Monday, January 18, 2021

Project Summary: The 30,000 Foot View 1.0


This is a brief summary of the actual project that outlines where we are right now, and where we're heading. This will be the official "start" of the project. That direction we're heading will likely change a bit, so I'll update this plan with other versions.

The Current Lay of the Land

Currently, we have a 3,000 square foot jiu jitsu and mma gym (El Diablo Combatives) in Montrose, Colorado, which has been operated by Shelly and I for about 16 months. Montrose has about 20,000 residents in the town and another 15-20,000 in the surrounding county. We're located about half way between Denver and Salt Lake City, an hour south of Grand Junction, Colorado, and about 45 miles north of the San Juan Mountains.

We operate the gym with a fairly standard martial arts school model where we offer yearly, six month, and monthly memberships for individuals or families (parents and their minor children.) We also sell ten class punch cards. 

We have six coaches, but we embrace a "share what you know" collaborative model that encourages everyone taking on teaching and mentoring roles. We have about twenty-five students, most of which have been with us since the beginning. Our student numbers are slowly ticking up, but COVID is still suppressing our numbers. Part of the rationale behind this project is to dramatically expand our student base by offering a wide variety of classes, workshops, and seminars. Based on market research, we have just under 1,000 potential students in our area.

Financially, the gym has not been profitable since we shut down for three months last winter/ spring due to the pandemic. We're getting closer to the black, though. Aside from COVID, we were also negatively affected by our last two buildings being sold, which forced us to move twice in three months.

We have two other ju jitsu gyms in our town. While it reduces our student base, it gives our community several options as each gym has a distinct culture.

Who is Involved

Currently, our team consists of myself, Shelly, and three other members, which we designate as the "Founding Members." Since we haven't formally launched the project, I won't use their names until I get their permission. Prior to bringing the other three folks on board, I had mostly done the planning and testing of ideas on my own, though I regularly solicited advice and ran ideas by two of our coaches and a few other members. 

The new additions to the planning team has been a hugely important development as it's brought a lot of really good ideas to the table. Importantly, this has allowed me to solve some problems without having to run experiments, which is incredibly time-consuming.

We may add more people to the planning team, but because the Founding Team is also the beginning of the "Tribe" (discussed below), we carefully vet who we involve. While we haven't developed a formal vetting process, it will involve utilizing the "Humble, Hungry, and People Smart" model explained in the book "The Ideal Team Player", a complimentary skill set and personality type (as measured with the Myers-Briggs-inspired test at, and most importantly, people who express an interest in socializing with each other. After all, we'll be spending a lot of time together. I discuss this in more detail below.

What are the Elements and Goals of the Planned End Product

The project will consist of two primary elements: The School and The Tribe. These two entities will have a symbiotic relationship. The School provides for the Tribe, and the Tribe administers the School.

The School

We chose a School as the cornerstone of the project because knowledge is a flexible, versatile, valuable commodity that has infinite scalability and many opportunities to develop passive income steams. It can provide immediate, tangible, inexhaustible value to the Tribe and the wider community, will bring people together from diverse backgrounds, and can be used as a tool to unify people socially. Given the present state of the country, this is something we desperately need. Finally, this is an industry we know inside and out.

The school will differ from other "schools" in that the primary focus will be on practical skills more than academic skills, though we'll likely develop some geeky stuff, too. The practical skills will cover life skills that are useful to survive and thrive in the modern world, and may cover anything from how to create a resume to how to do basic car maintenance. Part of the motivation for this stems from my experiences as a public school teacher. As we've increased our academic focus, more practical skills have fallen by the wayside. We will fill that "Why didn't they teach me that in school?!?" void.

Aside from modern skills, we will also teach more primitive skills that our society is quickly losing, such as food preservation, raising animals, gardening, and so on. Part of the motivation stems from a genuine desire to preserve the work of those who came before us, and part of the motivation stems from a desire to make our community in general and Tribe in particular more resilient. We're engaging in disaster preparedness, but doing so in a way that addresses the most likely reality. If we study the history and psychology of social collapse, circumstances rarely if ever play out like a typical "prepper" believes. If the shit really does hit the fan, our world will look less like "Mad Max" and more like "Little House on the Prairie."

The School will be an extension of the jiu jitsu and mma gym we're currently operating. We'll expand the classes offered in the beginning to include a few classes that will be taught by members of the Tribe. We all have expertise in specific subjects outside the martial arts paradigm, so these will be the classes we offer initially to test things like scheduling, duration, payment plans, different ways to utilize our physical space, etc. The school will use a variety of different educational models ranging from universities to public schools to homeschooling. The ideas borrow heavily from community life enrichment schools and the free school movement. 

The school will be the primary revenue stream for the project, which will pay the bills, fund future expansion, and provide an income stream to the Tribe Members. Will will probably use the Profit First financial model for operations, which is a Dave Ramsey-esque accounting system.

Long-term, the goal is to acquire land to develop the new aspects of the school that we cannot do in our current downtown location. Specifically, it will allow us to teach a wider variety of primitive skills and develop an infrastructure that will assist the Tribe in social bonding and provide resources in difficult times.

The Tribe

In the most simple terms, the 'Tribe" is just a collection of people who like each other enough to spend time doing stuff together. The purpose of the Tribe is to provide for the five different things humans need to maximize our potential (yay Maslow!) Based on what we've discovered from fMRI brain data, we're pretty sure 'tribalism" is hard-wired in our brains. It's what allowed our ancestors to survive as cooperative social units. As I discussed in my Tribal Hypothesis post, forming the right kind of Tribe with the right kind of members can solve a whole slew of problems we face as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. In short, forming tribes is probably the answer to solving the bitter divisiveness that occurs as a function of the relative safety, comfort, and technological advancement of modern society. 

I've spent A LOT of time studying the history, psychology, and sociology of tribalism, and I've spent even more time observing different types of "tribes" and how they affect the members and their wider communities. I've also spent a lot of time observing people who do not have tribes. Without reservation, I can confidently say almost all humans absolutely NEED a tribe. The problem with our modern world is a great deal of the options we have for tribes are piss-poor. Many are simply poorly-disguised marketing plays (think "people with Apple stickers on the back of their car), quite a few are toxic (#MAGA and Amway), and a few are cults (Jonestown and Heaven's Gate.) Some are generally good, like most church congregations, fraternal organizations, or intentional communities and communes, but they're inherently ideologically exclusive. As I explain in the Tribal Hypothesis post linked above, that seriously limits their ability to survive and thrive, or even provide what is necessary to address all five of Maslow's fundamental human needs.

The other major problem with most of our tribal options in the modern world is leadership that ranges from mediocre to god-awful. Good leaders require a host of skills, which Jocko Willinck addresses in his excellent book "Extreme Ownership." But one skill in particular is absolutely essential to lead a tribe - the ability to really empathize with each and every member of the tribe. If an effective tribe has the required ideological diversity, the leadership must understand everyone. The reason is simple - every decision made has to be both good for the tribe and good for every member. If that's impossible and a decision negatively affects the tribe in general or an individual member in particular, the leadership needs to be able to a) actually make that hard decision with compassion and kindness, and b) explain the rationale behind the decision to the member or members who are negatively affected in a way that doesn't destroy tribal harmony. This is no easy task, and really good leaders also need to be willing and able to enlist as much help as they need. For our ancestors, good leaders were apparent as they matured from childhood to adulthood. For us, identifying good leaders is a far more difficult task. 

Taking all this into consideration, how do we build THIS tribe? As it turns out, a Brazilian jiu jitsu gym is a wonderful social filter. For our tribe, we're looking for a few very specific characteristics:

  • We need people who have a sense of humor, prioritize having fun, and aren't overly prudish, hence our gym's name and goofy chicken logo (if people know the joke, they're always "our people") and the URL of this blog. This means we need to avoid the overly politically-correct and the people who don't laugh at dick jokes.
  • We need people free of serious mental illness, drama queens, or prima donas. All people create problems; that's the nature of social interactions. But some people cause GOOD problems, like "I should clean the house, but I really want to go watch the UFC fights with the Tribe!". Other people cause BAD problems, like intentionally stirring up drama because daddy didn't love them enough.
  • We need people who are open-minded enough to accept ideological differences. While we can improve acceptance over time, people who have an emotional attachment to extreme ideologies, which includes belief in conspiracy theories, is a non-starter. It helps that I personally tend to identify and scare off bigots and overly judgmental people pretty quickly.
  • We need people who genuinely enjoy socializing with the existing group beyond just practicing jiu jitsu.
  • We need people who are genuinely kind and selfless. Selfishness and tribal harmony are incongruent. 
  • We need people who are humble. Ego always leads to toxicity.
  • We need people who are people-smart. They need to be able to read the room and absolutely cannot have grating personalities. Sometimes we call this "emotional intelligence." 
  • We need people who are hungry. Specifically, they need to understand that the benefits they receive from tribalism is directly tied to their personal contributions to the tribe. The more you put in, the more you get out. And the better the tribe gets. With the right tribe and the right matching of skills, personality, and roles within the tribe, contributing to the tribe and receiving recognition from the tribe is incredibly intrinsically-motivating. 
  • We need people who bring tangible skills, knowledge, or complimentary personality traits that will help the tribe in some positive way, and be willing to contribute to the welfare and improvement of the Tribe. Tribes absolutely cannot have dead weight. Freeloaders who are capable-but-unwilling to contribute cannot be part of the Tribe.

Each and every one of these traits can be discovered after training with someone on the mats for a few months, usually far less. In general, people can be good training partners, but may not necessarily be good tribe candidates. As such, our vetting process will end up being rather extensive. It's important to note not all students in jiu jitsu classes are Tribe members; jiu jitsu is merely one of the vetting tools we'll utilize to find and assess potential Tribe members.

If you're reading this with the goal of maybe starting your own tribe, note these are the traits WE look for. Shelly and I have spent a long time meeting a lot of different kinds of people. It also helped that Garrick, the guy who started the gym before we bought it, had already started recruiting a lot of people that had those very characteristics. We're intimately familiar with the kinds of people we love spending time with and what kinds of people we need to avoid. The exhaustive list is a function of experience and really knowing who we are and what we value. Your mileage may vary.

So what purpose does the Tribe serve? Beyond the meeting of human needs, the Tribe serves three basic functions - mutual aid, protection, and socialization. We help each other when help is needed, we protect each other when we face any kind of threat, and we have fun together. These three dimensions cover a lot of territory, so I won't go into the intricate details here. But generally, in good times, the Tribe helps each other navigate the little shit, often logistical in nature, that pops up. Like maybe picking up another Tribe members' kids from school because they had a minor emergency, or dog-sitting while another Tribe member goes on vacation. Fixing a leaky faucet. Giving advice on how to cook macaroni. Stuff like that. 

And of course, socializing. We're building the Tribe with the kind of people we want to be friends with,which creates a really cool, fun group. Making friends in the modern world, once you leave school anyway, is one of the more difficult aspects of adulthood I would not have anticipated. While we train with each other a lot, we've found adding in social events gives our group the opportunity to really get to know each other, which is a tremendous tool for developing new, lasting friendships. This is especially helpful for spouses and significant others who may not train.

In the bad times (think "complete breakdown of the social contract"), the Tribe functions more like the tribes that allowed our ancestors to survive. As I mentioned above, the reality of what this would look like is likely wayyyy different than what most prepper-minded people imagine. We're not likely going to have a scenario where we're holed up in a fortified bunker we have to defend against roving bands of marauders. While there is always an aspect of protecting your resources against bad people, the reality is the vast majority of society would organize in their own tribes, and those tribes will mostly work cooperatively. There would be occasional bad people and there would be some bad tribes. But humans under stress don't turn on each other en mass for the same reason animals rarely if ever kill their own species - self-preservation is baked into our DNA. We wouldn't be here if our survival instinct led the majority of us to be ruthless killers.

Having said that, the organization of the Tribe does factor in the aspect of power. If the shit hit the fan, it would be better to be the most powerful tribe instead of the weakest tribe. Given the "power" of a Tribe increases as a function of the individual members' ability to work cohesively in specialized tasks, the tribe that has the most practice at this will be the most powerful. Further, if that tribe is benevolent and already has a great working relationship with the surrounding community, that tribe has an awesome capacity to lead the entire community in a way that would maximize survival. Thrive, even. Further, any community that consists of a collection of united tribes would be an incredibly powerful check on dangerous, malevolent tribes or individuals. That's kinda the meta-strategy of the development of this Tribe. 


As I said at the beginning of this post, this is a tentative outline. The collaboration with the Founding Members will likely tweak aspects of the plan, or even change major elements. In the coming weeks, we'll have A LOT of conversations about these topics. New perspectives will give me new insight. New, better ideas will likely replace that which I've planned. We have a group of smart people with a lot of different areas of expertise working on this project, and we have even more smart people in our Facebook Group who may have thoughts and ideas. If this entire concept interests you and you'd like to be part of the conservation, join the group!



Relevant Links

These are the posts I've written explaining more aspects of this project in greater detail.

The Theory Behind the Project

Why I Think This Idea Can Fix the Bullshit Divisions and Craziness We See in America Today

Why We Need Tribes in Our Lives

How Tribes Can Make Your Life Better

The Process We Use to Find the Right People for the Tribe


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