Dan Millman presents The Peaceful Warrior's Way

Chapter 1: Peaceful Heart, Warrior Spirit

I thought you might enjoy reading Chapter 1 of my new book, PEACEFUL HEART, WARRIOR SPIRIT: The True Story of my Spiritual Quest 

Peaceful Heart,
Warrior Spirit

The True Story of my Spiritual Quest
Dan Millman

“Here’s a man who has devoted his life to mastery in sports then in everyday life.
In this book Dan establishes himself as a lifelong student and longtime teacher
who has practiced, and perhaps even mastered, ‘the Zen of ordinariness.’ ”
— Roger Walsh, MD, PhD, author of Essential Spirituality:
professor of psychiatry, UC Irvine Medical School

“In this true story of a lifelong quest, Dan is propelled
from childhood challenges to practical wisdom.
As he evolves from a young athlete into a spiritual teacher,
he trains with four master teachers who speak to us all.
The insights, hurdles, and highlights he shares
can guide fellow explorers on their own paths.”
don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements


Preface: An Unexpected Life
Key Terms

Part One: Foundations
1 Defining Moments
2 Rebirth
3 High Aspirations
4 Growing Up
5 A Change of Plans
6 Shifting Sands
7 Coaching Years
8 Faculty Days

Part Two: The Four Mentors
9 The Professor
10 The Guru
11 The Warrior-Priest
12 The Sage

Part Three: Teaching and Learning
in the New Millennium 195
13 Lightbulb Moments
14 The Path Goes On
Epilogue: Here and Now

Part One

We do not remember days.
We remember moments.
Cesar e Pavese

Experience may be the best teacher, but when do formative experiences begin —

at birth, at conception, or, as some sages claim, in previous lives?
Whatever the answer, we can agree that our adult selves grow out of the seeds of our childhood. My own childhood moments provided a foundation for all that followed. I’ve found it an intriguing exercise to revisit events from my youth, both unexpected and somehow inevitable. My life and career as a teacher and author make sense only in retrospect. In Part One I lay all my cards on the table — the hands I was dealt and how it all played out. I hope my readers enjoy the game as it unfolds.

Defining Moments
Chapter 1

There are times when your only available
mode of transportation
is a leap of faith.
Margaret Shepherd

Early spring 1964. 10:15 a.m. GMT.

I soared high above a trampoline, somersaulting through the air of the Royal Albert Hall, London, at the first World Trampoline Championship. In this, my final performance, after completing two twisting-double flips of a ten-bounce routine, I drew a complete blank. I had no idea what move to do next.

This wasn’t entirely surprising, given that I’d flown in from California early that same morning. Four hours of restless sleep lent a dreamlike quality to this frozen moment. And why not dream? It was 2:15 a.m. back home.

A few hours earlier I’d entered the competition floor to see the controlled chaos of athletes from fourteen countries on the floor below, warming up on four trampolines. I saw Gary Erwin, reigning National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion with a diver’s form and style, whom I’d previously watched on television. Then Wayne Miller caught my attention, performing a move I’d never accomplished, aptly named the Miller. I was the current US Gymnastics Federation (USGF) national champion, which is why I’d been invited.

Gary, Wayne, and their coaches (who, I learned, would serve on the judging panel) had arrived several days earlier to get acclimated. I was eighteen years old, jet lagged, and alone.

After seeing me do a few basic warm-up sequences, no one would have bet on me. I’d have to rely on faith rather than confidence. It doesn’t matter who wins the warm-ups, I reminded myself. Only when I mounted the trampoline to begin my final routine did I realize that I wasn’t entirely alone. Scanning the expectant  audience, now silent, and the panel of judges, I glanced up toward the announcer’s table and saw not only George Nissen, trampoline inventor and host of these championships, but also, to my shock and delight, Xavier Leonard, my middle-school homeroom teacher and first trampoline instructor, beaming down at me.

A thrill rose up my spine.

Now in midair, with everything on the line, I had to keep going, do something, anything — so I did. My body, and years of training, decided for me: One move followed another. Zen bouncing, no mind (mushin), as the samurai warriors called it. Others refer to this state of absorption as the zone, or flow, or peak experience.

Many sports and games like tennis, golf, baseball, and swimming require athletic ability, but no one is likely to die during practice. In warrior sports like trampoline  and gymnastics, free solo climbing, big wave surfing, BASE jumping, and other extreme challenges, the body is on the line — a moment of inattention, a single slip, can lead to catastrophe.

Years before, a trampoline friend and I would play a risky challenge game in which I’d do one back somersault after another, until my friend called out a difficult move, such as double twisting double back — a shouted command that seemed to bypass my conscious mind and go straight to the body, which would then perform the move of its own accord. It felt scary and exhilarating playing on the edge. I never dreamed that this lighthearted play could mean so much until those moments in the air. No past, no future, no self. Only kinesthetic awareness as my body completed one move after the next: a full-twisting double somersault, another multiple twist …

Uncertain of how many moves I’d completed, I had to trust my years of subliminal counting, finishing with a one and threequarter back somersault, then a double back somersault from my belly, then landing on my feet. It was done. I looked around, taking in the audience as the applause grew.

Walking back to my chair, I glanced up to see Mr. Leonard smiling down at me. I felt hands touch my shoulder, clap my back. The reality finally penetrated: I’d just won the first World Trampoline Championship. I vaguely recall shaking hands with Gary and Wayne as I mounted the victory stand. The trumpets played, and George Nissen handed me a silver cup. Bulbs flashed. Cameras clicked.

As my taxi headed back to Heathrow for the flight home, it struck me that the driver knew nothing about the competition, nor did the throngs of Londoners and tourists rushing through their own lives. That day was only a minor footnote in sports history.

Still, my sense of life’s possibilities had changed. No, I wasn’t a legend in my own mind (nor would I ever be), but I’d accomplished something real in the first eighteen years of my life that no one could ever take away.

With a sigh, I settled into my airplane seat as the jet accelerated and I was lifted, once again, into the sky. Unable to sleep, I drifted down a river of memories about all that had brought me to this place and time …


I grew into toddlerhood in a Los Angeles rental apartment on Silver Lake Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare that was, according to family lore, nearly the site of my demise when I waddled out into swiftly moving traffic to fetch a bouncing ball. My father, who had momentarily glanced to the side, allowing for my getaway, snatched me back from the brink and gave me the only spanking of my childhood.

In another example of early risk-taking, during a family beach outing I made a dash for the rolling waves. Knocked down, I tumbled underwater, glimpsing a rippled blue sky, then sunlit shells sparkling on the sandy bottom before my dad’s strong arms lifted me, sputtering, from the surf.

When I was six, we moved into our own home in a neighborhood with an abundance of Japanese and Hispanic families, whose children became my schoolmates. I spent playtime following Steve Yusa, streetwise at nine years old, my sister DeDe’s age. Whatever I learned from Steve, I passed on to my younger neighborhood friends, Timmy and Tootie — practicing the dual roles of student and teacher.

One afternoon I tagged along with Steve and his older friends as they explored a house under construction. On that particular day, we climbed our urban mountain to enjoy a lofty view from the plywood rooftop. Twenty feet below lay a big sandpile — instant adventure.

Steve was the first to jump, followed by his friends. “Your turn, Danny,” he called up to me.

I approached the edge, then stepped back, my heart pounding.

“Do it!” Steve yelled.

“I can’t, it’s too high!”

“Come on!” he countered. Then Steve said something I’d remember for the rest of my life: “Stop thinking about it and jump!”

So I jumped. That moment of courage earned me a few weightless seconds of flight followed by a soft landing, as I sank up to my knees in the sandpile. We spent the next hour climbing up and then leaping off the rooftop. After that I acquired a taste for daredevil stunts, playing on the edge of fear.

Soon enough, I came back down to earth: Enrolled early in kindergarten, I’d forever after be the youngest kid in my classes — socially less mature, physically smaller, slower to grasp math concepts, and oblivious to secrets my peers seemed to understand.

Feeling like Clark Kent, I dreamed of becoming a superhero. Maybe that’s why Peter Pan and Superman stood out so clearly during my childhood. In retrospect, Peter must have embodied eternal boyhood and freedom, while Superman represented power and human potential. And both could fly. In search of altitude, I  climbed trees, swung on ropes, and leaped off low rooftops with makeshift parachutes, yearning to rise above the everyday world.

Back then, my world was small, my horizons limited. My mother, who influenced my early views, spoke of the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and God as equivalent fictions. I felt my father’s influence mostly in the arena of health and fitness. Feeling a duty to teach me about my Jewish heritage, Dad encouraged me to try Hebrew School, but it didn’t suit me. Without a connection to religious teachings or tradition, I had to find my own way, expressed through a growing, ever-changing faith in the mysterious workings of the natural world.

Boomerangs and a BB Gun

In the 1950s I wandered through a realm of fantasy and episodic memories: Cousin Davy and I, mesmerized by the magician-clerks at Hollywood Magic, traded our allowances for a finger guillotine or deck of disappearing cards. We also threw boomerangs in the park, and I developed enough skill with a bullwhip to snap a straw out of Davy’s mouth. I also gained childhood expertise doing yo-yo stunts, shooting a slingshot, tossing Frisbees, swinging on Tarzan rope vines, twirling a lariat, and lassoing everyone in reach. After a stint building and flying a box kite, I took fencing lessons before diving into ventriloquism with my own Charlie McCarthy hand puppet.

Practicing all these skills taught me early on that everything is difficult until it becomes easy.

After many entreaties, my dad bought me a BB gun, which came with a lecture on its safe use. I was a good shot and practiced with the same obsessive passion I’d devoted to my former pursuits. But one day, on a whim, I took aim at the tiny shape of a bird sitting on a wire three houses away, never expecting to hit it. I took the shot, then saw the bird fall. Worried that I’d wounded the bird and it might be suffering, I ran down the street, climbed the stairs, and clambered up onto the roof. The bird lay dead with a BB hole in its head.

A few weeks after that, as a sparrow flew overhead, I casually whipped the gun barrel skyward and, without even aiming, took a wild shot. In the next instant, the bird plummeted into some bushes. Horrified, I ran to search for it. As I approached the bush, the sparrow took off and flew away, much to my relief.

That same day I gave away the BB gun.

Tutus, Tights, and a Trampoline

When I was ten years old, two seemingly unrelated events pointed toward my future.

Because my mom, who played piano for a modern dance class, didn’t want to pay a babysitter, I found myself surrounded by leotards and tutus in a class comprised of about ten girls and me, all of us in tights at our teacher’s insistence. Despite my initial reluctance, modern dance taught me muscular control, suppleness, rhythm, and how to point my toes.

That summer at a day camp, I chanced upon an old ground level trampoline that liberated me from gravity, if only for a few seconds. After that, I spent every spare moment bouncing, mostly alone, trying to figure out a forward somersault. During my final week, I tried repeatedly to make it all the way around to my feet until I flipped so fast that I landed on my face, scraping it badly enough to raise scabs on my forehead, cheeks, chin, and upper lip. But my toes were pointed and my enthusiasm undiminished.

A year would pass before I found another trampoline.


As a child I favored books like The Story of Ferdinand, about a bull who preferred sitting quietly and smelling the flowers to battling in the ring. Smaller and younger than my classmates, and at times too talkative for my own good, I attracted the attention of an angry boy who punched me. More surprised than hurt, I avoided him after that.

A second incident occurred in the sixth grade. Another boy took a dislike to me for reasons I don’t think either of us understood. He somehow influenced my  classmates to stop talking to me. I dreaded going to school for the next few days. My stomach hurt, and I lost my appetite. Then the bully and a few of his friends caught up with me on my way home from school. After making some threats, one of them punched me in the stomach. Satisfied by my tears, they walked away. After a few more days of being shunned by everyone but my two best friends (who spoke to me only in whispers), I felt desperate enough to ask my teacher if I could say something in front of the class. Puzzled, she said okay and quieted everyone. My voice quavering, I told the other kids that it bothered me that no one would talk to me. After that, everything returned to normal, but it made me begin to ponder why people behaved the way they did.

That summer, carrying my lariat, I led my younger proteges, Tootie and Timmy, to the Silver Lake Playground. As I was showing them how to throw the lariat, three bullies surrounded us and threatened me, demanding the lariat. With lips trembling and knees shaking, I handed it over. They used it to tie me to a telephone pole just outside the playground. Then, laughing, they departed, leaving Timmy and Tootie to untie me. My cheeks still wet, I walked home with my head down, my young friends following silently behind me.

The Warrior’s Call

Finally, my childhood fear and sorrow boiled over into anger.

Tired of feeling intimidated, I asked my dad how I could learn to defend myself. He took me to a boxing gym, but I didn’t like getting hit or hitting someone else, so he arranged for a few private lessons with Bruce Tegner, a Hollywood karate sensei to George Reeves, who played Superman on TV. Sensei Bruce taught me a few moves that boosted my confidence. Best of all, he gave me an autographed photo of Superman.

By the time I was eleven, my body was going through changes, and so was my neighborhood. An empty lot up the street, once a forest of palm trees, was now a new Japanese cultural center. On opening day, Dad and I watched a judo exhibition in which children threw larger adults to the mat using leverage. Each of the attackers landed with a thudding slap, breaking their falls without injury. A week later I started group classes two nights a week in a dojo (school of the way) with many Japanese students. I liked the bowing rituals and traditions as well as my gi, or uniform, tied with a brand-new white belt.

Over the passing months I learned judo rolls, breakfalls, and throws. A friendly, red-haired giant with a black belt named Gene LeBell let us kids throw him to the mat, which delighted everyone. At my first tournament, matched with a boy my age who outweighed me by twenty pounds, I tried a circle throw (tomoe nage).

He fell on top of me and pinned me. Judo practice soon gave way to other interests, like acrobatics, where my success didn’t depend on someone else’s failure.

Chapter 2

Teachers affect eternity;
they can never tell where their influence stops.
Henry Adams

As the saying goes, “The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you learn why.” On my first morning at middle school I was about to discover an important why: My homeroom teacher Xavier Leonard, a former acrobat, announced that he was starting an after-school trampoline and tumbling club. “Who might be interested in joining?” My hand shot up. . .

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