About Me

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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

30 June, 2013

A Final Bow

A Final Bow

Sometime in May 2012, Bamboo Martial Arts (BMA), the Taekwondo club I ran, stopped holding formal classes. Since then, I’ve continued to do my own workouts, officiated tests at my original master’s school, attended seminars, and helped promote the New Jersey Taekwondo Association(NJ-USAT). I also ran a short-lived after school Taekwondo program at the middle school where I am a Health and Physical Education teacher. BMA has, however, maintained an online presence with a Twitter account, Facebook page and its own website, offering private and semi-private Taekwondo lessons. It’s also registered as an active club with USA Taekwondo (USAT), the governing body of Taekwondo in the United States, in the hope that it would grow into something bigger. Alas, it has not.

In its second incarnation - its first go around was in 1993 as The Bamboo Institute of Martial Arts (BIOMA) - BMA failed to generate enough interest and student enrollment to sustain itself and to promote Taekwondo fully. To my masters and the larger Taekwondo community, for that I apologise. Without its own location and with limited resources, resulting in nominal promotion, minimal class times, and inadequate facilities, BMA was never going to be able to surpass being a very small club. 

The first Bamboo logo/patch, ca 1993.
The largest regret I have, equal to that of failing the art of Taekwondo, is not being able to directly pass Taekwondo on to my son as his teacher and fulfill my hope and dream of producing a kind of Bas family Taekwondo dynasty. I can, and do, as his father, still demonstrate the tenets of Taekwondo for him in my daily life. I just don’t do it as his sabumnim. My father-son Taekwondo dream is over. My son, however, is taking Taekwondo lessons but at Apex Martial Arts, a nearby character-based and champion-producing school. It’s an exceptional program and he’s loving it and I’m glad he’s there but, speaking as a father and merely as a human being, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small dagger in my heart every time we go there. I’d be more than dishonest, too, if I said I didn’t wish he was training under me at our own school. I’d hoped that we would follow in the footsteps of Al and Mark Dacascos, Ernie Reyes, Sr and Jr., Master Tiger Kim and his twin sons, who are masters now themselves, and Masters Simon and Phillip Rhee and their father. Taekwondo isn’t just something I do and have done for almost thirty years. It’s not just something I want my son to do. It’s what I am and what I hope he becomes. As parents, we always hope our children do more and better than what we did. I may not be his teacher but I did introduce Taekwondo to him, exposing him to New Jersey State Championships, taking him to 2011 US Team Trials and the 2011 National Championships. I even gave him his first two uniformed lessons. Perhaps, when he’s a dad, though, he’ll get to succeed where I failed and realise the father-son Bas Taekwondo dynasty.

As for me, I’ll continue to train. I might even join the same dojang my son is attending but I won’t be there as a teacher. It’s been a long time since I walked onto a dojang floor completely as a student. That could be a challenge but also something to cherish. I might go back to one of my masters’ dojangs. I might continue to compete but I haven’t yet decided. I will, though, continue to promote Taekwondo and other martial arts through my writing endeavours and other means I am able to utilise.

I am grateful for all the masters I’ve studied under, regardless of what style it was in, who have taken their time to nurture my potential. I’m grateful, too, for all the students I’ve had. I thank them for allowing me to share my vision of the martial arts with them. I also acknowledge everyone who supported BMA as a school and as a concept; martial arts interpreted through the symbolism of a bamboo stalk, hard and flexible on the outside and hollow on the inside. In my martial arts career there are an abundance of people, for different reasons, who will always hold a special place in my mind and heart. There’s Grandmaster Lee, Ron, Steve, Rachel, Mike, Grandmaster Kim, Master Levy Diogene, Vinny and Vinnie, Ani, Wayne, Steve Saunders, Tony Palmieri, Leon, Master Herb Perez, to name a few. Naturally, there are my wife and my son. To all of them, I offer my heartfelt gratitude and, in many ways - as a friend, like a brother, like a son - I can truly say I love you.

I’m not done with Taekwondo or the martial arts. I don’t believe they’re done with me. I’ve been doing Taekwondo too long to even consider giving it up but as with other things in life, whether willingly or not, my ongoing love affair with Taekwondo is taking another turn. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes and what directions we take. I still want to visit The Kukkiwon and train there for a time. Who knows? Maybe I'll get there one day.

In the meantime, however, like its physical existence, BMA’s online life will be coming to a close. At the end of July 2013, BMA will shut down its Twitter, Facebook and website accounts. When it’s membership expires, BMA will also cease to be a registered Taekwondo club with USAT.

For now, as I make my final public bow - my last kungyet - let me simply say thank you. Or, more appropriately, kamsamnida.

21 June, 2013


My son, Jude, had his first 'graduation' a couple of weeks ago. Pre-K is over and, this fall, he'll be starting kindergarten. And, of course, there was a short but very sweet and entertaining ceremony at his preschool. The students sang, received superlative awards (Jude earned 'Best Imagination') and presented themselves in what they hope to be in the future. Jude, it turns out, wants to be an astronaut, which is likely coming from his exposure to and love of superhero/scifi shows and movies; programs like Power Rangers, Green Lantern, Superman, Star Wars, Iron Man, you name it. One of Jude's classmates wants to be a fire breathing dragon. Awesome!

There were a total of nine graduates - 8 boys, 1 girl - and watching them interact with their own inside jokes, nicknames and playful banter reinforced that my son is no longer the little peanut we brought home from the maternity ward five years ago or the pudgy faced toddler who feared the idea of feeding himself or abandoning the nighttime security of a diaper. Among themselves, they nicknamed the lone girl 'Pink Ranger Princess' or something like that. She wore a pink gown and sat in the centre chair. Flanking her, the boys were very smart in their dark trousers and tuxedo t-shirts. 

Seeing them laugh, joke, exchange knowing glances, I couldn't help from taking a moment to close my eyes (I actually did close them, the corn ball I am) and look into into the future. I saw my son with his new friends in primary school then into the secondary school years, bringing them home to do homework and projects, play some Wii or some other home entertainment gizmo, run around outside or go to the park to shoot some round ball, run home and raid our fridge for snacks and drinks. As they refresh and catch their breath, they'd banter about the upcoming school ball game and who thinks who's cute in Science class. In my mind's eye, it was all so idyllic; my own version of The Cosby Show or Family Ties, albeit with (so far) just one kid. I hope Jude gets to have these experiences, never losing the inncocent joy and unhindered interaction I witnessed at his graduation. It's a lot to wish for, since innocence is always lost, but, especially if you're a parent, I think you know what I mean. I hope and pray, too, that he keeps the friendships he's made at preschool - although, at his age now, this is largely dependent upon my wife and I, his parents - and that he makes true and lasting ones in primary school and beyond. 

Tomorrow is graduation day at my school district. Our eighth graders will be moving on to high school and our seniors on to university or, for some, the military or the workforce. Wherever and whatever they do, it's a very unique time of their lives. It's a time of change - a little scary, perhaps, but always exciting - in which they can exert more and more of their own growing independence and individuality. It's a time for them, if they haven't already done so, to begin dreaming, thinking and planning for who they want to be when they're grown up and truly fending for themselves and making their mark on the world. I wish all of them luck and much success. I also encourage them to take moments to breathe and to look back, to close their eyes and remember their own preschool graduations and the innocence they possessed and hopefulness it offered. Time can't go backwards and as they get older they're going to get caught up in getting ahead; sometimes at the expense of remembering what they were getting ahead for. And, whatever they do, I hope they go at it with the enthusiasm and abandon they approached things when they were Jude's age. If they don't, there's going to be a regret and, worse still, a doubt or two inside them as they get older.

Life, after all, doesn't have to be a burden, although at times it feels that way. Life shoud be enjoyed. It's just sometimes we forget how to enjoy it. But, when we do - and we will - all we need is to go to a playground and watch kids play. If you have your own, stop what you're doing and watch them. If you don't, close your eyes, find a memory and watch yourself. And, when the smile kicks in, get back to what you were doing. It'll be a lot more fun.

Good luck graduates and congratulations. 

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

I received a very flattering email yesterday. 

An intern at the Asian American Writer's Workshop (AAWW) informed me that the entry due date for the 16th Annual Asian American Literary Awards (AALA) is coming up and that my novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, "definitely deserves to be considered." For me, this kind of positive unsolicited compliment, is just as validating - perhaps more so - than positive words in a book review; especially for an indie published book like mine since many of us indie authors have to solicit others to review our books. 

I emailed back - and am yet to hear from them - to verify the invitation because I checked years ago and found out, to my disappointment, that the AALA doesn't accept self-published books. After emailing, I went to the link I was given to enter and, sure enough, is still says that they don't accept indies. Well, I'm still waiting to hear from them. Perhaps they've made an exception or changed their rules. Or, maybe they're starting an indie category. Either way, it's still very flattering that an intern got wind of my book somewhere, liked it - or, at least, the premise - and feels that, since it "definitely deserves to be considered," it can stand up to traditionally published literature.

So, while I'm hopeful that I will be allowed to submit my book and, who knows, maybe even win some kind of accolade, I chalk this in the 'good things come to those who wait' category of my life. It's been a little over a year since my book came out it seems that word of my little Asian American/Taekwondo/YA/coming-of-ager may be starting to gain some traction.

I'll keep you posted. 

17 June, 2013

Review: Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Bruised, by Sarah Skilton, is a tender story about sixteen-year-old Imogen, a Taekwondo black belt, who has just witnessed an attempted robbery that resulted in the would-be mugger’s death. After getting covered in his blood, Imogen tries to find – really, re-find – herself and understand her relationship to those around her.

Ms. Skilton’s novel was brought to my attention by a friend (also a writer) because the teenage protagonist is a black belt in Taekwondo and is trying to come to terms with her place in the world. My debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, which came out about a year before Ms. Skilton’s, is also about a teenage Taekwondoist trying to come to terms with his place in the world. Although the circumstances around their uncertainties are very different, it is through Taekwondo training that they come to some kind of conclusion. And, it is because of that that Bruised is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read.

Too often, books and movies about martial arts are about some kind of superhero or cop or spy battling against super villains as he or she tries save to the world. Bruised, on the other hand, deals with martial arts and the martial artist in a real way. Most of us who practice martial arts (I am a 28 year Taekwondo practitioner with a sixth degree black belt) will never battle any kind of villain, let alone a super one, while trying to save the world we live in. But we do fight. We combat those things in our own lives that infect our hearts and minds - villains like fear, uncertainty, arrogance, laziness - that challenge us every day. Ms. Skilton depicts this side of martial arts expertly and honestly, the way only someone who’s experienced it can. And, Ms. Skilton has, having earned her own Taekwondo black belt. Moreover, she presents an honest depiction of a teenager. Martial artist or not, Imogen is a typical teenager going through the common, but individually unique, set of trials and tribulations that come with dealing with family members during adolescence, the changing dynamic of best friends, and finding romance for the first time.

Another reason why I recommend Bruised is because it shows Imogen battling with the meaning of her black belt and the reliability of her fighting skills. This was particularly interesting to me for two reasons: 1. Back Kicks, in its early drafts, started out with that as its central theme and 2. speaking again as a martial artist, that’s something we all question at some point in our martial arts lives. Ms. Skilton organically puts Imogen in a situation that makes her question her years of training and her attempts to find answers and the resolution that Ms. Skilton puts Imogen through are nicely presented and true to the principles of what all martial arts teach. There is nothing cliché or predictable in how Imogen finds her place.

As a longtime and lifelong martial artist, there were two instances of inaccuracy in Bruised that made me crumple my nose. As a writer of fiction, however, I was able to sidestep them under the guise of literary license. I won’t point them out, however, leaving them for other martial artists who read Ms. Skilton’s book to find. Truly, they don’t really affect the story. Other martial artists will discover them, cringe for a second and be done with it. It’s when non-martial arts people read them and take them, perhaps, as fact that is my minor concern. As an experienced martial artists herself, however, Ms. Skilton may have intentionally added them as an illustrative device; depicting how teenagers, even though they may be knowledgeable and adept at something, still get things wrong. Heck, even adults do.

To end this review, I’d like to thank Ms. Skilton. I enjoy those ‘bang bang’ movies and stories about superhero martial artists and spies who have great martial arts skills. But, as I mentioned earlier, most martial artists don’t get to use their skills that way. Ms. Skilton successfully presents martial arts in their true light. While there are some really well written action scenes in Bruised, it’s Imogen’s use of the mental and emotional arsenal she’s attained that are the best and most rewarding scenes. Bruised is a book for those who like a little action in the stories they read, those who enjoy a good YA coming-of-ager, and those who like an internal, more literary, kind of story.


On a separate note, I couldn’t help from smile throughout my reading of Bruised because of the coincidental similarities between Ms. Skilton’s novel and my own. Imogen’s Taekwondo master is Grandmaster Huan. The grandmaster in Back Kicks And Broken Promises is Grandmaster Han. One of the main characters, what I like to call the ‘sub-protagonist’ or ‘second protagonist’ is Imogen’s love interest, Ricky. The protagonist in my book is also called Ricky. And, lastly, Imogen refers to and uses the character rules from Grandmaster Huan’s dojang (Taekwondo school) to help her understand what’s going on around her; mantra that guide her way of life and how she interacts with friends, family members, and teachers, and how she is supposed to behave in all sorts of situations. Perhaps it’s the nature of Taekwondo, more than other martial arts, because in all the arts I’ve studied Taekwondo is the only one in which some set of rules are recited at the start of every class. In my school and in my book, they’re called Mental Training and Ricky, the protagonist of Back Kicks And Broken Promises, refers to them constantly.


09 June, 2013

Mr. Lessmore

Mr. Lessmore

I run an after school Creative Writing class at my school. I have four students and we meet Mondays from 3:15pm to 4:15pm. We meet in the library and, last Monday, the librarian had to leave early so she asked me to lock up. As she left, she turned to me and said, “Juan, you’re in charge. Take care of the books.”

I’ve locked up the library before but that was before I learnt that she’s retiring. And, the last time I locked up, I had a full class and the five of us walked out together. This time, however, only one of my four turned up and he had to leave fifteen minutes early. Already committed to being there, I decided to remain and do some writing of my own for another half an hour or so.

When I decided to go, I had to shut a window, turn off three electric fans and make sure the door was locked. It’s silly - maybe -  but I felt the spirit of Mr. Lessmore as I did what was tasked of me. Libraries are already quiet places but with the doors shut, the noise from the fans gone and with no one else in the room or even in the school’s hallways, the silence seemed even quieter. To be honest, that kind of dominating silence has, in other situations, intimidated and even scared me. This time, I felt safe. It was like I was among friends. And, of course, as corny as this is going to sound, my friends were the books. That’s when and how I felt like I was playing the role of Mr. Lessmore. The librarian had left and, albeit briefly, I was in charge of the books that surrounded me.

With that duty, that responsibility, I couldn’t help but smile.

If you don’t know who Mr. Lessmore is read and watch The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It’s by William Joyce and is, for me, the quintessential piece of work that defines every lover of books. It’s a beautiful story that is about how important reading AND writing are and how important it is to cherish what has been written and to share it; that books can - and do - literally and figuratively shape and colour our lives.

So, for a brief moment last Monday, I got to be a kind of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I got to be the hero in one of my favourite books.

When was the last time your life imitated art or made you think that you were playing a part in a book, movie, play, painting; whatever it is that you’d recently seen and/or consider one of your favourites? Whenever it was - or going to be - I hope it’s as special to you as mine was to me.

01 June, 2013

Anxious About Awards

Today, June 1, 2013, IndieReader will be announcing the winner of its 2013 Discovery Awards (IRDA) at Book Expo America. And, as ridiculous as it sounds, I'm anxious - even nervous - about it. Last March, my book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, earned a four (out of five) star review from IndieReader. After corresponding with the reviewer, I was told that my novel stands a strong and legitimate chance at winning IRDA so, heck, I decided to enter. To quote her review, Back Kicks is "an insightful and pertinent novel" that is "full of multi-cultural details." You never know, right? Someone's book is going to win. Why not mine?

So, I don't know if what I'm feeling is appropriate or if I'm fooling myself into believing my book is worth more than it is. After all - and I think it'd be fair to say this is true of most writers - I don't write with the goal of winning a prize. I write to tell a story; to entertain, educate, support, inspire. (Whether I've done any of that is for readers and reviewers to decide.) But, it's funny how my competitive spirit, nurtured from years of being a high school athlete, Taekwondo competitor and coach, has come out. I won't be devastated if I don't win but I'll be bummed, if for nothing else, because of the lost potential of my book to gain further exposure and for my writing career to gain some (more) momentum. But, I suppose, that'll just mean plugging away through other avenues and knocking on other and different doors to promote my work. 

For whoever wins, assuming it's not me, I give you an early congratulations. As a fellow indie, I'll be supporting you work. For me, in the meantime, it's back to the keyboard as I write my WIPs.