Chuck Rylant: How Jiu-Jitsu Led to the Hero of His Story

 
— Written by By Cindy Cyr —

Growing up, Chuck Rylant was driven to become a real-life hero.

Not having a healthy father figure in his life, Chuck sought out male role models, which ultimately came through the fictional characters he saw in movies. He was naturally drawn to action movie heroes of the eighties such as Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, Bruce Willis in Die Hard, and Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, and these heroes were his inspiration throughout a traumatic childhood that was filled with chaos.

In and out of foster homes when he was young, Chuck grew up on welfare and in government housing projects from the time he was born until he was 16, at which point he moved out to live on his own.

His mom suffered from severe mental illness. When she was on medication, she was loving and somewhat of a savant at math. “She was just like the character in that movie, A Beautiful Mind,” Chuck explained. His most cherished memory of his mom is when she would help him with his math, something he had hated until he had his own son and realized the incredible patience she displayed while teaching. But most of his memories of his mom involve mental health professionals, the police, and child protective services.

I remember coming home one day and noticing the big dumpster at our housing project was full of furniture,” Chuck recalled. “I recognized some of it and was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. I went inside, and our entire house was empty. Everything was in the trash. I don’t really have any family photos because they were all thrown away during that time.”

I remember the police showing up,” Chuck continued. “And being interviewed by child protective services. I used to try so hard to be normal, so every time these government people would be involved, I would say everything was great. I would tell them I didn’t need their help. I really did need something, but I’d fake it and pretend that I was normal.”

It turned out that Chuck’s mom was having a mental breakdown. She was taken away. His dad wasn’t involved much, and the furniture was never replaced.

Chuck’s father never worked and didn’t participate much as a father. “He was a deadbeat with lots of issues stemming from childhood trauma,” Chuck said. “He was selfish, angry, and violent, and he suffered from extreme depression and OCD.”

A fanatical Christian, his father walked around town with a large wooden cross. “Everybody knew it was my father, and they would constantly bring it up,” Chuck said. “The first time he walked around with the cross, I was so upset. I lost my mind and asked him, ‘Why would you do this? Why are you so selfish? Why don’t you think about the impact this will have on us?’ While that was going on, a group of kids knocked on the door and made a comment about my dad and punched me in the stomach while I was standing in the doorway. It was completely unprovoked. I can’t even explain to this day why somebody would be so bothered they’d come to physically attack me.”

I was so ashamed of my life,” Chuck continued. “My mom was odd with her mental illness. My dad was odd with his religion … but that was the abnormal weird stuff. Then I had the normal embarrassing stuff. I was poor. We lived in a housing project. I was on welfare and food stamps. None of my clothes fit because they were worn-out hand-me-down clothes. I was very much ashamed that neither of my parents ever worked. I had to live with these embarrassing things, but I didn’t know how to explain it. I still don’t know how to today. My desire to be normal was so powerful that I tried to hide the shame I lived with each day, so anytime someone tried to intervene, I would pretend to be normal and dismiss it.”

Even at a young age, he understood that his family didn’t have enough money for even the basics such as clothes, let alone fun stuff like toys. Chuck knew he would have to learn how to make it on his own. This motivated him to work any chance he got—everything from a newspaper route to selling door-to-door to pulling weeds and mowing lawns to construction.

I remember being a real pain in the ass to anyone who was doing labor around town,” Chuck recalled. “It was not uncommon for me to hang around a construction site and watch what they were doing. Then I’d just start picking up wood and carrying it … whatever it was they were doing, I’d just jump in and start doing it. I was probably 12. This happened so often that I guess I was doing the right thing because no one ever chased me away, and often they’d throw me some money. Sometimes they’d say come back tomorrow.”  

I had a worker’s permit when I was 14,” Chuck recalled. “My first real job, I would swing a pickaxe in the sun for eight hours a day, breaking up dirt. The guy who started with me quit after a few days, but I was happy because I made a real paycheck all summer, and I bought some nice clothes for school the following year. I was feeling very confident having earned those nice clothes. That pattern of hard work, reward, then feeling good about myself, it just kept repeating. So I’ve never not worked, and I continue to have this mind-set today … I think it came from not having enough.”

Looking back on things, Chuck realized that to keep kids from making fun of him, he rebelled against authority figures by trying to make them the “common enemy.” This pushed adults away, which reinforced the label he felt both adults and kids had given him because of his parents. He was never a bully to other kids, but he was a tyrant in school.  

Looking back, I think my subconscious thought was that if I was on the offense, either by being class clown and making them laugh, or by being in this constant battle with the teachers who I saw as the enemy, I assumed kids would not mess with me.”

In high school, Chuck continued his rebellious streak, which caused adults to judge him. Some of it was deserved, but even those who did not know him would make derogatory comments too. This fueled Chuck to work harder to prove people wrong.

I felt superior to anyone in authority. Parents, teachers, and so on. I think that came from being the ‘adult’ among mentally ill parents in my house,” Chuck said.

I felt everyone else painted me in this picture as a person who I was not,” Chuck said. “I consciously started sculpting who I was going to become and doing things to make that person real. I was a skinny, scrawny kid, so I started lifting weights. I was intimidated and didn’t know how to fight, so I learned how to fight. It was all very intentional. I didn’t want to be the person I was, so I decided to create my character and become the man I wanted to be.”

Turning to his movie-hero influences for guidance, Chuck watched Steven Seagal movies and tried to reverse engineer the fake moves he saw on TV at home. “I wanted to be fearless,” Chuck said. “I wanted to be able to protect myself and protect weak people.” Proactively seeking out how to fight, at 14, Chuck found someone willing to take him to the YMCA, where he got his first martial arts training. This became an outlet for his anger. “It was all adults and me,” Chuck said. “I was fighting these men and doing pretty well.” At about the same time, he also joined a police explorer program.

Despite his work ethic and channeling his anger through Tae Kwon Do, life could have taken a very different turn for Chuck at this point. Fortunately, an influential high school teacher named Jeff Jeffries appeared and took Chuck under his wing. Jeff ran the agriculture program and gave Chuck odd jobs such as pulling weeds, and later a real job doing welding and repairs, which Chuck worked at after school.

I think I would have been a drug dealer if it wasn’t for Jeff,” Chuck said. “There were a lot of drugs around and a guy who would hang around the school who always carried a gun and would pull out wads of cash. I thought it was so cool that he had a gun and cash. He started taking me around on drug deals and kind of mentoring me. But Jeff would keep me busy and tell me, ‘Get away from those guys, I’ve got work for you to do.’”

Jeff got Chuck involved with a program called Future Farmers of America (FFA). Chuck was excelling in welding and other competitions, and it was there that he experienced his first measurable achievement, when the three-person FFA team he was on won the state level competition and advanced to nationals. Chuck also took 3rd in the state.

After finishing high school early, Chuck worked full time while attending community college. Undecided on his future, he worked at an auto shop and took classes to become an auto mechanic while earning an AA degree in hopes of becoming a stockbroker. After finishing his two-year degree, he applied to Cal Poly University, where he was accepted for an economics major.

Two factors influenced his decision to turn down Cal Poly and instead follow his friends from the police explorer program and pay his way through the police academy. First, he thought it would be easier to save up six months of living expenses than to save for four years of college. Second, there were the heroes who had influenced his thinking his entire life.

Sylvester Stallone’s characters were my primary influence,” Chuck said. “I’m naturally inclined to believe in right and wrong. I don’t know where that comes from; it’s just who I am. I’m really sympathetic to the underdog, and I want to protect that person. I don’t like bullies. So the whole idea of police officers protecting people seemed like a natural fit. But the main reason I became a cop was for the action. I wanted to do car chases. I wanted to get in fights. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be admired, looked up to, and respected. In the early years that was the drive.”

It was also during this time following high school that Chuck began competing in Tae Kwon Do. In his first fight, at just 18 years of age, he used his best combination—a roundhouse kick to the ribs immediately followed by a second kick to the head. He knocked his opponent out cold in just ten seconds, winning his first match.

I felt completely dominant in that moment,” Chuck said. “It was invigorating, and that confidence spilled over into my future matches. I don’t think I ever lost a Tae Kwon Do tournament, and I brought that feeling of invincibility into my law enforcement career.” 

Chuck’s anger and ambition to prove people wrong hadn’t left him at this point, making this his main driving factor. Only this time, the discipline he’d learned through Tae Kwon Do drove him to succeed rather than to be defiant. 

In the early days, the police academy was very intimidating to me,” Chuck recalled. “It’s just like you’d see with the military drill sergeant in the movies, but that didn’t intimidate me as much as failing. I was petrified of failing because I felt this was my only option. I remember being in the formation where you stand still at attention with your arms at your side and you look straight ahead. The guy has the Smokey Bear hat with a brim and he gets in your face and screams at you. He’s spitting at you and belittling you. And I remember my internal dialogue while looking at this guy. I told myself, ‘I will allow him to continue talking to me this way because I’m choosing not to beat his ass.’ At least in my mind, this shifted the power curve to where I was in control of the whole environment.”

Later, Chuck would discover that his composure and internal dialogue set him apart. “At the end of the academy, when they wrote a report about us, this extremely intimidating drill sergeant wrote, ‘Mr. Rylant has this unusual aura of confidence about him, unlike any other recruit I’ve ever seen. Nothing seems to faze him.’”

Chuck graduated valedictorian, receiving almost every other award from the police academy too. People began noticing what he had been trying to prove all along, and this instilled pride and fueled more success. He began working patrol, eventually becoming a trainer to new officers, teaching them about firearms and fighting.

I got really confident because I started knocking people out at tournaments,” Chuck said. “I was becoming bigger and lifting weights. Then I started succeeding in my career as a police officer.”

In 1999, after Chuck got into a fight with a murder suspect who resisted arrest, a fellow police officer recommended he go to a Jiu-Jitsu class. “As a police officer, I got into fights all the time, but Tae Kwon Do is all kicking and punching, and you don’t really kick people as a cop.”

Not understanding exactly what Jiu-Jitsu was, Chuck watched a co-worker’s VHS tape of the early Ultimate Fighting Championship footage of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie.

Here’s this scrawny guy who’s built like me. He’s unassuming, and he’s choking out these giant muscular bodybuilders who in the 1980s were the envy. Gracie beat this guy named Ken Shamrock, who looks like a Ken doll, only he’s a bodybuilder. So everyone from my generation saw this as our dream. It was not the movies. It was a real-life little guy defeating the bigger man. It was a David and Goliath story. I watched these videos, and this was the most incredible thing I’d seen in my life! I was blown away. But then I thought maybe it was fake, like the WWE [World Wresting Entertainment].”

What I saw in those UFC fights forced me to see what most of us strive to avoid—the truth,” Chuck continued. “Those fights forced me to question my own abilities and challenged the validity of the martial art that had consumed a significant part of my life.” Chuck showed the video to his Tae Kwon Do teacher, who told Chuck he thought the fights must be fake. Despite his teacher’s take on the fights and the fact he’d invested so many years into Tae Kwon Do, Chuck reluctantly left Tae Kwon Do in his mid-twenties, choosing to train with the Gracie family instead. “I’d drive down south, three hours one way, one day a week and spend all day training,” Chuck said. “I didn’t realize at the time how significant it was to get to train with these people [the Gracies].”

Chuck became pretty decent at Jiu-Jitsu. He began using it, easily winning fights as a police officer. At the time Chuck started, it wasn’t very common for police officers to practice and use Jiu-Jitsu. “I put some carpet pads in my garage and started inviting all my friends to train. I was kind of like the de facto teacher at the same time I was just barely learning. I just knew a little bit, but it was enough to be better than all the people I was training with.”

But there was still the anger. Fighting the stigma of his parents, Chuck married his high school sweetheart. “Her parents openly hated me because of my parents,” Chuck said. “They fueled my ambition to prove them wrong. I was so angry, and I would use that anger when I was training with a punching bag or Jiu-Jitsu—I would see these people,” Chuck said. “I kept working harder at life, on the mat with Jiu-Jitsu, and in the gym with weights.”

Chuck proved them wrong. “I achieved all these things,” Chuck said. “I owned a house, had a very successful career, had money and cars, college degrees … all the things that to a parent, teacher, and so on looked acceptable.”

But by the point they started accepting and loving him, he no longer felt he needed their approval. “I’d already proved to myself that I was successful and worthy,” Chuck said.

This quickly became a problem. “I got to a point where I was arrogant,” Chuck said. “At one point I started feeling not only had I made it, but now I was superior to these people. I was getting too confident. I started thinking the people who were judging me, now they were the ones who made less money or they had fewer cars or had less of a career … I started looking down on them and thinking, ‘How dare you people judge me.’ That was an unhealthy period of my life.”

I was on a steady upstream, but it was all fueled by rage, hostility, anger, or a desire to prove everyone wrong,” Chuck said. “That was my ammo. I was going to prove everyone wrong. I was fueled by an unhealthy motivator—by vengeance or something. And I kept pushing and pushing until I went too far.”

At this point, Chuck’s life started on a downward spiral. His wife cheated on him. He had business failures and setbacks in his career because of his attitude. He got injured and became dependent on prescription pain narcotics. He went through a divorce and began living an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. “A lot of bad things all happened, around the same period of my life, that really humbled me,” Chuck said. “And I thought, ‘Okay, you’re not the badass you thought you were. You’re vulnerable too.’”

Chuck also attributes part of the spiral to his idealism. “Movies were my model of the world,” Chuck explained. “Meaning, there were good guys and there were bad guys. It was black and white. I was a good guy, and all the other people were bad guys. And I was so obsessed with becoming successful that my wife, my high school sweetheart, was not getting what she needed, so she ended up cheating on me. I was so naïve—I never thought that could happen to me. It totally turned my world upside down and really messed me up.”

Between Chuck having issues with his mom not being there for him when he needed her and his wife cheating, he entered a very dark place where he was out of control. He hated women, but he had a need for women for sex and validation. “I had this psychotic bipolar thing going on where I would chase women and literally hate them at the same time,” Chuck admitted.

During this time, he moved to a larger police department, where, just like Rambo in First Blood, he was confronted with the choice to walk away from a situation or “confront the bully.” Chuck chose the latter, getting involved in a tumultuous political fight against a corrupt police chief. After a lengthy investigation, the chief was fired. But this was just another blow to his idealistic view of the world.

To me, he represented the type of character in my life that I had dealt with often,” Chuck said. “I had learned earlier that I would never back down from a tyrant. I would rather bring that person a war, even if it was to my own demise.”

Throughout it all, Chuck was still driven to succeed, and much happened during this time. He earned his BA in business, joined the SWAT team, made detective, and started a private company on the side. Burned out on law enforcement, he followed up on his earlier passion of becoming a stockbroker. Taking a 1‑year sabbatical to get his MBA from Cal Poly University, he also had a baby with his then-girlfriend. When the police department rescinded his leave of absence offer, Chuck quit. “It was the most empowering decision of my life,” Chuck said.

But while things were looking up, he still had things he hadn’t dealt with, and he continued through a difficult period of his life.  

In 2007, one week before his MBA finals, he lost his estranged mother to cancer and his son was born and put in intensive care with a 50/50 chance of survival. “That week was brutal,” Chuck recalls. “I planned my mother’s funeral while sleeping in a chair at a hospital and studying for my MBA finals, and as class president, preparing a graduation keynote address.” 

His son recovered just in time to be present at his graduation. Following graduation, Chuck married his girlfriend, was hired back to the police force, and opened a gym business with his wife. However, after a fight with a robbery suspect left him injured, Chuck was forced out of work; and because of worker’s compensation laws, he could not work in the gym business and it failed.

Out of work, in an unhealthy relationship with his wife, and coping with his injury, Chuck traveled to Brazil, where he participated in an Ayahuasca experience. Upon returning home, Chuck filed for divorce and began rebuilding his life. Only this time he went at it from a very different point of view.

I started going to Jiu-Jitsu regularly as my body allowed,” Chuck said. “And I started looking at life not as if I needed to be better than other people. I realized it’s not about getting back at people. It’s not about vengeance. It’s about how can I be the best person I can be for myself. And in order to do that, I have to make other people’s lives better, not just make myself better.”

What drives Chuck these days is helping others and his desire to keep moving forward. He also makes choices for very different reasons than when he was younger.

I don’t have that emotional pain anymore,” Chuck said. “I don’t need to prove anything to anyone else ever again. What I’m proving to myself now is that I can keep going. That I will keep going.”

Today, Chuck has a successful business that he loves. He coaches clients on money, business, and life. He’s the author of six books. He’s learned how to be in a healthy relationship with a girlfriend he’s been with for five years now. He has an amazing relationship with his son, his first priority, who lives with him five to six days a week. Chuck also teaches at the police academy and does consulting for attorneys, as well as testifies as an expert witness, educating attorneys, judges, and juries in homicide trials. And he still teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and continues to work to improve himself with his most recent endeavor—working toward a PhD in psychology.

Plus, after not speaking with his father or mother for most of his life, he rekindled his relationship with his father at his mother’s funeral. This allowed him to heal and have a relationship with his father before he died. “I am grateful that he was a grandfather to my son in a way that he was never a father to me,” Chuck said.

Throughout all the ups and downs, one thing remained constant—Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It is THE superpower that, more than anything else, has changed his life and enabled him to become the hero of his story and the man he always wanted to be.

I love Jiu-Jitsu because it’s the only honest thing I have ever known,” Chuck said. “The older I get, the more I realize that most of what we are told in life is not entirely true. The truth is, good grades do not equal success. The hero does not always get the pretty girl. Hard work does not always pay off. Politics prevail over skills in the workplace. Spouses cheat. Politicians lie. The list goes on and on. However, on the mat, the submission always wins. Money, good looks, sex, race, and politics do not matter on the mat. Jiu-Jitsu is honest in a world that is often dishonest. I always know where I stand on the mat. That is why I always come back.”

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About Cindy Cyr: As a marketing consultant, strategist, and copywriter, Cindy Cyr helps companies clarify their marketing messages through stories. She’s worked with clients such as Ziglar, No B.S. Inner Circle (GKIC), Dan Kennedy, Advantage│Forbesbooks, AWAI and CopyDoodles. Her clients have experienced results that include 7‑Figure per year assets, increased leads, improved retention rates, doubling and tripling conversion rates and increased revenue. Learn more about Cindy at www.CincyrCopywriting.com or email her at cindy@cincyrcopywriting.com

One Reply to “Chuck Rylant: How Jiu-Jitsu Led to the Hero of His Story”

  1. What a great story chuck. An absolutely motivating perspective. Chiseled from a mindset to work hard to be successful and coming to find out what true success actually was.

    The honesty in your story is what resonates over everything. I love the part that talks about good guys and bad guys. It really helped me understand your thought processes at that time and how relatable it is too so many people. Especially how people get engulfed into movies and use them as a benchmark of their life expectations.

    The ending was great how it tied everything together. How being on the mat is true honesty. If this book is as consistently powerful and raw in its storytelling it will undoubtedly be a success. It was a great read.

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