If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Would you want to be invisible or have the ability to read minds? Would you choose physical strength or master the art of persuasion? When wounded, would your body regenerate within seconds or would you be bulletproof? Although we may not be able to fly without an airplane or own the lasso of truth, pause for a moment and take inventory. What character traits do you emulate of your favorite hero? Is your work changing people’s lives? Are you the glue that keeps your family together? Do your strategies streamline tasks for your team? Do you lead with strength and kindness?
I sat with Viking Ninja Founder and TACFIT® Team Leader, Coach Erik “Esik” Melland to talk about his life and his journey to fitness. We shared what it was like growing up as a kid in a mixed-race heritage in Central Coast California. Although threatened by violence and poverty, he was raised by the strength of a single immigrant mother. We talked about his passion for music, touring shows across the country, and what led him to choose a different career path towards health and fitness. That decision transformed his life. He now uses that same motivation and drive to help others. His story is complex, inspiring and overlaps many themes about life. I was intrigued, moved and inspired by his story. And although it is no fairytale, I did discover, this warrior has superpowers of his own.
Esik’s early career began in music. He was the frontman for different bands. He says, “Those days were long days and years and you know, just having different groups. I was working on my own projects, performing everywhere. My weeks were pretty much swamped.” Esik performed different types of music from reggae, hip hop, to incorporating different beats. Being around musicians and producers, he recognized certain lifestyle patterns. He says, “As I talked to people and started recognizing these things, you know, these unhealthy patterns, it really triggered me because I began to think about all the years to come.” It was that moment that Esik looked into his future and wondered what his life would become if he continued on the same path. He says about his decision to step away from the music business, “It wasn’t that I didn’t like music anymore. It was the lifestyle of it. I couldn’t commit to it every week. I still do music so that’s the beauty of it. I can still do music and I plan to keep doing it.”
Choosing a Path of Health
Esik was working long hours constantly and living an unhealthy lifestyle. Esik says, “One day, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I started choosing a path of health. And I was very new to it. I was a rookie when it came to health. I just stepped into it thinking, I’m going to learn one thing. It’s going to solve all my problems.”
Before starting any fitness plan, Esik wanted to understand the human body and looked into massage therapy. “I really like what I did with that decision because my mom offered to pay half [of my tuition].” With his mother’s support, Esik enrolled in a respected vocational school that offered a massage program. “This program was for two years. Anybody will tell you that’s a rushed system.” Esik explains how instead of acquiring his education in four years, he took an accelerated program where he completed his education in two years. He continues, “The goal was to learn what health is all about. I wanted to learn what the body is about. Because I didn’t want to just jump into it not knowing how to explore my own body and help other people with their bodies.”
With his heart of gold, eagerness to help others and a little hustle, he began exercising his craft as an entrepreneur. “I wanted to help the public. I didn’t want to work for a company. I did it where I put my chair out and said, ‘Hey man, do you want a massage? Are your shoulders hurting?’ And so I would hustle at the farmers market. I would just run up to people and say, ‘Give me five minutes or I’ll go as long as you want me to.’ I worked all day. I was like a car salesman but instead of selling vehicles I was selling my hands.” Esik laughs as he recalls those days.
Ironically, as he was helping others, he began to notice problems with his own body. “I started to have pain with my fingers, my joints my muscle. I’m helping people with recovery and I’m over here destroying myself. I wondered, is this the way health is supposed to be?
When I asked Esik what started his TACFIT® journey, he said, “It was an accident, or actually I don’t even know if I want to call it an accident. It was like serendipity maybe – like it was meant to be. I was at the farmer’s market one day helping my mom when I ran into Aaron Cruz. He came up to me and asked, ‘Isn’t Jeffrey your little brother?'” They both attended Seaside High School in Monterey, CA. They talked for a bit, met up at a bar in the evening, and discovered that they were both on the path of fitness. Aaron was working with a fitness company and offered to introduce him. Soon after Esik was brought onboard to offer massages to clients, later he would be assigned the task of filming, creating content and posts.
Esik Continues, “I didn’t know anything about fitness. The first time I saw a clubbell, I asked Arron, ‘what the f*ck is that?’ I didn’t know what a kettlebell was. I was looking for a barbell but didn’t see one. It was Aaron who introduced me to TACFIT®. He taught me everything.” He says the first time he became TACFIT® certified, he and Aaron went to Bellingham, WA. “Every time I filmed certifications, I noticed sometimes the coaches would get distracted with trying to perform. So I really used that time to learn. I don’t remember the year I first got certified, it was so long ago. It was over 10 years ago.”
Honoring Scott Sonnon
During the years Esik worked at ONNIT, he continued his journey of fitness and excellence. In the midst of working, training, filming, editing, creating content, he pushed and founds ways to continue to grow. When going through a difficult time, he says, “I had to meditate through all of that and you know what? It made me bulletproof. It’s like, I could smell fake. I learned to resist temptation, how to understand people, and not get stuck. It showed me to stay disciplined.” His respect for TACFIT® founder and creator Scott Sonnon was evident as he said, “I want everyone to know where the TACFIT® systems come from. Because, when you have someone like Scott, you have to respect what he created. You have to respect the avenue and direction, his years of work. I know the true value and meaning of that now. I respect all he has done. I respect the work he has done for our military officers and first responders. You know what I mean?”
He goes on to explain that he developed his own system with steel mace called Viking Ninja that evolved from his foundation of TACFIT®. “It’s something new,” he says, “but when I can get people to gravitate to this, then they start to understand the history where my training comes from, it comes from Scott.”
In The Ghetto, Jesus Works
Esik is one of the most positive, energetic individuals you will ever meet. A smile graces his face while determination projects through his eyes. When I asked him about his upbringing. Esik says, “I was a military baby. Born in Fort Ord, California, which is in Monterey Bay. My mom is Korean and my dad is American, he was in the military. They met in Korea came back to the United States had a baby which was me and then after my brother was born, we moved back to Korea because they got a divorce.”
His mother came back to the states because she felt her sons were not safe being mixed race. Esik explains they were not treated well. They moved back to Fort Ord, to an apartment complex that is right next to the military borderline. He says, “We moved into a ghetto community because that’s what my mom could afford. She only paid $200 in rent. I remember as a kid going to sleep at night, hearing the military do their drills. I heard bombing, firing guns, and tanks. In order to get into the complex, we had to pass the military gates who pointed a gun in your face. Can you imagine that?” Esik says that wasn’t the worst part, once you got past the gates, that’s where violence and death surrounded him. He continues, “People got shot in their own house. A security guard was killed once, and the police left the chalk marks [that outlined the body] there. That’s where we would play. After a while, seeing so much death, I got numb to it. I was 12 years old when my mom saw what I was becoming and she said, ‘You’re going to church. You’re going to walk there, and if you don’t, I’ll find out and I will whoop you!.’ Now, this is where she changed me. Because let me tell you, in the ghetto, Jesus works!”
Esik always walked to church with his brother because his mother had to work. Until one day she drove him. While on their way, she reached over and held his hand. He says, “I knew at that moment, she felt proud of me.” When I asked what was the biggest lesson he learned from his mother, he did not hesitate to answer, “Resilience” he said, “she is strong, hardworking and would say, ‘Stop making excuses’ and ‘Work hard, cry later.’” Clearly, Esik continues to live by these mottos.
In listening to Esik’s story, it’s evident how ingrained TACFIT® is into his life. It’s not only the fitness system, the protocols, the training – it’s the heart and the community. When I asked how he met his wife, he quickly says, TACFIT®. She was part of the community and a practitioner. They met, married and they now share a beautiful daughter. His wife continues to practice along his side.
Esik talks about when TACFIT® CEO Alberto Crane first reached out and invited him and Aaron Cruz to his podcast (The Alberto Crane Show). Shortly after he brought them out to TACFIT® Headquarters in Burbank, Ca. for a clubbell workshop and TACFIT® certifications. That weekend the team leaders came together, supported the attendees, helped train and I got to witness the camaraderie and respect for each other. It’s a reflection of the work of Scott Sonnon and having him in attendance was an honor for everyone. I asked Esik what advice he would give someone who is thinking of starting TACFIT®, he says, “Don’t get intimidated, be patient with yourself and honor everything you do. If you don’t honor yourself, that means you won’t put in the work. Stay dedicated and disciplined.”
As for Esik’s superpowers? I see a few – Purpose; Strength and, Kindess. Although hardships in life made him bulletproof, he was born with the heart of a warrior. It’s that heart that drives him and his leadership that motivates others. When asked to develop a curriculum for Bodyweight 101, he acted quickly and applied his years of knowledge in an easy to follow program to help you either start, revisit or fully understand the TACFIT® protocols.
The goal is to help you keep moving. You don’t need any equipment. All you need is your body, focus and, commitment.
“I wouldn’t have advice on how to accelerate success. I do not know how to avoid failure, except to be persistent no matter what.” – Scott Sonnon