Improvise. Overcome. Adapt.

Jan 9, 2024

World Champ Faces the Fight of a Lifetime.

Manny Johnston grew up in Hawaii. Living in Hawaii is enviable if you are a true Hawaiian, with islander heritage. Manny was only “half Hawaiian,” leaving him open to the kids taunts of “Howlie” and “Half Breed.”

Being “different” from the other kids only helped to forge Manny’s internal strength.

Raised in a Marine family his father taught him to always be strong in character. It was no surprise that as Manny entered High School, he took up Karate – a sport that focuses on Mind, Body and Spirit. The average person takes 4 – 5 years to earn their black belt. Manny received his in 18 months.

Shortly after obtaining his black belt, Manny entered the growing sport of full contact Karate (also known as kick boxing) and quickly became world ranked. Over the next 7 years his life was consumed with eating right, training hard and high intensity focus and planning.

A good part of Manny’s success was in the focus, planning and preparation for the fight. He knew that all fighters trained hard and ate properly. But to be the best, he would need to understand the weaknesses, tendencies and exploitable areas of his competitor. That meant researching each fighter before each fight. He said, “know and understand so you can compete.”

He travelled the world fighting and once held the World Championship title.

Like many professional athletes, a serious injury curtailed his career, and he was forced to rethink his life and goals. His Marine father’s advice was always present in his thoughts — Improvise, Overcome and Adapt.

So, he channeled his energy into a successful career in the auto industry rising to key management positions with his dealership.

His love for Karate never left him and he started a Karate ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. In his 8 years teaching and mentoring, he estimates over 3000 kids received free Karate lessons from his program.

After reaching a pinnacle of sports and then mentoring thousands of kids, Manny would be facing an opponent he didn’t seek out — a battle with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is a chronic neurologic illness that gets progressively worse over time.

“I started moving slower,” he said. “That was something new for me.” After doctor’s visits and many tests, they confirmed the diagnosis.

“My father’s words echoed in my head, ‘Improvise, Overcome and Adapt.’ Just like in my fighting days, I began researching everything I could about the disease and learned where I can take some control of the outcome. The disease was my enemy and I had to come up with a fight plan.”

Manny does move slower these days but is energized in everything he does. “I can’t let the illness make me feel sorry for myself,” he says. And that’s one of the reasons he now serves to motivate others suffering from the same disease as the leader of a support group at his church. 

“God has given me the opportunity to help others compete in this fight. It gives me strength to be a blessing to others,” he explained.

Improvise. Overcome. Adapt. How can you put these powerful words into your next challenge?

Click here to see one of Manny’s professional fights: