Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Recording in Writing Walt (The First Talk Story)
"Use what you can, not what you want"
That's a phrase I learned from Jiu Jitsu. When in compromised positions, sometimes what was taught to you isn't 100% available. If an opponent is on top of you, trying to choke you out and you need your right hand to perform an escape, but your right hand is held back and unavailable . . . well, you don't just give up. You instead use what's left at your disposal to get out.
Welcome to Record Stack, the nonfiction, article writing part of this project. This is where I record significant ideas, real people, and true stories. One person that I thought would be perfect to start this part of the project with is Walt. He is a friend of my dad, a mentor on the mat, and someone of high integrity, honesty, and character.
Originally, I was searching for some grand origin story of how his personality came to be. The type of thing that could be used to inspire a whole novel or something along those lines. Instead, I got lunch with a friend, a memory that punctuates the pandemic, and "Three Recommendations for How to Be a Good Hire."
It wasn't what I had planned on getting, but it is exactly what I needed.
What I Wanted
This past year, I had the opportunity to work my first "real job" helping with project management for my dad's company. One of my biggest takeaways was learning that the values I was raised to think of as "normal" were actually kind of rare. Honesty, integrity, and fairness are more like luxuries than they are standards. When I asked my dad if that's the case everywhere, he replied no, there were also good people that do good work and mentioned people like Walt.
Creative work, like writing and storytelling, can discover, deliver, and promote the sorts of luxury values that are lacking today. Creativity is as an act that simply connects seemingly disparate notions and harvests useful wisdom from unexpected places. Stories have morals and the experience of a story, through watching or reading, allows for a transfer of those morals. It is the feeling of being super charged and inspired after leaving a movie theater.
But where do the morals in movies come from?
I would be willing to bet that those stories were written by people like me. And those people were probably inspired by people around them. Ordinary, yet extraordinary family or friends that they might have known for years on end.
In short, people like Walt.
What I wanted was to prove this idea. The plan was to meet up with Walt, learn about his origin story, and then write something that people could relate to and feel supercharged by. If I could show people the origin of good character, maybe I could do my part in promoting it.
To set the stage for Walt, I must to go to a place I have never been. Hawaii, pre-1995, before I was born. What is written here is only what I've been told. As far as I know, the story goes:
In the 90's my dad would often go to the Iolani weight room before coaching soccer practice. There, he met Walt who was the weight room manager at the time. The two became friends and lifted some heavy weights.
After lifting, they would sometimes go to bars and sometimes end up at one of the many bowling alleys that don't exist anymore. There, they would play games that involved basketball-horse styled trick shots. Bowling opposite hand, bowling without fingers, bowling backwards, etc.
Around this time, they both attended Jiu Jitsu classes out of Relson Gracie's garage. That class moved to UH. They trained for a bit. Sometime in the 90's, both Walt and my dad stopped doing Jiu Jitsu up until 2008 or so when Walt started again.
And now, with what I do know . . .
With some strong suggestion from my dad, I started training Jiu Jitsu around 2008/9ish. There, I met Walt and a bunch of other people that knew me as my dad's son. That class, much like the one they attended back in the 90's, was being taught out of a garage. James, the host and instructor, was one of the better ones from the class from back in the day. When my dad and Walt went on a Jiu Jitsu hiatus, James stayed with the practice and became a seasoned certified badass (he was always a certified badass, the part that was added over time was the seasoning).
When I first started Jiu Jitsu, I was around the same height, but maybe 15-20 lbs lighter than Walt. Because of the rough similarity in size, I would partner up with him for drilling moves and free training afterwards. I don't remember being too fond or appreciative of Jiu Jitsu back then. It was mostly something to do based on suggestion versus interest.
Off the mats, I would occasionally see Walt at Iolani picking up his kids. His truck was one of a kind. On the front, he attached a fake animal skull with a tennis ball in its mouth and on the back, he had his kids' handprints splattered on in paint. Occasionally, I would see them and wave. My friends would ask me who that was, and in response, I would jokingly reply, he's the guy that kicks my ass sometimes on Saturdays.
Jiu Jitsu was an on/off sort of thing for me and I wasn't consistent with it until 2017-ish when I returned to Hawaii after graduating college. Around this time, Walt was hosting his own training sessions out of his garage, teaching one of his daughter's-classmate's-dad (his name is Aaron) some of the basics.
Despite starting Jiu Jitsu nearly ten years prior, it wasn't until this time that it finally started making sense to me. Maybe it was being a little older and a little more confident. Maybe it was the fact that I was now 15-20lbs heavier than Walt. The concepts and strategy just seemed to click and stick. I still was not winning all that much, but the losses and mistakes started sticking a little bit better and I could feel myself learning a little quicker.
When training with Walt, in between rounds, we'd often talk about work, who's doing what, whose kids are where now, and other typical adult stuff. Every now and then, they would talk about what they would do back in the day when they were my age (which is how I learned about tipsy-horse-bowling).
Fast forward to the present day. It is the end of the year, 2021. Jiu Jitsu has been on an extended hiatus. After not talking to him in over a year, I sent him a text to reach out. His response, which is perfect and indicative of his character was,
"don’t know what you need but I will be happy to do whatever. Let me know when and where."
So after a bit of planning off we go.
Despite only needing to take an escalator down to the first floor, Walt beat me to the restaurant we agreed on and informed me that they were closed. We instead go to a ramen restaurant next door. Prior to any of this, he insisted on treating me to lunch and offered to get the tab. We ordered two bowls of ramen (him a small, me a medium, me some gyoza, cause c'mon gotta gyoza).
We catch up and I share my experiences of the past year as well as some half-baked intentions and ideas for this whole thing and I mention how I'm curious and inspired by his perceived integrity as mentioned by my dad. He laughs and tries to play it off. He shows humility and tells me my dad should think of better people.
After some talking and eating, I ask him to just tell his story and he begins talking about work. Where he starts his story, was something that surprised me. In his mind, everything begins when he met my dad through weightlifting at Iolani. The moment of significance was when my dad offered him a job at a construction company (JAR). Previously, he had a job at the bank, but accepted this offer and moved. And more or less, he's been there ever since (technically, JAR Split up, but Walt sticked with the J in that one and still works with him to this day).
Because our lunch was informal, I didn't record audio or take notes, but the one quote that I kept was,
"I didn't need to know anything from school, all I needed to know was your dad."
What I had originally imagined as some mysterious secret ingredient to integrity was just knowing the right person at the right time. Not wanting to linger too long or pry over anything, I just let the conversation flow and continue. We moved away from what I thought I wanted and continued to talk story.
We talked about Jiu Jitsu. We talked about other martial arts and how James would be a good person to talk to. We talked about different youtube stars and how maybe there's a way in which my work and writing becomes something like Soko Ga Shiritai (Japanese Program where hosts just go and talk to random folks).
Eventually, we circled back to work and talked about things that were troublesome. Notably, when people look good on paper, but not so much in real life. We lingered on that topic for a little bit and talked about how there seems to be so much emphasis these days on appearing competent without being it.
When I asked about why or how people are like that, he expressed a bit of natural disgust at that notion.
Then, I asked an objective question, "what are qualities you look for in good hires?" to which, he said something like,
"Good hires . . . don't bs . . . gotta show up to work on time . . . and have a good attitude. The attitude is the most important. (I) don't like people that just look good on resume but don't mesh well."
After that, we wrapped up lunch and headed toward the parking structure. I thanked Walt for lunch and he expressed more willingness to help me in whatever way he could. Walt went back to work and I went back up the escalator to start writing this record.
Normally, people-centric articles follow a historical account and tend to show people's character in action. The golden rule of any writing is "Show-Don't-Tell." Because of this rule, most articles don't waste any word real estate on anything that isn't directly "showing" the point, the argument, or the idea.
Much of journalism is finding ways to paint the featured people as they are advertised to be. Having done a bit of journalism before for magazines, I was going into this article with that mindset. I was using what I was taught and what I knew worked before.
I wanted a narrative-like account that could show Walt's integrity in formation. The type of convenient anecdote that could do the hard work of the article writing for me. I didn't get that. But I knew I couldn't just give up on the article and the idea, so I just dug a little deeper. When looking back on the notes and thinking back to that Jiu Jitsu advice that is at the top of this page, I realized that while I didn't have what would've traditionally worked, I had something better -
Something different, something unique, and something truly personal.
It is less a secret ingredient for integrity, but instead a recipe for good character. Although not an anecdote, the three tips for how to be a good hire are a great explanation for the type of person that Walt is. All of this can be seen in action in this little episode.
No B.S. is Walt showing up, being himself and being honest.
Showing up on time, is something I didn't do, but Walt did. I was late to my own meeting that I set up. Because he was early, we had time to change plans without wasting any time.
And finally, have a good attitude is Walt's receptiveness to an otherwise unformed and loosely imagined person-piece-idea.
Because he embodied these three things, I was able to find some success with this whole episode. Beyond the purpose of this record, I had the opportunity to reconnect with someone I haven't seen in a while and enjoy a meal with them (and I was lucky enough that I didn't have to pay). On top of that, I learned a lot about where I am in the context of a much larger scope. Working on this writing helped me put into perspective an interweaving story that transcends generations. My dad was an inciting incident in Walt's story. Walt is an inciting incident in my story and with this project.
I am thankful and grateful for the experience, because to me, this sort of thing is what life is truly all about and is what I am most interested in capturing for sake of memory and future use. Going forward, I will be sure to keep these three rules in mind when talking story with other people. I am positive that if I am honest (No BS), on time, and open to whatever is in front of me, something good will come out of it.