Rubbing Elbows, Not Always Elbow Strikes.

Many years ago, maybe 20?  I was in Cincinnati, Ohio on a seminar trip and made a run to a store in my rental car, kind of late one Saturday night. In the shopping mall near the store was a two-story gym, mostly made of glass and there inside as I drove by, I spotted 4 guys on a wooden floor, in plain clothes, training to fight. 4 guys. No school. No uniforms. Just 4 guys. They were doing – I don’t know – what you might call, “modern fighting?” The vision sort of stuck with me and made me think of the proliferation of “small groups.” One was probably the leader, the organizer. I actually stopped the car on the lot and watched them for a minute, with a strong sense of nostalgia and admiration.

 How many, many times I have I seen such small groups, and been a part of such small groups. How many of these groups of 4 or so have attended my seminars?

One deep thread for all of them is a bond. A friendship. A social deal of some kind beyond just working out. Ever note how these people share various traits? Looks? Clothes? Interesting. What brought them together? Why do they stay?

Schools and small “homeless” groups. Unlike back then, these days there are all kinds of Krav schools and BJJ schools. I mean their growth is like a virus and their addiction is like crystal meth.  And numerous MMA schools doing multi-discipline, “modern, street-fighting” and I hate that term, but it’s an easy, identity-name-drop. (I don’t consider BJJ multi-discipline but rather an advanced, evolved Judo.) But there are plenty of official places to go and get mixed material in new official systems, yet with all the classical trappings. The need for these little 4 or 5 man renegade groups in gym corners has dropped. They have other places to go now, usually Krav places.

Through the years I have observed all sorts of “martial” groups and “arts” groups. From the ball-busting on down to “artsy” groups. In my mind I have divided them up into”

1-Martial groups

2-Martial arts groups

3-Martial artsy groups

4-Artsy groups

There are people out there, in them, who don’t know the differences between some of these categories, but I believe I do. I can spot them on a number of levels like admin, doctrine, interests, etc. I don’t care a bit as long as THEY know where they are and what they are doing.  

Some members of these smaller, loose martial, adult groups will come and go, but a sufficient “leader” just seems to attract the rare kind of person that keeps a core group going. Like a magnet. There just always seems to be a core subsection – the leader and two, three or maybe four people. Even in a standard professional, strip-center, school, these friends might eventually get officially hired to help the leader. But still a very social friendship is at the core of most success- however you want to define the word success. (Warning! Once hiring and money and dues/tithing get in the friendship picture, it might hurt the relationships. Seen that a lot too.)

What I am suggesting is – take serious note of how important the social/friendship “thing” is to the promotion, stability and financial success of your “school / program / work-out” group. Schools reeking in forced business models have this built in, especially for kids. Kids are easy. Movie night. Birthday parties. Laser sword gigs. Many organize these social events on “must do” commands from the “Kuraty” business group that they pay big bucks to. What about adults that don’t fit this mold? What’s for them? Barbecue Sunday? Some adults prefer a drunken, debauchery night? What will it be? Groups are…customized. 

Dinner 3

     Ever think about who you host for a seminar? Usually it becomes more of friendship than a strict, business-only deal. Great information imparted by a pain-in-the-ass person is not going to weave in well. I’ve heard stories where the seminar, super-star:

– One stole a French guy’s passport.

– One star actually wanted a host to buy him expensive cowboy boots.

– One star wanted his teeth fixed!

– One wanted to buy cocaine.

– One wants to organize hazing that by today’s standards would have you sued and thrown in jail.

– One wants very expensive, booze and multi course meals for Saturday night feast (as your king is in town!)

– One star plucked a real pistol from someone’s hands and tossed it on the ground.

– A once famous star taught a large group of US special forces. He wanted to be known as a real tough guy, but was famous for causing reckless injuries. 90 out of 100 of the SF soldiers, in an organized protest, wrote letters to their commander that the guy was basically a jerk and caused many unnecessary injuries. Today, shunned by several countries, he essentially lives somewhat in obscurity.

– I was at a Joe Lewis seminar years ago and during a break, he told a few of us, “my wife told me that if I wanted to do these seminars, I have to be nice to people.” (Darn it!) 

– One guy in England, never interacted with his students outside the class times. The class congregated by themselves. There was a back door with much regalia on either side. He actually had a fog machine and started it up back there. A layer of fog permeated the air around the door.  He put on exotic music and “appeared/manifested into the classroom. (He is currently out of business, if anyone needs a fog machine.)

     I could go on, but let me say, that the systems you do, the schools, classes and seminars who you do them with, is very much a social experience. Think about that. Then think more about that.

     Me, I am a very “easy date,” and luckily, I like to hang out with all my hosts. In many ways, that is my favorite part of the seminar weekend. Sometimes just driving to and from the airport is my favorite part. Seriously. There are always photos on Facebook of the seminar dinner, or the Christmas party. As I get older and, or more sore and tired, it is becoming harder for me to teach 8 hours and then run out to eat on the busy Saturday night group dinner where all the good, noisy places have long, long waiting lines. Homey needs to lay down. Homey watch TV. Homey take pain-killers. Homey sleep. (Homey also must write a lot for deadlines). But, Homey still attends the dinners.

Dinner 2

Martial Instructor-Friend Ws and H Questions!

– Who…are you, as an instructor? Who are they, as practitioners?

– What…do you really want?  What do they want? What do you do that attracts them?

– Where…will they find you? Where will you host this group?

– When…can you meet regularly?

– How…will they find you? How will you find them? How entertaining are you?

– Why…do this anyway? Your motive? Their motive

– Ask more big and small Ws and H questions. You could write a book answering these questions.

It’s 2019. In 2018 I still saw these little groups of three, four and five folks, making the time and effort to get together in gyms, garages, backyards and parks, etc. I think Bruce Lee would be proud. I think it will be the same in 2019.  I was and still am nostalgic because I started my “freedom-from-classical-doctrine” times in 1987 in the corner of a gym with a small group, just like those 4 cats in the Cincinnati gym.

I have no school in the Dallas/Ft Worth area since 1997. Too busy for that. But I was recently contacted by a guy near me who was doing combatives. I mentioned that once in a while I do a seminar in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. He said, as a dig at me and my approach, that when their group gets together there is no leader. They don’t need one. They just “work out.” I guess he thought I would…move in and try to take over?” But, work out doing what? I tried to picture that group function. So, If I went there, we all should ignore 40 years of my experience and play pot luck, roulette with a bunch of dabbling civilians? You still have to have a “boss-man / chief / organizer” with some experience and a thirst for knowledge and experimentation, running the session. Most all the modern teachers running these small groups have some savvy and have various reputable, black belts or something hanging in their closets. It’s a time, grade, savvy, experience, maturity thing. It’s a people thing too. (Their leaderless, work-out group dispersed by the way. I guess no one suggested what time to meet next Thursday.)

One time in Europe, a guy walked up to me in a seminar and told me he was going to train soon with _______ in a seminar. “He is not a good human, but I want to know what he knows.” Not a good human? He spoke in broken English and I thought that was an odd way to express the point. But, I got the translated point. I know _____ and he is a bit of a prick. Somehow some of these instructors still manage to draw students. Some are downright abusive. I wonder how long that gig will last? What kinds of citizens are attracted to this? How long can you put up with whack-jobs, dopers and pricks?

Dinner 1

Regular martial arts schools have galleons of kids to keep their ships afloat, and way less adults. Now with Krav schools and MMA schools, adults classes seem to survive without kids, maybe taking away from the small “homeless” groups? Observing all their ups and downs is interesting. A business education. You can spot the mistakes. Often the successes and failures are situational, or geographical and customized. Sometimes, they limit themselves to the point of “shooting themselves in the foot.”

Rubbing elbows is still important and the key part of doing what you want to do, for your localized “job – hobby – lifestyle – business.” Your friendships, your personality, your ability to attract them and keep them are parts of the skeleton. 

Think about that. Then think more about that. Our tribal selves! Whose foot are you shooting? Whose elbow are you rubbing? 


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