I’m not going to say my childhood was all bad and I had it worse than any other kid. That is a matter of perspective. Most of it was really good, but when it came to sports that was another matter.There was an inherent fear inside me every time my neighborhood “friends” gathered at the local school yard to play baseball or football.
God forbid if we ever played basketball or hockey. I looked like a reject from the days of Sparta. My parents would have cast me out just for my ungainly moves, like a chicken running around with its head cut off. Yes, that is correct, the guy who worked with 15 Pro UFC fighters, pioneered MMA conditioning techniques, published his own MMA fitness DVD series and still writes for “Fighters Only” was a born loser.
How do I know that? From the daily glares I received from my “friends.” As they say over here, “ The proof was in the pudding.” I barely got on base when I played baseball and forget about catching a fly ball. No way! In football, I was ham-fisted when catching or throwing the ball. The only sport I had half a chance of playing was softball because the ball was so big.
It was not my fault, I know that now. I was just a step behind everyone else, slower to develop. I’m sure you either know this kid or were this kid, the one who was a little less coordinated and less athletic than everyone else. This led to endless bullying by my “friends” in the neighborhood. The problem was my whole world was that neighborhood. I had nowhere to escape.
Now as fate would have it, my luck was going to change, unfortunately, for the worse. I never had the killer instinct or the athletic instinct in me. My father was not an athlete but he tried. He could handle his own with people and the like. The problem was his was health was deteriorating and I did not realize how unhealthy he was. On February 19th in 1979, he had landed in the hospital about a month prior.
I was twelve-years-old at the time. Even at fifty, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a school vacation week, and although I was off, I had to get up and deliver my newspapers. I remember my dad being very proud of me that I had started a job. When I returned home, a familiar car was parked out in front of my house. I walked in calling for my mom, who was in the kitchen but I could not see her.
It was strange because even at twelve I sensed a different energy in the house, like out of the movie The Sixth Sense. My father’s best friend met me before I made it to the kitchen. He sat me down and told me my father had passed away. My reaction was not what you would expect. I laughed out loud more than once. At twelve, you don’t think about your parents dying, I laughed because it simply could not true! Then it hit me like left hook to face. My whole world just collapsed in a one single moment. I don’t think I have ever felt more alone in my life then that day. I don’t think I ever felt more desperate or scared in my life.
The next week was a blur. The wakes, the funerals, the people and all the other bullshit. Yes I said it. “Bull shit.” How could people walk up to a casket and say, “He looks so good in that suit.” How can my dad look good when he’s dead? Or is “ there anything you need at all.” I would answer in my head “Yeah, a father!!”
I know they meant well. I’m glad I hit the pause button on my responses. I did not know or understand that concept yet, but I got it. There was something else that was building inside me that I could not quite understand. I could feel this intense heat and did not know where it emanated from. It was a mystery, like knowing a word but not being able to express it. Then, one day, my aunt Dee sat down next to me and asked me how I felt. I answered, “Like I want to hit something!” It was rage inside a twelve-year-old’s body, I finally realized, and I did not know what to do with it.
The next few weeks sucked, and I was treated like a leper in the hood. I also noticed a change in attitude by my “friends” towards me. Unfortunately, it was not in a good way. Their teasing, which previously was confined to sports, was now every day and was quite physical and psychological. My best friend since we were toddlers was the mastermind behind this new torture. I was beat up almost daily. They were just causing havoc, damaging my mom’s car, throwing rocks at my house. In my head, I’m thinking, “ How can this be right? This is not fair!”
My rage engulfed me. I did not know what to do with it. It was like a volcano about ready to erupt. But I did not know how or when. My torment went on for what it seemed like years. I realized at twelve-years-old I had to be 21-years-old now. My first summer after my father died was the loneliest I have ever been. I had no father, no friends, and no life. I would often walk to my father’s grave and speak to him, asking for his help and guidance. I was in a very dark place, which I thought would never end nor would I emerge from.
Then a small miracle happened. That miracle came in the form of my Uncle Henry. He had found out what was going on in the hood and stop by a week before I would start eighth grade. He offered me something. Something I never expected. He offered to pay for me to go to KARATE.
At the time I didn’t really know what it was. He said, “You need to learn how to defend yourself. I learned in the Navy. This place, United Studios Of Self Defense, will help you.” He said, “I know things are tight with money and I’ll pay for half.” I was in shock to say the least! I said, “Sure I’ll try that.” Inside I was screaming, “YES!”
Now I’m sure my uncle had all the best intentions in the world. He thought when I learned how to defend myself, I could put these bullies in their place. I don’t think he realized he had fed me something much bigger than that. He gave me my first love, martial arts. It did not happen right away. To be honest I don’t know when the light switch went off but it did. It fed that raging lion inside me. This is where a good instructor comes in. This is where a good coach comes in. This is where you realize that you are not worthless and things can improve.
This is when you realize the word “practice” means everything. You find meaning for your life. You find that one thing that speaks to you. Martial arts was my saving grace. Getting back to my uncle, I don’t think he realized what he started would became a thirty-seven year love affair. The other concept I learned from martial arts was to speak up and ask for help. That was a shocker for a while. I had been bullied so much by my friends, you start thinking everyone sucks. This was not the case in the dojo. I learned:
These concepts were new to me, but I began to internalize them. They became part of me, giving me direction and purpose. I became comfortable at asking more experienced students for help. So much so that the twenty-something “Rock”-looking types helped me in our school’s weight lifting room. That started love affair number two!
The last time I weight trained was when one of my “friends” got one of those cement filled plastic weight lifting sets from WalMart. We were ten-years-old and tried all the movements on the home workout chart they gave you. The next day all of us that lifted thought we had gone five rounds with Conor McGregor. This time it was different. Someone with more knowledge trained me correctly. They took an interest in helping me because we shared the same interest.
In essence, I had aligned myself quickly with someone I barely knew because he had similar goals. He wanted to succeed and he wanted me to as well. This gave me hope and faith. It also gave me 16-inch arms at sixteen-years-old and abs like a wash board, but that’s not the point. The combo of marital arts and weight training raised my confidence levels to heights I had never imagined! I actually got really good at something for once.
At this point you are probably thinking do you “take care” (beat the snot out of them) of your so called “friends” in the hood? I did dispatch one of them after a month of martial arts. My so called “best friend” since childhood. Unfortunately as you get older and go to bigger schools you meet newer people. My “best friend” in particular was very good at manipulating people.
Since he could not handle me anymore, he sent other people that were much larger than me to do his dirty work. This was a new challenge I had to face and did not know how. The new bully was six feet tall and at least 200 pounds. I was a mere 5’ 4” and 130 pounds soaking wet. Fear crept back, the mind killer was back in the form of what I thought was a mountain of a kid.
Unfortunately, my rage also grew stronger as well. Although the martial arts and weight lifting helped my confidence, I felt my rage still growing to the point of fearing I would use it one day in the worst way. Several times a day, I daydreamed beating the snot out of my bullies. I began putting my fists through plaster walls in our hallway. As well as head-butting walls and breaking chairs with my kicks. My mother, in response, bought me a 50 pound heavy bag. I broke it in half in a week. She bought me a 75 pound bag that lasted quite a bit longer.
Then I discovered something quite interesting. I discovered my basement wall. A guy in his twenties from my gym was a kick boxer and all-around tough guy. He knew the trouble I was having with this bigger bully and coached me to start kicking the wall. I thought he was nuts! He said, “If you put all your effort into kicking the wall, that’s what will go into this bully. You hit him like that and it will be lights out.”
I trained every day to beat this bully to a pulp. I lifted every day. I became a tank that was unstoppable. I was quickly achieving my first goals at the the dojo “black belt!” I thought once I reached that level I would be able to handle this mountain, this challenge. I despised this kid and he was going to pay and pay dearly.
I did become a black belt at a mere age of 17 years. I did build myself to be able to bench press 320 pounds, while weighing only 150 pounds. I did all that I needed to do to conquer that bully, to smash him into oblivion! I wanted to put him six feet under! No Joke.
And then … I did not have to. That’s right did I not have to do it. I wanted to. I really wanted to! But at the end of the day I learned the most important thing when it came down to martial arts and especially self-defense. Self-defense is not just physical. Self-defense is mental, emotional, and spiritual. I had a choice to use my mind and teachings not to fight. I could win without fighting? Really? Could I? Not just from the bullies but from my internal rage.
I realized in that thirty-second moment, when it came down to it that all of life is a Choice and Intention. I had all the intentions of killing this person and he knew it, but I had the choice not to do it. I had won this battle and my internal battle without lifting a finger. In effect I had conquered my demons. I had won for myself and my father. If I had followed through on my intentions, I would probably be writing this from my jail cell and not writing to you about all of my success in life .
What has this to with you the reader? A lot. We all struggle from time to time and have our challenges. Some worse than others. That is part of life and life is not fair. If you can make peace with that, you are ahead of the game.
Now I’m not some life guru or wise old Yoda. However, I have been here for fifty years and have built myself up from the worst possible athlete to the strength coach pioneer of 15 UFC fighters. I have built a successful fitness business. I have built myself up from the worst athlete to who I am today. That all happened because of what I learned from the time my father passed until now. Build monuments in your life.
Written By: Guest Blogger Kevin Kearns
Kevin runs a fitness business called Burn With Kearns. He has trained many professional MMA fighters as well as well as everyday people looking to get fit. He’s also the author of Always Picked Last, a book about dealing with bullying. He’s working on turning his story into a movie.
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