John Marine and his friend filled a shopping cart full of booze, but as both were 16, neither was old enough to buy liquor.
“We grabbed the gallon jugs of Jack and vodka and ran for the car,” John said. “He cracked a bottle of vodka. I opened the whiskey and we started pounding.”
John had just broken up with his high school girlfriend, and his friend’s girlfriend had just announced that she was pregnant.
“That first breakup was traumatic,” John said. “It was devastating, because I had so many other issues from my childhood that I hadn’t made good with. Losing my first girlfriend was just way too much.”
The more they drank, the more they feed off each other’s depression. After enough alcohol, they got ahold of a long rubber hose and then picked up a couple of friends for a road trip to Magic Mountain.
“We were out of our fucking minds when these guys hopped into the car with us,” John said. “They could tell something was up, but they were a little nutty too, so everybody could have expected us to be a bit off.”
Before picking up the last two guys, John and his friend had already agreed that after their night of partying at Magic Mountain, they were going to connect the hose to the exhaust and gas themselves.
“I was fucking serious,” John said. “I didn’t give a shit back then and I would’ve done anything.”
The four of them made it about twenty miles before pulling off the highway when they reached a small town. There, a group of ten random guys provoked a fight with John’s friends.
“Then a cop cruised up out of nowhere and had me sit on the curb,” John said, “I told him my name was ‘Mike Hunt.’ It was the first fake name that popped in my head.”
John Marine’s father’s last name was Martinez and his mother’s is Gonzalez.
“I don’t know where my real name came from either,” John said. “I’m guessing my dad was involved in something illegal and had to change my name when I was young. That’s my best guess from what I’ve gathered, because every time I asked, my grandparents told me not to worry about it.”
The officer told John to stay on the curb as he walked back to the police car to run John’s name through their system.
“The adrenaline made me feel sober, so I took off running,” John said. “I was about to get away, until the alcohol caught up to me and I fell and hit my head on the ground.”
John scrambled through a ditch trying to hide in a pile of leaves until the cops surrounded him with guns and a dog. John was arrested, but not booked into jail because he was a minor.
“It was a pivotal moment in my life,” John said. “The cops had no idea, but I was down and out, and they saved my ass. I was 100 percent out of control and on the verge of suicide.”
John had always been good at making friends, so he never got into fights, but he was still interested in martial arts.
“I was into Ninja Turtles and I loved Bruce Lee,” John said. “I’d listen to them spew all that old-school martial arts wisdom about the journey of self-discovery, and I knew I needed that.”
John did not have anyone who encouraged him to participate in sports or extracurricular activities, so he craved direction in his life.
“I was such a cluster fuck at that age, so I was looking for something,” John said. “I was seeking out people who could show me what it was like to have a dad. I was looking for someone to take care of me like I was their kid.”
John’s neighbor introduced him to Isaiah Rivera, a trainer who was teaching fighters Vale Tudo, the term Brazilian fighters used for “anything goes.” Vale Tudo has since morphed into what is known today as mixed martial arts.
“Isaiah was my first actual coach,” John said. “He was somebody I looked up to at a time when I needed it. I was a little kid and Isaiah was larger than life—strong, confident, and charismatic. At times, he was a Neanderthal caveman—and at other times he was this polite, intellectual guy. He was the sensei, father figure, crazy older brother, and friend. He was everything I needed at the time, and I still thank him to this day.”
John was seeking a male role model because he had been separated from his father before starting elementary school.
“I have these crazy memories from before I was four years old,” John said. “My dad was a heroin addict and would take me with him to pick up dope down the street.”
When John and his father got to the dope house, John had to wait outside while his father went in with a woman.
“They’d kiss at the door and then my dad would go to the back room with her,” John said. “The only reason I remember him picking up dope and cheating on my mom is because he left me outside crying with a big ass German shepherd tied to a chain. It would run at me barking with his teeth snarling and everything. It was traumatic.”
John said, with sarcasm, that he lived in a great part of town, because on the walk home, they stopped to watch a man standing on an apartment balcony surrounded by cops.
“The guy was waving a butcher knife in one hand and a whiskey bottle in the other,” John said. “He was freaking out and screaming at the cops who were pointing their guns at him.”
The man threw the knife and it stuck in the door of another apartment.
“Some old man opened the door after the knife stuck in it,” John said. “He probably thought the police were knocking to interview him or something. The old man opened the door and I can still see his reaction when he saw the knife and then slammed the door shut.”
After the man threw the knife, the police tackled him.
“The cops didn’t shoot you back in the day,” John said. “They’d Rodney King your ass first, which you were lucky to get if you were acting like a fucking idiot.”
John is surprised he can remember these events with such clarity from such a young age.
“In retrospect, it’s funny that I’m able to put this story together from what happened when I was four years old,” John said. “But I’ll never forget these moments for the rest of my life because these traumatic experiences are hardwired into my brain.”
The final straw came when John’s grandmother visited and found him virtually dead in his crib. At almost four years old, John was too old for a crib, but his parents threw him in there so they would not have to deal with him.
“My dad had passed out with a needle in his arm,” John said. “My grandmother freaked out and took me to the hospital. The doctor said I was almost dead because I had not eaten for three or four days. That’s what happens when you’re on a drug binge.”
Child Protective Services intervened until John’s grandmother stepped in to raise John and his sister. Soon John’s mother also moved in with them because she was developmentally disabled from a complication at birth.
“I always had animosity toward my dad, but it’s touchy with my mom,” John said. “At ten years old, I remember being confused, wondering why I was in the position of telling my mom what was right and wrong. She called me the other day and said, ‘John, Metallica is playing.’ It’s like your ten-year-old daughter is calling. It’s cute, and I want go, ‘Oh, okay sweetie. Thanks for calling.’”
John is incredibly grateful that his grandmother took him in, but the hardship of being between his mother and grandmother put him in a very painful position.
“I always treated my grandma like she was my mom,” John said, “but she would push me away. She constantly denied that role, and I still deal with it.”
John pleaded with his grandmother to accept the maternal role that he needed.
“This lady’s not stepping up to the plate,” John said about his mother. “My grandmother fed me, took care of me, and loved me more than anybody, but she would never admit responsibility.”
As an adult, John has a better understanding of the situation.
“I think my grandmother wants me to develop a relationship with my mom, so she doesn’t have to worry who will take care of her when my grandmother is gone,” John said. “It’s a dilemma for her, but it’s just as much of a dilemma for me. I didn’t ask for any of this, but I never got my needs met either.”
While John was looking to his grandmother to fill the maternal role, he also hoped his grandfather would be able to fill the role of the father he never had.
“My grandfather wasn’t much of a father figure,” John said. “I looked up to him, but when I look back, I realize he didn’t want any part of it. We never had a great connection, and he ended up leaving my grandma for a while.”
Once John’s grandfather left, John became increasingly rebellious, but when his grandfather returned, John became angry and resentful.
“I was pissed when he came back,” John said. “We had this thing going on and I didn’t want him to fuck it up for me. When he was gone, grandma let me do whatever I wanted, but men are strict. I was kind of puffing up my chest, and he was flexing his muscle too, but at the same time, he must have felt his place was a little bit compromised after leaving.”
John was angry because of the betrayal he felt from not having the family support he needed, while at the same time, he was going through the challenges of adolescence.
“By the time I got to high school, my grandfather had returned, but nobody was telling me shit,” John said. “I became this rebellious punk rocker and anything was possible.”
John’s grandmother was concerned, but she was distracted trying to rekindle the relationship with her husband and had lost control of John.
“I’d wake up in the morning before school and say, ‘What’s up, Grandma,’ while I was pouring a flask of whiskey in front of her. I would jump on trains and travel out of town and just sleep in the back like a squatter. I was in a place where there was no stopping me.”
When John started training Vale Tudo with Isaiah, it gave him a place to channel his anger, but after about a year, he put it aside to pursue his passion for music.
“I joined a band with some tight-knit guys,” John said. “I played bass guitar, and I poured all my emotion, heartache, and everything into music.”
John is a sensitive person, and music allows him to feel his emotions.
“I didn’t have parents to go to when I needed it,” John said. “Men are expected to shut out our emotions, shrug it off, and deal with it. The next best thing was hearing a song that would hit me at my core and allow me to feel what I needed to feel.”
After John graduated from high school, he left home and went with his friends to attend the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California.
“I learned a lot and it helped me understand music at another level,” John said, “but the best part of it was probably also the most disappointing.”
John discovered that the level of talent surrounding him in Hollywood was significantly different than he was used to in his small town.
“I thought I was awesome,” John said. “But when you go to music school you learn how much you really don’t know. I saw how much better other people were, and I started beating myself up a little bit. I was surrounded by talented musicians and actors. The girl who sat next to me in class played Pocahontas in The New World.”
After years of training in Jiu-Jitsu, John has a very different perspective today.
“That was foolish thinking,” John said. “Because it doesn’t matter how amazing somebody is, we all have something to offer. What matters is that you’re stylistically true to yourself.”
John paraphrased one of the lessons he heard from Bruce Lee.
“Express yourself truly. Express yourself honestly. If you can do that, then everything you do is beautiful.”
John played gigs at the famous Los Angeles bars during his years in music school.
“It was a really good experience,” he said, “but L.A. can suck the life out of you, so I left.”
When John returned to his hometown of Santa Maria, California, he worked at a winery while doing background acting jobs on TV shows. He was in shows like The Unit and CSI, NY.
While John was gone, a new Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school had opened in Santa Maria, and when he returned, John started taking classes. It was not long before John was helping with the kids’ classes.
“Eventually, I was running kids’ programs and I got good at it,” John said. “You can’t control them. Kids do whatever the hell they want, and sometimes I wouldn’t know what to do, but the kids taught me how to be a good teacher.”
John quoted the British poet William Wordsworth.
“The child is the father of the man.”
“I treat them how I should have been treated,” John said. “I went through all my shit—I joke that I was raised by wolves—so I could learn what it takes to interact with these kids in a healthy way that really benefits them.”
John’s success as a teacher came easy because he gives the kids everything he needed but never got as a child. John quoted Frederick Douglass who said, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
“When there’s a kid who’s losing their shit, sometimes they just need a hug and somebody to sit down and listen,” John said. “When I was a kid, I was told to go away. I’m able to provide what a lot of kids need—acceptance.”
John explained that although teaching kids is rewarding, it’s not always easy.
“It’s literally the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” John said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I wonder, am I fit to parent today? Am I fit to be somebody’s mentor? Not always, but even if I’m having a tough day, I always ask what can I do right now to want to be in this kid’s life?”
There have been times when John considered quitting Jiu-Jitsu.
“At times, it was kind of hard to swallow,” John said. “I’ve reached points where my body was broken, and I was overworked, underpaid, and felt unappreciated. It’s really hard to find self-worth living like that, but I dedicated my life to Jiu-Jitsu, no matter what the outcome, because I owe everything to the art.”
Jiu-Jitsu has become much more than a hobby for John.
“If I’m going to survive and have a good life, I have to do this,” John said. “If I didn’t have Jiu-Jitsu to calm my nerves, I’d be fucked up because there’s way too much going on in my head.”
When John realized how much Jiu-Jitsu benefited him, he committed to doing it for the rest of his life.
“After a lot of injuries, it’s hard getting out of bed,” John said. “But I just put my head down and keep moving forward.”
It’s because of these struggles that John said every kid, and every man, needs to learn how to fight.
“It wasn’t until after I learned how to fight that I realized how much I needed to learn to fight,” John said. “Because life is a fight.”
John said hard times are what build character, and he quoted Rumi: “You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.”
There was a time when John despised religion or spirituality, but the opportunity to open his own Jiu-Jitsu school has caused him to reconsider.
“For a long time, I thought about running a school in Arroyo Grande,” John said. “So, when the chance came, it was like the law of attraction, without all the hippie bullshit.”
Through the years, John has felt internal conflict every time he has had to change schools because he feels loyalty to everyone who has taught him.
“I will always be grateful to the people who taught me Jiu-Jitsu,” John said. “After a while, you realize you’re on your own, especially when you get injured. Other people care, but ultimately it’s up to me to care for myself.”
John has accepted that he is ultimately responsible for his own success.
“Most people seek external fulfillment,” John said. “I don’t care about being rich, but I don’t want to be homeless either. Internal fulfillment is more important to me now. I know what I need to do for myself. I need to embody Jiu-Jitsu and share it with others. No matter what, if I work toward that, I will be fulfilled internally.”
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You can read the rest of the stories in the book, “Motivation: Stories of Life and Success From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts.” Click HERE to get it at Amazon.
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