Sidewalk Ghosts / “No Shoes On The Mat!” 

It only took me seconds to realize the place was all about respect of other persons…


It was starting to look like a night that was going to leave me empty-handed and alone. I had lost count of how many people I approached, all of whom I found on the streets, most very friendly and inquisitive, a few aggressive and dismissive, but none willing to step in front of the camera.

I had been driving around for hours with no clue where to go. Wandering, time burning as a severe migraine began to set in. My eyes were beginning to sag and my motivation to go forward was in question.

It was getting to the point where everywhere I looked businesses were closed and the streets were empty. Pressed to the edge of frustration, I passed the martial arts studio, Gracie Barra. Curiously, the lights were on and half a dozen or so serious looking martial artists working out inside. Even as I ripped past at 45 miles per hour (really 55), the vision of what just blurred through my passenger window forced me to rubber neck as I watched the movement of people through the open glassed store front. Knowing that might be my last chance before I missed my deadline I did a quick speed brake, an illegal U-turn, and in under a minute I was parked right in front of the place.

I grabbed my stuff, walked in, and learnt my first lesson: “No shoes on the mat!” was yelled at me. Great! I had not even opened my mouth and I guessed I was about to be thrown out to continue my hunt. How wrong was I!

Turned out my presence was welcomed as I first met Sammy (more about him below). Second lesson: It only took me seconds to realize the place was all about respect of other persons as Sammy introduced me to head instructor Juan Pablo Garcia, who was intrigued to be interviewed.

Third Lesson: Humility and perseverance are key. We’ll get to other lessons soon, but these were foundational to what I learned.


Juan was to the point. Ecuador born, world traveled, he had competed in MMA events everywhere. I really mean everywhere—globally, with two in the United States. We talked of his path, but first and foremost he admitted, “I am living the dream.”Then he told me what it took to become a nationally respected instructor and champion competitor.

Too much to write, so I’ll let you know the short answer, Juan was definitely self-made. No sponsors, family, money, or handouts. He’s worked hard and you could see the self-respect in his eyes. He shared stories of living in martial arts studios, sleeping on mats by night, and cleaning by day, all in trade for room, board, and training. It was apparent that money was not his focus, perfecting his sport was. Teaching me by example yet another lesson of perseverance and passion.

Doing my best to take notes, I just sat in his office and listened to his history. It was almost impossible to keep up, there was just too much to write. But one thing was evident, he was careful to not take all the credit for his success, making it known that I must acknowledge his professor, Alberto Crane. I added this to my list of lessons: Respect, Honor, Diligence.

Without even stepping onto the mat I was feeling grounded.

Juan invited me behind his desk to look at a YouTube video. It was him winning countless tournaments. His specialty? Grappling. It was hard to see his face in many of the clips, the referee constantly covered it with the raising of the victory arm.

Juan was very humble, so I had to dig these facts out of him: Florida State Champion, Vegas Open Champion, 3 time NAGA Champion. I was pretty sure there were more, but he was closed lip about it. Another lesson: Humility.

All-in-all Juan was a focused and serious guy, but there were a couple of things that brought a smile to his face. In bullets:

• Where he was in life
• Thoughts of his son
• His love for teaching
• An invitation to bring myself and my family to train with him

What about Sammy?

As I promised Juan a DVD of the photos we shoot, Sammy stepped up and volunteering to come to my house to pick up the disk.

I thought I learned enough for the evening. Not even close. School was not over yet.

Sammy Stat’s taught me about focus, mature patience, and listening with the heart. Again, in bullets:

• 26 years old
• Carnegie Mellon Graduate
• Multiple Degrees: Behavioral Economics, Policy Management, Engineering Studies
• Did I say he was 26 years old
• Credits martial arts to his happiness and balance
• Blue belt, almost a purple belt, on the way to black as he was quickly advancing
• Planned to go to Wall Street but at the last moment changed his mind (He’d seen too many of his peer’s burn out too early)
• Could survive Juan pinning him in a cradle (It’s a serious pin. I watched him gasp for air as Juan tightened his hold)

Juan / Sammy, thanks for the schooling. I may one day return to take you up on those mat lessons. Although, I’ll pass on the cradle, thank you.

Talk tomorrow my good friends,


Readers, if you are returning, so nice to be with you again. If you are new, looking forward to getting to know you.

To all: please comment, like, and forward. Every engagement goes a long way toward connecting us; as together, we grow a movement that betters the way we view and treat one another.