March 30, 2012

To Train or Not to Train

Over these last dozen years or so, I've had the privilege to meet and train with a variety of tremendous, inspiring people. Some stuck with training and even became close friends. But not everyone was tremendous. Or inspiring. Some of those who have contacted me have been downright strange, even hostile, treating both me and the art like commodities for purchase. So, here’s an open letter to all those wannabes, geeks, and jerks, who over the years bobbed to the surface (and continue to!) like Cold War-era naval contact mines, just looking for hulls to breach ...

You are now worse just for looking at this.

Hello! Thanks for your interest! Couple things before you contact me.

First off, my name is James. What’s yours? If you intend on training, I’ll have to know at some point, so please don’t send anonymous emails. There’s a magical way I deal with them: I push this thing called “delete” and they disappear. I know, it’s like Hogwarts! Also, don’t just ask questions like, “How much?” Or send poetry: “Location. Cost. Times.” There’s a reason I list the areas, and not the addresses, of where we train, blockhead: You. So, the answer to existential questions like, “Where are you?” are answered thusly: I’m right here, Kierkegaard, pressing delete.

And bear in mind, should you use your extraordinary Holmesian skills of deduction to actually locate us in our secret James Bond-underground-Atlas-missile facility and pop in unannounced, we may suddenly become tediously boring and maybe even a little rude. Enjoy strangers showing up at your abandoned aircraft hangar training lair with black-clad commandos rappelling from the ceiling? Neither do we.

In your message, please introduce yourself - write a short bio, which I am always eager to read. The reason I ask for the bio is simple: You probably won’t do it. You’ll see it as a hassle or some imagined infringement; think it “bullshit” and move on. Beautiful. It’s the first hoop to jump that’s the hardest. However, should you write the bio, which I appreciate, be sincere - writing, “Born. Trained martial arts. Contacted you.” does not count, will set my “ACME Douchebag Sensor” a-buzzing, and your bio, written with such care, will be subject to magic.

Okay, this is kind of awesome.
You also need to include a contact number, so I can phone, and we can chat. When we talk I’ll use my Batman-trained, Ninja-Jedi-Spider-Sense to intuit who you are and whether or not I can assist you. However, if you use any words I think amight strange, such as, "destiny," "kuji," "kuji-kiri," "smoke bomb/s," "poison," "MKUltra," "Koga," "Naruto," "3000 Iranian female ninjas," or any number of other words I think showcase your need for a short-bus ticket, I may be pulled away from the phone suddenly for an emergency sock drawer rearrangement.

But If I really think I can help you, I’ll invite you to train with us. If not, I’ll thank you for your interest, politely send you on your way, and slug three fingers of Glenlivet to restore my power from your kind's 'plus 5 skill-sucking attack spell of ability-drain.'

Now, there may be plenty of reasons as to why you may not be allowed to train with us. Here’s my main reason: Because. Let me be clearer: Because I said so. Turns out, I don’t actually need a reason to allow people to train – training is a privilege, not a right. This means, in turn, I also don’t need a reason to disallow people to train. This is true for one simple reason: Risk I incur to teach you.

Follow me: Let’s say you begin training and during that time learn all kinds of sweet moves to protect yourself and others. And one day you use a sweet move to - rightly or wrongly, but in your case probably wrongly - injure somebody. By law, the injured party could choose to haul my ass into court, suing me for teaching you the said sweet moves. Therefore, it behooves me to only allow those I deem responsible and trustworthy enough to train in accepting the burden of risk I must incur to teach them. With me so far?

Deckmaster and Girl Chaser-Wayer.
You must understand something - I’m not running a business; I don’t do this to put food on my table, so I’m not obligated to reel in everyone interested, entice them with mastery of the secrets of the Ninja, and sign them to a multi-year ironclad contract. (BTW, if you tell me you’re destined to learn the secrets of the Ninja I’m hanging up on you.)

I train and teach (coach/guide, really) because I enjoy it and it’s become part of who I am. And after a dozen or so years of running a dojo, I’ve managed to draw together a bunch of really nice, cool people that are interested in becoming even nicer and cooler. Now, you may not be cool - perhaps you play, “Magic: The Gathering” or can speak at length extemporaneously on the Star Trek/Star Wars question (like me). No matter. At the very least you need to be nice. So, be nice.

If you consider none of this a good enough explanation, perhaps this final point will help: Suck it. I don’t have to explain myself. Not to you or anyone. If I say you don’t train, guess what Alex Trebek - "What is ... you leaving?" This isn’t a debate or a democracy. You don’t get a vote (and being in Chicago, don’t get to vote early and often). You need not retort with a “better” answer so I see the light. Our conversation is over – you had me at “Ninja secrets.”

Yes! Fight and struggle!

However, for future generations, I will now articulate this teeny-weeny point of logic: Either you are here to train in this martial art or you are here to train with me. If you want only to train in this martial art, you’re in luck! There are lots of people that train and teach this martial art and you’re free to contact them! Problem solved.

But, if you are here to train with me it must mean you trust me on some level to deliver training to you. But if I tell you I cannot assist you – your goals and values are simply misaligned with our own – and you choose not to believe me, how do you answer the following question: How is it you are willing to trust me to honestly deliver training to you, but will not trust me when I honestly say I cannot assist you? Either you want an honest teacher, or you do not. If you want an honest teacher, then you should take me at my word and seek training elsewhere. And if you do not want an honest teacher, well, why would you want that teacher in the first place?

Hope this helps!

Not your next instructor,