Monday, May 01, 2017

Overcoming Obstacles- Big and Small

Image result for obstacles

You think I only watch martial arts movies on netflix.
You know I exercise nearly every day and love martial arts, all kinds.
But there have been times when I stopped training
As a ten-year-old I had heard a little about martial arts from television.               
I went down to the local YMCA, watched a Judo class and became absolutely mesmerized.  The breakfalls, the throwing the incredible technique, magic to a ten year old.
I went home and showed my mother how to do breakfalls on the carpet.
Somehow I was never able to attend a class but always pictured my self in a uniform in the deadly oriental art.  Fortunately my first hands on experience came from my fifth grade teacher Mr. Pier.  He was a professional boxer who loved all sports and especially loved bringing the best out in our class.  Every season we played a different sport football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring with the exception on rainy days, when we boxed.  In the back of our classroom we had a speed bag, focus mitts and boxing gear.  All of us sparred often, sometimes boys versus girls and often together.  I learned that I had some boxing skills when one day I dropped a fellow student in a sparring match. The next day when he came to school he said his mother forbade him to box.  Wow, I thought, I must be something.  That was until I went with Mr. Pier to the community center and boxed some kids a year or two older than me and learned a lesson in humility.

     At age twelve, moving to a new town changed things.  New friends and schools put boxing aside and unfortunately without my mentor I soon lost sight of anything athletic. 

When I was sixteen years old I got into an argument and a fight with a buddy in my neighborhood.  The fight involved a girl and one of my neighborhood friends.  We yelled, screamed and pointed our fingers at each other and then out of the blue he whomped me good, giving me a big black eye, lots of remorse and a very broken spirit.  After he felt he had sufficiently shown me his point of view I limped home only to have to face my parents with my big black eye and lots of humiliation. 
They were supportive and loving although I knew I had failed to give much of a fight to defend myself (actually I put up no fight).  This low feeling stuck with me for months and months.  It wasn’t until a few months later I realized that this situation and experience gave me desire to change and put me on track for learning self-defense.

That fall after my incident I saw an ad for a martial arts demonstration and beginner classes.  I nervously went to the demonstration, saw these experts of the martial arts and was emotionally hooked.  This time I was involved for real, not just an excited observer.

 Here I was thrilled to be a student but I couldn’t do even two pushups but I had a desire that wouldn’t let me quit.  Now that I was officially a martial arts student I wanted a uniform so bad I couldn’t stand it.  The challenge, no one knew where to get one. I went to a newsstand and couldn’t believe my eyes.  Here was not only one karate magazine, but  two.  I scooped them both up and devoured them from cover to cover. I read those magazines so much I had almost memorized them word for word.   In the ads I found a uniform company.  I did my best to figure out the size chart and took a shot.  I ordered a size three and sent a money order.  When it came I realized I needed a size five. I had mistakedly ordered by height and not by weight.   It was a little tight but I beamed in my new karate suit.

We worked out in a social club hall where functions were held on weekends.  During class breaks we drank water out of a hose attached to the faucet in the sink and trained with very little heat.  Sometimes my instructor would even open the windows in winter just to make us work harder generating body heat.

  After being a student for three months I was put in charge of attendance and collecting dues.  I think my instructor just wanted to focus on teaching and did not care for the financial aspects and bill collecting.

The following summer, while fixing my car I pinched a nerve in my back and decided to take a break from classes.  The summer was flying by.  I was a senior in love with my high school sweetheart and hadn’t given a thought to martial arts.  One afternoon while shopping my, girlfriend and I bumped into my instructor in the local department store.  He was glad to see me and mentioned,  “When will you be back to class?”  A little guilty I replied “Tuesday” and there I was right back in the swing of things.
This was to be the first of a few times my martial arts was interrupted.

Friday, April 21, 2017

My First Boxing Coach

ROLLIE An Old Palooka Who Can Teach You A Thing Or Two

New London
At 79, HE'S GOT A BAD RIGHT HIP, A BUM LEFT shoulder, and broken fingers on each hand have healed to point in a different direction.
"I had five nose operations," he says. "See this here?" He flattens his nose on his face. "I got no bone."

Still, on any given weekday afternoon, Rollie Pier, dressed in gray sweats, a white towel flung over his shoulder, can be found in the Bank Street gym of Team Strike Zone and Whaling City Boxing, teaching young fighters all that he knows about the sweet science.
"Rollie?" says Raymond "Coach Ray" Hodges Jr., who works with kids at the gym. "He's forgotten more than most people ever know: Life, boxing, you name it, man, the guy's a walking dictionary."
"I'm active in the gym," Pier says. "If I didn't have this bad hip, I'd still spar with guys, but I don't because I get vertigo now ... dizziness. Everybody says it's boxing related. Who knows?"
And so the world finds Rollie Pier: five foot six ("I shrunk an inch and a half"), faded blue eyes, dull copper hair cropped like a monk's, a man in the twilight years of a fighting life.

In his day, he fought 102 times, including amateur, semi-pro and pro. He was a welterweight, weighing 150 pounds, and when asked about his record, he says, "I lost 62 fights. I'm not braggin'. I'm tellin' you the truth. And I won - this is not totally accurate - 38 or 39, but I would generally go the three or four rounds, just about make it, you know?"
He sums up his boxing career this way: "I was a phenom that never phenomenated. I was a late bloomer that never bloomed. But I could get in the ring and fake it, and I looked pretty good. People would say, 'That guy knows how to fight.' But I was never great. I was a tomato can or a palooka.
"See, in the vernacular of boxing," he explains, "you've got your champions, you've got your contenders and then, after that, you've got your good opponents, and then you've got opponents, and then you go down to ... palooka. A palooka's a little ahead of a tomato can. I'd say I was a palooka."
Stuff to chew on

It's a Saturday night in the New London High School gym. There's a red, white and blue boxing ring set up in the middle of the floor, surrounded by some 300 people in the bleachers and on folding chairs. It's "The Whaling City Classic," a fundraiser for Heavy Hitters USA, a nonprofit group that teaches kids how to box.

Pier arrives, one of his students, Bethany Geary, in tow. That's right, Pier has been teaching a girl - several young women, actually - to box.
He admits he didn't want to at first.
"I guess it was machismo in boxing. I don't know," he says. "But then we had several girls ... that I taught and they were very good, I mean, they listened."
And that, he says, is what made him change his mind.

"I said, 'All right, c'mon,' gripin' to myself. But the attention span was there. And they'd come back and do me favors. Like now ... I've got type two diabetes and I get a weak spell occasionally, and they bring me stuff to chew on."

Most recently, he's coached three women: Geary, of Westerly, Marsha Agripino, of Groton, and Kelsey Kaiser, of Waterford.
Unfortunately, no women are fighting tonight, he says. It's hard for them to get a fight.
"Bethany's had one fight," Pier says. "She lost. And the other girl already had 10 fights. There's no one else to fight. You can't find 'em. If you go to New York, you can."
But Pier can't talk for long; here, he's a celebrity. Everyone in the gym seems to know him, and there's a constant stream of people coming up to him, shaking his hand, throwing their arms around his shoulders.

Most of those fighting tonight are 17 and 18 or young men in their early 20s. They each fight three rounds of three minutes each, if they can go that long.
Three minutes can seem like forever. In most of the fights, both boxers start out strong, but by the middle of the second round, they clutch and lean into each other.
"I told you, that's how it is," Pier says. "It's a different kind of tiredness, you understand? You've got to be in real good shape to go three rounds. People say, 'Ah, I could do it.' You're waiting in the dressing room. The dressing room's crowded. You learn the guy you're gonna fight's over there. He's lookin' at you. Your hands are being taped. OK, you're next. And that takes a lot out of you. It's enough to destroy guys."
And then, he says, "you've got to fight somebody, and you're not mad at him."
Roberto Vega, another one of Pier's students, gets into the ring, and the crowd lights up. Geary yells, "Don't wait! Don't wait, Roberto," and "Flurries! Flurries!"
Vega and his opponent fight fiercely, with Vega throwing flurries of punches to his opponent's head. Vega wins.
"That was good," Pier says. "They box nice. You won't see a better fight than that tonight."

Kicked in the head
Born Oct. 16, 1929, Roland Pier-Federici grew up on the streets of New London. But he went out into the world and had some adventures before he came home to stay.
You might say his boxing career began the night he got pistol whipped in Mississippi. Not that he hadn't dabbled in boxing before. But that drubbing, he admits today, inspired him to do more than dabble.
"I thought I was going to die," he says. "They kicked me in the head."
Now, as he sits in his basement, surrounded by hundreds of videotapes of boxing matches, he explains, "this is way back in the '50s now, when Yankees weren't too well appreciated."
He and a bunch of other college kids from New London were drinking in a dive in Meridian, Miss., when, "unfortunately, my friends went and asked some girls to dance."
Their boyfriends were not amused.
"They came out and all of a sudden a fight ensued. Guy come out with a gun, started shootin', shot my friend, Louie Casimono, and we all ran different directions. And to make a long story short, the sheriff was the guy that shot my friend, but he survived - leg wounds, back wounds - and I got pistol whipped and the other guys got beat up."

It took Pier a while to get through college.
"I went to six colleges," he says. "I traveled all over. It wasn't uncommon then for guys to go from college to college ... I ended up going for 10 years."
He played football, basketball (even though he admits he was a terrible basketball player), baseball and he boxed. He got a degree in education.

And came home to New England and got a job in Ledyard, where - for 28 years - he taught fifth grade. And that's when he legally shortened his name.
"I did it for convenience purposes," he says. "It was misspelled too much."

Days he would spend in a classroom, teaching the three Rs; night's he'd spend in a gym in Hartford, honing his left hook.
Sometimes, though, his nights in the ring were all too obvious the day after.
"I'd come back to class with black eyes," he says. "The kids, 'What happened?' The principal would go, 'Ah, jeez, this is not what we want in a teacher.'"

A dream denied
Folks with long memories will remember that Pier was also the guy behind the Vagabonds, better known as the Vags, New London's own semi-pro baseball team.
The team played from the '60s all the way through 1986, he says. "And we had a lot of players that could have played pro ball."

But it is boxing that is Rollie Pier's greatest love.
He says he loves the loneliness, the inescapable fact that you're on your own.
"Football is vicious, I know," he says. "Those big guys could kill ya. But you've got teammates. You go out, defense, offense. Boxing, there's no timeouts, nothing. A guy's startin' to get to you, you've got to cover up, and you're getting hurt, and you can't quit."
And he misses the old gyms.
"There used to be old-time fight arenas, with sawdust on the floor, drunks laying there, and you're steppin' over them to go to the ring," he says. "Honest to God."
Pier rubbed shoulders with everyone from Willie Pep to Rocky Graziano, and his dream was to fight just once in Madison Square Garden.

"That would have been it for me," he says. "I would have been the happiest guy in the world. Win, lose or draw, I didn't care. As long as I could come up the ramp."
It was a dream that, at the age of 38, he came within a death of achieving.
"I used to go to the gym in New York called New Garden Gym right by Penn Station, and I got to know this guy Joe Garfield good," Pier begins. "I said, 'Joe, I've been coming here now, and you could do me a great favor: Just get me one four-round fight at the Garden. That's my ambition: one four-round fight.'
"And he says, 'Ah, you don't want it. You're old; you're gonna get killed.' I said, 'Nah, I'll be all right.'"
Garfield said if he could hold his own sparring with a pro, he might get him a fight. And Pier sparred, barely getting through the four rounds.
Finally, Garfield called and said, "OK, you got the fight."
Pier was ecstatic. He had two months to train, and he worked himself hard to get in shape, never telling anyone but his wife, Yvette, that he had a fight coming up in the Garden.
He was training in his basement, jumping rope, when the phone rang.
"And I picked it up, and they said, 'Rollie? Rollie Pier?' And I said, 'Yeah?' 'Joe Garfield died.' 'What?' And I said, 'What about the fight?' And the guy said, 'I don't know about the fight.'"
Nobody, it turned out, would honor the promise of a dead man.

Yankee doodle
As it happened, Pier's biggest fight came a couple of years later, before a crowd of 10,000 at a ring in London. It may be the only time Yvette saw him fight.
"She went with me to the fights," he says. "But if I was fighting, she only went to one out of 102. She didn't like it."
"Yeah, I don't deal well with that," says Yvette Pier. "It's not my cup of tea. I go with him to some of the fights, like I go to the football games with him, but if he's fighting, I don't want to be there.
"I don't hate boxing," she insists. "I just don't like it, just like he wouldn't like knitting."
He and Yvette were on vacation in London, and while she went shopping he would train at the Thomas à Beckett gym. It was there someone approached him and asked him if he could fill in on a fight.
"Now I was like 40 something, but in good shape, looked 30," Pier says. "I said, 'OK, I'll do it.' I wanted to just do it. Like I didn't fight at the Garden, I wanted this ... I remember taping my hands. You sit in a chair. You know how they do. Tape your hands. And they go, 'OK, Yank, you're on,' and I come out of the runway there, I'm telling ya. And they played 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' you know that song?"
Pier breaks into song, "I'm a Yankee doodle dandy... Wow, I can't tell ya how I felt. It didn't wear off for weeks."
The guy he fought was P.J. Clarke. Pier went the whole four rounds with him and lost.
"He was an English fighter," Pier recalls. "They jab, jab, move, jab, throw rights. He could box real nice."
Surrounded by his stacks of videotapes, Rollie Pier will be the first to tell you that he'd rather watch one of his hundreds of fight tapes than anything that's on the tube today.
"I live in the past mostly," he says. "It's a bad thing. But I come from another era. Up in the gym they play all hip-hop and music where they swear. I can't take it. Turn that off! I turn it down. I can't get used to that. I can't."
And he doesn't like the way some dress.
"Guys coming in, they come in with their pants down, way down, and their hats sideways. No. You've got to adhere to the rules of the gym. To me, it's a shrine."


The ANTI Bully

Many people know my story.  Bullied and beat up as a teen turned me to martial arts.  Often times over the years I have been invited to many classrooms to talk about our martial arts program.

I always brought my “story” about being bullied and beat up and how that experience motivated me to learn martial arts and then help others avoid this terrible experience if at all possible.  The trauma I suffered from being beaten up still lingers in my soul and the anguish comes right back when I tell the story of being beaten up.

Then one day my life changed again when the news flashed the absolutely horrible story of the Columbine shooting in Colorado.  It hit me right in the heart.  Not only for the victims that were shot, their friends and families,  but to the young men that had been harassed for years and thought they had no outlet for their frustration, except for getting some guns and shooting up a school.

I made a decision.  I was going to reach more kids, more classrooms, and more schools and let then turn their hate to hope.  It was time.
See more on my anti bully website

Sunday, December 25, 2016

If you're over the age of 30, Should You Consider Martial Arts?

Well, yes --and no.
You should consider a regular, daily, exercise program. A sensible one; one that starts slow
 and lets your fitness sneak up on you (rather than hitting you over the head with it).
A martial arts program certainly has the potential to be a fantastic complete training program, as it includes stretching, strength training, aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and requires a kind of mental focus that is like a moving meditation.

 As a matter of fact, if the instructor you choose has the right kinds of experience. yoy can get so much out of training. Instructors that are under the age of 30 are often spectacular athletes, but it’s important that they have an understanding of how to teach people of all ages.
But, find a great teacher and the martial arts can become your best friend. The training can keep you supple, sharp, and clear thinking. A martial arts school, directed by a conscientious professional teacher, can be a centering, inspiring, refreshing place that you love going to --and leave thinking about your next session.
Yes, look to the martial arts for new perspective on your life, after the age of 30. It’s not too late, even at age 40, 50, or 60. To choose a school try out an introductory program (which should be free or close to it). All the best school offer new students an opportunity to test drive “the car” before buying into a program. I think you should try our school, of course, because we have a very wide range of ages in our classes.
If you’re thinking about training in martial arts, allow me to be the first to invite you in.  Mention that you’re over 30 and I will offer you 2 weeks of lessons to try us out (no strings attached). Here is our warning: Classes are fun, affordable, and will give you a new energy in your life. It’s never to late to start working out. The most challenging aspect of exercise is taking that first step.

Reach me here: 860.928.9218 or

Bouncer Chronicles - 4

In some of these chronicles it may seem like things got a little rough.  They really weren't.  Although... 

One rainy dark Sunday night we were closing the bar, the doors were locked and there was a knock at the door.  There were double glass doors and someone was asking to come in and use the phone because his car had broken down.  This was way before cell phones but there was a payphone at the diner next door.     

I politely refused him and directed him to the payphone.  He argued with me and even kicked the door once because he was mad.  He eventually stormed away.  We had plenty of cash for the day and I was wary of this guy.  I kept thinking, all he had to do was pull out a gun, point it at me and demand to come in.  I would have been at his mercy and felt totally vulnerable.

The next week I bought a gun. 

Bionic Parts

I had heard people get replacement parts although I never though the day would come when I needed one.  Hips, knees and anything you can think of has worn out on people and then needed a newer better part to keep functioning.  Little did I know I was next.

I have always been healthy and went for annual check ups.  Strong as a bull I would tell people.  But just a few years ago when I was sparring there was a big snap in my knee and down I went, a torn meniscus.

I got a brace and things went along fine.  They forecast a knee replacement down the road.  They said I would know when I was ready.  I kept training and suffering and finally the day came.  I polled people that had replacements, Chris Bannon Rodrigues, Billy Blanks, and they said do it!  Here I am now with a total knee replacement.  19 Days later I am walking fine (slowly), have given up the walker and cane and look forward to a great recovery.

Now I know what Grandmaster Kim means when he says martial arts is for health.  Lets train smarter, be healthier and live a long life.  Polish people have a toast "Sto Lat", meaning we hope you live to be a hundred!

Tang Soo For life!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jack Scott- United Karate Studio- Cookeville, TN

Jack Scott- United Karate- Cookeville, Tennessee
Around 1988, I arrived at my inlaws who had relocated to Cookeville from New Jersey.  We had brought my four year old son there to visit his grandparents and spend some quality family time.  After being there a few days I casually leafed through the yellow pages to see what karate schools were around.  My eyes landed on Jack Scotts United Karate Studio and I decided to call.
I explained I was visiting family and asked if I could come down and watch some karate classes.  Mr. Scott said it was not a good night to come down but the next night would be better.  Of course that prompted me to go down and see why I could not watch.  Well he received me with open arms and let me watch for several hours.  We talked for a long time and then he asked if I would like to take a class the next night.  I responded I would like to but had not brought my uniform.  He loaned me a uniform and Black Belt and we had only just met!
The next night I showed up early and began to warm up and introduce myself to his students.  Class started and we swung into a very dynamic warmup and did many, many,many kicks.  The class ran on for a few hours and then we took a break to spar, and yes he loaned me sparring gear.  I sparred all the students and then of course my new friend Jack.  Wow what a workout!
Then when I though we were all done he said, "Lets you and I fight some full contact", so of course we went several more rounds.  It was a tremendous workout.  Mr. Scott was in shape and could really fight and bang.   Later when I was in the locker room changing, one of the red belts asked if I were coming back the next night.  I told him I was flying back to Connecticut and was unable.  He let out a big WHOO Hoo!  Great he says,  That is the hardest training session we ever had!  I couldn't take another clas like that tomorrow.
It was the start of a glorious friendship.  The following two years I attended his tournament and had a blast.  I met many of the UKS members included the senior Master Ben Kiker, Jesse Thorton, James Hobby and mitzi Tyler, all well known competitors who I saw frequently on the national competition circuit.
A few years went by and we had lost touch.  One of my students was attending a martial arts business seminar by Hartford and she told me he had bumped into Jack Scott and he told her of our friendship.  The next night we met for dinner and we just picked up where we left off.
I stayed in touch with him and knew he had some health challenges but had been doing better.  Since he had moved locations after my last visit he sent me this video tour of his new school and I know he was so proud of the school and students.  Martial arts was his passion.
A few years later Jack lost his fight against cancer and we lost one of the greatest martial artists, teachers, and men I have ever known.  After I found out he died I wrote a letter the the local Cookeville newspaper teling what a loss I had felt.  His wife sent me a nice letter along with a school t shirt.  I sent her a copy of this video.  She didn't even know he had made it for me.
I hope many of his students will enjoy the energy of this great man and the pride he took in this journey as a Karate teacher.
Mike Bogdanski, Jack Scotts friend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ho Sin Sool

Ho-Shin-Sool (호신술) consists of three characters and their meanings are as follows.

Ho (호) is to guard, to protect, to defend or to keep us safe from something against such as physical assaults, diseases, and/or even from harmful spirits.
Shin (신) refers to our body, and
Sool (술) is a word for skills or techniques. Therefore, ho-shin-sool is all and any techniques used to guard our body.

How Do You Spell Relief? It’s not r-o-l-a-i-d-s!

Feeling of Relief CartoonIn my life I have seen many bullying situations.  From children to teens and even adults I have seen some of the worst cases of mental and emotional abuse go on.  As a teenager I feared confrontation and hated to see the bullies work against helpless and timid people.  When I was younger I wished I knew martial arts and had the courage and fortitude to stand up to these mean and angry people.

Should I stand up to these big, mean intimidators?  No not me. There is always a chance that they would turn their attention my way.  I couldn’t risk that, or could I? 

Several years ago one of my little skinny blond students, while riding the bus, would get picked on.  She was a good student but a little shy.  She may not have been a bruiser in sparring class but she always managed to hold her own but these were not the skills needed on the school bus.  The verbal taunts and abuse would leave her in tears both on her way to school and the way home.  This fifth grader was growing more afraid of the bus ride each day.  The bus driver couldn’t or wouldn’t address this issue.  The principal attempted to help but was ineffective.  The bullies were warned of punishment but just ignored the threat.  Does this sound familiar?

Many schools, families and children live this same fear and situation on a daily basis.  It has been going on for decades in every country in the world.  I decided as this time that a solution was in order and I was lucky enough to have the answer.

In the television commercial the way to spell relief is Rolaids, the anti heartburn suggestion.  On the school bus relief was spelled t-r-a-n.  I found out that one of my Black Belts named Bang Lee Tran was an eight grader on the very same bus.  He was an average size boy with a pleasant disposition, heart of gold and tons of confidence.  I asked if he would speak to the group that was the problem.  We practiced what to say, what the responses might be and how to deal with those too.  And yes by the way he mentioned he was a Black Belt and suggested they did not want to see a display of his skills.  Within a few days all the kids that picked on Barbie had found new manners.

There was no violence, detention or telling the driver or principal.  There was just one strong willed and confident boy who was willing make a stand for someone that needed help.  In studying martial arts I was taught of the concept of giri, which means obligation or duty.  We must teach our children that it is their responsibility and their duty to stand up for what they think is right, protect the innocent and let people know that this behavior is not acceptable.

 Now is the time.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bouncer Chronicles - 3

Once I got settled in as the solo bouncer I devised ways to keep myself safe in my role.  New Britain had a mixed population of gangs, bikers and offbeat characters and I never knew who was going to show up.  I kept a quarter over the payphone in case I needed to call the police and in the eventuality things went bad quickly, I hung my jacket by the door.  I kept a pair of nunchaku with one piece down the sleeve and one piece hanging out so I could retrieve it quickly.

Things kept fairly calm at the bar.  I made friends with the football team and they became my backup in case things got out of hand.  It is easier to be a bouncer when you have a couple of 250 pound linebackers standing behind you.

Little did I know that at the end of my graduate career I was going to postpone returning back to my old high school as a counselor and get into the nightclub business where bouncing took a more serious track.

Just when I got the hang of working the college crowd I was introduced to little old Northeast Connecticut.  At the time (the 70's) it was like going back to the fifties!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Bouncer Chronicles -2

Being a Black Belt does not make you a bouncer. 
Fighting in tournaments does not make you a bouncer.
Knowing martial arts does not make you a bouncer.

Learning on the job helps make you a bouncer.

Most of the time when people were unruly in the college bar we just had to break up fights, cool people down and then kick them out.  It became a matter of restraint rather than a brawl (although I will go over those episodes too) and we had to keep people safe in spite of themselves.

One night during a busy night there were three very big college football guys drunk at the door.  I had stopped them from entry because they were already drunk.  We began to argue and knowing that the odds were against me I came up with an effective strategy. 

                                      I closed the door and held it shut.

The door knob was small so only one person could grip it to try and open it.  After several minutes of frustration they left.  No fight, no fuss, no muss.  This is what Bruce Lee must have meant when he said "The art of fighting without fighting"