Today I have taken the opportunity to write this blog post about someone who I met in the most unlikely of places. It was at my dear friend Guistina's Christmas Barbecue. Guistina being the gracious host that she is was mingling around the backyard talking to everyone, when she introduced me to Zachary as he arrived at the party, alongside his wife.
We both pulled up a chair at the dining table and I began talking to him and the strangest thing happened. Now, most people that know me well know I am more comfortable talking to women as opposed to men. This is definitely the case because I have more female friends then male friends. But, for some reason I couldnt stop talking to Zac. The conversation didn't involve any idle chit chat, but we spoke to each other in a meaningful way. To the casual observer, it looked like we had been friends for years. I never met him before that night, so for me connecting with someone for the first time like we had was rather interesting indeed. Later that night we parted ways and vowed to keep in touch.
It turns out we had a lot in common. We both had difficult childhoods in certain ways, we both have written books and we both studied martial arts. I was glad that Guistina introduced me to him as we spent quite a while getting to know each other. It has been a while since I have seen him, but we recently got back in touch. I wanted to thank Zac for opening himself up in this capacity, but as you can see from this interview his story has made him who he is. A passionate, caring and inspiring individual who much like myself is seeking to make lasting change to those he encounters.
I listened to an excerpt from your book 'Under the Influence: Reclaiming my Childhood." I found it to be very moving and insightful. Writing your first book and sharing the raw and vulnerable side of you, especially your past, must have been difficult. Has writing your book helped you come to terms with the past?
Writing about my past has been one of the most therapeutic things that I have ever done. By thinking it out, and getting it down onto paper, I was able to come to terms with what happened to me as a child from a safe and adult perspective. That is why it has ‘reclaiming my childhood’ as a subtitle – writing it was a way for me to reclaim my past, take ownership and begin to heal.
Sharing it with the world has had a similarly positive impact. The more people that read my work, the more they share their pasts with me. This mutual sharing of stories allows both of us to learn that we are not alone with what happened in our past, and that we are not alone in our recoveries.
Together we can grow and heal.
Growing up in that environment must have been harrowing for you as a young boy, what lessons did you learn that have carried over in adulthood from that experience?
The main lesson that has stuck with me is one of self-reliance. Growing up I had to fend for myself a lot of the time – finding enough food to eat, keeping my self safe and going through school with little support taught me a lot. To this day, I prefer to do it myself than rely on others. This is a double edged sword of course as some of the best products and art comes from team work! To this end, I am working hard to develop lasting relationships and trust based connections.
Your method of writing is something to be admired and listening to your podcast I found that your voice is rather calming and I became engaged with your story. You have said that growing up you experienced negative things such as poverty and mental health issues. What methods have you employed to manage those issues?
Thank you, I appreciate your kind words!
In terms of practical advice, the cornerstones of my mental health are:
- Daily Exercise (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Weights, Running and Swimming)
- Writing (daily journaling, fiction or nonfiction)
- Meditation (10 minutes of mindfulness each morning)
- Psychologist (Regular sessions with a trained professional)
- Guarding My Mental State At All Costs (Adding more of the positive influences and cutting the negative influences in my life)
This question is actually the focus of my next book that I am currently writing: “How To Get Your Sh!t Together”. This book will be the self-help book that I wish existed growing up!
I remember when I met you at my friend Giustina's party. We connected over a love of martial arts. Tell us more about your martial art journey.
I have been training martial arts of some description for my entire life, starting with karate as a child, then moving onto Muay Thai and Krav Maga as an adult. Finally settling on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi. I was never satisfied with the different aspects of each style, they all had something missing. I would like to outline the reasons behind why I have settled on my current martial arts:
Karate doesn’t spar or have live training. Thus I found that anybody with a little striking experience would dominate a karate practitioner with many more years of experience – this is not right.
Muay Thai is amazing for aggression, striking and clinch work. If it is a stand up confrontation, this is the art that works. However it lacks a ground game – a massive hole.
Krav Maga (under the right instructor) is amazing as a form of self-defence and real world application of techniques gained from other martial arts. However it is really only useful as a mindset as it takes techniques from all other arts – this is a good thing, but long term it is not interesting and you can’t really develop yourself.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). Put simply, BJJ works. It has live sparing, is completely relevant for self-defence (if you are grabbed you use it, if you can strike – run instead!). Furthermore, there is no risk of concussive brain damage – meaning you can spar as hard as you like with little damage – the perfect training system.
Tai Chi. This has no real practical ‘fighting’ benefit. I practice this as a form of meditation and internal martial arts. It has helped me reduce stress, increase focus and slow my breathing down.
Do you credit your foray into martial arts to your success as an accomplished writer, podcaster, video logger, school teacher, mental health advocate and motivational speaker?
Yes, the lessons that I learn on the mat directly relate to my life off it. Each time I train I not only learn new skills, but I also learn more about myself in the process. The dedication, self-discipline, hunt for personal weaknesses, drive, consistency and challenge all have parallels in real life. I am constantly growing.
I have found that overcoming physical challenges directly translates to the ability to overcome mental duress. The heart required to go that extra mile, push out the extra rep or keep fighting against a stronger opponent translates to handling everyday life stress. This is particularly true for competitions, besides a real fight, they are the zenith of the art form. It is you against them, culminating the years of training and conditioning to determine who will win on the day. Ultimately I aim to come out victorious, but in reality the result doesn’t matter. This is because I learn so much about myself – particularly about how I perform under pressure.
Finally, I have found that the more I study martial arts, the more I am noticing parallels in my everyday life. When a situation arises, I am increasingly aware that it is almost identical to a problem that I have found during training. If I know how to overcome on the mat, I almost always know how to overcome it off the mat
Who have been some of your role models to get to where you are today?
Primarily my wife – I always tell her that she added colour to my life. Her influence has been so dramatically positive that prior to her, the world may as well have been in black and white. She always has a way of highlighting moments of mindfulness – pointing out small parts of wonder and joy. This has the impact of getting me out of my head and into the present moment – something that is vital for someone like me who suffers from anxiety issues!
My Jiu Jitsu coach John Donehue has been a massive role model in my recent life – technically he is the best Jiu Jitsu practitioner that I have met – when I roll with him, I feel like a 5 year old fighting a bear. But beyond fighting ability, he always mentions that he ‘isn’t special, he just kept training’. It is encouraging to see that education and consistency can produce such amazing results. I am always motivated by his example to keep going in every aspect of my life.
Although not direct role models, I have also found a lot of wisdom to be gained from the following podcasters and would recommend that everyone listen to them:
- Jocko Willink
- Dan Carlin
- Sam Harris
- Joe Rogan
- Tim Ferris
Do you have any memorable quotes that you live by or that resonate with you?
“Do you remember the person that gave up? Nobody does”. – Unknown
“This too shall pass”. – Unknown
Do you have any words of advice for those who are dealing with complex domestic situations such as what you had experienced?
Everyone situation is of course different, so I can only give the advice that I myself needed to hear: “You are not alone". There is help available, and there are others who know what you are going through – reach out and talk to them, accept their help and advice. You may be strong, but it is ok to rely on other people for help. Your situation will not last forever. No matter what happens, you are still you. Hold onto yourself. Don’t lose faith in humanity, despite what you are currently experiencing, there is beauty, wonder, love and joy to be found in the world”.
In our business, we have a Domestic Violence advocate that helps rehabilitate our students and offers them online coaching as well as resources. Your website seems to be a one stop shop for online resources and material. Any plans to do national or international speaking tours and workshop events so people can get to meet you in person?
I do have plans to ramp up the public speaking and online coaching side of things, and would love the opportunity to meet and talk to people! I specialise in helping people to: overcome anxiety, defeat depression, move on from trauma, get organised, find meaning and follow their dreams. If you are interested in having me for a speaking event, workshop or coaching session, I can be contacted via email by clicking here.
Finally, for those wanting to learn more about you and potentially work with you which is the best way for them to get in touch with you?
I can be found on the web by clicking here . And from there you will be able to find links to my blog, podcast, videos and books. You can also connect with me on social media by clicking the following links for Instagram, Twitter, Linked In, Facebook.Please follow me on these channels to stay up to date with the latest content.
Thanks for your time today Zac. It has been a pleasure interviewing you today.