From a tanked out economy lacking employment opportunities, many Americans are sitting back in stretchy pants and stained t-shirts, waiting for the next new thing to spark (what they confuse for) “life” into them. Be it the latest iPhone or drama on any reality show, people have become content to do nothing in a world that requires nothing of them. It’s been a massive shift from the energetic and always working Americans that built this great country. There’s even a song commemorating just how lazy we’d actually like to be! It’s really no wonder why so many are on drugs (legal or otherwise).
As a firm believer that people come into your life for a reason, I no longer wonder why I came to know John Grasta at the time I did, just as I’m sure John doesn’t wonder why most of the people in his life came to him when they did. Here was your average guy (not so average to me, though, as he reminded me a lot of my dad), asking me to cover the story his emerging tactical gear business, and the business of his good friend, Trae Johnson, who owns and operates a firing range in Florida. The story coverage was more of an expression of gratitude to those who helped John in his emergence, but it fit into what I was working on. Plus, as a dabbler of arts (and considerably ‘old-fashioned’ in values), there are two things I adore: craftsmanship and mentorship. That said, when John explained to me that he made custom shot gun gear and Trae was a certified NRA instructor that taught firearms handling to people of all ages, you could say my attention was caught. I didn’t know then, but it was as though a beacon had been set out when I decided to write in a way that celebrated America, and Americans doing the very things that depict true American values. In particular, a focus on living the American dream was a mission worth taking on in a country that had been swarmed with news of chaos and negativity. John Grasta therefore became the reminder that there is a mission to accomplish, and he and his friends were living it daily.
Grasta introduced me to some his closest friends; though, he credits them as family and counts his blessings to have each and every one of them in his corner. Little did I know then, I was being introduced to the who’s who of tactical gear manufacturing, firearms and combat trainers. Having never seen the rough side of a stuffed teddy bear, the idea of having to interview people who could kill a person with one hand (maybe I’m exaggerating—I didn’t ask) was a bit daunting. Not to mention, I expected to hear an onslaught of macho egotism. What I got was an eye-opening experience, a boost of hope, and a mystery solved. That about makes it a good time to say it gets long-winded from here on out, as there’s just not enough I can say about the people I’ve come to know. But if you’re up for it, cozy up to meet a badass comradery of guys allied in a common mission to use their powers for good (which is kind of a theme around here).
As mentioned, John wanted to tell me about his growing business and how it came to be with the aid of great friends and family. By any stretch of imagination, I didn’t think his “great friends” would include world renowned trainers such as L.D.“Stoney” Stone and James Urban of Urban Tactical. Move over Jason Statham, sayonara Jet Li and Jackie Chan! You guys got moves, but these guys were the real deal. Working closely with John to put his FrankenGrasta shot gun gear to the test, and Trae Johnson with Ares Firearms Training range; the men of Urban Tactical also put on an excellent series of training courses in everything from hand-to-hand combat to (for lack of better words) that stuff you thought only happened in movies. It’s probably best if I just show you.
You still with me, or were you just as mesmerized by those videos as I was? Moving on.
What better place to run quality checks and drills than on Ares’ own 100 acre range, nestled comfortably in middle Florida’s forests and swamps. On the land preserved by the Johnson family for many years, Trae, John, and the members of Urban Tactical serve up opportunities for learning, gaining experience, and having a downright good time in a comfortable learning environment. Taking firearms instruction to all new levels, Trae and the instructors of Ares Firearms range conduct classes day and night to ensure your ability doesn’t end just cause the lights go out. Not to mention, it makes for one hell of a light show.
However, probably the most lovable part of Ares (which takes its name not only for great marketing and heritage, but in honor of the Greek God of War who came to warriors in their time of need) stems from a commitment to people. With a fondness for education of the ‘good-ole-days’ Ares instructors not only offer instruction for every member of the family, but they provide safe play areas for children who aren’t participating in the training—a bonus that opens the door for parents to get the training they need. Hoping to alleviate many similar barriers preventing people from obtaining necessary training, Trae hints to Divine America that future growth intends to include more solutions to these types of hurdles. While tackling the endeavors will bring their own struggles, Trae admits he’s blessed to have overcome many obstacles in the past, with great friends to keep him motivated; and future difficulties will be met all the same.
It comes as no surprise, the “no gain without pain” attitude runs deep within these men. But, when you keep friends like Larry “Stoney” Stone—one of the many passionate instructors of Urban Tactical who also happens to carry the title of a Martial Arts Grand Master—well, there’s a certain amount of excuses that become invalidated…like, all of them. Stoney, or “Yoda” as he was introduced to me, was the epitome of a guy that never had anything handed to him, and certainly had nothing come easy. Born with a neurological disability that would undergo many misdiagnoses and surgeries to correct, but ultimately affected Stoney’s ability to walk; the word “can’t” doesn’t exist in his vocabulary. Captured in his story Live Now, Stoney relives the good, the bad, and the ugly of a life that led him to pursue martial arts despite the many doctors, who swore he couldn’t due to his condition Charcot-Marie-Tooth Neuropathy. His disability, which made even the simple act of walking a challenge for Stoney, inspired his appreciation for the close friends, family, and mentors who’ve come into his life. He credits them for having never left him behind, when it would have been so easy to do so, and showing him patience in his training as he learned to conquer his challenges. After years of training, Stoney became a mentor, and using the patience and understanding he learned from those who showed it to him, he opened his own school of martial arts, the Ishi Do Dojo (which continues to produce Black Belt champions).
Though he’s been inducted into the World Grand Master Black Belt Hall of Fame, Stoney is humble and reminds me the story is not about the success he’s achieved, but through it, the lives of the people he’s been able to impact. When asked how he felt about the nickname Yoda, he admits he’s no super hero, but knows “being the leader of men is a great responsibility,” and above all else, he feels blessed to have friends who would think of him like that. As he works with James Urban and other members of the Urban Tactical training team to inspire people in the methods of awareness and self-defense, it’s no doubt that each lesson is met with a wealth of knowledge, skills, and passion from people looking to use their powers for good.
Amassing over 35 years of combined training, and experience in services such as professional high-risk private and corporate security, executive protection, counter-corporate espionage, and threat assessment to name a few; James has always attracted people with a desire to learn to handle their own. Soon, what started as something akin to a Fight Club scene blossomed into a brotherhood, and soon became a mission to provide training to those who need it most. And this is how James came to know John. From the day James and John met, a bond was formed that has only been described to me as deeper than a brotherhood. Family. Put simply, “Family that will stand up and protect each other, support each other, and be there always.”
Immediately I am taken back to Larry Stone’s words:
“…. Family members don’t always make the wisest decisions.
Sometimes we screw up and people get hurt. Sometimes it is
just a flesh wound that looks (and sometimes feels), much
worse than it really is, much like Jessie’s forehead. Other times
real damage is done. But you should never forget that you are
family. Sometimes we take mistakes in stride, other times
we just lose it. We yell, we scream, we rant and rave… But
Love always outlasts anger. If you have Love in your heart,
you can endure any disappointment you have in the people
you Love. “ –Live Now
Truer words were never spoken. Bad things happen in all our lives, but family toughs it out. While James hopes his students and family are never faced with the need to use these skills, he says at least “they will have the tools to survive a violent encounter against someone attempting to harm them.” Acknowledging that the people he instructs are the very people who go out to defend our freedom—making them just as much family—James and the Urban Tactical team vow a dedication to continue learning advanced techniques and passing on their skills and knowledge to others. Traveling the globe and conducting training seminars, James and the Urban Tactical team promise a future with new products and services stating, “the skies the limit!”when it comes to advancing a community of people who are aware and capable of defending themselves. Anyone interested in having a training seminar held in their neck of the woods need only use the contact form on their website.
In its many different forms, the theme of blessings and gratitude doesn’t always mean struggle, though; so says Tom Williford of 3T Tactical and close friend of John Grasta. Tom isn’t bragging when he says he’s always been blessed. He only means to pass on that which he feels came easily to him. Finding himself in a position, again, to help out a friend, Tom initially hoped to bring John on as a sales representative of 3T Tactical, but soon realized there was more to John. See, Tom manufactures custom add-ons for shot guns such as the S.T.U.D. (Shot gun Tactical Ultra-illumination Device), breachers, and extension tubes; and John manufactures custom shot gun gear such as side saddles, harnesses, and leg rigs for FrankenGrasta. They are essentially each other’s peanut butter and jelly—the mac n’ cheese of custom shot gun gear if you would.
Blessed by the sharing of business responsibility with his Daughter, Tom gets to help John with design, quality, and testing the products. As firm supporters of America’s economic progress, the men work towards 100 percent in-house manufacturing, which would open the door for many new jobs, and growth opportunities. In these troubling times, a little bit of opportunity is the one blessing many could use right now. It’s one I’ve been granted when I was asked to write about a few good men (and women).
To say the least, John certainly has a lengthy list of people who’ve come together to achieve a few goals. In essence forming a brotherhood of support that served individual American dreams, these gentlemen have been a pleasant reminder that chasing the dream is not always easy. But, as Stoney says, “It’s when you think you can’t take any more, when you think you have nothing left to give; that’s when it’s most important for you to keep pushing for your goal.” Enduring the pain—be it physical, or that which we sacrifice to succeed—marks the legacy we leave behind. After having the pleasure of speaking with these gentlemen, it occurred to me that the most successful legacy to leave behind is also the answer to the seemingly elusive American dream.
The revolution of this country, for most, identified the ingredients of the American dream: innovation, industry, hard work, and loyalty. Unfortunately, two things happened. First, the inventions sought only to simplify, entertain, and comfort people. Secondly, people stopped working to help others. As a result, creativity and innovation hit its peak, and people became bored and even expectant of the most futuristic concepts. Incapacitated and weakened by the lights and colors of the devices we use to distract us from life, people became lazy and uninterested in the well-being of their community. If the American dream hadn’t been lost, it was certainly misconstrued by a negligent concept that only the inherently rich, and well-to-do got the lucky breaks. Where to start with the many things wrong with that statement! Not to downplay the contribution of hard work and innovation in fueling a revolution, but when it comes to the ingredients of the American dream, nothing makes a better tasting slice of pie than knowing it came by doing something good for someone else.
John Grasta asked me to write about a few good men that helped him with his emerging business. I don’t know if he understood the opportunity he put before me, but I hope he knows just how grateful I am that he chose Divine America to share his story with.
*Readers can expect a follow-up on John’s progress as a future in-person visit is in the works; and everyone is encouraged to make a trip to see these guys in Florida, or even get them out to your neck of the woods for a seminar. The links below provide more details.
John Grasta on Facebook
FrankenGrasta Shot Gun Gear Community on Facebook
Trae Johnson on Facebook
Ares Firearms Training
James Urban on Facebook
L.D. “Stoney” Stone on Facebook
Live Now!: Imagine the Possibilities
Tom Williford, 3T Tactical