Team Loyalty

Fidelity: Faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty or support.

I’m not one for fake traditions. I don’t give my trust or my loyalty easy. In fact I tend to react with rebellion more easily. My first instinct is always “FUCK YOU I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME, FUCK YOU I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME.” For better or worse my inner teenager is alive and well.
So lets talk about the notion of fidelity to something like my martial arts academy , Stout Training Pittsburgh – Team Renzo Gracie . I get that to some people the idea of loyalty to a team seems a little outdated. That in a world of easy access to online information, multiple competing bjj and mma schools, and the general free sharing of information it can seem silly to fly a flag and to take personal stake in a for profit business. I am not suggesting my way is the right way, or you need to feel the same why I do, but what I wish to do is convey why the relationships I have built at our martial arts school hit me on a deeper level.
To state is simply it’s because they have earned my loyalty and never have they demanded it.
My coach doesn’t care if I go to a bjj seminar at another school. If I hit an open mat somewhere else he doesn’t care because he is not insecure. And while I like to get out and visit, make friends, learn new things, and get different looks at other schools on occasion when it comes down to who I support with my time energy and money I keep my resources planted at home. They have earned it.
What do I mean by earned? Why do I feel this way?
Let me start by saying I did not start at my current school. I spent time like most Americans in a Karate school as a child/teen. Later on Taekwondo. As an adult I explored some Muay Thai and MMA programs. I have a lot of love for those old instructors, the energy they spent on me, and the influence they have had on my life. But none of them was a good fit for me and my needs. If you cannot give me what I need in this transaction I am not going to have any emotion about leaving.
Now my professor, the martial arts school owner, my primary coach, and my friend is Warren Stout. I will tell you two stories about Warren so that you know what kind of person he is. They are not the only stories I have but this is a blog post, not a book.
A few years back I hosted Craig Douglas for his world class Edged Weapons Overview self defense course. It’s two looooooong days of exhausting physical training and hard competitive live training evolutions. Warren, despite being the monster in the room, the school owner, and the one dude everyone was in fear of having to go live with took the entire class as a student. He sat and listened, he drilled along with us, he soaked it all in and I got to see my teacher enjoy being on the other side. He got beat up and exhausted right along with us. At the end of class we go around the room and everyone gives their feedback and closing thoughts. When it came to Warren he thanked us. He thanked US! He said how grateful he was that we allowed him to train with us that weekend and how welcome he felt. It was honest, it was real, and it showed me what kind of man he was. I had been under him maybe a year or more at that point, but I got a hard dose of respect that day, and I knew that was a dude I could admire as a human being.
” Nor have I seen a mightier man-at-arms on this earth than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken, he is truly noble. This is no mere hanger-on in a hero’s armour”
Some years after I started classes there I was showing Warren a video of one of my friends, a student at the school in a live training evolution. Its a rough affair. Close to full contact, minimal safety equipment, simulated weapons, real clothes and gear, just two dudes beating the shit out of each other in a gravel pit. The student in question wasn’t fairing well. I was asking for technical feedback. I wanted to know how to improve this, where should we be working, what did he think of the validation exercise. Warren, unprompted, did a free private lesson with this student. He told me he was ‘one of our guys” and he needed to help him. He was genuinely concerned for him but also it showed me what being “one of our guys” meant. It meant he took your performance personally. It wasn’t just a reflection on the student, it was his just as it was mine. We may perform as individuals but we win and lose on the backs of our team.
These actions and countless others like them have earned my fidelity. I am proud to be a part of it and to fly our flag.
My teammates have become my friends, and in some cases close and dear ones at that. They have been there for me when I needed them both on and off the mats and I have had the absolute pleasure to be there for them.
This has gone beyond simply training. We have confided in one another. We have been there through injuries, through divorce, through babies being born and loved ones passing. We have laughed together, and we have cried. I am fully invested. I don’t just have skin in the game, I have my heart in it too.
Shawn Lupka
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