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From Beast to Priest

The Transformation of Benny Podda

An excerpt from Raising a Man by Todd W. Skipton


The author spent 4 surreal days with the Podda family and witnessed first-hand a small, select
sample of the Podda worldview. The author experienced many strange, other-worldly events in
the lair of the Podda, and observed the remarkable and shocking total transformation of the Beast
from the East. This article is the barest, most rudimentary distillation of the Podda madness.
Every idea and story in this article emanates from, and is representative of, the Way of the
Podda.

Enjoy this unique look at Podda, and many other fascinating characters, in the new ebook Raising
a Man, by Todd W. Skipton, available at http://raising-a-man.org

Benny Podda
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot.

“Destroy everything, obliterate what makes us weak / so a new life can begin.” Hatebreed, lyrics
to song “Destroy Everything.”

“… that for which you seek, is that with which you seek.” Benny Podda.

Benny Podda devotes his time to life’s deepest mysteries, such as “why are we alive?” and “what
is our purpose?” and “what are the limits of the human organism?” His quest began at a young
age. His first conscious memory is of his 2nd birthday party. He prepares to blow out the candles
on his cake and looks at his peers and relatives, who wear silly hats and blow noisemakers. He
thinks (in so many words), “take off those stupid hats; there’s more to life than this foolishness!”
His life is devoted to moving past the foolishness and getting to the crux of man’s existence.

A companion of Armenian author and spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff said, “When you were near
him, every attitude, every gesture, was different from ordinary life; he made you feel another
dimension, another possibility of being … Everything was wide awake, as though I had found a
lost paradise … {he displayed} precision and extraordinary vivacity the instant the need arose.”
Podda has the same charisma and the same vitalizing effect. He does everything with a focus and
an intensity that separates him from the herd – he’s not just eccentric, he’s out-of-this-world
crazed in comparison to the average; albeit he’s anchored and solid and stable within a spiritual
dimension visited by few and understood by fewer.
Podda came to acclaim as a national champion bodybuilder in the 1980s. He used the disciplines
of bodybuilding and powerlifting as ways to maximize his potential. Ostensibly, he inflicted the
maximum possible amount of physical stress to his corporeal body in order to transform his
physique; the real purpose, however, was to push beyond the limits of the physical body and tap
into the greater capacities of his mind and his spirit. The pursuits of lifting weights and training
his body were mere pathways to the ultimate goals of maximizing his mental and spiritual
powers. They were external expressions of internal power.

He took his evolution as a personal responsibility and did everything possible to grow in capacity
of body, mind and spirit. If evolution is a ladder he always sought the next rung. In terms of
integrating the body and mind and spirit into a single point of focus, imagine a large, slow-
spinning orb. It is transparent and hollow; inside are 3 rubber Super Balls, bouncing about. The
faster the larger orb spins, the more the 3 Super Balls inside begin to conform to its same path
until at a maximal spin and speed all of the balls and the surrounding orb appear to synthesize
and become one. Such is the way of a man whose entity (the orb) houses a coalesced body-
mind-spirit (the 3 Super Balls): when all are focused on the same goals and travel along the same
path, the differences between them become blurred and indistinct and unimportant. Nothing in a
man who has fused these normally disparate parts of himself lies unused or undeveloped, and in
this fashion a man can focus his full attention on developing his potential. It’s confusing and
esoteric and entirely possible, with enough practice. This is what it means to put “your all” into a
task.

Jim Morrison of The Doors said, “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in
between are the doors.” Morrison’s life was an effort to break down those doors, to break on
through to the other side, as he sang in a popular song. He said, “I like ideas about the breaking
away or overthrowing of established order … external revolt is a way to bring about internal
freedom.” Podda’s life has always been about breaking down doors, both in a literal and a
metaphysical sense.

Consider the childhood game of “hot box.” 3 young men, 1 baseball. 2 bases, 2 basemen, 1
runner. The runner begins in the middle, halfway between the bases, and his objective is to reach
a base without being tagged out by a fielder. Use this game as a metaphor for life, with the bases
representing potential. One base represents individual potential used purely for self; the other
base represents individual potential used for a greater good. A normal, average runner plays it
safe, remaining somewhere in the middle. He waits for a fielder to make a mistake or a bad
throw; he is dependent on their actions. The daring runner pushes the limits and is aggressive.
He dares a fielder to tag him and he progresses toward a base at all times. The reckless runner’s
derring-do can be disastrous, or it can be successful, but it is always entertaining. Podda went to
extremes in everything: racing headlong toward one base and then the other; feinting and
swerving and reversing direction at an instant; running far out of the baseline; and leaving a trail
of dust and destruction in his wake. He barreled into the base and stampeded any fielder who got
in his path.

He embraced the paradox that is life, and went way beyond the norm in everything he tried. He
wanted it all! He was reverent and he was irreverent; he was civil and he was uncivilized; he was
thoughtful and he was thoughtless; he was mellow and he was manic; he meditated and he was a
man of action; he was compassionate and he was belligerent; he was a hermit and a loner and he
was gregarious and the life-of-the-party; he broke bones and he healed injuries; he engaged in
unrestrained, debauched acts and he was devout and religious. He embraced the entire spectrum
of being a human and took everything, good, bad and all points in-between, to its extreme.
Because, in his view, there is no difference: everything is related and everything contributes to
growth toward potential. It’s like running between the bases in hotbox – every step counts and it
doesn’t matter which base you reach, as long as you arrive.

When you embrace extremes you are unencumbered by expectations of normalcy. Podda swung
between the poles of a monk’s life of devotion and the fakir’s life of exhibitionism. He kept
assiduous, accurate and detailed journals of every morsel of food he ingested and every emotion
he felt – and he impulsively traveled around the globe in pursuit of the ultimate training partners.
If you were strong, Podda found you and trained with you. He wanted to be the best so he sought
the best. If he heard of a strength feat, he tried it until he could duplicate it or obliterate it. His
training was so intense that he was known as “The Beast of the East.”

He became famous for, among other amazing feats: squatting multiple 50-rep sets with 315
pounds; performing bent-over rows with an excess of 500 pounds; straining so hard that he
turned a vivid shade of purple during his training sets; vigorous posing routines that caused blood
to pour from his nose in copious quantities; balancing a barbell loaded with 405 pounds across his
neck while lying prone and without using his hands {do not try this}; hanging from a noose,
supported only by his neck muscles, for minutes at a time {do not try this}; deadlifting hundreds
of pounds with his testicles {do not try this}; breaking coconuts with hand strikes; and shattering
2 x 4 wood boards across his limbs and torso during posing routines. He was extreme, he was
colorful, and he was completely out of control when he trained! It seems every person who saw
him train has some sort of crazed tale usually involving blood (Podda’s, and others) and a
stupendous feat of strength done with a seeming reckless disregard for life, limb or sanity.
As unhinged as he appeared, there was always a deep intellect and a boundless curiosity
providing an underpinning. Sure, he was always psyched and ready for madness – at the same
time, he conducted in-depth research on topics such as philosophy, religion, chemistry and the
rehabilitation of polio patients. Gurdjieff said, “He who has not a critical mind has no place here.”
Underneath all the excess, Podda found a way to balance every extreme with an equal opposite.

All the while, he incorporated extensive martial arts into his regimen, to the point that he once
challenged world champion karate fighter Chuck Norris to kick him as hard as possible in the
chest, while Podda stood, unprotected and unmoving. Norris did; Podda laughed; and Norris hired
him as his bodyguard and trainer. Podda worked with Norris for 5 years and appeared in 2 of his
films. Podda learned the martial arts in China – there are incredible, amazing stories about his
time overseas that strain the bounds of credulity and comprise volumes. Suffice to say, the
stories, however fantastic, are credible because Podda is a world champion lei tai platform fighter
who still competes in international tournaments.

People do not value a thing unless they pay for it. Read the Ayn Rand book Atlas Shrugged for a
full explanation. Podda paid for his martial arts expertise in blood, sweat, and the destruction of
his pre-conceived personality and his strong Catholic beliefs and his habitual ways of acting. His
martial arts masters exposed him to such extreme conditions that they reduced him to nothing
more than a mass of flesh operating on instinct, without rational thought. Then they rebuilt his
intellect and his spirit with an emphasis on the importance of interior and exterior training as
developed and perfected by Genghis Khan. The founder and leader of the Mongol Empire was a
practitioner of the ars regia, “the royal art,” in this sense a type of Taoist internal alchemy and a
martial art called Yi Chuan (mind fist) that demanded intensity, ferocity, and complete
commitment. Podda’s martial arts masters indoctrinated him into this way of life and it became
another path in his journey to maximize his potential.

The book Out Of Control by G. Gordon Liddy described a martial artist as “… lashing himself into
even greater effort. More, more, more! His body was animated by a restless energy, which,
because so well controlled by the discipline of martial art, manifested itself in a dynamism
producing a tension so great it was almost palpable … his ability to stop and start was so
remarkable. He moved in controlled bursts between frozen, split second pauses … so suggestive
of invincible strength … as if powered not by muscles but by hydraulics. From his throat came a
roar that seemed to rumble and reverberate with the deep chest tone of a tiger … {he} moved
with speed astonishing for a man his size.” This is an apt description of Podda, the martial artist.
Much of the synthesis of the mental, physical and spiritual is contingent on focus and
concentration. Gurdjieff said, “I am where my attention lies.” A typical man sleepwalks through
life, devoting only the bare minimum of his power to a given task. His power lies fallow and
wasted for most of his life. When he wishes to tap into his greatness and display the full extent of
his powers, he often finds that he’s still part asleep because he’s forgotten how to be totally
awake. This is why a coach says, “Practice like you intend to play.” Greatness is not something
that can be turned on and off like a faucet; the faucet becomes rusted and stuck from lack of use.
Find ways to go against your habits in order to wake yourself from your slumber. When patterns
are broken, new worlds emerge. Seek out conscious labors and inflict intentional sufferings on
yourself. Force yourself to turn your faucet on full force! In this way, your power will be there
when you need it.

At any single moment, it is possible to be attentive. Therefore, if you focus on this moment, and
only this moment, you can never have the excuse “I’m tired” or “I’m distracted” or “I’m bored.”
Sever the edge between “before” and “after.” Put your complete focus and concentration on the
“here” and on the “now.” An effective way to practice this is via candle meditation, or pranayama.
Sit at a table and look, without blinking, at the flame of a small candle or a stick of incense. When
you can remain still and focused and unblinking for at least 30 minutes, you’ll have made a start.
This is very beneficial for the young athlete. Take your thoughts off the demands of the game,
and focus on your ability to control your body and control your attention and control your
reactions.

A martial arts master taught that the control of emotion was the most important skill. His
students wanted to believe him, but they were more interested in the fighting and grappling and
weapons. The master taught those skills, too, but he emphasized that the control of emotion was
the most important.

One evening, a group of young students arrive at the studio before the master. When the master
arrives he holds a loose and precarious stack of porcelain tea cups. He is so focused on the
carrying he does not appear to even notice the group of students. A mischievous student thinks,
“Here’s a perfect chance to prove even the master can’t always control his emotions.” The student
sneaks behind the master and gives him a hard push in the back, simultaneously yelling “boo!” as
loud as possible. The other students know the surprise is coming and are still startled by the
sudden movement and noise.

The master, though, appears unperturbed. His stride remains unchanged due to the hard push,
and he looks and walks straight ahead. The fragile cups remain intact in his arms. He reaches a
table and places the tea cups on it. As soon as the cups are secure, he turns and looks at the
mischievous student for a good 15 seconds. All is still. Then the master lurches forward as if he’s
just been pushed, throws his arms into the air and yells “ahhh” as if he is surprised. “That is an
example of control over your emotions. Everything that happens to me, I allow to happen, and
therefore I control my response,” he said. Stay in control!

Some simple, initial ways to practice this mastery include: 1) eat spicy foods, or use hot sauces.
Control your response; minimize how much you drink. Practice your “poker face.” 2) Take
contrasting hot and cold showers. Control your response; regulate your breathing. 3) Do not
complain if something goes other than intended. Control your verbal responses to “bad” things. 4)
Eat foods you dislike – find a way to move past the feeling of dissatisfaction. Practice control in
everything!

Another martial arts master welcomes a new student to his training regimen. The student is
excited and eager to learn. After the first class he asks the master, "How long will it take for me
to become your best student?" The master thinks, and replies. "10 years."

The student is disappointed. He thought it might take 1 year, or maybe 2 years at the most. 10
years! Impossible.

The student asks, "What if I train every day and never miss a class?" The master thinks, and
replies. "15 years."

The student is downtrodden and perplexed. He thinks, “I train more, and it takes longer?” The
student asks another question. "What if I train twice each day for a total of 8 hours every day and
never miss a class?" The master thinks, and replies. "20 years."

Exasperated, the student asks a final question. "Master, I do not understand. Why is it that every
time I tell you I will train longer and harder, the longer it will take me to be the best student?"

The master thinks, and replies. "With only 1 eye on the path of martial arts mastery and the
other eye on your goal of being my best student, you will never find your way." Meaning, partial
concentration precludes reaching your maximum potential. You must learn to focus.

Podda became a famous trainer of athletes, professional and amateur, and earned top dollar (he
worked with All-Pro linebacker Chris Spielman, whose chapter begins on page 284 of the book,
among many others). It was said, “He’ll push you so hard that you won’t want to quit – you’ve
begun to realize that there is more to you, that you are capable of whatever life demands.” He
especially taught young men to learn how to motivate and train themselves. Discover what is
important to you, and you’ll put forth the effort required to achieve greatness. Clients were
plentiful and the money flowed. Podda said, “I have an intense aversion to conventional notions
of success,” and he walked away from his lucrative training business. He liked to train athletes,
but as proficient and successful as he was, training was not his ultimate destiny.

He disappeared from the mainstream radar and continued his search for higher meaning and his
quest for a higher potential. His “Beast of the East” combative energies within still surged and
boiled over, but his paths took a different form. He took up residence on an Indian reservation
and spent considerable time contemplating and studying. In times of extreme solitude, he
secluded himself in a remote cave, with his only companion a wary mountain lion. His perpetual
mission for more, and his life of paradox, culminated in an experience that changed his life. He
was summoned overseas to the Orient, in order to bid farewell to his martial arts master, who
was dying.

During their last meeting, something extraordinary and inexplicable happened. Podda was
listening to his master when he was upended, lifted into the air and rendered unconscious by an
unseen, great force he later interpreted as the Holy Spirit. He awakened in a different location,
with the firm and unshakable belief ensconced that his new mission in life, his ultimate purpose,
was now to meld Eastern Taoism and Western Catholicism into a unified, congruent spiritual
whole. He threw his soul into the pursuit, and was transformed from “Beast” to “Priest.”

It was the ultimate paradox. Take everything to its maximum possible potential, from one
extreme to the other, and this was the result. Yes, Podda became a Catholic priest. No, he did not
become a traditional man of the cloth with soft hands tending to a posh, wealthy diocesan church.
He takes his ministry into the impoverished barrio; into a makeshift altar in the back room of a
small home in a decrepit neighborhood. Instead of speaking tired homilies and discussing a weak
and watered-down faith, he wields 2 separate 3-foot, 25 pound broadswords during his sermons
and speaks (by memory) an entire, full, traditional Latin Mass. He’s still as extreme as ever, and
his transformation is not by the bread of man, but from a higher source.

Tap into your ultimate purpose and you can likewise be transformed into something great. Meld
all your life experiences into an unconquerable, maximum you. Podda’s power was revealed to be
divine; keep searching and you’ll find your power, whatever its source.
“Man – a being in search of meaning.” Plato.

“Expect nothing. Expect anything.” Sherlock Holmes.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Mahatma
Gandhi.

“Life, I feel, is a state of impermanence, and materialism is the ultimate impermanence. If an


individual’s preeminent goal is to subscribe to these materialistic gains, then he will never see
clearly the reality we have never known, the true values, the true power, we all have.” Benny
Podda.

Note: at the time of the author’s visit, Podda had recently undergone a fasting and training
regimen that carved an approximate and deliberate 60 pounds off his stocky frame. At that time,
excess muscularity impeded his duties as a priest, and Podda shed the bulk as a part of an overall
spiritual and physical transformation. He spoke of a functional “second anatomy,” in essence a
literal and dormant suit of muscle that can be “worn” or “removed” virtually at will, which exists
“inside” his physiology and is readily available in many different guises. After a time, Podda
returned to his muscular ways and gained an approximate 85 pounds of lean bodyweight within
several months. This is hard to imagine and more difficult to believe, but in the world of the
Podda, anything is possible.

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