I had to go within three inches below my belly button and realize that the true teacher was inside of me. Through the screams, emotions, pain and tears, I began to become one with my movement and that allowed me to make it through twelve months of incarceration in a maximum-security prison without a fight, sex, drugs and any old behavior that got me there.

Because of the foundation I came from, all of the tools I needed were inside of me because my kung fu journey was always about becoming a complete martial artist, which is 360 degrees of knowledge. Yes, a person that understands the blending of hard and soft and soft and hard and being an individual that strives to be a great person, a great technician, a great student, a great parent, a great husband and a great teacher.

Transforming My Life

I learned to use my movement to transform my life and wisely develop a daily workout plan to achieve the highest level of martial arts expression. In developing a deeper ground and spiritual heights, I earned a dollar a day for eight hours of work. It was that spiritual connection to everything that brought me closer to God, a harmonizing liberation that was once unheard of for me.

As the spiritual harmonizing liberation of my mind, body and spirit began to work together for the greater good, all things seemed beyond control to me. By approaching each day as a boy, open to the creative wonders to manifest my dreams and change from within in order to break the cycle that ultimately landed me in jail.

As my movement supported my next level of growth, fighting, yes fighting wisely and training proficiently with each day focused on combat and fitness. At this point of my training, it was more about the attributes I needed to have to bring a mindful flow to all I do. This was the part of being ready to express myself, telling my story and being true to myself. There is a saying that goes like this, “Who we are is God’s gift to us and what we do with this gift is our gift back to God.

This approach to my transformation showed me how to live in the seconds of each minute, making sure the small, unseen things empower me. A transformation of such magnitude was a struggle because I had to surrender in order to win. Yes, I had to let go of all I thought I knew as I became more effective in all aspects of my life; cutting out all wasted time. My daily journey included praying, writing, meditation, listening to music, studying people skills, communication development, business planning, practicing UMAC (Universal Martial Arts Concepts) and script writing. Yes, I created two plans for success, my negative lifestyle plan and my positive lifestyle plan. Through all of this, I learned to love me and became my own best friend.

Discover Yourself

The man in the glass, when you get what you want in your struggle for self and the world makes you king for a day. Just go to the mirror and look at yourself and see what that man has to say. For it isn’t your father or mother or wife whose judgement upon you must pass; the fellow whose verdict matters the most in your life is the one starring back from the glass. Some people may think you are a straight-shooting chump and call you a wonderful guy. But the man in the glass says you’re really a bum if you cannot look him straight in the eye. He’s the fellow to please, never mind the rest for he’s with you clear to the end. You’ve passed your most dangerous and difficult test if the man in the glass is your friend. You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years and get pats on the back as you pass, but your final reward will be heartache and tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass. (Note: The author also states this applies to women also.)

I began to discover the holistic universal approach to martial arts rather than a simple egotistical self-gratifying approach. I began to like the benefits of martial arts and how they would help me to live the life of a complete martial artist in this fast-paced world. It’s about universal principles and traditional value with a modern approach. Regardless of which martial arts you practice or your level of experience, this story will help you to dig deep within yourself to find the inner harmony of self-expression and the ability to flow in harmony with the universe. You will see that mixed martial arts is nothing new and that all we have is a stylish display of your own interpretation that is burst upon the ABCs of the entire martial arts family. You begin to understand that martial arts, with a philosophy, does help develop you into a complete martial artist with the mind, body and spirit of a champion. Remember, champions do what they have to do and not what they want to do.

This journey of being complete is never ending and the value of it all is priceless and limitless. We are on a never-ending journey of personal mastery, learning to be as one with all things good and bad. We will use these personal discoveries as stepping stones to personal greatness. I was once asked who mentors the mentor. The answer is the mentor, and this is a must especially when the time comes for you to stand for something or fall or anything. It’s going to be between you and God.

You see, we all need to successfully express one’s self and all that is within us. The teacher, coach, parent or leader is only there to help you discover this creative spirit that provides solutions to all problems. You just have to get out of your own way and trust in the process. Essentially, they are not the motivator, they are an extension of that intense unstoppable force or the urban spirit.

So, on this selfish quest to be your best you will become selfless and a great leader that teaches people to find themselves. Once again, like me, you will realize that when the student is ready the teacher will appear and spiritual teacher is the God within us all.

The above is an original article by Willie “The Bam” Johnson, author of The Complete Martial Artist: Developing the Mind, Body, and Spirit of a Champion—Self-Mastery Empowering Youths, Pub Date September 2019, by YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594396533.