Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Out of money

On the seventh day I ran out of money and I had only my reserve for a bus going back to New York and for my air ticket to fly home. I did not want to return home empty-handed and indebted to my father. I would have to quit school to pay him back, although I know he would probably refuse and prolong the repayment date until I finished school.

But because I was proud, and I did not really want to study at college, but rather to find a job and earn money, I would have felt obliged to return it to him as soon as possible. I was losing hope and I was afraid my mission to earn money and return home would be lost. I had to find a job quickly and I refused to return home empty-handed. My friend Peter had found job already, so I asked him to loan me a hundred dollars to give me more time to find a job. Then I started to search for jobs in Delaware as well.

As I was waiting for a bus to come, I was sitting on a sidewalk, and I was desperate. Then I noticed two guys with shaved heads, gold necklaces and tattoos approaching me. Guys like those could be dangerous. One of them asked me "What's up?" and I did not recognize at that time it was a greeting.

I jumped to my feet and took fighting stance so that they won't kick me while I am on the ground. I was desperate and I certainly did not want to be beaten. But their reaction shocked me. They stopped and went in a circle around me telling me to chill out. I thought "What strange bullies." There certainly are some common English phrases which were not taught at school.

On the tenth day I found a job at McDonald’s in Delaware. I was happy. I didn’t have to return home empty-handed. I made some calculations that having one job would allow me to pay back all my travel costs, but to earn something for myself, I would have to find another job. Soon I bought a bike to save money by not needing to pay for the daily bus trip to Delaware. A bus runs on money, but a bike runs on fat!

Going to work took me one hour there and one hour back. It is good to go by bike if it is not too hot or if the rain is not too strong. The job at McDonald’s was good. The only thing I could not understand was the throwing away of good food. If no one saw me, I did not throw it in the garbage bin, but directly into my stomach. That was environmentally friendlier than throwing it away. Some rules are stupid.

Lesson learned: Don’t obey stupid rules if you can get away with it.

Two interesting events happened to me at McDonalds. First was that one guy was called Jesus. For twenty-two years I thought that the only Jesus in the world was Jesus Christ, but then there is one smiling Puerto Rican guy and he calls himself Jesus. How strange! I thought nobody was allowed to have God's name.

The second surprise was when I was sent to the fridge for hamburger meat. I searched through the whole fridge room, but I could not find any meat. "Is the manager making fun of me or what?" I returned to the manager and told him there is no meat. He smiled, took me to the fridge and showed me packs of "plastic circles".

After that I saw how those "plastic circles" are put on the grill and transformed to hamburger meat by heat. “Sci-fi and ’junk food" in real-time,” I thought. Hey, Americans, you deserve better food!

After few days I found my second job at Subway, and finally fresh and healthy food was again on the menu. This is how I met Mark , who was a cool guy. He was the first real gay person I met face to face in my life. Before that I saw gays only on TV.

As I was using bike to get to work at Subway, I had to change my clothes each time I came to the workplace. I was used to getting naked in front of other men at kickboxing dressing rooms. To be precise, I kept on my underpants in the Subway backroom when switching to my uniform. After few times, as Mark saw me, he told me "Andrew, don't do this to me."

As I did not understand his point I asked him, “What do you mean? I am just changing my clothes, I am doing nothing. It is just two of us there and we are both men. What is wrong with changing clothes in front of another man?”

He probably understood and asked me if we had gay people in Slovakia. I said quickly, "Of course we do". Then I started to think about that I didn’t know any gay people back home. Of course, I have read about them and probably I have met some on the streets, but I never had met someone who had told me that he was gay. After some explanation, we agreed that I would tell him in advance when I was going to change clothes, so that he could leave the room.

Mark was funny and a cool guy, and the work was satisfying. There were a few guys working for him. One of them was a smart guy of Japanese origins who also was called Andrew. It was fun to work and talk with him. I liked him. He even took me to his house to have dinner with his family.
They were nice people.

During the dinner, Andrew's mother asked me why foreigners do not like Americans and why do Americans have a bad reputation all over the world when all they do was to help people to get freedom, peace and to help poor countries by sending food and medical equipment. I told her my opinions about that, and that I didn’t like the American government to invade other countries. They (the elite) did it not to help, but to get cheap oil and other resources, or to enforce using the US dollar
for payments. I thought everybody knew that because it was so obvious.

She told me she was not buying this and I told her it was alright, because I was not selling it. Her
husband had to interact to calm her down and we had a pleasant dinner again. We were good colleagues at Subway. Sometimes my American colleagues asked me to stop working as I was working the whole the time I was there. That's what I was being paid for.

Make yourself busy all the time and if everything is done, clean and clean again was what I had been taught when working in Slovakia. So after everything was ready I cleaned the already clean floor and Andrew asked me to stop. I asked him "Why should I? Am I doing something wrong?" He explained that I was doing a good job, but they felt bad when they saw me working nonstop while they were resting. We agreed that when everything is done, we would chill out and rest.

There is no sense in being busy when work is done and the boss is not around. There is another funny story about my school and American English. Once we were busy at Subway, but I really needed to pee. There were customers, who were not served yet, but I really had to go, so I asked Andrew, who was younger than me, but since he had worked there longer " Can I go to the toilette?" The fun began when he asked me, “And do you know how?” I pulled a surprised stupid face and asked "What do you mean? Everybody knows how." I hoped Andrew was not stupid enough to think we did not have toilets in Europe. It was O.K. in America not to know that Slovakia was in Europe and Europe was on the other side of the ocean. It was O.K.

to think that I was Russian even when I tell you I was Slovakian. But to think that a twenty-two year old guy did not know how to use the toilet was shameful. After a quick discussion I learned the right phrase — use the bathroom. It was strange to me at that time as there was neither a bath nor a shower in the room, but even many Slovak phrases often do not make sense, either. For example, the word "teplý" means warm generally, but when speaking about a male person, it means gay. Every living human is warm, so we could think that everybody who is alive is gay. It is funny to learn foreign languages.

At McDonald’s there was not much to do as I had only a few shifts, so I started to look for another job. One of my roommates found a job at The Seacrets Club as a security guard. The pay was good and it was night job. It suited me, because I could keep also my Subway job during the day. We really  were just the security personnel, not real bouncers. There were only few fights during my stay.

There were approximately twelve of us because the Seacrets Club was huge. Work was quite boring since most communication meant telling drunken people where the restrooms were. This was the job when you were positioned inside the club. More interesting were the entrances and exits as you had to check people for guns or knives, and check their dress code. Also, the questions we were asked were different. There were also ”floaters" who came when there was a fight and the stationary security staff called them over the radio.
... more in the book

USA, here I come!

During the summer holiday 2002 I attended a Work and Travel program for
foreign student exchange, as this was another character building experience. I was
lucky as l was able to borrow money from my father to cover the initial costs of the
program. Of course I worked hard in US and I paid him everything back. Although he
refused it, I also gave him something more to cover the loss he had by not having
that money in the bank account earning interest. America, here I come!

Visiting the United States of America was a real character building experience
for me. My schoolmate Peter and I flew from Prague to New York through Frankfurt
and then traveled by bus to Ocean City, Maryland. A long flight and jet lag took a toll,
and instead of our planned visit to the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks, we
slept like dead men. Having a friend with you is good because you solve problems
together and you each help the other if he is feeling down.

We had jobs prepared at an Ocean City, New Jersey amusement park, but our
two female schoolmates sent us an e-mail, that they were in Maryland and that they
needed help. So we decided to risk going to Maryland instead of New Jersey to help
our schoolmates find housing and to help support them somehow. We had only a few
dollars in our pockets, having spent most of our money for travel. We went to Ocean
City. It was hot outside, but we were cold because of the air conditioning.

As we had no other means of communication, we went to student agency and checked e-mails
to connect with the girls. We managed to meet them the next day. With a few dollars
in our pockets, we had to find cheap accommodation quickly, so we found an old,
cheap motel for one night. We feared what would happen if we didn’t find jobs soon,
because our money was quickly running out. The next morning we found the girls
and changed our accommodations. We lived in a house with other Slovaks and
everything looked fine except for the money situation.

One guy living with us, named Miro, was really easy going and kept our spirits high with constant joking. We became friends quickly, as we were very much alike. The next day, Peter and I ironed
our suits and started to look for jobs in hotels.

It was a really hot day and we were sweating in our suits. That was my first
funny experience as I spoke only “school English" and I did not understand some
phrases used by young people. As we were approaching the next hotel to ask for a
job and going through a parking lot, two girls in an SUV stopped and shouted at us,
"You're hot." I thought that this was a strange and impolite thing to do, so I did not
respond and ignored them. I was sweating in my black suit and I knew that I felt the
heat. Girls, you don't need to tell me what is obvious.

It was only later when I knew English better that I understood the girls were saying
they thought we were good looking. They weren’t talking about the heat at all!
After a long day of filling out application forms, we came back to our apartment
and decided that it would be smarter to wear tee shirts and shorts the next day. There
were many students in town and everybody was looking for a job.

Importance of reading contracts

My sister is so naive and trusts people so much, that she does not bother
reading contracts she is signing. When I planned to go to the United States for a
second time, she wanted to go with me. She needed someone who would take care
of her and show her where to go and what to do. As we went to Košice to sign
contracts with the agency for the Work and Travel program, the agency guy made a
mistake and he copied the second page of the contract twice instead of copying both
the first and second page.

Knowing her well, I checked her contract before she signed, gave it to her and I asked her if the contract is O.K. She said yes, it is O.K. Before she signed I asked her to read what she is signing at least briefly, but she did not bother. I then told the agency employee that he copied the wrong page and he had to make new copy. I hope she learned the lesson to read what you are signing.

Never hurry when signing contracts, take your time. Always ask yourself – What if am
I signing my approval to donate my kidney to the other party?

Let’s get back to my time in college. I made sure that I would get into at least
one of the many universities by subscribing to four different university entry tests.
One of those universities was the Economic University in Bratislava (EUBA). My
results at this entry test were not good enough to pass better students who scored
higher. Seven years later I became a teacher at EUBA.

My college entry test to Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica did not go
well, because my mathematic education was very bad. Instead of three years of
mathematics in high school we had only two. It was because our teacher was on a
sick leave for quite a long time and our substitute teachers were not mathematicians.
Instead of calculations we played the game Five in a Line or did our homework for
other lessons. I was able to finish the entry test well enough only for external study,
which I was satisfied with, because it meant I would have time for a real job.

When the day of enrollment came, I arrived one day earlier than everyone
else in Banska Bystrica, because I had no other transportation option. I arrived at
eleven in the evening and spent my night in the railway station. Railway police woke
me up during the night and asked me to leave the station. After some discussion they
allowed me to stay because it was cold outside and they said they didn’t want
students to freeze. Their only condition was that I could not sleep while in the railway
station. I went for a night walk to keep myself awake.

The next morning I found the college and at the enrollment room I was offered internal study in Poprad as they opened a new branch there. I agreed, as this meant free college education and I was
half asleep so I did not think it through. This is how I ended up in Poprad instead of
Banska Bystrica for three years without a real job. Looking back, this was better than
if I would have gone to Banska Bystrica.

Our study results were generally better than the results of students who were in the central of the university. This was because there were fewer of us and we had personal relationships with the teachers. Once the personal relationship was established, most of us wanted our teachers to be proud of us and we did not study just to pass the tests.

College life here I come. My first roommate John was a great guy and fun to
be with. As we shared the same room we hiked over High Tatra, prepared for exams
and I taught him how to drink beer and other alcohol. After a few unsuccessful tries
he learned how to drink without having to vomit later.

I was hard on him and insisted that he must learn how to drink alcohol the right way. I also helped him to clean the room when his training was not successful. Alcohol is good for socialization if you are shy. People show their true nature when they get drunk. If you want to get to know the person better, get drunk with him and watch his reactions towards you and towards other people.

One of my roommates and later one of few true friends Marek, is such an
interesting character that he deserves at least a few sentences. When we shared the
same room we found out that even if we respected each other, our daily routines
were very different. Marek slept only four hours a night and had the window open
even during the winter. That is probably why he was so rarely ill.

On the other hand, because of my kickboxing I needed at least seven hours of sleep and I liked it
warmer in the room. After a month or so, Marek told me that he was switching rooms,
because he values our good relationship and it was difficult to live together for both of
us. I admire Marek for his courage and easy going approach. He had no problem
asking a complete stranger to let him drive his Ferrari for example.

Once he saw Ferrari in the parking lot and he knew he wanted to drive it. He waited for the owner
to come and asked him if he let him drive. Even to his surprise the owner was
pleased by his courage and allowed him to drive for a while. There is nothing that can
stop Marek. At the college house, three girls in one room had a big flip-chart paper on
their bathroom doors where they drew their schoolmates and wrote short notes about
them. Once Marek came to visit me and John and he told us about this.

As we knew Marek, we thought he is just kidding and asked him to prove it. So he left and in three
minutes he entered our room with a door in his hands. He was right; the paper with
descriptions and pictures was there. Five minutes later one girl came and asked
Marek to return the door, because she needed to pee and she would like to do it
behind closed doors. He told us the fun was over and returned the door to the girl

One funny story with John happened during the winter. I was walking back to
our college house and John was approximately one hundred feet behind when he
threw a snowball towards my direction to tease me. I did not see it coming and it
splashed over my completely shaved head. Even he was surprised at how accurate
he was. I turned around and saw how John's smile froze on his lips.

We started to run. John thought he will find shelter at the school as this detached department
shared the property with the magistracy and local police. That was his mistake. I
chased him down, caught him at the entrance and I put him down although the
policemen were watching. We laughed so the police took no action. I like to remind
myself of times spent with John.

I really enjoyed college because I was out of my home and I could do what I
wanted in my free time. Unfortunately it was difficult to find some part time jobs in
Poprad at that time, so money was still a problem. There was solution however.
There is always some sort of solution. The Work and Travel USA program was mine.
With four months spent in the US working there, I was able to live off the money I had
earned for the duration of the next school year.

During my three college years in Poprad, as I had time between studying and
training kick box, I worked for the AIESEC organization and gained more knowledge
and experience in personal development. We were finding jobs for foreign students to
allow them internships in Slovakia. I met fantastic people there. Remember that it is who you spend your time with also affects your future as they influence your actions.

People learn by studying, observing and by doing. That is why it is important who you
spend your time with. Spend your time with bad guys and you become a bad guy.
Spend your time with good guys and you become a good guy. Our leader was
Johnny and he was a cool and good guy. He was a true leader leading from the front
and not from behind. He was the first leader I admired.

Women and their weapons

Women are great but they can be very good manipulators. With time and
experience you will find out which the good ladies are and which just want to use
you. During my holiday in Bulgaria I almost lost my virginity with a woman who was
ten years older, who was on the same holiday trip as me. She got me drunk and
persuaded me to leave the party room and go to her room. I did not like her much,
but she persuaded me I will not be a gentleman if I refused her.

So I got drunk and followed her to her room. Everything was going well, but as her bra padding fell out as she removed her clothes, I got sober and left her. I don’t like being cheated by bra
padding or makeup. Women should accept how they look and not cheat like that. As I
left the room I grabbed another bottle of Rakia and finished it off that night. I felt bad
the next morning because I followed the women to her room and because of the
alcohol. I realized I need more knowledge on women and their behavior to avoid
being manipulated.

Over the years I found out how many women think and what their point of view
for having male friend is. Most of the time, if women want to be just friends with you,
it is to use you until she finds someone “better”. For real man this is not enough. Real
men, which are attractive to women, will let go of those kinds of friendships where the
man gives and women only takes. If she just wants to be friends, she should
introduce you to her female friends to help you find a girlfriend.

But this is a very rare case. Most of the time, they want to keep you for themselves to have a “friend” who they can call if they feel down or to increase their self-confidence. You have to quit
such single sided friendships to avoid being used. If you are interested in dating
advises, ask my publisher for a short book on that topic. Over the years I have helped
many of my friends find the right women or have a one night stand. If you can control
your emotions and keep disciplined, dating women is easy.

At age seventeen I decided that I should find a girlfriend because my more
experienced schoolmate Frigo had a girlfriend already. So I started to date one girl,
who was smiling at me sometimes. I was not attracted much to her, but I decided I
have to start somewhere to understand what it is to be in relationship. After two dates
I wanted to test kissing. So we kissed. I was disappointed a little bit as I expected,
based on what I read, some sort of ecstasy and all the kissing was just a silly and wet
experience. After two weeks I quit dating her. A few girlfriends and lots of practice
later I found out how kissing really can be a pleasant activity.

All you need is patience and experience. It is O.K. to date girls just for experience when you are young. Don't give promises which you will not keep and don't lie to them about your feelings. Take
it easy, but spend your time with girls. They can be interesting. And as women are half of the human population, it is good to understand them better.

If you are afraid of refusal (usually people who doubt their self-worth are afraid
of it) you can practice refusal by dating girls or women – based on how old you are.
Your goal is not to be refused, but to experience your reaction to refusal you receive.
Study your reaction, your thoughts and your feelings. Understand that you are not
your thoughts or your reactions. You can control your thoughts and your reactions.

Warrior who can’t control himself can be dangerous because of his power. First learn
how to handle yourself before you get big power. With power there goes always a
responsibility hand in hand. I was afraid to speak to attractive women when I was younger so I started to do it just for training of overcoming that fear. When I asked girl for a dance, usually I
was refused nine times before I found one that was willing to dance with me.

Now with more experience I am more confident, I have better selection process and it got
better. Now it is rare event she refuses to go and if she does, I don’t mind. There is
always another one who will be glad to go. My rate got better just because of the
experience and because my attitude.

I got used to rejection and I don’t take it personally if she refuses. There was
nothing wrong with you; she just was not interested that particular time. It happened
to me, that a girl who refused to dance with me came an hour later to ask me to
dance, apologizing because she could not do it earlier as she had to take care of her
friends. Sometimes they wish to go with you, but they can’t because of their duties.

It is natural that people will not give you something you wish for each time you ask for
it. But still it is better to forget your ego and keep looking for the one person that will.
During high school I still valued male friends more than female friends
because I learned that by strong friendships with other strong guys we were
protecting each other. It was fun to be with Frigo and Daniel. They are good guys.

After finishing high school we agreed that we will stay in touch. But as most
friendships do evaporate with less and less time spent, we lost contact for many
years. I found them later through Facebook. We live at different locations so we do
not meet anymore. Frigo became a professional ice hockey player in Slovakia and
my new friends, those who are interested in ice hockey, know him.

As I watch only box oriented sports in TV I don't know where he is playing now. Watching sports on
TV is like watching ice cream in TV. The only sensible reason to watch is to learn new
techniques and to get motivation for your training. Going out and doing the sport
yourself makes more sense to me. Daniel went to Ireland and got married there. We never met again. Farewell guys.

With high school finished, college was waiting. The best thing about college
was that I finally left home and the second best thing was that I met new friends. I
originally never intended to study at college. My friends, who were working, had their
own income and I wanted to be self-reliant like them.

What is the point in spending another 5 years studying?

My father thought otherwise. Because he had no opportunity to study at
college himself, he decided that his kids would. To make him satisfied, I promised him
I would finish college. My older sister studied in Bratislava for 3 years, but before she
finished, their department lost accreditation and her 3 years of study ended without a
college title. She moved back to Presov and studied for another 5 years in social
work at Orthodox Church College.

My sister is well educated and fun to be with although she is chaotic at the
same time. At the graduation ceremony, which took place in a beautiful old theatre in
Presov built in the 16 th century, the premium students were first to receive the
graduation certificate and title. In Slovakia premium students receive premium red
diplomas and everybody else receives blue diplomas.

You can check your marks and you will know in what category you will end. Because my sister is chaotic and she never bothered about her marks or with reading small print at documents, she told us she will have the blue one.

We were chatting quietly and watched the premium students. I was taking photos of some of
her pretty schoolmates as I was in charge of recording this precious moment for
eternity. Then our parents could show the photos to others. I believe we still have
those photos in my parent’s living room. Then my sister's name was called out and as
she was not expecting it, she did not notice at first.

There was a delay as everybody in the Black Eagle theatre was waiting for her to take the diploma from the college officials. Luckily she was notified by someone and she went to take the diploma.

I was also surprised and I almost forgot to take her picture. Although my sister was an
excellent student, her self-esteem was low. She struggles financially today because
she loves social work and social workers are not paid much. In my eyes she is
completely successful except for the money. In her eyes, she is not successful.

Lesson learned: Academic education does not increase your self esteem or
finances, but the right academic education increase your social capital – the right
contacts in the right places.

Knife in a dark alley

During high school I spent some time with friends going out for a drink or to
dances or to pick up girls. Because we were young, inexperienced and we were
afraid of getting beat in the disco, we were always together. Honestly, we were not
really successful picking up the girls. That meant we spent more time drinking

Once when we were drinking beer at the pub, one guy who was friend of our
band members came and asked us for help with some punks who needed a lesson. I
actually did not know the guy very well and he had bad reputation, but my friends
agreed to help, so I had to go. There were six or seven of us. Fifteen minutes later
we found the five punks and our guy started to argue with one of the punks. A small
fight began. At first just two of the guys were fighting and the rest of us was watching.
Two minutes later there came more guys from the other group and there suddenly
were ten or twelve punks around. And then the mass fight began.

Soon I was standing against a guy with a knife. I did not know what to do as I
was kickboxer and not a street fighter. I stepped back as he was slashing the air in
front of me to make me scared. He was quite successful. I was really scared. Then I
stumbled on something, slipped and fell down. As I got up, my leather jacket was
grabbed from behind and I fought for a few second to free myself.

“Fun is over, when there are knives around. I am out of here. I am not going to knife fight because of a guy I barely know.” Two guys kicked me and I ran. They were chasing me through the
dark alleys for a mile but as I was a sportsman, they could not catch me. They
stopped and so did I. “Now what? What should I do? Should I return and fight?”

One guy from our band (he had to run even before I did) came to me and we decided to
leave the fight. My new leather jacket was cut multiple times and the holes persuaded
us not to go back. Matus was more experienced in street fights and told me that
others probably already fled, so it made no sense to go back and take a beating or
get stabbed. We left the place and waited for the others in other street which was full
of people. Every one of us came back, but one guy’s face was swollen with bruises.

The guys planned revenge, but I knew I will not take part in it. We left for home. The
next day I had to explain to my parents why my jacket was cut. I did not have to
explain my bruises as they got used to them because of kickboxing lessons. I made a
decision that I would not go for beer with guys who are trouble makers. Later I found
out that some of them were in prison for public riots and Matus was jailed for
narcotics sale.

Lesson learned: Be selective who you spend your time with and who you call
a friend. Usually the guys who start the fights, flee as first once the situation becomes
serious. The guys who were reluctant to go for a fight stay longer. That is why we
say: “Graveyards are full of heroes.” When you fight one to one, it is different. But
when you are in a mass fight and it gets serious, don’t become a victim, flee.

It might look like a big part of my life was fighting. The opposite is the truth, but
normal situations are probably of no interest to you, so I pass them and skip to the
interesting parts of my life. It is the extreme situations which determine who you will
become as they shape your character. You are probably not interested in all the hard
work and boring activities which lead to success. I am fighter deep inside, but I avoid
fights. After I had practiced kick box almost for two years I decided that education
comes first so I focused on final exams and stopped practicing. I also focused on
school to make my father proud of me.

After I quit kickboxing my daily routine changed from everyday training and
studying, I found out that girls can be interesting too. During my top training
kickboxing period there was no time for girls. All my time and energy was spent on
boxing and school. Male friends were more important as it is safer to go outside at
night when you are part of a group, but what is the benefit of bringing girls with you or
to spend time with them? I considered girls silly and a waste of time at that time.

You can lose, but never give up

Once, and I will remember it for the rest of my life, my coach Jaro told me that
in his class for beginners, I was the best. This was the first person who told me I was
the best at something. I wanted never to disappoint him and I hope I never did. I felt
that he was right and I really was the best in his group.

I don’t know him as a person, but as a coach he was great. He made me feel
important by telling me once that I was the best in his group. I was pleased to hear it
but it became a great responsibility to stay the best as well. He did not have to tell me
that I was the best any more. I knew from that time on that it was my responsibility
and commitment to Jaro and me to be the best. I never skipped the trainings, but I
have to admit I was thinking about it many times– mostly when I drank a lot of alcohol
the day before. The next day, I was dying during the training. I felt blood in my lungs,
I was dizzy because of dehydration and I wanted to throw up.

But after Jaro told me I was the best, I stopped drinking altogether and idea of
not going to the training was no longer my mind. I could not disappoint Jaro. Although
the training hurt, I knew that if I were to disappoint him, it would hurt even more. I had
to be the best. No more alcohol with friends. I was dedicated to training. If others
trained four times a week, I trained six times a week. If others ran for three
kilometers, I ran four.

Once, during the athletic training, we were running for ninety minutes both
sprint and endurance, my stomach shrunk so much I had to vomit. It happens that if
you run too much, your blood leaves other organs and is transferred to the muscles.
Then your stomach can shrink. So I ran away from the track to the trees, vomited and
got back to the track and then sprinted to keep up with the others. I finished as one of
the best although I lost a minute during the vomiting.

I ran as the best in the end. There was no reason to spare energy in the end.
Whether it was a boxing match or running, I gave out everything in the end and then
fell to the floor after passing the finish line. The best part of running is when you are
so tired that you stop thinking and you just run. Your legs run by themselves and all
you have to do is to breathe. Your lungs are in pain and you feel the blood going up
through your throat to your mouth with saliva and sputum and you spit it away to
keep your throat dry for better breathing.

You feel you can’t run anymore and then ...
... then you accelerate. If you had wings, you would be flying already. As you keep
running and you don’t feel your legs anymore, there is just the pain in the lungs and
taste of blood in your mouth and you see the guy in front of you. You are catching up
to him and you feel how oxygen leaves your palms, feet and in your head.

You hear you are breathing like a horse and blood pumps in your ears. All you focus on is –
breathe, breathe, breathe. You hurt and hope the guy in front of you hurts even more.
And when your whole body is telling you to slow down, you tell your body – “I am a
winner. I am the one who wanted this. Stop complaining and run.“

I even went to some kickboxing competitions and won a few fights, but I never
became a national champion. Once we went to the championship in Banska Bystrica.
It was long trip and we arrived the evening before the competition. After finding the
hostel, we went for a small walk towards the town, but we did not want to get drunk or
exhausted. We knew we needed our full strength and sharp reactions the next day so
we went to bed early. Jano, who was with us, was the leader in our group of youngsters.

He was giving us advice based on his experience ranging from losing
weight to hoarding explosive energy by avoiding sex before the competition. He was
a really good kick boxer.

I was thrilled the next morning, because it was only my second competition
and I was full of expectations. I knew I was the beginner and there was only a small
chance that I will win the competition, but I was looking forward to gaining experience
fighting boys outside of our kickboxing club. It is different to fight with your friend who
does not mean you any harm and fight a stranger who wants to knock you out as fast
as possible. We did not eat anything that morning to keep our weight low and get into
the lowest possible weight category.

After was weighed in, we ate and drank water like if we were starving for a week. My categories were semi and light contact because I was just the beginner. I always practiced light contact, because I was considered semi-contact not a fighter, but a touch competition. Whoever touches the
other one first, wins. Touch the other one with his fist or foot of course in full speed.

There was a draw and in semi-contact I was to fight one of two brothers who
both were really good. They were usually finished as first or second in national
championships. I was watching my first opponent stretching and moving and
although he looked very flexible and five years older and more experienced than me,
he was clearly a semi-contact fighter. I was thrilled, but not afraid. Jano told me I
have small chance to win, but at least I have to try to get some points in the fight.

My coach Jaro stopped by for a second, because he had his own fight to
prepare himself. He told me “He is excellent; it will be a difficult match for you. But
you are a fighter Andrew. You can lose, but you can’t give up. Do you understand?”

I've nodded. “You can lose, but you can’t give up. The less you will be afraid of him, the
better score you will have. You are not a sissy, good luck.” Then he left for his own
match. Jano, who was to take the role of my corner coach, gave me his advice “You
will lose so or so. Just cover your head and the rest of the body has to endure.

Most points are given for hitting a head.” When the fight began, the guy was fast and I was
not hoping to win. But because this was semi-contact, his hands were down without
protecting him, to give him more speed for his kicks. I did not like his style, because it
was not really usable on the street. It was like girlish kickboxing to me.

“I will show you how to fight” came to my mind and I attacked him. He kicked me to my stomach
and scored a point but I have hit is face a half second later. He had his point, but I
had my good feeling. With solid abdominal muscles it does not hurt to get semi-
contact kick. He hurt more than me. I knew I could take the guy down if we were in
light contact or on the street. He was just a sportsman, I was the fighter.

His stance was good for competitions but useless on the street. He was
standing on one foot and kept the other in the air for faster kicks to my head. As I was
keeping my guard, he could hit only my shoulders or gloves. I pushed his foot down
in one fast movement; he lost his balance for a while and I hit him scoring a point.
This went on for a minute and the match was over. He won 7 to 4. For a complete
novice fighting a champion, it was not bad at all. Jano told me I did well and that the
guy had unexpected problems with me.

Next I had to find someone from our club to lend me his feet pads and a
helmet, because my next match was in light contact. Jano found the pads with the
helmet for me somewhere and I could start. This fight was harder, faster and more
energy consuming. We were breathing like fishes outside of water after a minute.

There were two rounds, each lasting two minutes. I don’t remember much of the fight,
but I won. This allowed me to go to the next fight, because once you lost, you were
out of the competition. I went to see how Jaro was fighting. He was good, but he
could use only one nostril by the time I came. The other was blocked by a cotton ball
to prevent bleeding. I could not watch any longer to see how it ended, because there
were three matches going on constantly and my name was called.

I hurried to my fighting place, but I could not get any padding and a helmet. Milos was my corner
coach and he went to find them for me somehow. I was just the beginner and as a
student I had no money to buy the full gear yet. My name was called again. If I did
not get the padding and a helmet I would lose by default. I was stressed and did not
know what to do.

Finally Milos came with the protection. Seconds after our club member
finished his fight, Milos got it from him. I fastened it quickly and entered the fighting
area. The regular boxing rings were expensive, so we used only tape on the floor to
know where the ring ended. The guy in the other corner looked mean. Milos wanted
to heckle my morale and told me to break his ugly nose. I lack aggressiveness and I
wanted to win, but not by breaking his nose. I was taking the initiative and the guy
had had enough in my opinion. I started to pity him and softened my attacks.

I fought tactically, saving my breath and energy for the final thirty seconds, but the first round
ended faster than I expected.

Our main coach stopped by and told me to keep my guard high and absorb all
the hits when he started his attack. Then when he ran out of breath, I could make the
wining counter attack. He would hit just my shoulders and my gloves, but he would
not score any points until he got past my guard. I did exactly what I was told in the
second round, but the jolt from hits and kicks to my guard got to my head. Latter I
understood that you can’t win just by defense.

My main coach was shouting something to me and I turned around to see his
lips and read what he was telling me. I was more afraid of my main coach than of my
opponent. I received a good kick through my guard and my eye started to swell. My
vision darkened and I saw some stars. The referee stopped the match for a second
and checked my eye to see if I was O.K. I lied him of course saying that I was fine,
but he told me that I was done and my opponent won by means of technical
knockout. This was wrong; I knew I was better than the other guy.

I was better, but because I pitied him and I was not showing enough of initiative, the referees saw it
the opposite way. Milos asked me questions like what is my name, where I am from
to check if I was alright. I was sitting there like a deer in the headlights.
Later Jaro came and told me that he saw a little bit of both of my fights. He
grabbed my hand, pressed it and told me “You fought well Andrew”.

His handshake ... my admired coach’s handshake ... was more important to me than if I had won
two gold medals from the championship.

After a few months, Jaro had a problem with our main coach and he left the
club. Soon after, I left too. I had to study hard for my final high school exams – was
my official explanation but in reality it was that with Jaro gone. At the same time, my
motivation for kickboxing and competing was gone.

I don't remember being praised by my father. He actually only did it twice. The
first time was when I finished college and the second time was when I finished my PhD. study.

Now I know that most of time he was proud of me and enjoyed praising
his son in front of his friends when I was not around. He thought that saying it to me
directly was not appropriate. I only heard from other people that he was proud of me.
He probably thought that he had not been hard enough on me. If he was hard, I was
even harder. I was both hard on myself and on him.

All our conversations were about what I could do better or what I did wrong. Maybe he feared he would lose my respect if he praised me. But he was wrong, I did not respect him at that time and I
stopped fearing him once I learned to box. I stopped respecting him because of one
incident where he treated me like a servant. He made that mistake only once, but it
changed our relationship forever. It was nothing tragic, but it was the tipping point for
losing my respect.

Lesson learned: It is more important that you keep on fighting than if you fall
down whether you are winning or losing. Never give up. Keep your head up and keep
fighting. You aren’t a sissy, but a fighter. Don’t whimper, get up and fight. You can
lose this fight, but you can’t give up. Each time you get up, you become better and in
the end you will win.

From zero to hero

Before I met one friend Mato, I thought that all guys who fought were stupid
and that all boxers were stupid because they took beatings to their heads. That is
what I was told and I did not want to be stupid. Being stupid was bad for school
grades and having good grades was the way to please my parents. But this new
friend Mato was intelligent and after some time I found out that he was training in
kickboxing. That broke my myth about how stupid boxers were.

Mato was quite a smart guy. When I was fifteen I quit my after school German lessons, had my long
hair cut short and started to practice the kickboxing. It was not easy to find part-time
work at my age, but my dad helped me and I spent that summer working in a
warehouse. With the money, I could buy boxing gloves and pay for the kickboxing
training. This was very openly protested by my parents.

They didn’t like this kind of sport and consider it uncivilized. My father was mocking me because of that, but I did not quit.

Practicing kickboxing and working out at gym was the best thing that
happened to me in my entire miserable life. The first three months were physically
the worst, but I loved it. I thought during every training session that I would die from
fatigue. I respected the coach very much and I was not cheating during the exercises.

I admired Jaro (the coach) and I did everything he told us to do. I wanted to be the
best and earn his respect. I felt great and I knew I could defend myself and also the
weaker people around me from the bullies.

I physically and mentally went from zero to hero. I felt my kickboxing was
giving me power and although my parents were persuading me to stop I would not. I
practiced as hard as hell. Finally, I found somebody who believed in me and told me
how good I was. That boosted my self-esteem.

Winning became fun and I got the approach – “No matter how much I hurt, or how many times I have to get up, I will get up and fight until the end.

When there are only four things you do for a few months, your life becomes
simpler. I studied at school, trained the kickbox, slept and ate. I ate everything I could
whenever I could. You wake up, stretch, eat something and go to school. There you
study and any free time you have, you eat everything there is to eat.

When you have free time and there is nothing to eat, you sleep for few minutes until the next lesson
begins. When you return from school, you do your homework, eat and go to the gym
for another kickboxing lesson. Then you return home, take a shower, eat again and
sleep for 12 hours. That is the price for success in sports.

This is what I did for one year. My school marks got worse and we had many
fights at home because of that. That was the only negative part of my training. The
positive was that after three months of training I could fight almost anybody in school
and win. I was not doing it, but I knew I could if needed. My self-esteem grew and my
fears were lost.

Bullies will feel the strength in you and they find different targets if you are too
much for them. I only had to fight once in high school. And it was not a real fight
actually. The guy was down in less than a second. I got scared at first what happened
to him. You have to be careful with your speed and strength when you train with the
wolves and then a puppy challenges you for a fight.

A guy who was one year older, and little big bigger, was causing trouble in the
changing room. He was turning the lights on and off and when the changing room is
full of students and it gets dark, it is very difficult to change clothes and shoes. I told
him to stop. He did not of course as he was bigger and older. I pushed him to the wall
and told him to stop. He stopped for a while, but when I left, he started again.

As I was leaving the school, he was waiting with five of his friends at the parking lot which
I had to go around to catch the bus. They were looking at me strangely, but I was
ready to fight as I still felt the righteous anger because of the changing room.
I knew they would wait for me somewhere in school next day because they did
some threatening gestures and few ugly notes towards me.

I decided to finish this issue with the guy and I waited for him the next morning. I wanted to speak to him and tell him it is not smart to start trouble with me. As I approached him to talk, he
smiled arrogantly and I knew the words will not work this time. There are people who
are impossible to make agreement with unless you use power. My eyes went red and
I hit him a few times. It was normal on a kickboxing class to make four hits per

I've hit him only three times because he was down on the floor so quickly I had
no time to hit him the fourth time. I was shocked. This is not how it should happen.
Nobody in kickboxing training fell down so quickly. We were giving and taking
punches and kicks for minutes and although we were tired, it was not usual to fall
down to the ground. This was the surprise effect on my side.

He who hits first usually wins if the opponent is not prepared to fight. Moment of surprise was on mi side. To take the initiative is good in life.

There was lot of anger in me, but I could not hit a person lying on the floor if he
is no threat anymore. So I left full of anger and hit the classroom doors. I realized
how fragile the doors were. I had to put that anger outside of me and it is better to
break something than break someone. I was angry at myself that I lost control and
fought the bully instead of talking to him. Word got out that I was a fast kick boxer
and I had no problems with bullies in school again.

One of my friends, John, started to take kickboxing classes at the same time
as I did, but he stopped after a month or two. Once I saw him playing basketball on
the playground and with the bully I choked in school before. We were sixteen or
seventeen years old at that time. As I was passing by I saw the bully start to hit my
friend and he went down. I did not understand why John was not fighting back.

The bully was weaker than John in my opinion. Later I understood that he had a
psychological advantage over John. So I came nearer and told the bully to stop, that
John had enough. He stopped but he said he wouldn’t and prepared himself for
another hit. I told him that I wouldn’t repeat it again and I was quite thrilled to have a
legitimate reason to beat up the bully. He saw I was not joking, so he said a few
words to John and left.

I have seen him twice since that situation. Once we meet in a different town
and I was looking for part time work during college study in Banska Bystrica, so he
offered me a job digging sewers together for one day for decent pay. It was a dirty
job, but I needed the money. Unfortunately I never saw him face to face again and I
was not paid for the job. Last time I saw him he was on TV — he was there as an
alcoholic and gambler receiving treatment. I pity him.

Some bullies make a career out of crime or politics or they end up broken like he did. Bad karma gets them sooner or later. If you train in martial arts or fighting sports, you have a physical advantage.
But if you are mentally not prepared to use it and switch your psyche to the fighting
mode, you will not use it to your full advantage. It is still helpful to train, because you
will able to absorb more beatings.

But without the right fighting attitude it is difficult to win. Stronger determination to win makes the difference. John was paralyzed by not expecting the fight and not switching his mind into fighting mode.

It is O.K. to have fear, but it is not O.K. to be paralyzed by it. You have to fight
or run. Never stay still and become the punching bag. Move, move, move!