“THREE STRIKES AND I AM STILL IN”
I should have been dead three different times. First in 1968, as a three-year-old boy with an older and younger brother. We were in the underground hiding place when the North Vietnamese soldiers overtook the city of Hue during the Lunar New Year. At this same time, my mother was giving birth to my baby sister. The gunshots and bombs were dropping around us for two straight weeks and miraculously, none hit our hiding place.
Secondly in 1972, I contracted malaria and was bedridden and hospitalized for nine days. It was heaven-sent that an underweight and modern medicine deprived child survived. Lastly, the communists took over Southern Vietnam in April of 1975 and after two years of house arrest, in 1977, our family took on the motto: “Freedom or Death”. We decided to escape through the South China Sea in a fishing boat to nowhere, hoping to be rescued. After living in an old, battered boat for five nights and four days, we were rescued by a large merchant ship that saw our ant-like boat in open sea.
After staying at a refugee camp in Indonesia for five and half months, we were finally accepted and sponsored to come to America and live in Gainesville, Florida. Not knowing the language and having no money, life was an uphill climb as a teenager. I learned early on that if you were alive, other people’s words or perceptions didn’t really matter, so verbal and cyberbullying did not exist for me. I looked at the negative words from others like a dog barking: meaningless. I learned to work on my own goals and self-improvement and to not have an external ego or compete with others. This remains the main foundation of my life today.
My mother left the world when I was 27 and my dad passed away when I was 38. At the time, I felt that I was at the top of the food chain and in the front row. I knew that I would show how much I missed my parents and how appreciative I was to them through my own parenting skills, and pay them back for the super job that they did. Having children and employees, as well as teaching martial arts to all ages, helped me realize that you cannot make others into who you want them to be, but rather learn to know who they are and make them into the best they can be.
I started college in 1983, held two part-time jobs to pay for all my expenses, and graduated in 1989 with my degree in Building Construction. After working several years in the business world of construction management and banking, I decided to start my own company in 1999. Having extensive experiences with commercial, residential, and civil construction work, I had both a good foundation and confidence. But nothing ever prepares you for managing employees, weather, cost fluctuations, and cash flow. Being young with hope is one of the most powerful tools and with calculated risk, I was ready to move on.
In addition to starting my own company, two years earlier I had taken over the international martial arts style that was founded by my father way back in 1965. It was a daunting task to hold 65 schools together and move forward with a new young leader. My first-born daughter also turned 1 that year so it was a very busy time in my life. Fast forward to the year 2000 when my construction business was really taking off, I was firmly established as the Head of Style for Cuong Nhu Martial Arts, and my third child was born. This is the year that I will always define the term “vision” in my life.
I started working when I was 15 and have experienced many different jobs in the fast food industry, retail, restaurants, and sales. But my favorite, and also the most physically demanding, was hands-on construction work. Something about teamwork, field adjustment, and knowing that you can look back years later and point at a project that is still there has always intrigued me. The process from being the laborer to the owner has taught me how to understand people from all walks of life. This also coincides with me starting to teach martial arts at the age of 15 to students ranging from age 5 to 70!
Currently, all of my children are attending the University of Florida: my two daughters, Christina and Rebecca, as graduate students, and my son, Alexander, as a first-year Biochemistry major. They are teaching martial arts at the same club that my dad started in 1971 while he was there as an exchange student obtaining his Ph.D. In addition to being full-time college students, they also stay very busy volunteering and working, as well as being involved in many different clubs and activities for academics, social, and athletics. Of all their great attributes, I am the proudest of their kindness, humility, love for people, and work ethic.
I am humble to share and pass on my experiences and methods of my approaches to manage and excel in all three phases of my business, martial arts, and family. It is fundamentally an identical formula.