Janelle: You're listening to "Staying in the Game," a Plum Dragon Herbs podcast where we have conversations about mindset and techniques for staying at the top of your game. I'm your host, Janelle Leatherwood. We're speaking today with Master Pessina, a martial arts master, multimedia choreographer, and actor. But Master Pessina is perhaps best known for playing the original "Johnny Cage" and several ninjas in the first two "Mortal Kombat" games.

He has also worked on films such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze," "Book of Swords," "Press Start," and "Mortal Kombat: Fates Beginning." In addition to continuing his personal practice, he teaches weekly martial arts classes in Chicago and travels throughout North and South America to teach seminars on martial arts and choreography. Welcome to our show. We're so excited to have you.

Master Pesina: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here, finally. It took us a long time to get connected because I'm really unorganized.

Janelle: Well, I think everybody's feeling a little bit unorganized and off-kilter with, you know, everything going on during this pandemic.

Master Pesina: Yeah. It is a little strange out but, you know, we'll get through it. Together, we'll get through it.

Janelle: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it's great to have you on our show. And we have a lot of martial artists that use our flagship product, Dit Da Jow, and that was kind of how we found you in the first place, because we understand that you like to use that in your training, and we'll talk about that in a little bit. But first, I wanted to find out, how did you get into martial arts?

Master Pesina: Actually, when I was younger, at a young age, on Sunday, there used to be a show called "Charlie Chan: The Detective." It was a black and white show. And during one of the episodes, I used to watch it with my father, so I'm watching this guy solve a crime and there's this big thug that comes out, naturally it was a stunt guy, but Charlie Chan throws him with a judo throw. Like, I see him fly through the air. And it's amazing to me because there's this short chubby guy throwing this really big, muscular, stunt guy.

You know, so I was just like, "Holy cow, I really want to learn that." And my dad served in the U.S. military for the Korean War. So he actually taught me my first throw. He taught me how to do like a shoulder throw and that's all he taught me and I kept on bugging him, bugging him to try to take martial art lessons because, you know, I really felt a connection with it. And, finally, after watching Bruce Lee in "The Green Hornet," my dad was like, "Okay, I'm going to take this guy to get some lessons." So that's how my journey began.

Janelle: Awesome.

Nick: That is awesome. Was there a moment later on in your path where you realized, "Wow, I really want to make martial arts my life?" Is there like a specific moment that sticks out to you?

Master Pesina: You know, I just like the martial art...I think it's because, you know, I'm a middle child. So I have older brothers and naturally, older brothers don't want to hang out with you. And I have a younger brother but he didn't come until much later. So I was basically by myself getting beat up by my brothers and I always thought, eventually I will learn how to defend myself and I'm going to throw my brothers around. But in reality, the martial art teaches you not to do that. So I never got my revenge.

Janelle: That came later, right?

Master Pesina: Yeah, yeah, but through the whole thing, I just really enjoyed what the martial arts has to offer, because you can learn it in the group, but it's really about yourself and self-discovery. And you're doing that through a group of class and through people and it teaches you discipline and to try to really in the end, get along with each other. You know, you have to work together to learn it, because otherwise, you can't really apply it at the beginning to a person who doesn't want it to be applied to. That's a skill. You know, you get that after time. So I really, really loved it.

Janelle: And what is...oh, go ahead.

Nick: Oh, no. You can go ahead.

Janelle: I was just going to ask what is the main focus of your martial arts? Because I know there's probably 100 different types of martial art styles. Is it judo that you focus on?

Master Pesina: No. Actually, I do traditional Chinese martial arts now. But when I view martial arts, I view all traditional martial arts whether it's Thai or from Japan or from Korea, all traditional martial arts are really the same. It's really the...I had an instructor tell me, "It's really the seasoning." He goes, "You could take a piece of chicken and unless you add a specific seasoning to it, you cannot get barbecue chicken or teriyaki chicken. But in the end, the meat of it is still the same." So with a traditional martial art, they're really all the same. It's when you dive into the sport martial art that makes them different because in sport martial art, you start adding rules, you know.

And there's nothing wrong with that because we need that for martial arts to grow and get students. But that is really the difference with it. When you make it a sport, you apply rules and you change the schematics of it, you know. That's why, you know, in taekwondo, you can't throw an elbow. But in Thai, you can throw an elbow but you don't really throw. But in sanda and MMA, what's known as MMA, you can throw in joint lock. So you know, it's just a play on it, and I think it's just...that's cool, it makes it really popular. But in the end, the traditional stuff is really all the same.

Janelle: Yeah. How did all the martial arts experience that you had lead to you getting into gaming and becoming the persona for this huge "Mortal Kombat" series?

Master Pesina: Actually, I'm a geek. I'm a martial art geek. I'm a martial art geek, but also when I was younger, my older brother collected comics. So he passed that down to me to collect comics and I passed that down to my younger brother, Carlos, who is Raiden from the video game, to collect comics. And he would like to draw. So he and a group of friends would draw together at my mother's kitchen table, basically. And one of those guys was John Tobias. And that's how I got introduced. Later on, when he grew up, he knew me as the martial art guy. And he's the one who gave me that connection to be in the game, if I would help them create the game.

Janelle: Wow, that's really cool.

Master Pesina: Yeah, so...

Nick: Oh, go ahead.

Master Pesina: No, I was just saying, so in the end, you know, as we really know it, it's all about connections. You have to have good connections. But two, I used to drive him and my brother to see movies and pick them up afterwards. And sometimes I'd go to movies with them. I played Dungeons & Dragons with them. So really, he trusted me to, you know...not only was I a martial art guy, but I was like a trustworthy guy.

Janelle: Yeah. And what are some of like the favorite contributions that you made in "Mortal Kombat?" Because I know you were really integral in the creative side of that, developing the personalities and some of the moves.

Master Pesina: Yeah. When we were pitching the idea to Midway...that was part of our agreement. John was like, "I can't pay you a lot, but you can put anything into the game you want to put and we'll make it work." So the first thing I did was...because it was the late '90s, everything is ninja. Everything's Japanese ninja. Sho Kosugi was out there big. The "American Ninja." There was all types of ninjas, and I loved those guys, but I really wanted to make the game unique.

So I had a book that was called "Art of the Vagabond: Legend of the Lin Kuei." So I told John to change the Japanese ninjas into the lin kuei, which is what Scorpion and Sub-Zero and Reptile all look like, except for John, when he was doing it, he's like, "Well, I'm going to have to add color because, otherwise you can't really see it when we're filming stuff. The uniform being all black, there's no contrast. So I'm going to have to change it to color." And so he picked yellow, but basically my idea, one of the contributions to it was putting the lin kuei, the mystery of the lin kuei clan into "Mortal Kombat" and creating that look in the moves for Scorpion and Sub-Zero. And in the end, they are the...whenever you see "Mortal Kombat," you see those two as the symbol for "Mortal Kombat."

Nick: And that is just...I mean, it's just so fascinating, you know, to be able to have a conversation with just, you know, one of the creators of just such an iconic franchise. So one question I kind of have for you in the nuts and bolts of the creation, what's one thing that when you guys were actually making the game was a lot more difficult or a lot more tough than you previously thought going in when you guys were thinking up the ideas, in terms of the creation?

Master Pesina: I think in the end, the game was a success because nothing was really super tough. It was difficult, but we had such a good team that we created ways to overcome any obstacle that we had in our way. You know, again, it was a very low budget. And I think that really gave us the mindset that there was no...we had to think of a way to create this game. You know, at the time, there was no Photoshop, there was no motion capture as we know it. You know, when people are actually playing the old games, they're actually controlling me personally, pictures and videos of me. So it's one of the first games where you can control a real person. So we just kind of tackled every problem we could that came up, just by looking at it and as a community, pulling together. It was really a big collaboration. So any problem we had we just kind of like thought of, what was the best to make this game the best?

Nick: That's all right. So a quick follow up to that, do you guys have any mantras that you talked about, or any sort of words to live by as you're going through that entire creative process?

Master Pesina: Well, because we were friends beforehand, we always would pick on each other, like, goofing. You know, even though, you know, my brothers, we were all in our 20s, some lower, some upper, we would always be teasing each other but not in a bad way. Teasing each other, an example is like, John wanted Scorpion to light his opponent on fire, blow fire. And me being a smart alec, when John told me, "I want you to think of some way, cool way to blow fire." And I, being a smart alec, was like, "John, I can't blow fire because I'm wearing my mask and my whole head will be on fire."

And then he's like, "Don't be a smart a-hole," basically. He's like, "Pull down your mask." And the guy who played Kano was like, "Oh, what if you pull up the mask and it's a skeleton?" And then I was like, "Oh, and your head is on fire." So that was kind of like a collaboration that happened, but all from goofing around, all for me saying, "No, I won't do it because it'll light my head on fire." And it turned into a skeleton whose heads on fire. So we were always goofing around like that.

Nick: That's fascinating.

Janelle: Yeah. I'm sure that's what made it more fun and more unique, you know.

Master Pesina: Yeah, yeah.

Janelle: Yeah. I was just going to say, now you've also done a lot of like stunts for movies than in different films. And I've heard you talk about, you know, maybe some films were more Hollywood than they were authentic, you know. What do you feel like needs to go into a fighting movie to make it look more authentic and less Hollywood?

Master Pesina: I think right now it's time for the community to grow in a way where...you know, in "Mortal Kombat," we were all inspired by the old Shaw Brother movies. You know, all the old "Five Deadly Venoms," "36 Chambers," and those old movies because all those guys do martial arts and it wasn't just short clips. There were clips where they would be 18, 20 moves long where they're just fighting boom, boom, and you see all this skill of that thing.

And I think right now, that that is lacking because, you know, when Jackie Chan came in, he combined that with brawling, you know, getting hit and kind of brawling. And we've been doing that type of choreography in martial arts for over 25, 30 years now. So I think that now that standard should be changed back to having it more of like an artistic form of filming as opposed to like the brawling less...you know, it's cool, the stunts are cool, but that needs to combine with the higher skill level. I hope that makes sense.

Janelle: Yeah, it does to me. Yeah, absolutely. Which characters or like which people do you feel like inspired you? I guess you talked a little bit about that in the beginning, but are there any other martial artists that inspired your work over the years?

Master Pesina: Actually, almost every martial artist who made a movie, I paid money to see and I kind of learned something from that. So even though I'm more of a traditional guy rather than a kickboxer guy, I paid to see Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, I paid to see Steven Seagal movies, and all that just for the sake of, not only supporting the martial art community, because they are martial artists, some better than others, my opinion, but still to see what they're doing and to see what they are creating, and just learning from that. So, though I saw a lot of movies...again, I like the older movies, and too, I like the Jet Li and Donnie Yen movies that kind of take place earlier in time. I really enjoy those movies because, again, they're showing like an older skill, which I really like to see.

Janelle: Definitely. What do you think are, like, some of the biggest assumptions that people make about you that, you know, might not be true? Because they see your persona, you know, like, do people come up to you and expect you to be a certain way because of the characters that you've played?

Master Pesina: I think more often that people are surprised, I think, because of my martial art background, traditional martial art background, that after people meet me, they're like, "Man, you're really approachable." You know, I have people come up, you know, at events like ComicCons and gaming events that are really shy to get my autograph. And then, after I talk to them, they come back to the table like eight or nine times to have a chat because they're like, "Holy cow, you're like a regular person." And, for me, I think like, "Yeah, I am a regular person. I just, you know, got involved with a project that gave me a little bit of fame." But in the end, my skin is just like, you know, your skin, it's a little rougher because I do iron palm training, you know, I use some stuff to do iron palm training every day. But basically, it's the same but I'm famous now, so.

Janelle: Yeah. And what kind of like age group are you teaching? Like, maybe they're too young to know who you are. But do you kind of incorporate some of your fun phrases from "Mortal Kombat" into your teaching and instruction?

Master Pesina: I rarely do that because I think my students like to do that. We goof around, like, you know, "Get over here," you know, to workout or they just use those phrases over and over and over. Again, even when, you know, afterwards if we're having like a school barbecue, they're like, "Finish him and come over and get another burger." You know, they use it more teasingly. And I think they really enjoy it more than I do, saying that stuff. Yeah, it's pretty fun.

Janelle: Yeah, absolutely.

Nick: That is fun. I have another question about, you know, growing up within martial arts. Were there any lessons you learned early on, whether it be from an instructor or, you know, even from movies that you've kind of carried through your life as it relates to martial artists and martial arts in general?

Master Pesina: I goof around with my students. And I have these weird, silly rules that I've actually...Rule number one, exercise makes you tired. So if you're not tired from exercising, then you weren't really exercising, and they're kind of obvious. Like, rule number two, stretching makes you more flexible. So people who complain, "Oh, I'm not flexible," well, you should stretch more. And two, I realized that when I was younger, I would rather do conditioning. Like, rather have people kick me in the thighs and punch me in the stomach rather than stretch because stretching is really painful.

So those things sound obvious, you know, and also if you practice, you get better, which sounds...You know, people are like naturally but unless you really practice, you will not get better, and that's across everything. So I have these little goofing around things today that I have. And then sometimes I give them a number. You know, lesson number seven. And they're like, they kind of look at me, "Exercise makes you tired." You know, the other day it was lesson number one, but now it's number seven. So it's always never really organized.

But I have those things that really, unless you do them, you really don't really embrace them because exercise does make you tired. A lot of people like, "Exercise gives me energy." No, after you're done with exercise, you're usually tired, but later on, you'll realize, "Oh, I have more endurance." So it's kind of...yeah, it's a weird philosophy. But that's basically how I look at it.

Janelle: I love that. Yeah, I'm going to use those with my kids. When they complain to me that they're too tired to work around the house, I'll say, "Well, work is supposed to make you tired."

Master Pesina: Yeah, But it's true. It's true. But then later on, it'll give you like that endurance, that energy. You know, they realize that work is not that bad. Everybody has to do it.

Janelle: Yeah. So you mentioned having like a couple half-gallon jugs of Dit Da Jow in your gyms and stuff. So what do you like to use and how do you guys use it in your gyms and training?

Master Pesina: I think I have an order from you guys, a little bit because I like to order in bigger batches. So I usually keep two half-gallon jugs at the school and a half-gallon jug in my home. And, again, I make sure that everyone who is going to do any type of conditioning, apply it because it's really important for you to keep your dexterity, you know, without your product or without a jow or whether you have a recipe and I just find it...you know, I have a recipe but I just find it easier. And you guys have a high standard.

You know, I've tried a lot of other jows out there and I don't want to sound like I'm kissing your butt, but it's true, that's why I kind of use it because it's really good stuff and people need to apply it so that way they can write and not have those...keep your circulation and keep your normal...you know, not everybody's a professional martial artist and their hands should become hammers. And it's important for you to use liniment to keep your training and to have a normal inconspicuous life. You know, I don't know if you see it, but my knuckles are pretty big but they don't look like some of the older guys who don't use a jow and their hands look all kind of gnarly.

Two, we use it, you know, to bruises. If they start getting a bruise, you got to apply it, you got to rub it in, and I think it's really important for any martial artist to apply it just in case. At my school, if somebody is going to be, you know, touching hands or conditioning, you got to put it on before and you have to put it on after because otherwise when you're complaining, don't be complaining.

Nick: There's another rule. Well, thank you very much for the praise though, great [inaudible 00:22:44].

Master Pesina: Yeah, well deserved. You guys, well deserved.

Janelle: What are some of the more common injuries that you guys are trying to prevent?

Master Pesina: More of just bruising because, you know, once you...especially with hand conditioning or body conditioning, if you get a bruise, then you don't want to condition because you got a bruise and that's not good condition. You know, it could become a blood clot. And if it travels, you know, to a certain part, you can really get injured. So generally, more bruising from hitting or bumping or that general conditioning. Like right now, at this point, we don't really have any...I make sure that there's good supervision.

So people rarely...I think in the last maybe 20 years of training, I had one person break an arm. And it was actually a kid who tried to do an aerial cartwheel off the floor and ran into a chair. And then, so when he hit it, he put his hand down, and then he broke his wrist. But that was the only injury that I've really had in the last 20 years because I make sure that with the instructors or myself really supervise the classes that are going on because, again, you know, naturally, I can hurt somebody because I've been doing martial arts for like 50 years. So, naturally.

And two, you have to be seasoned enough to like, know that, no, we're here to guide and protect people, not to bully them, kind of like that. You know, bullying a person is the lowest skill, at least in my school and my life. So we really try to watch out for each other. And always remember that everyone learns differently. So you might excel at learning one thing, but then you slow down with some part of it, but the person next to you, who was slow at the beginning, catches up because, in the end, that's what happens. There's nobody who really gets something, you know, in a short period of time. That's why we call it kung fu, skill in time, you know. So in the end, just train at your pace, but train for a long period of time. I hope that makes sense.

Janelle: No, absolutely. So what would be like the ultimate piece of advice that you give in your martial arts coaching?

Master Pesina: The instructor will give you tools and it's up to you to use those tools. Do your stretching, it's painful, but do it, you know. There's no way around it. You know, if you're going to condition, you have to use the jow and you have to be sensible about it. Don't punch bricks. You know, build up to whatever. In the end, if you want to really have the iron palm, then you have to go through the steps to get that. You just don't go, you know, crazy and just try to jump all your steps. These are things that are proven through a cycle. So nobody ever accomplishes it...you can't get to Z without going through B. So do your steps.

I would say, you know, be patient and follow your instructor's guidance. One of my instructors, you know, during like weapons staff training, I would hit myself. And he's like, "Don't hit yourself." And I didn't realize that he was just telling me, because his English was bad, he was a Chinese guy, that I should go slow enough to develop the technique as opposed to going all squirrely like I am and bashing myself in the head, you know, with the staff. So he's just, "Don't hit yourself," means slow it down and do your technique properly so you don't hurt yourself.

Janelle: Right, right. Hey, I have a question for you because you've brought up flexibility a couple of times. We have a Flexibili-tea and a Flexibility liniment. Have you ever tried either of those?

Master Pesina: No. I didn't realize that you guys had it. I got to check that out.

Janelle: Okay, yeah, we'll have to send you a sample that. I think you'd really like that.

Master Pesina: Yeah.

Janelle: It sounds like, you know, in your training and stuff, that that is really key and important to teach that, you know, to properly stretch and be flexible and stuff.

Master Pesina: Yeah. Yeah, I think that that's really important any, whether it's a sport or a traditional martial art, you know, like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, you need a lot of tendon and muscle flexibility. And that gives you time to counter the technique. So without flexibility, a joint lock is applied really, really easy. And then for us, just, you know, as martial artists and trying to...different styles require different amounts of incredible flexibility. So, yeah, I want to check that out.

Janelle: Okay. Yeah, absolutely. Cool. I know, I need to take your advice, because I'm always complaining that I'm not flexible. But I don't stretch enough, so that's the problem.

Master Pesina: Yeah. If you stretch, you'll get flexible. Rule number four.

Nick: I love it.

Janelle: I want to list out your rules when we have you on our show notes page. Sorry to cut you off, Nick.

Nick: Well, that's actually exactly what I was going to ask. If you wouldn't mind, I'd be really curious to hear the rules that your students hear.

Master Pesina: Yeah, well, I have some that I say and then some that I make up on the spot. Like, a rule is, again, exercise makes you tired. Stretching makes you more flexible. You get better if you practice. Don't hit yourself or in general, don't do that. So when somebody learns incorrectly from being thrown, they're like, "Ow, I hurt myself." Don't do that. You know, if you're in a class, don't fight being...resist too much being thrown. Because when you're learning, you can learn more from falling then the other guy learns from throwing you. You know, the technique of throwing.

So I kind of say that, "Don't do that." You know, when they're like, "Ouch," "Don't do that." Oh, "I hit myself with the staff." "Don't do that." You know, "I bashed myself with the sword," "Don't do that." So they sound crazy for people, "Don't do that." Until they realize like, "Oh, you know, I would need to watch my technique, I would need to watch the way I fall. Maybe I shouldn't have resisted so much to make it so blunt." You know, because it's not always about being the hammer, sometimes you have to be water and water can shape a mountain. So different things like that.

And two, being a traditional martial artist, we are inspired by our metaphors of being, which are like, stand erect like a pine tree, land like a magpie. If you ever see a magpie, which is a huge bird, land on a small limb, it lands and the limb bends, but it doesn't fall from the limb. So, you know, soar like an eagle. An eagle can fly in the air for a long period of time. You know, as still as a mountain. Meaning a mountain is in its space, still, but it can be immoveable, you know, which is like a move like a wave or like water because water can move a mountain, which can't be immovable. So in martial arts, we have these things called metaphors for being.

Janelle: Right, right. But I love that because it's simple and people understand it because it is, you know.

Master Pesina: Yeah, but they're deep too because until you really think about it, you think like, oh, yeah, naturally if you practice, you get better. But that means like, if you're not happy that you're not getting better, it's because you have not been true to yourself in practice. So, yeah, it's kind of...yeah.

Nick: Yeah, I love all those quotes, deceptively simple, you know, therapist level, you know, but it's when you really start to think, that's where the true understanding comes in.

Master Pesina: Yeah, and that's true for any art. You know, if you're a professional musician, there's a lot of time you sacrifice to do that. You know, your friends are saying, "Hey, come out," and you're like, "No, I got to go, you know, in my attic and practice guitar for three hours, and then I'll eat something and then I'll practice again for three hours." So that is the art, an artist does that, you know, draws for hours. You know, my brother and John Tobias, the creator of "Mortal Kombat" used to sit at my mom's kitchen table or another friend's kitchen table, and we'd be chatting or doing something, but they would be drawing a hand over and over and over again, looking at their hand drawing it, looking at their hand from a different angle and drawing it. You know, that is what got them where they are.

Nick: Yeah, that is the success. You know, like you said, you know, doing stuff when nobody's looking for no other reason than you really want to be doing it. That's awesome.

Master Pesina: Yeah, two...sorry for taking up the whole conversation but...

Nick: All good.

Janelle: No.

Master Pesina: One of my instructors, at the time he used to do martial arts in China, there were only three professional martial art teams in all of China. So they would pick a team out of regions. And two, it's China, so, you know, two out of three people practice martial arts in China. So when they're building a team, it's really, really elite. So my instructor, I'm giving him a plug, [foreign language 00:32:34], won and all-around amateur title, but it was like they were going to form more teams in mainland China. So whoever won these competitions would get to form a team in their province. So he won all-around champion. And at that time, you had to do forms, do weapons forms, do hand forms, fight, fight with a weapon. So you really had to know your stuff. So he won first place in his division for doing all of that.

So then the Chinese government was like, "Here's a bunch of money," at the university he was training at, "and you get to build a team." So he said that when it was announced that Wuhan...which came out with a pandemic...but anyway, Wuhan was going to have a national team, he said, over 2000 people came out to try out for the team. And he's like, and these 2,000 people were already the elite. And so he was like, he was with his master, Winchen Min [SP], which was one of the creators of modern contemporary wushu.

So what you see now is designed by five famous masters and his master was one of them. So he was like, "Man, how are we going to go through these people because we only have a weekend to go through these people?" And he was just like, "First thing we do is you look at the person. When you're talking to them and giving them instructions, the people who are just standing in place, we cut. And the people that you see stretching, or going like this or stretching their arms, we automatically take them and we move them to the next step."

So he said, "Within the first thing, we cut it down to 300 people. From 2000 people, we cut it to 300 people just by talking and noticing who is moving and who is just standing and listening." Because his thought was, whoever's standing and listening will not do the extra time it takes to be super good. So they didn't really even care if they were already super good, they had the potential to teach them to train better. They knew that if I turn my back on this student, this guy is going to do it until I tell him to stop. So all of a sudden...so that's what it is, that whole skill in doing. And hopefully, I didn't stretch out that story too long.

Nick: That was fascinating. Are there any other from going to the 300 to whoever made the team? Did they have any sort of other mindset things like that that they did?

Master Pesina: They actually had skill...man, I wish I wasn't on video. They had other skill moves that they're like, "Do this one move." Because, too, a martial art master can recognize another potential martial art master or another master just by seeing him move. You can see the mind-body connection through that. And that's how, like, I made it to a master level is not by knowing one system, everything in a system, it was not only doing that, but having that mind-body connection in my practice.

So they picked out one move, difficult move. And if you can execute it really fast, cleanly, and sharply, then you moved on to the next thing. And if you kind of hesitated, and too, it's difficult and you needed strength and flexibility, not only of the legs but of the upper body torso to do it. Everybody sees a long fist pose, I don't know if you guys know it, but the hand is over the head and the left hand's in the hook hand, kind of behind your back, kind of thing. And then you're in what they call an empty stance, so low empty stance. So if you can do that move, boom, in a flash of an eye and stay steady, then you got to move on. And that too cut it down to 25 people. From the 200, they went to 25 in one day. Because in the end, they only needed 12.

Janelle: Wow.

Master Pesina: Yeah.

Nick: So you were talking within that, a little bit of that...actually, before we go on, I have to learn how they get 25 to 12, and then I'll ask the next question.

Master Pesina: The 25 to 12 was whoever can survive. They started doing a workout. So whoever can last...too, it was in China. Like, when I trained in China, it was okay to get hit by a stick. And it's just like gymnastics in the old day. If you were on a U.S. gymnastics team, your Russian coach would hit you with a stick or hit you with his hand because the corrections will come faster if there was a consequence, which sounds kind of cruel, but at a highest level of training, that is what needs to be done for a physical art. It's just the way it is. You know, I think there's a couple of movies where gymnasts would say, you know, I recalled in their interviews telling that, that they used to get beat.

So they got to 12 by having a grueling workout nonstop, whoever passed out or stopped would be eliminated from the 12. So from the 25, the 12 that would not stop got it, and they only got it down to 18 on that day. So then, they thought of a worse workout the next day to try to get it down to 12. So it was really grueling because too, you know that...this is communist China, so you know that if you represent the nation, your whole family gets taken care of. So it was not only you making the team, but they knew that, guess what, my mother and father will get extra meals, better housing, my siblings will get a better education. They'll be able to go to university. My whole family is riding on my shoulders, and I am only 12 or 13 years old.

Janelle: Wow.

Master Pesina: Yeah, they understood it.

Nick: So my follow up to that, you know, I found that there is this big undertone of mindset. So do you personally do any sort of mindset training in your personal martial arts life? And if so, could you elaborate on what you do?

Master Pesina: Yeah, actually, I'm doing a book on "Mortal Kombat." My story's about the making of "Mortal Kombat," like us goofing around, and I'm going to cross it with chapters and I'm going to call them the...I haven't really figured out what to call them, but they are the illusions of martial arts. Like a lot of people think like, empty your mind. Empty your mind is not...you can't just empty your mind. But what you do is, there is a series of exercises of breathing. First, you listen to your breathing, then you pace your breathing. Then you learn to hold...like there's a term in Chinese martial arts, internal martial arts, that's called, you hold your presence in your dantian.

And a lot of people are like, "You think about your dantian? How do you hold your presence in your dantian?" And basically it is, you relax your breath, you suck in your belly, and while you keep your belly sucked in, you push out your belly from the front and from the back. So later on, just try to do that. Be like, "Okay, I'm going to suck in my belly, but I'm going to keep it sucked in and push my belly out front and push out through my back. And you're going to realize that that exercise is going to call all attention to what you're doing and it's going to empty your mind.

So, empty your mind is different than people really think it is. So that is one of the things that I do before...actually, any internal martial art has that in it as well as to regulate your breathing, and also to keep your center of mass contracted and ready to pop, because everything comes from your abdominal and your area outward are the biggest muscles. So if you use your biggest muscles to contract, you can hit harder. Hopefully that makes sense.

Janelle: Yeah.

Nick: Yeah, makes sense. So then let us know when the book's ready.

Master Pesina: Yeah, so I have different things like that and different things like...another thing, which has to do with your actual product, is when you're training iron palm, in the old days because you're hitting iron and steel, your body absorbs part of that iron into your skin. So your hand can really become a thing of iron. And without Dit Da Jow, you won't be able to use your hand for anything else but smacking things. You know, because you'll lose the mobility of it.

So it's important for when you actually do iron palm training that you use the liniment because that increases the circulation. And so that helps get the residue of that iron out of your body because it can be harmful. So things like that. Yeah, things like that. That's why you need a proper jow when iron palm training or just in general training because your body will absorb that steel, that mineral.

Janelle: Wow, I never heard that before. That makes perfect sense, though.

Master Pesina: Yeah. And again, that's an illusion or a myth of martial arts. People are like, "Oh, I have iron palm." Well, you can really have an iron palm, which is not really what you want because you won't be able to wipe your butt because of your fingers. Yeah, you know, that's really not what you want to focus on doing. Even though some of it will stay in your skin, the majority will leave your body and you'll be able to use your hands to calligraphy or draw or even play video games. But anyway, that's one of those things.

Janelle: Are there any other health practices that you do like at home before you get to the gym, like, a morning routine or anything?

Master Pesina: Well, I try to obey...the Eastern Bloc countries came out with a stretching routine that's embraced a lot. Now, I see that they retitled it over and over again, but this is what helped me get the splits for...if you ever play "Mortal Kombat," you see Johnny Cage is notorious for dropping in the split and punching people in the nuts. And if you look that up, you'll actually see me, I've posted videos online of me slowly going into splits because again, the technology didn't allow me to just drop in the splits, I had to do it slow so that way the camera could capture each frame very clean, the movement, otherwise, it would be like blurry in the video game. So I did it really, really slow.

And that is that part of that program that they came out with, which is called scientifically stretching, there was a video on it. And in the morning before you brush your teeth or do anything, you're supposed to do this dynamic stretches that keep you flexible the whole day. So that's one of the things I do in the morning. When I'm done, usually after that, I put on the jow and I do my iron palm training. And then I usually have my coffee and then later on, I'll have breakfast. But those are the things for sure that I try to do those every day is to do that stretching, that iron palm training, and then do a little mindful meditation, hold the presence in the dantian and kind of do my martial art postures, they call them postures, different ways to hold your dynamic tension, I guess, is the word for it, yeah. So, kind of like yoga but for martial arts.

Janelle: Okay. Is there anything that people would be surprised about in your habits? Maybe not so healthy habits?

Master Pesina: Yeah. People are like, "Wow, you're..." because I'm 62. So a lot of people are like, "Oh, you're in really good shape." That's just because I exercise a lot because my dieting is terrible because I still kind of basically eat...I try to eat organic, but I still eat, like, meat and I still eat...you know, I eat fish. So I'm not a vegetarian. I eat, kind of, what I want. I still like to have a cocktail, though I try to stay away from beer. I'll go for a vodka or whiskey, something with a little less sugar or something like that. So I'm not as healthy as...you know, when people see me eat, they're like, "Man, you're not really healthy."

Well, for me, I try to just enjoy life and not do too many things excessive because I'm already doing excessive things with the martial art thing. I don't need my whole life to be crazy. You know, if you start thinking too much, you can have your whole life just controlled by your eating and your exercising and that's...you know, you have to do that in the moderation that you think is moderate. You know, other people might think, "Oh, that's excessive," or other people might think that's not enough. But that's their own business.

And that's one of the lessons that I give my students, another quote, "Mind your own business kung fu." You don't worry about what the person next to you is...how many times they do it or how low they do it or how hard they hit. You just do your own business. Just do whatever your body can do, is what the goal is. You know, this is not a competition. You know, it is about you. Another thing, I use the phrase, "Consciousness through combat." It sounds like two opposing things, but in reality, you're using the exercise to be conscious of the technique, which will make you conscious of the body, which will make you conscious to what you want to reflect on other people. And too, we're not saints. So you can't help everybody, but you should be helpful when you can. And in turn, you have to learn to accept help from others. So it's kind of...you know, I sound like an old guy.

Nick: No, I have to order the book, I'm telling you. This is great advice.

Master Pesina: Yeah.

Janelle: So what other endeavors are you working on? First, wait, before we go into that, how many hours are you training a day would you say?

Master Pesina: I personally...like during the pandemic, it's kind of slowed me down because in the morning after I did what I described, I would go to the gym and lift a little weights and do a little cardio, maybe for an hour, hour-and-a-half, and then I'd go train in martial arts for myself for two hours. And then I'm a hands-on guy, so when I teach, I watch them, but I also do it with them. So that way they have, for a lack of a word, something like...they know like, "Holy cow, when he tells me to do 100 situps..." I'll do it with you.

I won't just say, "You do it," and I'll just watch you. No, I'll do that with you. Anything that I know is challenging, I will do with my students. So to kind of inspire them to be like, "Oh, if the..." you know, a lot of times when my students want to give up, I'm like, "If the old guy can do it, you can do it." Because, you know, whether they're 6 or whether they're 55, that's still younger than me. So you got to also do it. You know, you can't let the old guy beat you.

Nick: That's awesome.

Janelle: Yeah.

Master Pesina: So I will train like that throughout the day with different clients, private clients, or with the class. I'll actually do a lot of things with them.

Janelle: Yeah, I'm sure they love that about you.

Master Pesina: It's craziness. It's crazy. Yeah. I wouldn't...Again, I chose that for my life and I wouldn't recommend it for everyone's life. So you have to really be mindful and think if that's what you want, then you should do it. If you want to take it a little more casually, that's all right. You know, it's still enjoying the art that I do. So I really like that.

Janelle: Mm-hmm. Well, before we wrap up, I just want others to know how they can get in touch with you, and then find out anything that you're working on that you'd like us to know about. You mentioned your book that you are getting ready to...tell us where you're at in that too, yeah.

Master Pesina: Yeah. On Instagram, I'm @masterdpesina, and Twitter is @masterpesina, and Facebook is also Master Pesina. My website is masterpesina.com. So my brand is really Master Pesina. And too, that's more of a brand than who I am because people like to study under...until they really get deep into the martial arts, they like to see that veil as Master, you know, and they like that. So they do that.

So you can reach out to me whether it's a martial art question or just a general question about the video game or life for anything like that. You know, again, we're going through a strange time. So even if you want to say, "Hey, hi," you know, send me a message. I'm usually good at responding to general messages from people. I'm terrible on the business end. So, yeah, that's why it took us so long to hook up.

Janelle: No, no, no.

Master Pesina: Yeah. And two, recently I got approached about maybe doing a retro fighting game. So hopefully [inaudible 00:50:51] and you'll see me again doing a martial art video game.

Janelle: Oh, excellent. Yeah. Let's see...

Nick: This was great. You know, you're an awesome guy to talk to. I think that your students are very lucky as well as everybody because you gave us Johnny Cage. So thank you for your contributions. This was a great conversation.

Master Pesina: Thanks, Nick. Thank you. You too, Janelle, thank you for being patient.

Janelle: Oh, yeah. No, absolutely. And I was excited to share more of your martial arts side with people and not just focus in on, you know, the "Mortal Kombat," Johnny Cage, you know. Yeah, I think it's good for people to see all of you.

Master Pesina: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.

Janelle: Okay, well, we're excited to share this podcast and people can come check it out at plumdragonherbs.com. And we'll post show notes and ways to connect with you there.

Master Pesina: Okay. Yeah, thank you.

Janelle: Thanks, you guys, and thanks to all of our listeners for joining us today. And if you liked what you heard today, be sure to click the subscribe button. Leave us a comment and rate us on iTunes, YouTube, or wherever you like to listen. By doing this, more people will have a chance to hear what our amazing guests have to share. Until next time.