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Pumping Metal: Circle The Earth’s Michael McBay Kicks Up Some Karate Knowledge

In our latest Pumping Metal interview, Circle the Earth bassist Michael McBay discusses fitness and the primary lessons he’s learned from Karate.



They may come from near worlds apart, but it’s the music that has brought (and keeps) them together. Circle The Earth is a Los Angeles-based alternative rock group that has been making some noise lately, thanks to their recent single “Too Many Pieces,” which the band co-wrote alongside the esteemed songwriter Jim McGorman (Avril Lavigne, Weezer, Gwen Stefani, Goo Goo Dolls). This is just the latest in a steady stream of popular singles that the unit has released, following up “New Religion ” and “Sweetest Pain.”

There is a real multicultural component to Circle The Earth, with a lineup of members from the United States, Taiwan, Japan, and Brazil. They all arrived in this band with a lot of professional music experience under their belts, and they have comported that diversity into their music, with a sound combining rock, pop, soul, and hip-hop. The band is led by the one and only Khadia, a charismatic, alluring frontwoman who is a former backup singer for Imagine Dragons. She has also appeared on American Idol and The American Music Awards. The band was first formed in 2018 and its goal is to promote diversity in music while offering listeners something positive and uplifting.

For our latest edition of Pumping Metal, we spoke with band bassist Michael McBay about the primary lessons he’s learned from fitness, his proudest achievement he derives from his program, his fitness-related goals, and a lot more.

First things first: what’s your weekly routine, or an average workout for you?


Michael McBay: “I train Shotokan Karate daily for two hours, six days per week, and rest on Sunday. Monday to Thursday is at a school that emphasizes timing and sparring, while Friday and Saturday are super intense team competition classes that emphasize technique and endurance.”

Gym playlist: top three tracks for when you have to dig deep.

“I never play music while training (I’m usually in a formal class with lots of other people) and when I self-train alone, I prefer to look inwardly and pray to God for a clearer understanding of how I can express The Light of Spirit through my life, my musical project, and the art of Karate. I also try to reflect on the recent spiritual tests I have faced in life and ask for continuing guidance as to how I can improve my character and behaviours.”

Gym playlist: top track that gets you ready to start your exercise.

“At the beginning and the end of each karate class, we all line up and sit for a period of meditation designed to clear the mind of external distractions and focus on self-improvement and mutual respect both before and after each class.”


What did you learn about yourself when you started taking working out more seriously?

“The very first thing (and one of the most beautiful things) that I learned about myself was a spiritual lesson taught to me in college by my first instructor at Stanford, Sensei Kenichi Haramoto, which was that I was pursuing Karate for the wrong reasons, having specifically to do with suppressed rage from my childhood history of frequent disciplinary physical beatings by my father and from years of being physically bullied in both elementary and high school (I integrated Atlanta, Georgia’s ‘last segregated private white high school’ and the treatment was horrendous).

“My instructor was a very accomplished traditional Japanese instructor who had a very spiritual focus. Early on, he told me that I was training for ‘entirely the wrong reason’ and he refused to teach me any further. He actually suspended me from training for an entire month and advised me to look deeply into myself every day for a month and explore exactly why I had all these suppressed negative emotions (justified or not).

“He insisted that I begin to learn to view these experiences as life lessons from God intended to enrich my character and to teach me the value of spiritual qualities, like humility and compassion, and then he taught me to train karate for the ‘right reasons,’ meaning for the sincere purposes of seeking self-improvement, character development, discipline, respect for others (and myself), empathy, integrity and as a spiritual path of self-discovery that would eventually lead me back towards God (this lesson literally changed my life).”

What’s your proudest achievement when it comes to fitness, health, and exercise?


“I once faced an opponent in a tournament who was much stronger and more experienced than I was. Each time, he ran at me trying to punch me recklessly in the face with no self-control or sportsmanship whatsoever, actually trying to injure me. After two rounds of this, at the top of the third round, I immediately back-kicked him in the stomach with perfect timing just as he started to run at me again and he was completely floored, blood came out of his mouth and nose and he was taken to the hospital.

“I was awarded a full point ‘ippon’ for this kick (match point) and I then went on to the finals to fight the champion from the previous year who also had several more years of experience than I did then. We went into two rounds of overtime (he eventually won) but I took second place. I had never done well in any tournaments prior to that and I will never forget my gratitude for the teachings of my first instructor Sensei Haramoto.”

How do you stay motivated?

“Just as I do in music, in Karate, I always try to surround myself with people who are younger, more experienced, and stronger and faster than I am and then I do my best to out-train them in order to keep up. I also train at two different karate schools with two different instructors and two different groups of students, so it never gets boring.”


What’s a sport or exercise you love that no one else seems to be able to stand?

“Shotokan Karate. I don’t have any friends who do karate other than people that I met in the karate schools, except Sandy Chao Wang, the keyboardist in Circle The Earth, who trains kickboxing very seriously six days a week also.”

What’s the most memorable moment you failed? What motivated you to get going after that?

“I once had to fight a very experienced competitor from another State, who was much stronger and more experienced than I was at the time. He punched me in the forehead so perfectly that blood came pouring out of my nose seriously like a faucet. At that point, I felt as though I would never become good at Karate and that I had failed myself and my instructor, but I remembered my first instructor’s spiritual teachings and I forgave myself and reminded myself that Karate training is for self-improvement, not ‘winning or losing,’ washed my face off, and asked him to continue sparring with me for a few more rounds because I didn’t want to end with such a bad feeling.

“After we finished several extra rounds, he told me that I showed excellent Karate spirit and that my instructor should be proud of me. So with real determination, I was able to turn what I initially perceived as a failure into a valuable character lesson that has been with me for the rest of my life.”


What’s the most memorable moment that you pushed through and succeeded?

“Friday night competition team Karate trainings at International Shotokan Karate Federation – Santa Monica dojo are INSANELY difficult, and people often pass out, vomit, or have to leave the class from exhaustion. Pushing through these classes every Friday night training with competitors in their 20s and 30s is a tremendous challenge, especially at my age, but I do it!”

What do you think every kid should experience growing up when it comes to fitness and health?

“The discipline, respect for self and others, and the character development that are an integral part of any true martial arts curriculum.”

Which person or organization do you think you take the most advice from or adhere to the most when it comes to fitness and health?


“I currently train with two amazing instructors in Los Angeles who are both former national and international champions in their respective organizations, Sensei James Field of the Japan Karate Association and Sensei Avi Rokah of the World Budo Karate Federation.”

Artwork for the single “Too Many Pieces” by Circle The Earth

What’s your ultimate goal for yourself in terms of fitness and health?

“Honestly, my goal is to develop myself as fully as possible for the specific goal of expressing The Light of God through my practice of Karate with as much integrity as possible as well as through the music of Circle The Earth and through medical science and every other aspect of my life to the best of my abilities.”

What about the discipline of Karate makes you take it so seriously?

“The spiritual aspects of Karate brings me closer to God and the wonderful people that it brings into my life makes me take it so seriously as well as the fact that it provides a large part of my drug recovery program. I have been sober from crack for twelve years now and all aspects of my life, including the music of Circle The Earth, Karate, and medical science, are flourishing as a result.”

How do you find your healthy lifestyle impacts your music and/or live performance?


“Specifically because of my karate background, I am able to jump, spin, and perform very energetically live on stage, but more importantly, Karate gives me the character qualities of perseverance, dedication, and long-term focus that are absolutely necessary for the pursuit of music. I am also proud to say that Karate has given me a sense of humility, sincerity, kindness, respect, and authenticity that I am grateful to say that I am known for and the Circle The Earth project overall is also known for as well.”

Born in 2003, V13 was a socio-political website that, in 2005, morphed into PureGrainAudio and spent 15 years developing into one of Canada's (and the world’s) leading music sites. On the eve of the site’s 15th anniversary, a full re-launch and rebrand takes us back to our roots and opens the door to a full suite of Music, Film, TV, and Cultural content.