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John Ferrante : How He Grew from Violence to Honored Teacher & Healer

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At fourteen years old, I held a knife in one hand, a gun in the other,” says John Ferrante, the youngest son of an unrelenting truck driver and Teamster and a smothering waitress.

John managed to survive the tougher sections of Chicago and its suburbs, surrounded by racial hatred and gang violence.  Before his father’s death when John turned fifteen, John’s father had administered a lifetime of belittlement, humiliation, and so called deserved beatings to his son.  His mother’s over-protective love was an attempt to compensate for bringing another child into a house with a rage-filled father.  “Gee, I wonder why I came out of the womb with a vengeance and why I went head-to-head with everyone in my life, including life itself.”

John sustained many head injuries as he grew.  “I had more stitches in my head than a baseball.”

At age eleven, John was prescribed Dilantin to combat repeated epileptic seizures.  Sickened each time he took the medication, John asked the doctor if he could stop taking it.  The reply was yes, if John could eliminate the disease.  As the doctor renewed his prescription, John turned away and pictured the epilepsy in a basket tied to a balloon, floating away.  “Out of sight, out of mind, out of body.”

The seizures disappeared, never to return.

At age twenty-three, a double-barreled shotgun was held to his temple.  John heard the click of the trigger, followed by….silence.  He thought “How stupid to bring an empty gun to a gunfight.”

John cracked the stock open on the guy’s head and saw two shells lying neatly inside.  “The minute I felt anyone violating my boundaries, I summoned all the rage I felt from birth.  I unleashed physical and verbal attacks so strong, people stood horrified and bewildered.”

John’s rage grew until he reached thirty-three, when the constant adrenaline rush threatened to shut down his kidneys.  The doctors pronounced that he would need a kidney transplant or he would die within three years.  John walked back to his hotel, contemplating his death sentence.  His eyes were drawn to a sign for an America healer around the corner from the clinic he was passing.

This day marked the path of his return to health and life.  “I realized that rage dwelled within me to teach me that I didn’t have to let it be a part of my life.  I was pulled into the Eastern disciplines of Tai Chi and QiGong to free me from the feelings of frustration and hopelessness and show me where I was going physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

After healing himself through diligent Tai Chi and Qigong practice, and Chinese herbs, John committed his life to bringing his path to health to others.  John opened a school in his home as demand for his knowledge and services increased.

In 2000, he was blessed with the birth of his daughter despite doctors insisting he could never father a child.  His second martial arts/healing arts school opened in Woodstock, Illinois, in 2005 where healing takes the form of counseling, treatments, and classes.  “It took me 48 years but I can honestly say I’m at a place of peace and understanding that I could never have found years ago because I wasn’t done torturing, testing, and challenging myself.”

“Only by surrendering, can I truly begin to understand that our lives may seem complicated but, in fact, are very simple.  Our lives become complicated when we react to everyone around us rather than reacting to and changing ourselves.  We attempt to change things outside of us, when all the misconceptions, fears, and weaknesses lie within us.”

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25 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Preston - Virginia said:

    This article stuck out to me because it is a type of story I find to be especially important and beneficial; a reflective piece about a troubled past and the ways in which it was escaped and replaced with a more fulfilling lifestyle. I think that these stories play an important role in helping people from more privileged backgrounds understand the plight of disadvantaged citizens that they might otherwise write off as irredeemable, while also giving hope for people in similar situations by connecting the dots between turmoil and success. I also liked the way that the story integrated quotes directly from John, as it made me feel as though the author was using their position as a writer to give him a voice, which I think is a crucial dynamic to establish in this type of writing.

  • Randi - Ohio said:

    The author’s use of quotes said by John adds an element of honesty to this piece. Rather than just telling about him, the authored showed us. It impacts the reader and draws a sense of connection between the article and the subject.

  • Teresa – Florida said:

    It’s an inspiring story, one that shows that not only can individuals overcome their own obstacles to help themselves and help others, but that their pasts do not define them.

  • Renée – Rhode Island said:

    On the whole, I found this article to be inspirational and moving. Many people, including myself, enjoy stories about people who overcome hardship and adversity. I think these stories are especially illuminating when they involve individuals who come from disenfranchised urban areas and who “beat the odds” as in John Ferrante’s case. More specifically, I was rooting for John because he survived a harrowing childhood, outlived a medical crisis and fathered a child, against all odds. I think the writer of this article does a fine job of painting a vivid picture of the world from which John emerged. Ms. McGrath details John’s formative years with well-crafted details. For instance, when she describes the abuse that John suffered at the hands of this father, she makes sure to mention that the abuse is not limited to physical abuse; it is also verbal and emotional. I think this is important because we as readers are able to appreciate John’s later personal and professional success even more because it is elegantly juxtaposed with his earlier turmoil and suffering.
    I also liked the first sentence of the article. It is shocking and therefore grabs my attention as a good hook should do.
    even from an early age, as evidenced when he told me, “Gee, I wonder why . . . “
    I’d like to add that I was impressed that this article was then followed by reader’s comments, including some from John Ferrante himself! This further personalizes what was already a very personal and poignant story. I was also struck by a comment made by “Marycatherine” of Maryland who praised the article and the site as a whole because it counters the “barrage of negativity, crime and violence” that is showcased in daily newspapers. For me, this confirms and underscores the philosophy that fuels a publication such as Winners Within Us™: the world needs more stories about good people doing good things. We are drowning in negativity and we are all seeking something – anything – that lifts our spirits and reassures us that life is beautiful and worth living. Your magazine seems to encompass one of my favorite quotes by Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

  • Scott - Michigan said:

    This story is superb and truly inspirational. We get a lot of articles in the media about the Ray Kroc’s and Steve Jobs’ of the world, but very few focus on those people that rise from adversity to have a small but significant social impact. Everday folks that we can say, “Hey, that’s a lot like me. Maybe I can do something like that as well. Maybe I can have a small, but significant impact on my community” These folks are the true winners in this world. So many people do the “everyday hero” thing but when we watch the news, it’s all about the negative and too many of us, sometimes myself included, forget that there are good things in this world. And if you pardon my french, too often I find myself thinking, “With so many as***les in the world, why do they persist in adding another?” Anyhow, I like the direction of the “Winners Within Us.”

  • Myson – Arizona said:

    I liked the way the author used more quotes of John Ferrante to accompany the text. I think this gives a better feel of the emotion the person possesses rather than just telling a story about somebody.

  • john ferrante said:

    first I’d like to say thank you to all the beautiful people Who found this small part of my life inspiring to themselves,i no way Find my life was joyfull, happy or inspiring, but it brings me to tears to know my pain helped bring some comfort to another soul the beautiful person who wrote this story about me only knows a small part of a life that should have never been,I started writing a book of life called controlling the evil twin..like you at times I fell alone and not understood in thi world ,and would love the inspiration,thoughts. And guidance, from anyone who can help me put this book together so we can help the world out of this trap called anger abd frustration.please feel free to contact me at madmarine57@ gmail.com I would like to dedicate the first copy to winnerswithinus.com for being the connection for good people who can make great things happen , May peace and love surround you always

  • Ben – Kentucky said:

    very nice piece on John Ferrante.

  • Gary - Colorado (author) said:

    I’ve taken a tour of your website and read a handful of articles. I was particularly taken with this story of John Ferrante. Some of the other articles didn’t have the heart that I was expecting from the idea of your magazine, but this one spoke to me. In critique of the article, I would have spent more time explaining his current techniques and future plans, rather than focusing on his past. I felt his transformation was almost disregarded for grittier details. I liked his story, and would love a follow up piece about his impact on the community and any students who have used his inspiration to do work in their stead.

  • Colin -- North Carolina said:

    I loved John’s story. I liked that the article showed how complete his transformation was. We go from someone who is about to get his head blown off with a shotgun to now a Tai Chi practitioner and teacher. He changed his life completely, from one of anger and despair to a life of compassion, courage, and understanding. I wish the article would have been longer. There’s clearly so much more to this story than what was in the article and I wish I would have been able to read it. For instance, we spend 2/3 of the article talking about the bad things he has gone through, the gun fights, the beatings, the epilepsy and only 1/3 of the article is spent on his recovery and the positive things he is doing now. I would also have also liked to see more emphasis on the serendipitous nature of John’s life. He shouldn’t even be alive, twice he could have died, and yet he’s still here teaching QiGong for crying out loud! How does he feel about that? Does he think he’s just lucky or does he attribute his survival to something greater? And lastly, I wanted more words of wisdom from John himself. There’s a 3 sentence paragraph at the end where he talks about surrender, but this man has been healing himself for almost 15 years, there’s no way you can say everything that he has learned in 3 sentences. Overall, an excellent article, very uplifting. In my opinion more information would have made it great. Stories like this want and need to be told, and your hardest job (in my opinion) is giving these stories the potency and the credit they deserve.

  • Liisa – North Carolina said:

    I found this story inspirational. However, the transition from the negative part of his life to the positive part of his life was very abrupt. I would have liked to learned more about this transitional phase. How long did it take? Did he experience any struggles during that time? What was it that was most inspirational and eye-opening to him about Eastern disciplines?

    However, aside from this, I do enjoy reading positive news and believe that this site is a needed and welcomed addition to the world wide web!

  • Fahad -- Pakistan said:

    Yes I enjoyed the story and can appreciate a story about a person who changed his life around completely. And this story no different from any other inspirational story does just that. However I believe that the intensity of the situation is not addressed properly based on my own life. The story toward the ending goes into this paragraph, “This day marked the path of his return to health and life. “I realized that rage dwelled within me to teach me that I didn’t have to let it be a part of my life. I was pulled into the Eastern disciplines of Tai Chi and QiGong to free me from the feelings of frustration and hopelessness and show me where I was going physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” But I think this is too direct, an easy way out. It takes away from the meaning of the entire story. There’s no feeling. I know this because I have grown up in a house which was filled to brim with domestic violence, anger and hate. And the way that people change maybe at a certain point but that point plays out into your mind over and over again, like something that cannot be taken away, something like lasts forever. I think this story hid that intensity. Ferrante wasn’t honest about his real feelings.

  • Marycatherine – Maryland said:

    I like this article for several reasons: 1) John’s life story exemplifies how individuals don’t need to live the lives that seem to be laid out for them. During his youth, John surrendered to what he considered to be his fate. However, it was clear that even then, he had the strength to change his circumstances, as can be seen in his triumph over his seizures. I see this as a true example of the “Law of Attraction in Action”; 2) John’s story is one that I plan to relay to my children who often feel sorry for themselves and believe that they have not been given the advantages that so many of their friends have received. They have so much more than John did and will hopefully appreciate the significance of the story; and 3) I like the idea that John was finally able to accept the help that was offered to him. I work with a nutrition program for low income families and regularly see families who live in poverty, often in crisis situations. My colleagues and I work with the knowledge that we are assisting them to overcome the obstacles that they face to improve their family’s nutrition and health.
    Finally, I am happy that I found this site. I have recently discontinued the newspaper and stopped watching the news because of the barrage of negativity, crime and violence. I believe that my attitude and mood, as well as that of my children, has improved.

  • Ailsa Roddie said:

    I had to read this article a couple of times to feel that I understood the initial part of the story. Additionally, I felt that the positives emerged quite slowly in the narrative. I am left with many questions and I feel I have not gained a sense of who John Ferrante really is, although I can see that he is a man of strong will which is something I very much admire. The story is a powerful one, but I am not sure exactly what lesson to take away from it.

  • Catherine – California said:

    I was amazed that this person was such a fighter and survivor! The story was beyond anyhing that a human being should endure, from almost facing a kidney failure to ascending to great heights of conquering his own demons.

    The article was well written. I would have liked a few quotes from those influenced by him.

  • Kevin – Michigan said:

    The writer of the Ferrante profile made a good call in choosing such a dramatic anecdote for the lead. It drew me in very effectively. The rest of the article displayed very good structure and flow.

  • Hillary - Florida said:

    John’s last quote in this article is very true. We try to blame people or circumstances for our problems, when in reality is it us that needs to change. In other words, we have a choice. We can choose defeat, or we can choose life. When John was given the “death sentence” by the doctor, he was really given a choice. If he continued down the road he was already on, he would have chosen death. However, by deciding to take control of his emotions instead of letting the emotions control him, he chose life. John is the not the only one benefiting from this decision. His students at the school are also able to learn from his experiences as he leads them down the road to recovery. This story is a wonderful reminder that change is possible. The option to change, though, is entirely up to the individual. No one else can make that decision for us.

  • Niki – Illinois said:

    Overall what I read in your e-magazine was a breath of fresh air. The focus being on the positive and powerful aspect of humanity that abounds, instead of greed and crime that sadly also abound. I was consumed by this story of John Ferrante, who overcame such adversity and was exposed horrific abuse and loss of innocence at a tender age when nurturing and stability are paramount. He demonstrates that the “mind over matter” theory is an energy to be reckoned with. Janis McGrath, truely expressed peace and calmness eminating from this man’s transformation through his journey of healing and becoming a teacher. Ferrante’s students are the lucky ones.

  • Sophia – Ohio said:

    This article was so touching (especially the part about having a daughter) Although it felt more like a short bio instead of a short story which is more of what I’m into. I still LOVED reading about how he overcame abuse and recognized how it was killing him on the inside. I enjoy everything that you are doing with Winners.

  • Hope -- Michigan said:

    I read this because it seemed very inspirational sounding, strictly from reading the title. I like the way the story opened, with a quote from Mr. Ferrante. I was a little disappointed, though, as I felt like it lacked some detail. It jumped around a bit and was somewhat brief. I liked that it gave a synopsis of this man’s life, however, I would have liked more detail. Perhaps that is strictly because I’m a detail-oriented person.
    The other reason I liked this story was because of my career. I work with children on a daily basis in the foster care system. I’m always trying to make a difference. Someone like Mr. Ferrante would be someone who could make that difference, given his life experiences.

  • Amanda -- Wisconsin said:

    I specifically chose to read this story because it seemed very inspirational sounding, strictly from reading the title. I like the way the story opened, with a quote from Mr. Ferrante. I was a little disappointed, though, as I felt like it lacked some detail. It jumped around a bit and was somewhat brief. I liked that it gave a synopsis of this man’s life, however, I would have liked more detail. Perhaps that is strictly because I’m a detail-oriented person.
    The other reason I read this story was because of my career. I work with children on a daily basis in the foster care system. I’m always trying to make a difference. Someone like Mr. Ferrante would be someone who could make that difference, given his life experiences.

  • Ashley -- Virginia said:

    I love stories of inspiration and “good” overcoming “evil”. This article I read on your website is the epitome of these ideals: in a world full of news casts and news articles on violence, disease, war and environmental disaster the average “Joe” or John can become overwhelmed with all of the negativity. I think we all need to be reminded that hardships can be overcome and the world hasn’t completly gone to the dogs. Mr. Ferrante was able to pull himself out of a less than desirable home situation and serious illness to become an inspiration to many, and helped others with their own struggles through his teaching of martial arts. Thank You.

  • Ashley P said:

    I read the article about John Ferrante and the first thing that drew me in was the first quote used by the writer, Janis McGrath. It was pretty compelling and I felt there was no way I couldn’t read the rest. The entire story was well written and very inspiring. I always like to hear about stories from people who came up out of negative situations and used it as motivation to make the best of their life. That is pretty much how I like to live my life. I can relate to a few of these articles I have read on the site.

    I am very excited to have stumbled upon this site and this chance to comment on it. I was just thinking the other day how all the news stations you see on TV cover so much bad news and how we never hear of the good being done in communities. I love reading about role models, leaders, and positive things going on, so your purpose for this magazine definitely has my full support.

  • Jennifer said:

    The above article and Justine: How a Homeless Girl is Turning her Life Around by Kristine Koons. These two articles attracted my attention because the focus of both is on people who, in spite of hardship, have made something generative out of their lives. While I didn’t think the writing in either article was particularly lively, the articles were clear and easy to read, and the lives portrayed were of interest to me.

    I am interested in revealing the strengths and activities of individuals who effect real change despite social or environmental challenges. I support the goal of re-contextualizing what a “winner” might consist of, and I understand that the goal of your publication might be to empower individuals to survive, thrive, and build ethical lives under any personal or social circumstance. I appreciate that the idea of someone leading an inspiring or ethical life is not, as I have understood from those two articles, connected to a particular faith-based agenda but resides in the individual.

  • Rain Sullivan said:

    Wow. This is a great story. I love how honest John is and appreciate his sense of humor when looking back on his own troubled life. I would like to know more about his martial arts practices and teachings and think his life story should be a book and would be a very interesting read.

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