I recently had an opportunity to speak to the University of Nebraska at Omaha Freshman Leadership Council; essentially a college version of student council. The senior adviser requested I talk about networking, something I discuss a lot at the College of Business as a vital part in any business endeavor. In the 30+ years of studying martial arts, one of the things I cherish the most is the vast network I’ve developed. People I’ve come to consider friends, peers, teachers, and mentors.
There was a time not that long ago (spare the old man jokes!) when if you wanted to expand your martial arts knowledge you needed to travel. Before the internet and the glorious thing we know as YouTube you had to attend seminar, clinics and camps. You had to seek out expertise and suck in as much information as you could over a weekend with hopes of interpreting what your chicken scratch notes meant as you hastily attempted to capture what was taught. If you were lucky the featured instructor had some VHS tapes to sell.
I recall a summer I followed Sensei Erik Paulson around the Midwest seeing him in Chicago, St. Louis, here in Omaha and Minneapolis. One seminar in particular, at a health club in Chicago, while doing his initial address of the group he looked up and saw me standing in the back and blurted out “Aaron! What are you doing here?!!” Awkward. If you know Sensei Paulson, he’s quite a character and loves people. Needless to say I was the demo dummy that seminar.
In my travels around the country to train with the likes of Sifu Paul Vunak, GrandMaster Chai, Sifu Marc McFann, Dr. Gyi and Guro Dan Inosanto, among many others, I have met people. Lots of people. One of the fascinating things about martial arts seminars is that they brings like minded people together; people not only seeking knowledge but looking to create better versions of themselves. Ask any of our instructors who have traveled with me at any point for a seminar or even a competition they will tell you I always know people wherever we go. People who approach with a smile, warm greeting, and a hug.
Many times this the a primary reason I go; to catch up with my martial arts network. I put myself in front of people who give me a vector check, re-motivate my desire to train, bounce ideas off of, and remind me why I love the martial arts. Too often networks are viewed as solely as an avenue to make money. Using connections that will help you score a deal or get an in to a bigger fish. We forget about the intangibles a network can provide. The ear of a friend. The guidance of a mentor. The advice of a peer. The energy of the group.
I don’t discount the value in learning from the internet. There is an element missing though that media platforms lack…personal contact. Yes, one can argue networking is very much possible online. Technology allow us to have a greater reach and cast a larger net now more than ever. I’m still in the camp, however, that nothing beats being in the presence of people. Interacting face to face. Practicing and experiencing the martial arts, or whatever the activity it is, together. Leaving a session or weekend of training looking forward to the next time. Being able to walk into a room and seeing a friendly face.
THIS is one of the true beauties of martial arts.