MY ORIGIN STORY (SKIP THIS IF YOU WISH)
For those of you expecting a story about a dirt-poor kid who grew up to run a multi-million dollar company, sorry to disappoint you, but that is not me. I grew up with a fairly comfortable middle-class lifestyle – I always knew there would be food on the table, clean clothes to wear, a roof over my head, and that my parents would not abandon me or physically harm me. Which is not to say that my life has been completely free of trials and challenges.
As a kid, my dream was to join the US Army Special Forces. I truly believed then (and still believe now) that fighting for my country to protect my home and loved ones would be a noble, honorable profession. I did not study hard in high school because I enjoyed school or truly understood the intrinsic value of education, knowledge, and learning (that came much later). I studied hard in high school because I knew that West Point is very selective, and I wanted to prove that I was worthy. My dream of a military career had to be shelved because of a serious knee injury from running cross-country and track in high school. I ended up going to UC Riverside, starting as a pre-med major. This was just the first instance in my life where God demonstrated his peculiar sense of humor – many kids join the Army because they do not have enough money to go to college. I went to college because I was unable to join the Army.
I eventually studied engineering, political science, and languages (specializing in Chinese and Japanese), but graduated with only a BS in electrical engineering. I applied for and received a Monbusho (Ministry of Education) Scholarship to study at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. Miraculously, I fully recovered from my knee injury during the last year of undergraduate studies. I started doing rehab exercises, and as I became stronger got into weightlifting and cycling. Eventually I tried running. The first time I ran a mile, every step hurt. After the run, I iced my knees, rested for a week, and then tried again. It hurt a little bit less. Eventually I was able to resume running normally, pain-free. Several doctors had told me that my knee injury would never heal, that I would never be able to run again. After my recovery, I did seriously consider revisiting my dream of a military career, but I was already signed up for graduate school in Japan, so I decided to just go to graduate school first and then consider the military option later.
On September 11, 2001, I was still in my first year of graduate school in Japan. One of my first thoughts on hearing about the terrorist attacks was to drop out of school, return to the US, join the Army, and try to get into the fight. A Master’s degree in engineering is not needed to join the Army. I already had a Bachelor’s degree, and that would have been enough to even apply to be an officer. I was exercising regularly, and was in good physical health at that time. Unfortunately, I was young, foolish, and indecisive. All of my friends and family were pushing me to stay in graduate school. I bowed to their pressure and stayed in school. That was the worst mistake of my life. I was unhappy, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled as a graduate student, and my personal and professional life went down the tubes as a result. After a disastrous finish of graduate school, I was unable to join the Army because of some serious mistakes that I made in life.
I drifted through life for a while, a short internship, some intermittent tutoring jobs, bouncing back and forth between teaching/tutoring and engineering jobs, even a few more graduate degrees on the side. The one professional activity that I have found brings me true happiness and fulfillment is helping students succeed, whether tutoring math and science, or teaching self-defense. The typical corporate route as an engineer was slowly killing my soul and that path eventually became painful enough that I knew I had to pull the ejection lever.
So now I have finally found my higher calling. I seek to walk the path of wise, benevolent scholar (tutoring math and science) and honorable, courageous warrior (teaching self-defense). Of my current professional activities, what I most enjoy is something that does not even pay money – providing free math tutoring to people trying to improve their ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores in order to join the military – my way of atoning for the mistake of not joining the Army while I still could have qualified for service. I normally end these tutoring sessions with a short martial arts lesson as well because I want to do everything I can to help these aspiring warriors succeed in the military, to win on the battlefield and return home safely.
As a kid when my mother was urging me to avoid military service, she suggested that instead of joining the Army I should get educated and become a teacher or professor, and that I could provide valuable service by teaching students who would eventually join the military. Once again, God has an interesting sense of humor – I’m doing almost exactly what my mother had initially suggested in her efforts to steer me away from the military career path.
Interestingly, the Army Special Forces Creed has a line that reads something like “I will teach and fight wherever my country requires.” Perhaps what my country requires from me now is teaching students math and science to help them succeed in school (and ultimately in life), as well as helping military applicants improve their ASVAB scores in order to qualify for military service. The successes of my students feel like God’s way of telling me that I actually did something right, in spite of the mistakes I have made in my life.