With Great and Powerful Change Comes Great Ability

I spoke to some of my students about how they were doing, and an issue kept coming up. Many were struggling with their diets and stress-eating. “It’s just so hard to give up cake,” one said. “Food comforts me and I’m so stressed right now.”

My own time in service

I have a lot of empathy for my students, but I don’t believe in the soft and overly compassionate approach. I always remind them I’m expecting them to overcome their challenges because I know they are capable of it. We all have reasons why things are hard. We can use them to excuse our failure or to motivate us to succeed.

Listen to the story yourself

I recently found this video about a pair of twin brothers, Fares and Firas Muhammad who had every reason to fail in life. They came from a broken family with a history of abuse. They were angry kids with juvenile criminal records, who stole and got into fights. Almost everyone had given up on them. It was expected they’d likely end up dead or in prison.

However, today, they are highly regarded soldiers in Israel’s famous Golani brigade, with Fares training to become a squad commander. Being a combat soldier is a great honor and responsibility, and succeeding means being held to the highest standard.

A lot of money and time is invested in the training of combatants and a lot is expected of them in return.

They are expected to maintain intense physical training, learning skills like running with equipment, Krav Maga, shooting, and high-level specialized skills required for their specific unit.

Mentally, combatants are also required to live up to a high standard. Soldiers must have a resilient mindset, especially when it is hard and stressful. They must exercise good judgment and ethics under extreme pressure, and courage in the face of danger. In real-life situations, this focus translates to life or death to you and to your fellow soldiers.

What helps us handle the pressures of being combatants is knowing we are never alone. We always have the support of your team and commanders, and we stay strong to support them in return. We help make each other better.

That is why this story really touches my heart. It is beautiful to see the IDF as a system supporting people of all religions. The army is not just for Jews, it’s for everyone who wants to support the state of Israel to be the best country possible. I’m proud that the IDF gave these brothers a chance, and didn’t give up on them, and allowed them to rise to their true potential.

This did not begin in the army. Fares benefited from the Nirim Youth Village for at-risk teens, which was established by former members of the elite Shayetet 13 command unit.

Shayetet 13 is considered the best of the best of society and they used that position to benefit those who are often seen as the least wanted. That is the true IDF spirit, we aren’t there for ourselves but those who need us most.

I am so proud to call Fares and Firas my soldier brothers. They didn’t excuse their lives. They didn’t give up on themselves. They changed their lives to surpass many people who had a lot more advantages than them. It amazes me that they went from the people I train students to defend themselves from, to the warriors I want my students to aspire to be. It’s a beautiful story that I think you should hear for yourself in full.

After you do, ask yourself, what change to your life do you need to make? Changing your diet is hard, but imagine going from juvenile delinquent to becoming a squad commander? That is a complete transformation. It was hard work and they had many challenges on their journey, but now they can see it is all worth it.

Think about how much better Firas and Fares’s lives will be due to their choice of embracing a path of discipline and getting into a structured and positive environment.

They have a life of purpose and challenge. They are surrounded by true and motivated friends and great role models in a healthy environment with the best morals.

If they continue this path, they will be honorably discharged with doors open to them in their careers of choice. They will lead a life of respect and purpose. No one will see them as “street kids” from a broken home, but as heroes worthy of honor.

Take the inspiration to fight your own battle. Whether it’s with food, like the students I spoke to, or anything else, you have the ability to make enormous changes to your life.

All you have to do is want it.

So what can we learn from Firas and Fares’s story?

  1. Your past mistakes may affect you but they don’t have to define you. Every day, you can make a fresh start.
  2. The right environment is a huge factor in bettering yourself. Surround yourself with people of high quality.
  3. Great change requires great sacrifice
  4. Be committed to your path.
  5. Be your own person.
  6. Be a part of something bigger than yourself.
  7. Don’t fight yourself, modify yourself. Fares channeled his love of action into a position where it’s appropriate.
  8. Nature therapy is a great path to healing.
  9. Walking in the easy path is not always the best one.
  10. Find your passion and pursue it.

I believe that every one of us has a purpose in this life and we can’t really know what it is. We can only assume, as we can keep trying and re-examine and then try some more.

However, we can always live a life of purpose, if it is one based on service to others and self-improvement.

In that path that you choose, walk tall with pride but humbly with the knowledge you have much to learn.

Be confident in what you know, and curious to learn more. Answer questions with competence but keep asking questions of others.

Remember, we all constantly improve and evolve. That is our true purpose. It is about the journey, not the destination.

So you can give up the cake. You can do a lot more. You only have to want to.

Raz Chen is a Expert Krav Maga and Self Defense Instructor based in New York City.