Wednesday, September 4, 2019- The Two-Way Street of Business
I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday that is one of the most down to earth, yet direct, people you will ever meet. He builds race car engines for a living. He was telling me how his business has grown since he moved to North Carolina from Wisconsin a little over 40 years ago. The subject of customer service and the associated attitudes and relationships that exist between the professional and the client came up. I will spare you the minute details of the conversation, but a certain theme evolved out of our conversation. It was ironic that he and I crossed paths because this has been on my mind quite a bit lately, both in my private and professional life.
I asked Paul if he ever has problems with potential clients resisting the prices of his services. “Nope,” he replied. Elaborating, he said that if a client is not prepared to make an honest investment in a product or service, they are not serious about it in the first place. Mind you, what Paul does is a niche-oriented business. One engine built by this very talented mechanic usually costs more than a new car at your local dealer. He charges $100 for an estimate. You read that right. He charges $100 for two hours of research on what a client will need, followed by an itemized list of the required parts and estimated labor associated with the project.
“People actually pay that?” I asked. He laughed and replied, “Either they do or they don’t. In my business, if they won’t pay $100 for my time, they certainly won’t pay for an engine.”
Paul doesn’t have a website. He doesn’t use any social media. He more than likely will be out of business cards if you ever had the pleasure of meeting him, because he is a genuinely warm and kind soul. So how does he thrive (not survive) in a culture where “the customer is always right?” How does he thrive in a culture where likes and followers are more important than what the professional has to say that is of merit and substance? Two reasons. One, he treats people with respect, but demands it in return. Two, he understands that commerce is a two-way street.
My friends, we have our priorities skewed in our society. The highest form of arrogance is a sense of entitlement. When you are of the opinion that you are owed something because of a position that you hold, such as a customer in a business relationship, then this applies to you. Should a client or customer be treated with the utmost respect, compassion, and kindness when engaged in a business relationship? Beyond any doubt, YES. Should a client be accommodated to the greatest degree possible for a service if it is within the parameters of the professional to provide said service? Again, YES. But there are two sides to this coin. What is in it for the professional? Have you honestly ever considered this when negotiating a business deal?
Here is a key question to consider. Do we as customers or clients expect more than we are due in any given business relationship? After all, the customer is always right…. Right? Right…?? Here is a very simple experiment to try. Call your hair stylist and demand an appointment for a haircut at 2:30 AM on a Sunday. Try this, even though the business hours are plainly stated on the door of the business or their business card. You are the customer after all, they should be there, right?
The point here is that a relationship, business or personal, will fail if it is all about one person and one person alone. When one person gives while the other always takes, that relationship will inevitably break apart. The divorce rates in our society speak to this statement. Commerce is a relationship, despite what our culture has to say about it today. Both the professional and the client have to receive something of value from the relationship, or the relationship will dissolve. When your local coffee shop that you loved so dearly has to shut its doors, this is more than likely the cause. They gave and gave, but those they served never gave back in a commensurate fashion. It is more than money, friends.
In my profession, I am often asked how I look at my students. Are they customers? You will get varied opinions on this, but in a specific sense I look at my students as students, not clients. They come to me for a specific skill set and knowledge base. Along with that, *hopefully*, is a life learned wisdom that makes the path they have chosen to travel a little more interesting and worthwhile. But why aren’t they customers? They are paying for a service, right?
Indeed, they are. You also pay to send your child to college. The grades they receive are dependent upon the work they put in to earn that grade. If, God forbid, you are diagnosed with cancer, you will pay for the time and expertise of an oncologist, despite your survival or lack thereof of the disease. If you travel on a toll road, you will pay the toll regardless of whether or not you make it along that path safely. You are not guaranteed a pleasant journey. You are not guaranteed safety from accidents. You are not guaranteed that you will not run out of gas. You are paying for the use of the highway. In certain business relationships, outcomes are independent of the service you receive. Martial arts and self-protection instruction is one such relationship.
Business of any kind is quid pro quo. Professionals, give your client your best effort. Give them a quality product or service. Clients and customers, understand that what you are paying for in terms of service and expertise took years of knowledge and learning. You are paying for those years, not the short amount of time you are negotiating with the professional about intricacies of the business relationship.
Take care of the customer is a common mantra in modern American business. I agree 110% with a caveat: Customers, take care of those that take care of you. Let’s take care of each other.
Sunday, August 25, 2019- Is the Truth TOO Dark?
Over the past few weeks I have had some interesting conversations with colleagues about undefined lines in the martial arts and self-protection industry. Specifically, how much is too much when discussing the realities of violence with students? Even my business partner asked me recently about how “dark” we should go with some of our corporate clients. This is very subjective in all honesty. It depends on how one views the world, and ultimately how an instructor chooses to operate their professional practice. In other words, it is a matter of putting opinion into practice.
As instructors, coaches, and professionals, the foremost obligation we have to our clients is to tell them the truth. Many may argue that it is to ensure their safety, both in the world and on the training floor. I agree, but the DNA of that assurance of safety is brutal honesty. Anything less is not only negligence; it is abuse of a sacred relationship.
If you have ever had the displeasure of witnessing someone receive the news that they have a dread disease such as cancer, this will make more sense to you. I recall going to appointments with my Dad to his oncologist during his battle with pancreatic and lung cancer. His Oncologist was magnificent. He also had a poor poker face, and he had the bedside manner of a woodchipper. He was matter of fact. If the news was bad, he walked briskly through the door and blurted it out. If the news was good, he walked through the door with a smile on his face…. And blurted it out, all the while reminding us that my Dad still had cancer. The point is that while the news… the truth… may be heartbreaking, terrifying, and soul crushing, you still have to tell the person in front of you the truth. How you tell them is a totally different matter, but the truth must be told.
How far should we go when teaching self-protection courses? Should we go down the rabbit hole of debauchery for nothing more than the sake of entertainment and impressing our audience with our knowledge and skills of darkness? Of course not. How the truth of violence and threats to our safety is related depends on the circumstances, the venue, and the maturity level of the audience. If these three variables are in question at all, then it is incumbent upon the instructor to reexamine how a particular course will be taught, if at all.
I have been criticized, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, regarding what I divulge in my courses. An analogy exists here that can put this into a proper perspective. You have the choice to play your music as loud as you want, but is that necessary? Can you “tone it down” and enjoy it just as much? Can you wear headphones? Can you play something that will benefit a wider audience if the occasion so warrants? The answer to all of these questions is affirmative. What we divulge, how much we divulge, and when and where we divulge potentially disturbing content is all dependent upon the present moment and participants.
Throughout my professional career, I have had the pleasure (displeasure??) of witnessing many things. I have learned from the unlikeliest of sources. Some of this information I have divulged to no one. Much of the knowledge…90%… I have been so fortunate to learn from my instructor has never been passed on to my black belts, and it may never be passed on. That is for another time and another discussion. The point is that knowledge is useless unless it is passed on for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to help our students and clients lead healthier, happier, more peaceful lives.
I recall a case once where a bona fide psychopath kidnapped a person, subdued them, and placed them in a remote location. As the victim began to perspire, human body odor attracted rats. Over the next two days, the victim was literally eaten alive by vermin. The entire saga was videotaped in slow motion. Would I teach this to a run of the mill self-protection class? No! A women’s self-protection course? No! Information such as this is passed on only when necessary. An instructor that either decries such information as too dark or does not know under what occasions to teach such information has not yet achieved a state of pedagogical maturity.
To decry information at any level as “too dark” is automatically placing a situational barrier around your teaching methodology, and ultimately your professional practice. What you teach, and how much you teach, is a sign of professionalism.
Newsflash… our world is changing, and not for the better. You may choose to deny that darkness exists, but that darkness will not deny your existence, nor the existence of your students. That is our job as self-protection instructors. When a specific need arises, you acknowledge the darkness, and do your best to impart knowledge that will allow your students to escape that darkness for the light. In other words, tell them the truth.
Thursday, August 8, 2019- Mass Shootings and Coping Mechanisms
I will begin this blog with a disclaimer and a friendly admonition. For most of you, this is going to make you angry. It may frustrate you. It may change your views about me. You may call me names. Having said that, before anyone blows up my inbox with hate mail, here is my friendly admonition….I don’t care. I don’t care what you think politically because that has nothing of merit to add to this discussion. I say that because much of this is a politically charged issue based on recent events. So before you Jacques DeMolay me on the proverbial funeral pyre, read what I have to say pragmatically.
Over 30 precious souls were needlessly destroyed this past weekend by two human stains. In response, and just about as predictable as an upset stomach after a bad meal, the calls to “do something” started rolling downhill like a snowball that would soon become Frosty’s testicles. And that was to be expected. Be wary of anyone that ever cries “do something” after a tragedy or misfortune of any sort because they don’t have your best interest at heart. The focus of this discussion lies not in the merits of gun control versus our rights as American citizens to keep and bear arms in an uninfringed capacity. I’m concerned with two issues: the mechanics of the crime and the catalyst of the crime.
I recall my days as a Criminal Magistrate when law enforcement officers would approach me seeking criminal process against a suspect for an alleged criminal offense. They would seek a warrant for arrest based on probable cause that (a) a crime had been committed, and (b) the individual in question committed that crime. Straightforward right? Not so fast my friend.
When I taught criminal law and procedure during my college teaching tenure, I related the levels of suspicion needed to secure a criminal process- a search or arrest warrant- in mathematical terms. The first level is reasonable suspicion, which in most cases the required level of suspicion a police officer needs to pull you over for a traffic stop. I equate this to about a 30-40% probability that criminal activity is occurring that warrants investigation by the police. Next, we have one of the most infamous phrases in all of American jurisprudence-probable cause. Probable cause tips the scale mathematically. It is roughly a 51% chance that a person under investigation has committed an offense against the state. It is at this point that law enforcement officers seek criminal process such as an arrest or search warrant. To find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt-not ANY doubt- is about a 95% certainty that they committed the crime. Straightforward right? Think again.
Two issues come to mind. First, law enforcement officers are very similar to criminal defense attorneys. They take the path of least resistance to achieve an end. In other words, they are inherently lazy. I say this because I had to constantly admonish officers that once they secured an arrest warrant, their job had only just begun. Using my mathematical model above, who in their right mind would appear before a jury with a 51% chance of success? Yet, this occurs in every jurisdiction in America every day. At the probable cause stage, the investigation ideally has just begun.
The second issue that brings us full circle in this discussion to our recent tragedy is what is needed to make a criminal case against a defendant before they seek a criminal process:
MMO, or Motive, Means, and Opportunity.
I’m going to start with Means, because that is the focus of our political machine and many segments of our country that believe gun control will stop these atrocities. I firmly believe that the vast majority of these people are firm in their convictions, and that is fine. The Means required to commit a crime are merely the tools necessary to accomplish the task at hand. Burglars use tools such as screwdrivers, bumper jacks, and lockpicking sets to violate the sanctity of your home. Murderers, such as the recent malcontents in Texas and Ohio, chose firearms. They chose the appropriate tool to carry out their objective.
Opportunity is based on decisions reached by a predator regarding time and place in order to carry out their deeds. Mass shooters choose heavily populated areas and times in which they will be presented with the most probability of success. In other words, they choose venues such as Wal-Mart on a Saturday because that is the most likely time to encounter mass numbers of potential victims.
Notice I saved the first variable, Motive, for last? That’s because it is the keystone of a criminal act. Motive is not necessarily an element required to prove a criminal case, as it is not the same as intent. Motive is what MOTIVATES a predator. That motivation may be greed. It may be revenge. It may be hatred. Whatever that motivation may be, it is the driving force behind acquiring the means to carry out a crime and seeking the opportunity to do so.
Right now, we are all collectively wondering what is motivating these people to kill mass numbers of innocent people. Regardless of your political, social, or religious beliefs, we are all asking: WHY?
We are inundated with the usual ideas. Violent video games. Racism. Political ideology. Are these contributing factors? Maybe, maybe not. A wise man once told me that simple minds are only able to find simple solutions to the problems of life. If these variables were the root cause of this problem that is tearing our country apart, then the simple solution would be to recognize them and…. Knock it off, right? Yet that doesn’t happen because the issues facing our society are far more complex than racism or some kid in a basement playing Fortnite. I’ll focus on one aspect of America that in my view has proven to be one of the nails in our collective coffin.
Evidence suggests that many of these mass murderers were social misfits. Many had faced rejection by love interests. Many saw themselves as residing on the outskirts of society. There are numerous other issues that seek to explain WHY they did what they did. But they are only explorations into the symptoms instead of the disease.
Americans in general, and our younger generations specifically, have lost the recognition that life is neither easy nor is it fair. We will all lose a loved one and experience an earth-shattering grief because of that loss. We will be rejected by the homecoming queen. We will be cut from the baseball team. We will not be admitted to the college of our dreams. These are natural aspects of the human existence. What has happened in America though is that we have not required people to learn to cope with these misfortunes. When we lose the ability to utilize coping mechanisms to overcome tragedies and disappointments, we revert back to our most primal state.
If you have ever had the opportunity to meet someone that has done substantial time in prison, you will begin to understand how coping with tragedy, disappointment, and heartaches is put into practice. The penitentiary, a place of penitence, is in theory a place where rehabilitation takes place. In many prisons, inmates were allowed to keep and nurture birds and cats. By doing so, a process of reconnecting with a part of the self that is caring, kind, and compassionate takes place. It allows the inmate to connect with something that is less powerful than the convicted self. It allows them to hopefully rekindle a spirit of humanity that would transcend itself back into society and onto their fellow citizens. It allows them to cope with a world in which a violence that few of us can comprehend is the norm. Prisons break the hardest of men because inmates are surrounded by the most vicious creatures that have ever roamed the planet. To cope , they reach for something that can cause them no harm, and something that takes them to a simpler state of mind, body, and soul.
As a society, we have lost that. In order to provide a better existence for our children, we have stripped them of the ability to learn to cope with tragedy and disappointment. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets promoted to the next grade in school whether they do the work or not, their grades notwithstanding. We have reduced our children to their most primal state. When the time comes for a release of frustration, anger, or sorrow, they explode. Small things lead to big things. We are finding out now that what we sow, also shall we reap.
Is this an all-encompassing explanation for what is happening to our society? Certainly not. But we must look inward… all of us. I relate back to my time in the military in the mid 1990s when the Balkans conflict was underway. We are steaming that way at a high rate of speed, and my friends, you have no idea what violence looks like. But if we keep going down this path, you will and once you do, you can never erase that from your soul.
We are better than this. Knock it off before we all are confronted with a price that is far beyond our ability to pay.
Friday, July 5, 2019- Cobra Kai
“I am not a god. I am a man, just like you.” -Grandmaster G.K. Todd
Sometimes the lessons we learn come from the most unexpected places. I often relate to my students that my teaching method is unorthodox. Rarely do I approach each class with a thoroughly designed, well-planned lesson for the training session. Quite the contrary. Usually, I have a general idea of what we need to cover which is influenced on the flow of the class. It is equated to the idea of travel. I may be travelling from New York City to Los Angeles. I know my beginning point and my ultimate destination. How I get there, well, that is a different matter.
I point this out because even as instructors and teachers, we are constantly learning. I will admit it…. I am a movie and TV nerd, and tonight I finally got around to catching up on the Cobra Kai series. There were a couple of scenes that really brought out a lesson my instructor had taught me once, which directly correlates to the quote he offered, which I shared with you above. In the series thus far in Season 2, Sensei Johnny Lawrence and Sensei John Kreese have moments in which they are seen as vulnerable. They express to their top students weaknesses and failures they have endured, and that to a large degree still haunt them over time. Taking these two characters and their personas of iron at face value, this was significant not only for the series, but also for ways in which we as martial arts teachers relate to our students.
Relating back to how I saw my teacher, it was as if I stood in awe of him. It was as though he could do no wrong, even though at times I saw behaviors and mannerisms in him that were somewhat off putting. This is similar to how Lawrence and Kreese are viewed by their students such as Miguel at certain points in Season Two. Despite these human characteristics, I still saw him as a martial arts master and as a sage. My trust in him is unwavering and without question after 22 years. I would trust him to make end of life decisions on my behalf. But over the years as we have grown close outside of the dojo, I have come to know him not as a martial arts master, but as a human being. A flawed, yet beautiful, human being. The interactions between Kreese, Lawrence, and Miguel in Cobra Kai resonated with me based on my own experience. It was a teachable moment.
As teachers, we must be cognizant that in certain cases we may be seen in the same way we saw our teachers in the past. I will admit from my perspective that is hard for me to comprehend and accept. It is unfathomable that someone could look at me in the same way I looked at my teacher. I simply do not believe that I could ever occupy that position as a martial artist or as. A man. But then, I have to go back to what he taught me. He is a man, not a god.
As teachers, one of the most important lessons we can teach our students probably will not occur in the dojo or on the mat. It will occur in life. It may occur at lunch, over coffee, or in my case, when I was confronting the death of my father. My teacher allowed me to grieve in his presence while teaching me that I was placing my emphasis on who my father truly was in the wrong perspective. Yes, my dad was a man in a physical sense. But like him, and my instructor, we are so much more than the physical bodies we inhabit.
What does Season Two of Cobra Kai have to teach those of us who teach students on a daily basis? Admittedly, I am only halfway through the season as of this writing, but a colossal lesson is ripe for the picking. As teachers, we must let our students see us as vulnerable, and therefore human. We stumble, just like they do. We fail, just like they do. We rise from the ashes of those failures, just like they do. We are just a little further along the path than they happen to be.
As a teacher of the martial arts and self-defense, whatever your discipline happens to be, look around you. We can extract lessons to impart to our students from virtually any aspect of our life. Even a television show.
Friday, June 28, 2019
When we teach corporate clients, I usually begin the course with a few disclaimers, one of them being the admonition to examine closely what I say about law enforcement and their involvement in situations that are scrutinized as potential self-defense cases. I put this out there because much of what I say may come across at first as a criticism if not an outright slander. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I used to work within that world. But at the end of the day, my job, and sole responsibility, is to be forthright with my clients and students. Often, that means that the actions, policies, and culture of the criminal justice system as a whole must be placed under the looking glass of professional and academic criticism. So, as you read on, keep this in mind.
Yesterday before class I was talking to a friend of mine that had witnessed a breaking and entering and subsequent larceny over the weekend. As he related the tale to me, he seemed perplexed by something that was said to him. He was asked if he had confronted the two suspects, and if he had not, he was admonished to stay away from them in order for law enforcement to take any needed action. At first glance, this seems reasonable. Right? Or, is there a broader social issue that underlies this story?
When law enforcement arrived, my friend related that there was unfortunately not a lot they could do, even though he had relayed the license plate number to the emergency dispatcher and had given the officers a detailed description of the perpetrators along with their direction of travel. He was frustrated. This gave me time to reflect on issues such as these from a self-protection perspective.
As a society, we have relinquished the responsibility for our own safety and the protection of our families, property, and communities to a source that has at its disposal the legal mandate to act on our behalf. In short, we have given government entities such as law enforcement, with the best of intentions, a monopoly on violence. Is this the fault of a tyrannical government? Not exactly. It arises when people, who are largely decent and kind hearted lack the will, fortitude, and stomach to enter into situations that are unpredictable, volatile, brutal, messy, and rapid in their evolution. In other words, violence. When we have brave individuals that are willing to take up this cross on our behalf, we have relinquished a part of the human existence that most of us would rather not acknowledge. On behalf of the individual and the law enforcement officer, this is laudable, as it stands as prima facie evidence in my view as the overall good nature of our fellow man.
But it is also not realistic.
Call 911. Do not confront them. Don’t be a hero. These short quips as moral admonitions are meant to keep us safe. But we also have to confront a harsh reality. In the big scheme of things, law enforcement in many cases cannot protect us from crimes in progress. That is not to speak ill will of our neighbors that wear the badge. That is simply confronting a reality.
When we teach a course, we begin with a simple exercise. We advise our clients that we are starting a timer, and that they should keep it in the back of their mind that in the background, the clock is ticking. At the end of nine minutes, the alarm sounds. The national average for police response to calls for service is nine minutes. Let’s put this in perspective. A single female client awakens at 3AM to a disturbance in the downstairs area of her home. She is single, at home alone, with no pets that could have caused a disturbance. Then , she smells a novel aroma, something akin to body odor from a sweating male. She calls 911.
The nine minutes has begun….. with a potential intruder in her home.
We rely on our law enforcement neighbors to stand between us and unspeakable evil. In most cases, that simply is not feasible. In cases such as this, confrontation may be your only option, yet we are constantly conditioned not to confront that which seeks to harm us. For professionals in the self-protection community, we are placed in an awkward situation. How do we balance observance of the law and respect to our partners in law enforcement with the mandate to preserve our well-being?
The relinquishment of the individual responsibility for the protection of our individual self, our family, possessions, and neighbors is indicative of a society that sadly has grown complacent, and dare I say soft. Our society is changing, and with that change is a progression toward social norms that are not as pristine as those in a bygone era. Crime rates are slowly beginning to change for the worse. Yet, the admonitions to allow law enforcement to be the sole protector of society still ring through the town square like a warning bell.
My passion is to provide my clients and students with the knowledge and ability to prevent attacks on their person and to protect their family and neighbors. This comes at great peril to their legal and social standing. But it is a moral imperative. At the end of the day, our bodies and lives are our own. They are not commodities to be auctioned off to a disinterested bidder.
Your body is your temple. It is sacred. No one has a moral right to violate the sanctity of who you are. Likewise, no one has the moral authority to deny you the right to protect yourself.