some people may get tired of the repetitiveness. That’s OK. I personally get tired of the repetitiveness of the unending one-dimensional personalities we are all encouraged to follow now. I prefer to be the sum of my total experiences, and to live my life pursuing even more skills, hobbies, knowledge and experience. You can excel in multiple disciplines. It just takes a lifetime, but you never run out of cool things to do, and they never get old. 

Be free. Free to not look just like others, or think just like others. Be free to explore new things. Go deep into all of them, spend ten years a piece on them. In the end, you’ll have lived a full life. And don’t worry about what someone on social media is doing, or how many followers they have, or how full of shit they are. Post a few pics and walk away, be busy doing cool stuff in the tangible world. It’s a lot more fulfilling out there. 

A Writer’s Pilgrimage

This week I journeyed out for a pilgrimage that has been over 25 years in the making and covered 1300 miles. There’s quite a backstory, so here goes:

Beginnings

Somewhere around twenty-five years ago, I was a troubled young man sitting in the “hole”, a solitary confinement metal cell that measured about 7′ x 5′ x 8′ with a 4′ fluorescent light that stayed on twenty-four hours a day. I had been in there for a few months maybe, having attracted the wrath of the prison’s punitive system for fighting. Fighting was the biggest symptom of my problems as a youth, of course, which led to me serving five years in prison starting as a teen and into my adulthood.

Warrior first“, 21 years old in the penitentiary 1996

While in that terrible place, the prison inside the prison, I grabbed a random book from the library cart that came to our cells once a week. That book was The Return of the Ragpicker by Og Mandino.

That book had a profound effect on me.

Although it took years to germinate and bear fruit, it’s effect was powerful enough to have me on a 1300 mile journey–a full twenty-five years later–specifically seeking something from it’s pages.

The book was set in the beautiful countryside of New Hampshire, with the story starting right at the end of fall as winter was preparing to settle in. The scenery that Og so eloquently painted with his words took my mind from the horrible place that I was in to the most beautiful place I could imagine.

It awakened in me the more subconscious attachments I had with New England. Having heard stories of how great it was when I lived there with my mother as a child. Those stories were something of a dream since her choice to move back to her hometown in Ohio led to the bleak and tragic life that we ended up living there. In my mind as a kid, New England was the place where our dreams could have came true, almost came true, if we hadn’t left…

Growing up I was just fascinated by the region. It was featured in some of my favorite TV shows, like This Old House and The Yankee Workshop. The big old houses, the quaint towns where life seemed simple; I would watch those shows and imagine having an old house there, with a wood shop and a writing studio. 

It all ties in to my lifelong dream of being a writer. So many great writers came from or lived in New England during their best work, Mr. Mandino being my all-time favorite among them. It always seemed a place that just inspired words to come forth. A place to retreat and create. 

And though I am not a fan of the horror genre, Stephen King was a huge inspiration to me as well. As one of the most successful writers to ever live, nearly all of his writings and subsequent movies were set in New England and vividly featured the region throughout. I was drawn in to it every time and would often watch his movies just to catch a glimpse of that beautiful place. 

You have to imagine that these “dreams” and visions were at a time when the reality of my own life was colored by despair. My upbringing and family life was ransacked by the drug and alcohol addiction and the violence that surrounded me growing up. The lack of drive and absence of creativity in my environment (that seemed to occupy only my mind) left me feeling pretty lost and longing for a different way of life. 

A hidden place

As part of my journey to the “secret” location described by Og in his book, I rode a vintage train through the White Mountain notch region. Og’s explanations of the landscape, with endless rolling hills and mountain views painted with the beautiful colors of the changing seasons all became real as I rode through the same mountains of New Hampshire that he wrote about. 

That same scenery that my mind escaped to all those years ago, was now unfolded right before my eyes, and it was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined. To top it off, I was heading to the magical place where Simon Potter reappeared in Og’s life after 15 years away, just outside of the town of Langville, NH.

Simon was a ragpicker, a mysterious old man that never aged and had a knack for disappearing after things had been set in order. He would show up in someone’s life when they were seemingly at the end of their rope and in despair, and guide them to a better way. He first appeared in Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World, and made his second appearance in the sequel Return of Ragpicker (which I read first). 

Sitting at the literal bottom of despair in the inhumane solitary confinement of a prison, the concept of a Simon Potter was something I wished for in my life. Someone who cared, who offered guidance.

I guess most people get that from their parents or family members, something that just wasn’t available to me. But there is no doubt that if someone had stepped up to a young me all those years ago, things likely would have turned out quite different and better for my life. 

It caused me to want to be that person for other people. To solve my own problems, find my way to a happy, “normal” life and then use that experience to be the one who steps up for the less fortunate. Too many just look down on people and never truly understand the blindness and confusion that poverty and tragic culture creates in those people. So many answers that seem so simple to average folks are just not conceivable to people from the broken parts of our society.

Too many people judge and not enough people care, and I believe that is why eventually we will fracture our society as a whole. I believe we are seeing it happen now. 

It took me 20 years of intense, hard work and literally struggling to climb out of poverty for me to make any headway on my own. I had no inheritance, no guidance and no financial advice. There was no one to co-sign loans for me, or teach me about how to build credit and have nice things. I made so many incredibly costly mistakes and in many ways damaged my life forever along the way. 

But here I am, twenty-five years later, making the pilgrimage largely paid for by my income from writing. I have one successful book out, and I get paid “OK” as a writer of articles for businesses on the internet. I am not rich but I am starting to do the things I dreamed about doing. I am writing, getting paid, and walking in the footsteps of the giants before me. 

The Old Stones

According the the Langville Historical Society, the structure was built in 1817 by the town for the purpose of “pounding” cattle, a practice that is no longer in use. 

After plane rides, hundreds of miles of driving and train rides, I set eyes upon the supposedly fictional place. There it was, in front of me, just how Og had described it nestled in some woods off of Blueberry Road. The fallen stones partially covered by dead oaks and leaves, the walls still nearly four feet high in some places.

Even the entrance was there, just as he described, where the townspeople would lead the animals in and stack some stones to prevent them from leaving. 

How strange to be standing there, inside of an old structure placed together over 200 years ago in some quiet, tiny hidden town in the mountains of New Hampshire. It was very surreal, to see the moss covered stones where Og undoubtedly sat and wrote; where I also now have sat and wrote (part of which would become this short story). 

It’s mid-October and fall is definitely underway here, with the wind loudly swooshing through the trees like a gentle but stern warning of the winter months soon to come. I sat still and listened to it as it blew the orange and golden leaves to the ground all around me. 

What a beautiful day to make this pilgrimage! It was sunny and clear and although fall in New Hampshire, if I wasn’t so acclimated to my Florida home’s weather I would have been comfortable in a T-shirt like the locals. 

The few locals who rode by eyed me with deep suspicion, which I tried to disarm with a friendly wave. It’s very easy to see why Og wanted to protect this place. It is a town of people who like their simple, rugged life up here in the mountains and they don’t want any “flatlanders” coming up here and messing it up. 

The area is presumably much busier than when Og sat there and wrote almost 30 years ago, but the road next to the pound is still not paved and the area is still quite hidden in the edge of the woods. It would be easy to miss for anyone who wasn’t really looking for it.

Sitting there, I almost expected old Simon to appear. I imagined hearing a voice from behind me and turning around to find an old man standing there by the wall. He never did, of course, but it would have been a great time for him to show up! I could use some of his advice right now…

I did imagine Mr. Mandino’s presence there as I touched the stones, and I tried to absorb the hundreds of years of history that these stones have seen in this spot. It’s been a truly inspiring journey. I feel like I completed a circle; like some task I started decades ago has been finished and I can now begin the process of looking back at what I learned during the process. 

The moss covered stones around the entrance to the pound, just as Og had described them 30 years before

Who is Simon?

Simon may not have shown up in the form that Og described him, but perhaps he was there after all. If I go on to do the things that I desire to do, and gain enough success to be able to offer some guidance for those who are navigating deep adversity, perhaps that is Simon living in me. 

I do understand that Mr. Mandino was somewhat of a religious man and that the story of Simon Potter was very Christian at it’s core. I am not any of those things but I can still embrace the meaning and message of the book. Finding the simplest of guidance during the most complex adversities, and then passing that wisdom on to others, this is what we should be called to do. 

It’s nice to come to New England as a writer–though not a very good one in comparison to Og and others. It’s nice to see that some of my dreams have came true. They came true despite the obstacles, the people who didn’t believe in me or my visions, the naysayers who said I should work menial jobs and conform to accept my lot in life. None of that stopped me, nor will it stop me going forward. They came true because I never gave up. Because I believed in goofy things like finding inspiration under the palm trees of Florida, or in the mountains of New England.

Of course, I am still struggling to make it happen. I don’t have an abundance of money, and much of what I get paid to write about is still not what I really want to write about.

But, we start out writing about what we know and unfortunately that topic for me is violence. That opened doors for me to begin exploring other topics, and this article is an expression of that. Not many writers make a living wage from their writing, so I am already successful in some very low-percentile ways. 

What happened this week was a synchronicity of deep events that developed over many lives, many miles and many decades.  In the next day or so I’ll leave the mountains and head to the Northeast coastline, which I will follow up to Maine for my last few days. Then back home to Florida, the other place that I am in love with.

Note: Don’t bother looking up Langville, NH. It doesn’t exist. From Og Mandino himself:

“Please waste none of your precious time searching any New Hampshire map for the town of Langville, the setting for this book, because you will seek in vain. Out of respect for the proud, stubborn, and hard-working Yankee townspeople who have a tough enough time tolerating “summer folks,” much less “curiosity seekers,” I have altered the descriptions of all easily identifiable landmarks as well as changed the name of that lovely green and granite hamlet that is the locale of my story.”

I found it, Og. After 25 years, I found it. I quietly visited, paid homage, and didn’t leave a trace. 
 

So I disappeared for a little bit

You may not have heard from me much for the past few weeks. I decided to take a vacation. It wasn’t one of those decisions that is based on the best time off work, or whether the budget worked or not. Nope. I HAD to go, and I had to go right then. I was really losing my mind, becoming irate and snapping on everyone, and as a friend put it, it appeared I was going off the deep end. It was certainly true…

Anyhow, my vacation started with what was supposed to be a “quick” project on my Harley, install a set of 14” ape hangers, new cables, new brake lines, new rear brake system, new rear shocks, and change all the fluids. Easy, should have been a few days on the side, tops. 

Hell no. 

Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I worked on that bike for 6 days straight. I didn’t do anything else other than the minimal contact with my strength and fitness clients. Every other minute awake was spent in my shed (actually a converted chicken coup) working on that damn bike. I was trying to get it done because I was leaving for a week and returning right when Daytona fall bike week starts and I did not want to miss it. 

By day 6 the bike wasn’t done, but I jumped on a plane and flew to Boston because it was time to go. After spending the afternoon with a good friend in Arlington, I drove to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I stayed with a friend of a friend in an 1850’s farmhouse with the most amazing porch views.  

On day one, my first full day there, I drove up to Conway, NH and rode the vintage Conway rail through the mountains and out to the base of Mt. Washington. I sipped wine and wrote in my private booth while the train slunked its way through the notch and some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. 

On day two I drove south to an undisclosed location in NH to see a relic that I have wanted to see for 25 years. (Read about it in my upcoming article, A Writer’s Pilgrimage.) It was amazing to make that journey after so many years. 

On day three, I hung around the farmhouse with the two dogs that live there, which I inherited as companions when the owner went off to work. I wrote on the porch and took in the beautiful views. 

Day four sent me on a drive out to the coast to Hampton Beach, NH. What a cool little spot. Although everything was pretty much shut down for the winter I could tell it was a fun and happening place in the summer. I found one place open on their last day and had two whole lobsters for lunch. I really caught that 80’s beach movie-boardwalk arcade-fun place vibe there, and my mind labeled it the northern counterpart to Daytona Beach in Florida (my other favorite). I’ll be back in the summer for sure.

From there, I drove up the rocky coast on 1A to Ogunquit, ME where I met another friend for a memorable dinner. I ended that night in a beautiful “cabin” (more like a mid-sized modern home) in the woods of Maine. 

Day five was rainy but very comfortable temperature wise, which was great for northern New England in October. I drove back south to Portsmouth, NH. I couldn’t see much in the rain, but what an amazing little town, founded in the early 1600’s!! Like, the town was founded in 1630, and the streets for the most part still retain the original layout. I would love to go back and spend some time there in the summer, and as luck would have it, it is not far from Hampton Beach. The rain prohibited any pictures unfortunately.

I finished that day out meeting with yet another good friend for dinner in Maine, and had a great conversation about strategic planning and what is to come professionally for me next. In fact, this trip was largely for the purpose of me getting some clarity to make some tough decisions, and we ironed out the final draft of that that night. 

Day 6 I boarded a plane back to Florida. I cut my trip short by one day because the bike still was not finished and I wanted to end this vacation in Daytona Beach for bike week. I drove from Maine to Boston, flew from Boston to Orlando, drove from Orlando to north of Ocala, and then went straight and worked on the bike for a little bit. 

Woke up the next day and spent the whole day on it again. I literally put in the 7th full day spent on that bike and I finally had it up and running again. What a pain in the ass it was. Literally just complication after complication, but I finally got it back together, mostly. 

On Day 8 I got my daughter on the back and we rode the 75 miles to Daytona Beach. The first thing I did was to make a quick stop at Ormond Beach, strip off my boots and jeans and headed straight into the ocean for a walk around in the warm water (don’t worry, I had swimming trunks on). We were privileged to watch two dolphins playing and jumping right near us. I really love the beach, it’s my place for sure. 

We got suited back up and hit A1A for some cruising. The bikes were crazy. We hit Main Street a few times, cruised up and down and then parked to go walk and watch all the bikes go by. We went for another nice drive through the back streets of Daytona and stopped for wings and fries before heading out for the 75 mile ride back through the forest to home. 

I have to say, riding a motorcycle through the national forest in Florida at night is quite an experience. I’ve had a bear run out on me before while I rode through there, and there were signs this week about “high bear activity” with orders to not stop on the highway. So, it made sense that I saw a bear and a deer on my side of the road on the way back. It’s pitch black out in that forest, and it’s like a 40 minute ride through that section and at 65mph+ it’s pretty exhilarating. 

I’m ending my vacation with a day at home, a beautiful Central Florida day on my farm, relaxing and collecting my thoughts about the trip and my upcoming plans. I made a lot of decisions over the last few weeks, from the long nights of solitude cussing at my motorcycle in the shed, to the flying, driving and scenic sitting covering roughly 1700 miles or more, I did a lot of thinking. 

I will be making some big changes in my life and businesses very soon. Make sure to keep an eye out for those announcements.

Advanced Safety: A recent podcast

“Advanced safety” is a term I began to use about a decade ago when I started training firearms on a professional level. It refers to a level of safety that is required if you are going to operate a firearm in a public space, under extreme pressure, with innocent bystanders around. 

This goes way beyond the “range safety” taught to everyone by their local gun instructor guy, all that stuff about keeping the muzzle downrange or down, and not treating the gun as if it’s unloaded, etc. But what about the complex problems of controlling your muzzle during a real fight, when there are running, screaming and freezing panicking people all around you? What about when you have your family, or small children with you? 

In this episode Daniel Shaw and I go in depth about our unique views on safety and how to train it for the fight. 

165 – Advanced Safety | Thinking Beyond the 4 Firearm Safety Rules

When your identity is tied to dogma

A little background on this post: This is primarily about a conversation that didn’t happen around a strength training concept. Even if you are not interested in strength training specifically, there is a general component to this post that should interest any thinker who seeks to pursue meaningful discussions.

It is just one example of the type of things I see in conversations about strength and fitness, gunfighting, combatives, politics, medical issues, and everything else every asshole in the world gets to share their opinion about on social media.

The thing that sparked this particular post came from attempting to have a conversation with another barbell trainer and “author”. In a social media post, he made an absolute statement about “always” doing barbell slowly as a mandate for success.

I politely responded that I agreed with him about having strict form and barbell discipline, but also that velocity based training has been producing great results as well. I linked in an article about VBT velocity based training, from Travis Mash, one of the top strength coaches out there who was not only 3 time world powerlifting champion but also coach to countless D1 athletes, world team weightlifters and professional level athletes.

The response I got was so one-minded that I simply replied, “Ok” and proceeded to completely block the person on social. Here’s why:

VBT is very data driven and has been studied at the high academic level many, many times. Google has an entire search of scholarly articles from major universities and sports performance facilities to look through. The consensus is that it is very useful for measuring performance, periodization can be much more accurate by bypassing 1RM protocols and working within the athlete’s current fatigue level for optimization by basing prescriptions on actual performance vs percentages or unmeasurable RPE, it allows for similar measures of force and power output with less time under tension which lowers training stress overall, the time to perform a workout can be significantly reduced (saving time and costs for coaching) but VBT produces reliably similar enough results to slow eccentric training to qualify based on cost benefit analysis alone. It also works well for peaking an athlete due to lower intensity loads producing less fatigue and quicker recoveries while still improving performance, and it helps to offset exclusively training the body to move slowly when the athlete’s sport or fight will require speed, and there are many more reasons it is practical and applicable.

This “trainer” had a simple response, “No. They are all wrong.” Here, read my articles about me saying that slow lifts recruit as many muscle fibers as fast lifts, and probably more, with no data to back it up.

Sure. All these studies, universities, and more importantly real coaches who are themselves world champions and have been producing D1 and championship level athletes from scratch, are all wrong. Meanwhile, you in your garage gym, you have all the secrets…

Is VBT the absolute truth to performance? No. But I would never make a statement like that. It’s a tool in the toolbox of a competent coach who knows shit. Periodization is a thing, and the more tools you have the more optimization capabilities you have for any of your athletes or clients. Can you achieve fast twitch fiber fatigue with slow bar speeds, probably, but that doesn’t mean you throw out everything else that may work. Sometimes, one method will be better, other times another method would be more optimal. And let’s not forget that there are other benefits and goals outside of just looking for fast twitch recruitment.

Even crazy ass Louie Simmons was incorporating VBT as a component at Westside back in the early 90’s within his conjugate system, and subsequently he produced over 150 world records out of that gym, so this shit isn’t new. It’s just that now we have the technology to accurately measure it and gain data from individual lifters under various conditions.

To ignore ANY of the data driven and tried & true methods and say many of the top performing coaches, teams and athletes are wrong? No, you’re wrong. Too wrong to correct. Incorrigible. Sure, I could destroy you in front of all of your followers, but it would only devolve immediately into an argument in which you will never concede anything and I don’t have time, nor am I getting paid, to correct you or the countless other assholes out there full of their own bullshit.

Choosing a hill like that to die on is the mark of an amateur, primarily because it’s a sidebar. It’s a tool that has limited uses, as with ANY method out there. To stand on one method to the point of completely disregarding any other evidence based methods is just unacceptable. It’s sad that influencers like this are sapping money from people while not pursuing a high standard of knowledge for themselves as an obligation to those who follow and pay them.

If he came back with, “Well, I don’t agree with it because…” or “They may not be totally wrong, but I believe slow bar speed creates the same effect based on…” then maybe there’s a conversation. But “No. They are all wrong, go read my articles about why I am right” is not a response that will engage me. Your opinion suddenly becomes about as meaningful as any homeless person I may encounter on the street.

It brings to mind the central problem here, that the belief in your method becomes so strong that you see other methods as either threats or competition, so you must shut them out or call them names. Much like the attitudes I encountered during my foray into Crossfit coaching for a year and their prevalent views that “globo gym” workouts are stupid and Crossfit is the ULTIMATE method for strength and fitness (an attitude that completely disrespects and ignores about 80 years of developed barbell wisdom, and it shows).

And as I stated in the beginning, this isn’t just limited to the fitness world. You see it everyday in the vicious arguments on social media and now in our streets about politics, race, religion and medical issues. People’s beliefs are so tied to their identity now that they can’t step back and learn anything anymore.

The “gurus” and “experts” have latched onto a dogmatism so tightly that they can’t relinquish it without sacrificing their credibility (although in reality they already have). And average people then become the parrots of these influencers, even adopting their dedication to beliefs or methods and the willingness to fight other ideas for them.

Unlike many of my associates with high tolerances, my own cost benefit analysis of my time expenditure leads me to immediately drop people online, opting to better spend my time doing work that is doing one of the following: helping someone directly or reaching larger audiences. It’s a bonus when I am also getting paid to do it.

I also truly believe that one of the solutions to this problem is to not give them an audience. Giving them attention and an audience is what they need. Starve them of it. They don’t deserve it. Block and forget, that is what they are worth.

Half a day of going back and forth with a knuckledragger online is half a day of real programming I could do for my real clients. It’s half a day of writing I could get done, writing that I get paid for and/or that goes out and guides others on a larger scale (like this post). Forget wasting energy on one lost cause, when there are plenty of opportunities to help the receptive people in our lives.

Security in an era of Violence

So, it’s been an eventful weekend here in the U.S. The presence of guns, as predicted, has escalated to even more shots going off- some intentional, some not, all are equally dangerous. While I would love to write another pleasant lifestyle story about me learning to trim horse hooves or my journey to re-open my training gym, here I am compelled to write about the pressing issue of the clear escalation of violence in our nation today…

I’ll start this post off by stating that I am not here to pick sides in any of these arguments. My business is safety, health and security, and my perspective is solely based on those goals. I caution all of my readers to think objectively and to stay firmly in line with your personal mission in life. Don’t get dragged into an emotional fight unnecessarily.

Armed protester shot to death in Austin

The guy in the attached video was shot to death not long after this, his last interview ever.

A few points to remember:

  • Don’t show up strapped unless you’re ready to lay it all down.
  • Any time you open the door to violence, you don’t get to pick who comes out at you, and you can’t put them back in once they’re out.

Details are unclear, but it appears that a vehicle attempted to drive through the protest and this man approached the vehicle with his rifle. He got shot to death by the occupant of the vehicle.

It’s interesting to listen to the deceased mother talk about what an amazing human being her son was. While this may or not have been true, the reality is he showed up at a protest openly armed and that means he invited conflict, whether he truly realized that or not. An unnecessary conflict ended in death, and that’s what happens when you venture out into the public posturing with weapons and “standing your ground”.

Protests, Weapons and “militias”

In other news, an estimated 350 armed NFAC militia members descended on Louisville, KY. This is notably a significant number AND a significant distance away from their home base in Atlanta, GA.

They had a negligent discharge and injured their own members. While not surprising, it shows how dangerous they really are, both in terms of open carrying locked and loaded weapons and in the fact that they are careless enough to accidentally kick something off if not deliberately.

This same group showed up just as strong at a confederate monument in Georgia and were seen harassing drivers at gun point earlier this month. 

It’s important to remember that a lack of training or discipline is in no way a reduction in the dangerousness of any individual or group. From 95-pound rice farmers in Vietnam, to illiterate goat herders in rural Afghanistan, all the way to teenage Somali children emerging from grass huts with AK’s in Africa, hundreds of thousands of souls have been laid to rest at the hands of determined, scared and angry untrained fighters.

We are entering a new era, ladies and gentlemen. Prepare yourselves, and always act in line with your mission.

Self-defense and staying safe

Here are a few tips to keep yourself safe in the coming months in the ongoing destabilization of our country.

  • Establish your mission with complete clarity. If your mission is to keep yourself and your loved ones safe so you can live out a happy, long life together, simply stick to that and don’t go seeking out conflict over some arbitrary principles. Know your mission and let that guide your choices always. For more on “mission” and how to recognize and prepare for extreme violence, check out my book Violence of Mind.
  • Avoid mob violence by avoiding mobs. Don’t show up at protests and your likelihood of having a violent altercation or of being injured as a bystander to one will diminish to pretty much zero.
  • Keep an eye on what is happening in your area as well as in any area you will be traveling to. Avoidance doesn’t happen by accident, it must be a deliberate effort. Protests and violence are popping up all over the country and you have to be proactive to avoid it. Places to look would be local reddit threads, local Facebook groups and Snap Maps, to name a few. Find ways to quietly watch active groups on all sides of the divisions in your area.
  • If you are caught in a mob situation, find the fastest way with the least resistance to the nearest exit out of the situation. If you choose to “stand your ground” or plow through the protest, people (including you and anyone with you) can and will be in great danger. Act accordingly.
  • Angry mobs are easily incited. It’s the proverbial “powder keg” that only needs a match. Don’t be the match. Yes, it may anger you. You may even feel threatened. Remember the rules of self-defense: Don’t initiate or escalate any conflict, avoid and evade whenever safely possible, defend yourself effectively and justifiably when you have exhausted all other avenues of avoidance and are left with no other choice when presented with a clear threat that shows the means, opportunity and intent to do serious harm.
  • Keep a cool head. Don’t allow yourself to be dragged down into the psychological swamp of division and hatred getting pushed by all major media outlets and platforms. If you feel yourself having an emotional reaction to a headline or social media post, STOP yourself right there and re-take control of your thoughts. Remember, the foundation of an effective combat mindset is self-control under all conditions. The minute you allow an outside stimulus to anger or excite you from a remote distance, you are forfeiting control of your emotions and decision making, and you will compromise your mission to failure.
  • Have the provisions for both self-defense and self-treatment for medical emergencies. Don’t get caught without a means to equal forces and defend yourself against armed or numerous attackers. Likewise, have the equipment to self-treat yourself and others in the event that someone is seriously injured and you need to buy time to get them to primary care. A CAT tourniquet and a few trauma medical “stop the bleed” supplies is a minimum requirement.
  • Seek out training. Take it seriously. If you haven’t done so yet, you are behind the curve. Training with your firearm is only part of the equation. You should be taking care of your fitness and strength. You should be seeking out force-on-force training like my upcoming class in Okeechobee, FL August 23, or my shoothouse based class in Alliance, Ohio in October, to gain the experience of simulated gunfights, learning how to deal with fast, complex problems when lethality is the consequence.

I am deeply disturbed by the condition of the world we are living in today. From the devastation and confusion surrounding the cornonavirus pandemic, to the destabilization caused by violent protests and growing group clashes, this world is just not in good shape right now. I would personally much rather live in a world where we are all working towards greater things, in our own lives and for the world around us.

But we are not in that world right now. We have to continue to try our best to live good lives and impact the world in positive ways, but we also have to prepare for the worst and deal with reality accordingly. While I sincerely hope that we can get ourselves back on track and out of the path of mass casualty violence, it doesn’t appear that we will be able to do that anytime soon.

Prepare accordingly. Clarify your mission and stick to it in all decisions. One way or another, I will work to see the good in us victorious on the other side of this.

Lessons from Seattle: Shooter Rughi

Lessons from Seattle

I recently co-hosted an interview with @_shooter_rughi_ on the Gunfighter Cast with Daniel Shaw. He’s the guy often referred to as the “Weapon Snatcher” during the Seattle riots a few days back. This is a particularly good episode for several reasons. He did it right. He was legitimately the “grey man” (a badly overused term) in that crowd. He went into the operation with mission clarity, an understanding of deep concealment, pragmatic weapon and gear selection (not just carrying a bunch of kit because it’s cool or people say too)…there are a lot of good lessons in that one, including a couple practical demonstrations of things I talk about in Violence of Mind.

For a little background, “Rughi” (the moniker is a nickname turned into an Instagram handle) is a former Marine turned security contractor who was working personal security for a local news team. He was actually in comms with Shaw before he went into the Marine Corps back in the day.

Check out The Weapon Snatcher: Shooter Rughi.

DIMINISHING RETURNS: OVERTRAINING AND LIFESTYLE

In the firearms training world we preach “practice practice practice!” In fitness it’s often, “Train hard! Train often!” However, there is a point where putting in more effort will result in negative results rather than positive rewards. I’ve personally hit my own wall of degradation of skills many times as the result of putting a massive effort out. I’m sure most of you have as well.

There are 3 ways to look at diminishing returns for training.

  • Diminishing Returns in the Training Session
  • Diminishing Returns over the Long Term
  • Diminishing Returns of Lifestyle

 Saturation: Diminishing Returns in The Training Session

This is a pretty simple concept. There is a certain point during one single training session that if you keep going, you are not going to gain any more improvements. In fact, in fitness or firearms training you could actually hurt your progress or yourself. Think about physically working out to the point of exhaustion, where your muscles can not successfully perform the movements any more. Continuing to work through that post-fatigue level of exhaustion can not only work against you but eventually it becomes dangerous as the muscles can no longer do the job of protecting the tendons, cartilage and joints from damage while under load.

The same thing happens in firearms training, and it can be as much mental as it is physical. I’ve found in running my own courses that the average student typically hits a serious wall at about 6 to 7 hours of range time and coursework. There’s mental and physical fatigue, lack of concentration, degradation of skills and most importantly, a degradation of safety awareness. You can tell when it begins to happen. Groupings that were good all day will begin to open up, and mechanics such as draw stroke and reloading will become sloppy. When the instructor calls out another course of fire, your eyes slightly roll back and an expression of “oh joy” drapes over your face. You’re tired, spent and your commitment to each movement is waning fast.

When it comes to firearms, this is the point to call it a day and be happy with a full effort for a full day of training. If you did not hit specific goals, it’s ok. Pushing past this point won’t help you reach them and the harder you try to push it the farther away those goals will get. It’s also the point where safety awareness begins to fade under the weight of mental drain and physical fatigue and mistakes become more likely. With firearms, there is no room for mistakes, since they can be life-changing or life-ending.

There is a technique of training just into the point of diminishing returns that I am a fan of. Basically, it means not quitting at the first sign of becoming weary. There’s that point where sometimes you’re ready to quit, but it’s well before you’re spent or drained. There’s a short opportunity there to push your limitations, force yourself to pull it back together and perform at your higher level for just a bit longer. 

I would argue it’s more of an exercise for mindset than for improving skills. Overcoming the desire to shut down and forcing yourself to focus is a form of stress training and does work. Doing this correctly will help you perform better under stress and helps to build stronger character. But remember, this in no way means pushing into that dangerous territory of mental and physical fatigue or forgetfulness when it comes to safety awareness.

The same holds true for accomplishing strength gains or increases in capabilities in fitness training. Pushing past that first urge to quit, to give in and not do another set, another run, is where the boundaries of your work capacity begin to get pushed out. But eventually fatigue both physical and mental will take over and your form will deteriorate with your capability. You will, at that point, be doing too much damage and risking injury. 

The trick is knowing when to actually walk away and save it for the next session, which is another reason to have the guidance of an experienced coach or instructor. 

Adaptation Threshold: Diminishing Returns over The Long Term

This is the one unavoidable instance of diminishing returns. Basically, the better you get and the more capable you become, the less improvements you will gain from training sessions. This applies to fitness activities as well as to fighting skills such as firearms training. In the early days of your training endeavor, you are brand new and have close to zero skills or fitness level. When you start at the bottom you get your first gains quickly. 

In fitness training, nearly any program or method you try at first will give you good results. Basically just getting off the couch and becoming active will make you better rather quickly. But as time goes on, those methods, workouts, rep ranges, etc. will not have the same affect. Your body will adapt and you will become more resistant to adaptation, which is the desired result of training. That is where quality coaching, experimentation and good programming come in to help you continue to grow.

For firearms, with decent instruction you can go from unsure and cumbersome, lacking the ability to hit a target, to confidently handling the weapon and hitting a target in really short order, often after just one day. Spend a little more time and you start to get better groupings of your shots. However, as those groups start to tighten up, the improvements begin to come a bit harder. It’s easier to go from not grouping your shots to shooting 10” groups in the torso of a silhouette than it is to work 5” groups down to 2.5” groups. Patience and persistence will overcome this. You just have to be aware that you will hit plateaus and you have to push through and keep working at it.

Diminishing Returns of Lifestyle

Diminishing returns due to lifestyle is a bit more complicated, and probably the most important one to fix. There are endless factors that combine to affect your training abilities and the rewards you will get from that training. I am speaking mainly to those of you who are ambitious and are actively pursuing an increase in your shooting performance and/or physical fitness on a regular basis. I mentioned that I’ve hit my own walls of diminishing returns. The worst wall, for me, is due to lifestyle. 

Everything affects your performance: how much sleep you get, what you eat, when you eat, stress levels, work schedules…every factor will enhance or diminish your performance. As you get older, the impact those factors have on your performance becomes magnified. Once I hit 40, even something as simple as not getting a full night’s sleep can seriously affect a day of fitness or shooting performance for me. 

We all have our own physical and mental issues that need tending to on a regular basis. For example, if you are sensitive to carbs, or you are diabetic or hypoglycemic, you can forget about shooting nice groups at any considerable distance if you don’t eat correctly that day. Likewise, if you try pushing through a hard workout you could end up unconscious on the floor. The examples are endless but it’s easy for you to understand what your own issues are if you take the time to log your inputs and your outcomes and compare the notes after a few times. 

Using my own example, I used to have a habit of letting my ambition run me straight into the ground. I can remember working 80 to 100 hour weeks regularly. This resulted in a multitude of problems. The administrative tasks of my business ran late into the night causing me to lose sleep consecutively day after day. The busy work schedule prohibited proper eating. The stresses wear my mind down to mental fatigue. Do you see the negatives stacking up there?

Nothing will destroy your performance or your ability to recover from performance like the accumulative effects of insufficient sleep, poor nutrition and stress. On top of this, we can allow a busy schedule to prohibit regular practice and training. It can happen even if you work in the business; it’s easy to be the proverbial mechanic who’s own car doesn’t run properly. So, it’s no mystery why over a few months you will watch your groups begin to open up, your mechanics become sloppy, and eventually you venture out onto the range or into the gym and your performance is nothing other than bad. 

Why is this an example of diminishing returns? All of our hard work each week is put toward a goal. At a certain point you’re just putting out maximum effort but you are spread out too thin and you are hurting your performance and thereby hurting your ability to attain your overall goal. The returns for your efforts are diminishing. 

In some ways, you are hurting your goals because you are repeatedly performing things incorrectly, which makes them a trained performance. You are training yourself to do it poorly. 

Of course, this is reversible. When I get fixated on a goal I pursue it relentlessly and will burn myself down to get to it. I’ve ran across a lot of students and athletes who exhibit this same intensity in their desire to shoot well or perform well on the field or in the gym. If you are forcing your shooting training into your life where it doesn’t fit, you will not get what you want out of it. Sometimes we need to sit down and prioritize and, sometimes, sacrifices need to be made. The fix is there. If you are unhealthy or unhappy, figure out why and fix it.

 Breaking the Plateaus of Training

When you reach plateaus, places where diminishing returns seem to halt all progress, take the time to examine your regiment and your lifestyle to determine what you can change to disrupt that plateau. It’s that old saying about not getting different results as long as you keep doing the same things. Sometimes, it’s technique related. For example, if you have spent a lot of time doing speed, tactical and “combat” type drills, your accuracy could easily suffer. For fitness, if you spent a lot of time doing slow, heavy lifting, after a while your body is trained to move slow, it makes sense that you will find fast, explosive movements to be subpar in performance. 

The easy remedy is to change up your routine and start doing some work to push your effective range out to farther distances and holding yourself to higher accuracy standards, or to change your fitness training to include more movements and methods. You have to cycle your workouts, vary your rep ranges and intensity levels and venture into different programs to reach new goals.

Lifestyle causes are a bit harder to change, but it can be done. While most people can’t quit their jobs and go on a quest to achieve a mystical level of skill, you can adjust how you sleep, eat and improve your fitness level. Shooting, especially the active endeavor of defensive shooting, is also a physical activity. Improving your strength and fitness level will improve your abilities in defensive or competition shooting. Your core and grip strength increases, your speed improves, and your “combat stress” is more easily regulated due to a lower resting heart rate, a slower climbing heart rate and a faster heart rate recovery time.

The point is that there is a solution for most problems leading to diminishing returns. But it does require change. It requires doing things sometimes that are not fun, or working on things that might not be the “focus” of your goals but will hoist you over the plateau and on to the next level of your performance potential. Working hard is a good thing, but working too hard for diminishing results is not working smart. Identify your goals, work hard to reach them, and improve or change any factors in your routine or lifestyle that might slow or obstruct those goals in any way.

Physical Conditioning: In Conclusion

         There are many great ways to get in shape, be stronger, healthier and live longer. Some are definitely better than others so you need to find what fits your lifestyle and your goals. Seek out proper guidance and coaching if possible; if not, then get on YouTube and make a go of it.  Much of what I talked about in this section can be done with moderate equipment at home that can be purchased $50 to $100 at a time. The important thing to remember is that no matter what your “mission” is, whether it is to be a warrior, a professional in law enforcement, or a hard to kill civilian, none of it is realistic without the physical fitness to carry your ass through to it. And, as I have said before, if your mission is to be safe so you can live a long and happy life with your family, then you will be just as concerned about your health as you will about all of the cool tactical shit.

Reflecting on four years of change

Yesterday was a typical weekend day here in Florida: I hiked in the forest to a hidden lake with my daughter and my Great Dane. We had a picnic by the lake and hiked some more. Then we went home and got the Road King out and took a ride into the National Forest to do some swimming in the beautiful springs of the forest. I floated around under the palm trees on a huge pink flamingo, swam with my daughter, and then we rode back through the forest on a beautiful sunny afternoon and headed back to the farm for dinner.

Laying on that float, I did some reflecting:

Two years ago this week, I was quietly packing my things to move 1000 miles away to Florida. I didn’t tell anyone, aside from the one friend who had to help me pack and swore an NDA to not tell a soul.

I had finally made some strong decisions in my life. First, I was never going to let anyone abuse me again in any relationship–girlfriend, wife, family member, boss, co-worker–no one. I decided that a peaceful life in solitude is better than a tormented life in servitude.

I also made the decision to put my own health and wellness first, above relationships, jobs or projects. Having been a fitness professional and at least a part-time athlete for much of my life, I knew better.

But I was misled into believing that “being responsible” meant sacrificing your own health and wellness to accomplish external (usually financial) goals. That could not be more incorrect. If you are not strong and healthy, everything you put forth diminishes. It’s just how it is.

All this had gone on for a year and a half before the move to Florida, so I had a good head start. In that time, I accomplished a lot, including publishing my first book (and it was very successful for a self-published work).

I also took ownership of my own story, choosing to embrace who I am and take the power away from those who would use my story against me. No more hiding my past. It’s mine. If you don’t like it, then go away, I don’t need you.

I didn’t tell anyone about my plans to move because my mind was made up, and there was no reason to listen to all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work, or that I would be back, on and on ad nauseam.

People are always quick to tell you how something you want to do or some idea you have will not work. I knew to just not even give them the chance.

Now, for two years, they’ve watched me through social media living a pretty good life in the sun down here in the FL. I live on a few acres out in the country, with my horse, my dog, and now my oldest daughter.

Like anyone else, I have some problems, and I struggle still with rebuilding my life after divorce, custody battles, and a life of mistakes and hardships.

I fought an intense custody battle for the past year and a half for my two daughters, against a woman I have been divorced from for 13 years now, and ultimately got to have my oldest with me full-time for her entire senior year of high school, which was worth every bit of it.

That battle put a damper on my financial health, and also on my business with my being emotionally drained and distracted for much of 2019. I wasn’t able to finish the next 3 books I’m working on in that time, either. I lost my youngest daughter for a second time, which was one of the three hardest losses I’ve felt in my life. I suffered it all quietly, in peaceful solitude.

But here’s the difference now: I cut off the patterns. I cut off the toxic people. I cut off the neglect of my own heart, mind and body. All of my problems today, are residual from a life of bad decisions, and they are one-by-one being eliminated and cleaned up. Not one significant problem I have today was created solely and independently in the last 4 years. After 40 years, I finally stopped the madness.

And I waited.

I waited for the right people to come into my life. I did not settle. Not for friends, not for work, and not for a companion. I didn’t let loneliness drive me into bad relationships, or to hang out where I would simply be around people without regard to what type of people they really were.

I didn’t hang out with people or be “friends” with people just because it could help my business or career. In fact, choosing not to do so hindered my career growth in many ways. But that’s ok…

I was patient. I created my standards, and no matter how high or seemingly unattainable they were, I stuck to them, resigned to a life of peaceful solitude if they could not be met.

That patience paid off. I may not be wealthy, and could even be considered financially poor by some standards, but my actual life is pretty dreamy. I wake up on a beautiful piece of property in rural Central Florida.

The sun is almost always shining, I walk out into my yard and am greeted by my faithful dog, and my beautiful mare, an American paint, in my pasture (who happens to be quite an amazing horse). The birds are almost always singing. The neighbors have horses and goats and small cattle that border my fence line. I’m surrounded by wildlife, nature, animals.

Within a 1.5 hour drive I have both coasts of Florida, beaches, springs, rivers, the National Forest and several State Parks full of amazing beauty. There’s also the cities, theme parks and lots of attractions if I’m in the mood for that. I have a few Harleys, and live where riding weather is year round and great.

I have my outside gym platform, sufficient equipment, a firepit, and I can sit in my yard and never see a neighbor. I coach in the evenings at the most awesome Crossfit/weightlifting gym in the region helping people improve both through Crossfit and Olympic Weightlifting.

I also run my own remote coaching business with several great clients who work hard, which allows me to watch them develop into stronger, healthier humans.

I am well into my life-long dream of making a living as a writer, with a successful book and some other lucrative writing deals going. I largely make my own schedule and my time is owned by me.

Most of all, I am cultivating relationships with some great people; people of amazing quality that I previous thought didn’t even exist. Comparing the people I meet now–after spending years to turn life around and focus on living my own quality life–to the people I used to meet on my path before, it just really blows my mind.

Relationships like this were unattainable to me in my prior mindset. It took real change to make this happen, and that change was not easy or quick. It’s not that I was a bad person or doing bad things, I just hadn’t understood the difference between true motivation and surface presentation, and how important it is to clearly know that difference both in yourself and in others.

Here’s what I have learned four years later:

A peaceful life in solitude is always better than a tormented life in servitude.

Your health and wellness have to come first, it is the foundation for all things you want to be or do in this life.

A peaceful life of solitude focused on health and wellness cultivates you into a high quality person, and will lead you to attract high quality people into your life.

Patience is the way to true fulfillment. This is true for self-development as much as it is for skill development and even for finding fulfilling relationships.

Your real motivations, and the real motivations of others, are exposed through the totality of actions. See what is there, and you will be able to make great decisions with good outcomes.

Anything worth having will take patience, work, fortitude, incredible amounts of faith, planning, spontaneity, pain, joy, fear, courage, and every other strength or skill that you can muster. We have to earn the great things in life, and we have to be strong enough to cultivate and maintain them. The universe has a way of doling out what we earn. If you don’t control what you earn in this life, someone else will, and it will not be pleasant.

And last but not least, Florida is beautiful and fun and I am not leaving any time soon.

I share this reflection with my readers to offer both some insight and encouragement. You can change your life, and if you want it to change, YOU have to do it.

That faith word got a seemingly passing mention in this article, but believe me it is at times the only thing you will have to go on. You will need it. Faith in yourself and faith in God, or the universe. The rest is hard work and the willingness to fight for what you want.

Fighting isn’t always forceful or violent. In fact, the hardest battles are the ones that go on in quiet, lonely solitude. I’ve suffered some great injustices in my life, many before I was even old enough to understand. This led to many mistakes on my part. But today, I am in control.

Be strong, cultivate your faith, raise your standards and don’t stop moving forward and growing. You’ll get there. If I can travel the great distance I did to get here, surely you can cover the distance that sits in front of you.