I’m a weird mix between east and west.
I grew up in a disciplined household with lots of structure. I went into the Marine Corps and jumped into even more structure!!
I followed that with years of extreme ambition. Of starting a company. Of working insane 18-hour days and going nine years with basically just a couple of vacations. I was chasing success and I never really caught it.
And after the exhaustion and burnout finally overtook me, I began moving toward the Eastern mindset. I’ve read dozens (if not a hundred plus) books on Eastern Philosophy.
These days, I’m big-time into mindfulness, living in the moment, and Shaolin Kung Fu. Into smiling, taking deep breaths, and living as if I have less than five minutes remaining in my life.
I was really small growing up and attended a rough high school. Same one that Zaevion Dobson was famously shot at. I was way undersized and this created the perfect recipe for bullying. (Believe it or not, I was only 5’4″ tall and 118 pounds when I graduated as a senior and left for the Marines. Plus, I started school early, so I was almost a year younger than most people.)
Without question, when I’m honest, I was bullied most of my life. (Even at church! Oops.) I began taking Tae Kwon Do when I was probably eight or nine. And I followed that with studying many different styles as I grew up. Amercian Freestyle Karate, Kajukenbo, boxing, and lots of weight-lifting.
“I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. But it is a hell of a disease to be born with. I like to do it. Which is even worse. That makes it from a disease into a vice. Then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it, which makes it into an obsession. An obsession is terrible.” — Ernest Hemingway
Truthfully, I never had much of a choice to stop studying martial arts. In high school, there were not only more bullies, but they were bigger and quite often some of them carried knives (and in one case even a pistol). Plus, several were literally 18 years old, and most certainly were too big and violent to have been in a public school.
In fact, my first day in high school as a freshman, while I was still just 13, a tall, fully bearded 18-year-old senior came up to my desk, picked up my backpack, asked me if I were a freshman. I was puzzled, but said “yes.” (I actually thought he was the teacher when he first walked up. He looked that old. More like 23 than 18.) Immediately, he turned, carried the backpack to the window, and launched it from the third-floor window. This happened so fast that I didn’t even have time to react, but was my first taste of what life would be like in that pretty scary high school.
My fear rarely left me. I spent hours practicing martial arts every night after I was told to go to bed by my parents. But I struggled to sleep because I was so scared to go to school the next day, so I would get up and start practicing again.
I never truly told my parents how terrified I was, or about how I once had an armed drug dealer basically take my lunch money when he caught me by myself in the locker room.
But on the upside of this, by the time of my senior year, I was pretty tough. Besides the martial arts and boxing, I also seriously lifted weights — and had since I was a freshman. Thankfully, my parents bought me a bench and weight set for Christmas my freshman year, after my non-ending begging for it.
I left for the Marine Corps as soon as I could, counting myself lucky to have survived high school (I’m only sort of joking), leaving for boot camp just weeks after high school at the age of 17.
I wanted guaranteed infantry in my contract (never said I was bright as a young man) and was privileged to have my guarantee honored. I served my four years with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, an infantry battalion out of Camp Lejeune, NC.
I can’t possibly explain how tough it is to serve in the infantry (it was mostly pure hell, which I’d never lightly recommend to anyone), but one of the highlights of my career was when my platoon served as a covering force attachment for the highly elite Force Recon. We trained and worked with them for almost a year, which was indescribably cool.
I also managed to win Marine of the Quarter for the entire 2nd Marine Division, as well as pick up a Combat Action Ribbon as part of Operation Silver Wake in 1997. (The details on my military career.)
After four years of active service and being fortunate enough to pick up the rank of Sergeant, I left active duty to go to college. In short, I spent the next three and a half years going year-round to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. For some silly reason, I was in a rush, so I took summer classes each year and never less than fifteen hours a semester. I also worked at least thirty hours a week that entire time, obviously nearly killing myself in the process. But I was young at the time — and very driven — so I didn’t know better. Looking back, I wish I had SLOWED down and enjoyed it more, but I’m a half-crazy, ambitious son of a bitch, so what’s one to do?!
At UT, I nabbed a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Following graduation, I worked at several newspapers as a reporter before doing something more dangerous than joining the Marine Corps at 17: I launched a weekly print newspaper at the age of 27. With just $20,000. If you think that sounds really stupid, you’d be absolutely right. In the end, I’d learn the very hard way that I needed more than a $100,000. And with what I know now, I truthfully needed about $250,000, but I’ll spare you that BRUTAL business lesson. (More info on what it’s like to own and run a newspaper here.)
Needless to say, I ended up beat up, divorced, and nearly bankrupt, living rent-free in a friend’s basement. I somehow managed to stay on the good side of all the banks I borrowed from, as well as my investors, thank goodness, who I went to in desperation after the banks wouldn’t lend any more money to the crazy dude trying to start a media empire.
But through all this trauma, I kept doing something I started as a young boy: writing fiction.
This is a habit I started younger than most. I began writing when I was about nine or ten (my Mom and I can’t nail down the precise year), and it started as a form of escape. Big time.
I soon transitioned from just reading to actually writing. Partly because I wasn’t happy reading the stories out there — I’m a notoriously picky reader still to this day — and partly because in these stories that I wrote I changed from a little boy who was scared and bullied, to a young man who was tall, strong, and desirable. And brave. Always brave…
Writing is incredibly difficult and challenging, so it goes without saying that I started and stopped probably thirty novels over the past twenty-plus years before I finished my first one.
These days, I’m still writing as hard as I can, with my sights set for the very top of the fiction world. (Yes, I’m ambitious, and yes, I have a Napoleon complex. Thanks for asking! lol. But I also balance that with the eastern philosophy of being okay with it if I never do make it to the top. There is only this line. There is only this page. There is only this moment. See how I fight so hard between the ambitious western-trained Marine and the eastern-minded Shaolin wannabe monk/disciple?)
Let’s see what else I’m supposed to put in here…
When I’m not writing action-packed thrillers, I’m usually practicing martial arts or weight lifting. While I’m not bullied these days, I’m still addicted to martial arts. Styles I’ve studied include Jeet Kune Do, Krav Maga, Isshinryu, Muay Thai, Uechi-ryu Karate, Aikido, Northern and Southern Kung Fu, Wushu, Pangai-noon, and Wing Chun.
In short, I am COMPLETELY HOOKED on martial arts. Mostly Shaolin Kung Fu these days. So when I’m not writing or working my day job, I’m either lifting or practicing Shaolin Kung Fu.
Part of this attraction to Shaolin Kung Fu also includes its focus on eastern philosophy. Mostly from a Chinese, or Chan Buddhism, perspective. I’ve read three or four Japanese Samurai books, but I don’t relate to their teachings of Zen/martial spirit very well…
And one quick final note on Shoalin Kung Fu, which is one of my favorite fighting styles. In my opinion, it’s very difficult to learn it, which is probably partly what attracts me to it. (But having said that, let me save you about $500 and several years… Here are the two best Kung Fu books I’ve come across, to date: The Shaolin Workout and The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu.) Sadly, the great masters of Shoalin Kung Fu have not done a very good job passing along its moves and applications, much of which were secret, and thus it could potentially die and become extinct in my opinion. And this is truly unfortunate because the depth of Shaolin Kung Fu is endless. And it’s the most life-changing stuff I’ve ever learned.
For those who still haven’t gotten enough of me (Hey, I have a magnetic personality!), you can also subscribe for email updates of my blog posts. (This site is non-political and I mostly post about things that hopefully motivate or inspire you.) Additionally, you can contact me by e-mail at the following address.
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Keep the faith,
Stan R. Mitchell
P.S. Some have asked, “Stan, what in the world gives you such an insane drive? What makes you so ambitious?”
Well, part of it is growing up without much money.
And part of it is a belief that if you’re plowing five acres, but can plow ten, then you ought to get your ass back out there and plow those other five.
To not do so is cheating yourself, your family, your community.
I have been fortunate to have had many good mentors and examples to follow. And I have consistently sought out even greater examples, both in the Marines and in the hundreds of biographies and self-help books that I have read.
So with that, let me pay it forward and see if I can share some wisdom and motivation, in the hopes that it might help you as I’ve been helped.
The following quotes come from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai:
- “Even if you begin without talent, you can become great if you imitate a good model and put forth enormous effort.”
- “Emulate the best behaviors of those around you.”
- “In military affairs, a man must always strive to outstrip others.” <— I’m applying this to fiction writing, but you should apply it to whatever you are doing.
- “In the stories of the elder warriors, it is said that on the battlefield, if one wills himself to outstrip warriors of accomplishment, and day and night hopes to strike down a powerful enemy, he will grow indefatigable and fierce of heart and manifest courage. One should use this principle in everyday affairs, too.”
- “It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain what you have seen and heard others attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think you will be inferior, then you are well on your way.”
And the following quotes are from The Shaolin Workout: 28 Days to Transforming Your Body and Soul the Warrior’s Way. I highly recommend this book, as it’s without question one of the greatest books I’ve ever come across.
- “You create your own life. You make it heaven or hell. Destiny is not something that happens to you. You make your own destiny.”
- “Getting your body and mind right can affect your whole life.”
- “Nothing is difficult or easy in itself. We make it difficult or easy with our attitude. If you don’t want to do it, then nothing is easy.”
- “Strong body, strong mind. Weak body, weak mind.”
- “A foolish person wishes for good things to happen to them, but fortune, success, and happiness rarely just fall in your lap. You must grasp your life and sharpen it.”
- “Confidence is the most important key to success in all areas of your life. Believe in yourself. Trust in yourself. If you lack self-confidence, you can’t get the job done.”
Inspired, I hope? Then read this: