During what would become my final season as a professional football player, I felt broken.

Not my body – I had played through all kinds of shit: broken thumbs, high ankle sprains, torn MCL (which I tore on a Sunday afternoon and then proceeded to play on in the Thursday Night game. Fucking stupid.) I’ve played with broken pinkies, broken ribs (another dumbass idea), cracked shoulders (that was stupid), torn rotator cuffs – the list of bad decisions goes on. I’ve always known how to play through an injury, how to get my body good enough to compete. That was easy. (Also, the one time I decided to do the smart thing and shut it down, I found myself quickly cut from the team.) I played hurt my entire career. It was part of the culture.

I’ve played through it all, but the one thing that I never had to play through was a broken spirit. With a broken spirit, I couldn’t call any of my personal medical staff or the trainers on the team. I couldn’t will my way through this one. I had to take time to heal.

Stem machines, cold tubs, massages (which helped a little actually), lasers, stretching – nothing worked. Anti-inflammatory, Advil, Tylenol, Cortisone shots, etc. didn’t either.

Medicine wasn’t the answer.

I needed something different to heal my broken spirit, so I turned to ART.

Art is a powerful medicine; it can do wonders. I saw this in action for myself. Throughout my NFL career, I’ve had the opportunity to visit several hospitals to do art projects with kids who were dealing with much worse diagnoses than my current broken spirit. I watched as art lifted their spirits dramatically. I was desperate for my cure.

I dove into my craft as a creative: painting, writing, filming, music, designing furniture and clothes, taking classes, reading books, watching documentaries and cartoons. One day while looking for an old computer that had hundreds of songs I had previously created on it, I stumbled upon an old box. Inside was a collection of Hayao Miyazaki films that I hadn’t watched in a very long time. The beauty in Studio Ghibli films is unreal.

That same day I told my wife I felt like I needed to go to Japan. It was calling me, I could hear it. What it was saying I honestly had no idea because, obviously, it was calling me in Japanese. All I could make out was Marty-san. A few days later my family and I went to see Takashi Murakami’s exhibit. I am a huge fan of his. I love bright colors, and he’s one of the best at using them. Every time I see his work I leave inspired.

Japan was whispering, “Marty-san something-something-something.” I still didn’t understand Japanese at this point.

A few weeks later I was stepping off a plane on foreign soil. The wife had booked me a solo trip.

Day One: Konichiwa Bitches.

I was a bit nervous but also super excited. I watched Dragonball Z and movies like Spirited Away the entire flight. I did a little Japanese course on Rosetta Stone but still didn’t know shit when I arrived. I had a long list of things I wanted to do over the 10-day trip, but the most important thing was to immerse myself in the culture: eat what they eat, worship their gods, dive deep into it all.

And that’s exactly what I did.

The first day I was free to roam solo. The only problem was I had no idea what to do or what the fuck anyone was saying. Tom Brady told me he had a friend over there named Leonard and he kindly connected us. Leonard was a very well-dressed Japanese man with a thirst for knowledge. He was tall – well, taller than most of the other people, and I didn’t feel as big walking around with him as I did amongst everyone else. Lol. Then again, there was that time I hit my head on an exit sign as we were walking out of the subway. Oh right, back to Leonard: super eclectic dude who spoke English and was able to introduce me to the ways of Japan. More importantly, he told me stories about beautiful traditions and why they existed as we ramen noodled our way through Tokyo.

He shared stories about tea ceremonies and samurais as I fumbled my chopsticks back and forth trying to catch noodles like fish swimming in my bowl. I told him that I was on a spiritual pilgrimage and in search of myself. This excited him. We talked for a few hours as we explored. Over tea that evening, he told me that he thought Japan was the perfect place to find what I was looking for.

Leonard would be the last person I would be around that spoke English and understood me.

This lack of communication actually turned out to be a great thing. The language barrier was drastic and required me to work extremely hard to understand my surroundings. It kept me present the entire ten days.


Day Two

The next morning, I met Hiro. She would be my guide as I explored Tokyo. She was phenomenal. I walked over 30,000 steps that day.

I followed Hiro’s lead with an open notebook and an open mind. She talked, I wrote. She eventually became intrigued by my journal and asked me what I was writing. I told her I was logging the information she was sharing and doodles of the things I saw, she thanked me.

"Thanks for what?"

"For being present and paying attention," she responded. It was at that moment I knew I was going to find what I was looking for –

I was present.

A few places inspired me as I explored with Hiro:

Harajuku is the most colorful place I have ever seen in my life. Not just the city, but the people too. It was like walking through a chaotic rainbow. Oranges, neons, blues, purples, yellows all crossed the street together. Their individuality is expressed through their fashion choices. It was fun. It was energizing. It was a real-life anime film. I realized that clothes were their art. The fashion of Harajuku was different from Tokyo, where everyone was very buttoned up and professional. This idea reminded me of something Leonard had said when I asked him why everyone dressed so nice. He responded by saying, “When someone hands you gift, it’s wrapped in nice paper. But what if we are the gifts? What if we thought of ourselves as presents?"

Touché my nigga.


Day Three

I scavenged comic book stores for hours in hopes of finding holy grails, things I couldn’t get back home in the states. I was able to see some of the most fantastic artwork. Of course, everything was in Japanese - but it was the art that spoke to me: the use of colors and the crazy characters. It was the way I wanted people to feel when they pick up the things I create.

Harajuku made me realize that I needed more color in my life, and only I could provide the color I needed.

As I traveled day after day with Hiro, we got to know each other better. We were becoming friends - although she would never let me open the door for her and she insisted on carrying my bags. That shit was kind of weird. We argued a lot about the bags, but she prevailed. It was part of the culture, and I was immersing myself. LOL

We talked about peace. She had the perfect place for us to go.

Day Four

Tenryuji Temple is the most beautiful place. Even though there were hundreds of people walking around, you could hear nature loud and clear. No one was speaking. Everyone was listening. Hiro would occasionally whisper facts to me as we explored. It was peaceful, and you had to reflect on your internal beauty while observing nature's beauty. At least I did.

Day Five

The following day, we would visit numerous Shinto shrines. There was a temple wrapped in 24k gold foil sitting in the middle of a pond. To this day, it is the most gorgeous site I have ever seen. Just fascinating. I prayed to the gods, including the god of hair. I’m balding in the front of my head, so I figured what the fuck. I’m still balding, by the way. So there’s that.

While walking through the beautifully landscaped shrines in quiet solitude, I began to recognize when peace was present. I began to notice that peace appeared when I had creative thoughts and ideas. Any time I would think about football, I felt chaos in my spirit.

The Shinto Shrines made me realize I had to push football out of my mind to allow peace to appear.

Day Six

I wanted to see more of the creative side of Tokyo, so Hiro dropped me off at the Robot Café. I don’t know what the fuck was happening in there, but it was incredible. HAHAHA. The café was decorated like Christian Audigier and Ed Hardy had a baby with Betsy Johnson on Easter Sunday. The look on your face right now is the same look I had. They take you downstairs into a pretty small space. Bleachers ran about five rows up. They offer popcorn and other shit, but I didn’t eat anything because I had dinner reservations after the show (more on that in a sec). What would happen next I still do not have the words to describe.

The lights went down. The show began.

Ninja turtles on robots. Ninjas fighting with lights. A Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson inspired concert performed by nurses with pigtails. A dragon flew into the room with a pirate on it. Something exploded. It was a beautiful mess I laughed and pondered. What the fuck was happening? It was amazing.



I would go back, but I'd prefer to be high next time. So, dinner.

There's a documentary titled Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Jiro’s love and dedication to his craft as a sushi chef inspire me. I had to meet this guy. I couldn’t get into his restaurant, but I did make it into his son’s spot - he’s featured in the documentary as well. I walked in, and there were only six people in the whole establishment. Each meal was supposed to be an intimate experience. I was nervous about this because there wasn’t a menu. I didn’t want to get stuck eating some crazy shit.

Unfortunately, I did. Just look at the photos above.

In one night I tried 18 pieces of fish I had never had before. It was terrifying! Salmon eggs, sea urchin, puffer fish, squid and some other shit that I had to close my eyes to eat. They didn’t have a menu because he picked the freshest fish the market offered each day. He served one person or a couple at a time. No two people were eating the same fish, so we all had a different experience. I couldn’t really say no to anything. It would be disrespectful. I told myself I would immerse myself in the culture, and this was part of it.

I even let them convince me to eat octopus, which I try to avoid since it’s my favorite animal. It felt like I was eating a pet. Pretty fucked up, rigghhhttt?! But the most fucked up thing is how much I enjoyed it. It was delicious. I felt like a maniac reaching into his fish tank grabbing his pet octopus named “October” and going to town.

I actually don’t know if everything was good because I didn’t know how anything was supposed to taste. I left feeling like fish were swan diving in my belly and I was going to throw up. I thanked him and ran out. When I got to the hotel, I ordered the most American thing I could get: a burger and fries, a coke, and apple pie a la mode.

Day Seven

It would be the walk through the Studio Ghibli Museum that made me realize I wanted to build something for kids that looked like me to feel proud of and enjoy. I've been making things, but to see Hayao Miyazaki's process and realizing we shared a similar approach empowered me creatively. Looking in his notebooks and peeking inside his sketchbooks, I had hoped to get a glimpse of the mind of a world builder. I did. I recognized pieces of myself in his work, and I found that transforming. I was on to something. I was standing in the middle of what that something could be.

Studio Ghibli helped me realize that my creativity was enough to build magical worlds for people to fall in love with and in.

I said goodbye to Hiro and hopped on a train to Kyoto.


Day Eight - Ten

When I got off the train, I was greeted by Miho. I didn't know it then, but her personality would truly impact me. She was so kind and patient. I found myself wanting whatever it was she had. She loved being a tour guide. Watching the way Miho loved her job made me realize how much I didn’t love my work as a professional football player. I loved the game, but not all of it. It's always been that way for me. I enjoyed competing, but at some point, I was on autopilot. It's not the way I want to live life. Miho's love for her craft made her beautiful. I wanted that same beauty to radiate through me in whatever I decided to do.

She told me a story about how the carp fish struggle to make it up the waterfall. “Why would it need to go up the waterfall?” I asked. "To become a dragon," she replied.

Touché, my nigga.

My time in Kyoto and Osaka with Miho made me reflect on my life’s purpose. It wasn’t football. And when I left Osaka, I realized I needed to retire from the game and begin creating full time.

A couple of weeks later, I did. I even announced my retirement from the NFL to pursue a more creative life with a piece of art.

Oh, yea - Miho, along with a lot of the other locals, nicknamed me “The Happy Samurai”, which I thought that was super dope.

A year has passed since my pilgrimage, and I have to say I am ridiculously happy with everything I'm doing at The Imagination Agency. I am not yet a dragon, but I am swimming up the waterfall.

Arigato, Japan!

The Happy Samurai

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