The Founding Class

I’d like to express my gratitude to tonight’s founding class. It blew my mind that we had 10 people on the mat. That’s more than I imagined would be there on day one. What a great way to kick off our new program.

I watched an interview recently with the great John Danaher where he described the ideal team hierarchy. Here’s what he said:

The Japanese tradition is based on Sensei, Senpai and Kohai. It’s the idea that senior students (Senpai) function as inspiration and guides to junior students (Kohai). The instructor (Sensei) gives an overall direction and guiding vision. The Senpai are the physical examples of that. They demonstrate the effectiveness of that system, and the Kohai strive to become Senpai. So there’s a dynamic in the class at all times—an upward mobility where the students are trying to rise toward something. I’ve always found that to be a very healthy training environment.

It’s very hard to build a successful training program without first investing in a small, select number of people who become your role models. Given that skepticism is the foundation of all modes of inquiry whether it be in science or martial arts, you need some method of delivering effective proof to the skeptics that come through the door. That proof will be your best students—the Senpai.

In the early days of a training program, I believe that it’s critical to make an investment in the top athletes in the room. As people come in they will have proofs delivered to them that what you are doing works effectively.

This seems to be the universal model in Jiu Jitsu. It certainly was when Roy Dean launched his academy in 2006. Within a short time of opening the school a group of Senpai emerged (Jimmy, Donald, James, TJ, Neil, me), and even though most of us were white belts, we became ambassadors who carried his flag and felt a special responsibility to become as good as possible.

What I find interesting is that none of Roy’s Senpai ever quit. To this day all of us are still at it, and have gone on to become either black or brown belts. This attests to the power of becoming a Senpai. I have no doubt that leaders will emerge to become role models for new students to be inspired by.

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