ITAS Podcast Episode #12

Neville Billimoria - the artist of life

Neville Billimoria is the leader of the Aoinagi Ken Shu Kai karate school, a founder of the San Diego Chamber of Purpose, and Ron’s karate sensei of nearly 30 years. In this episode, we are talking with Neville about how to be an artist of life not only to be a happier person but to heal the community and, eventually, the world.

Listen to the full conversation full of inspiration and wisdom in Episode #12 of ITAS Podcast!

Education is a key to communal wellbeing

I aspire to serve as a community leader – to use social justice and equity as the framework for the work I do. I’ve been a Senior Vice President at Mission Federal Credit Union for 19 years in San Diego. Mission Fed was born on a bar desk in the County Office of Education, so we have a lot of educational partners.

My underlying focus is education. For those of us that are trying to live the American dream with upward mobility and financial autonomy, I think what I try to support is education, and then financial inclusion and wellbeing through my work. It is sorely, sorely needed – not just here in San Diego, but across the country.

Bridging the West and the East

Being bicultural, and born and raised in India, moving to the States transplanted at the age of 14 with just one suitcase each and starting our lives over. That early journey informed the trajectory of my life because I had both the Eastern and Western sides.

I watched people practicing Judo on a rooftop in Bombay across from where I lived. I’d watched them for hours on end, and was just super fascinated by what they were doing and how they were doing it. That year, we moved to the United States, so the seed was planted, but it never materialized until my tennis buddy told me that sport is one way to try to fit-in in the United States.

Becoming a martial artist

One day, some footballers slammed my tennis doubles partner against a locker in the locker room. I told them to leave him alone because he was one of the few friends that I had there. And he chimes in, well, you know this guy knows karate. He’s from India. And so they eyeball me. Nothing happens, but I started karate the next week, as a attempt to have some agency and not be a victim and not getting my **** kicked in the next locker room or in the next lunch break. So that’s how I started.

A different dojo

Our dojo practices karate in a way that is about empowerment, and sort of a humanistic endeavor. It helps people realize their full potential, which is a vastly different notion of what it means to be a karate Sensei. The common picture of a Sensei is either what we see in The Karate Kid movies, or it is someone who runs a for-profit commercial dojo that teaches kids discipline and art through gaining their belt ranks and competing in tournaments.

Yoga and martial arts

Neville and Barbara - the artist of life

Yoga and martial arts are like partners. One is active passivity and another is a passive activity; one is the truth in action, and another is the truth in inaction. They’re complimentary, and they find the same meditative flow experienced through movement.

We privilege the rational mind in the West, but the intuitive mind is equally powerful. We’re walking the edge between these two cultures [eastern and western], and I’m generalizing, because even within those cultures, there are nuances and variances. That’s probably worth my time to invest in and understand more.

Defining success in your practice

How you choose to define your own success in life is actually a very important and critical question. If you judge it by the number of zeros in your bank account, or you judge it by your title in some environment or organization, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. Success has both a performance dimension and a fulfillment dimension. That lifelong learning and growing in your practice is something infinite – it’s never-ending.

Mentions and references

Mission Federal Credit Union:

Aoinagi Ken Shu Kai karate school:

Soul Food Friday weekly blog:

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