Sunday, April 21, 2013

Commemorating Greg Palmer

I'm writing a post commemorating Greg Palmer five years after his passing because I am writing a 'Memorial' page to add to my blog and I want a reference that tells the reader a little about Sensei Greg Palmer.

Greg started training with Jan de Jong in 1968. Of the instructors listed in Jan de Jong: The man, his school and his ju jitsu system, Greg is the fifth longest serving student of Jan de Jong. Greg passed away in November 2008, but not before leaving a significant legacy.

Greg loved jujutsu; he loved Jan de Jong; he loved the Jan de Jong Self Defence School; he loved his students; and he loved teaching jujutsu. His love was unconditional, but it was not always reciprocated. This is, however, a lesson that Greg continues to share with his students and friends (both of which merged into one as time passed) today. Love is not dependent upon reciprocation.

Greg was one of the best, if not the best, teachers in the school. That should come as no surprise because he was the only teacher in the school with professional teaching qualifications.

I've written before (in this and my Kojutsukan blog) about culture being the 'telling of stories around campfires' and how a strong culture retains and attracts members. Greg was culture personified. Greg was the school's principal story-teller. The stories were told during class, after class, at the pub after class, or at his home when he cooked Indonesian meals for those fortunate enough to share his company. I only know about the generation of instructors before my generation of instructors because Greg told me stories about them (e.g. Tony Chiffings, Peter Canavan, Rodney Miller, et al). This gave me a sense of belonging to something greater than the instruction being provided in the class that day or night.

I wrote in the previous post how I described Greg as being the school's Mr Miyagi from the movie, The Karate Kid. That was not a trite analogy. Greg had all the attributes of Mr Miyagi. He was technically experienced, knowledgeable and proficient. Greg did not possess an athlete physique, but he surprised many with his performance when executing his fighting skills. Greg didn't buy into the martial arts 'mystique' but he did live its realities. Greg was a true teacher. He cared. He cared about his students, about his fellow instructors, and about his Sensei. He was genuinely humble and appreciative. He was the best mentor at the school bar none, taking numerous 'lost souls' under his wing.

There is a grading in the Jan de Jong jujutsu shodan grads involving the use of the katana (Japanese samurai sword). Greg, being the professional teacher he was, lobbied to have an introductory grading inserted into the grading system to introduce the student to the use of the katana before they actually had to use it. He developed this grading and De Jong saw the logic and obvious teaching and developmental potential of such a grading and included it within his grading system. It is disappointing to hear that some who have succeeded Jan de Jong have since excised it from their grading systems.

I became involved with Greg when he invited me to be part of his team for his demonstration grading for nidan. It was the making (and possibly the undoing) of me. Jan de Jong always said, proudly, that Greg's demonstration was the best that any of his instructors had produced.

Sensei Greg Palmer, mentor and friend, is remembered by many to this day, and he continues to influence lives. As I proposed the toast on the night of Jan de Jong's commemoration: gone but not forgotten - ever.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Commemorating Jan de Jong

Commemoration is a ceremony or event in which a person or event is remembered.

On Saturday, 13 April 2013, Jan de Jong was commemorated. It is 10 years since he passed away. He was commemorated in a dinner organised by his son's (Hans) students (Craig Ma'har and Heidi Romundt). However, Saturday night was more than simply remembering an individual.

There is more to a commemoration than meets the eye. This, like so many other commemorations, was a cultural event.

Culture binds individuals. Culture binds individuals in a tribe, in a family, and in an organisation. A strong culture provides strong bonds. A weak culture provides weak bonds. Culture nurtures and guides individuals. Culture keeps individuals connected.

What is culture? CULTURE IS TELLING STORIES AROUND A CAMPFIRE. And that was what we did on Friday night. Craig started the official proceedings with certain formalities before he turned to stories of Jan de Jong. He passed over to me for the 'in memorial' section of the evening where I told stories of those who were a part of the Jan de Jong story but were no longer with us (Greg Palmer, Ian Lloyd, and Paul Seaman). Hans told stories of his father and his growing up with his father. Craig then, intuitively but unwittingly, invited anyone and everyone to tell stories about Jan de Jong. And we did.

One thing has struck me in terms of culture. It's not about technical expertise. All of the veterans of the Jan de Jong Self Defence School do not talk about the technical expertise of Jan de Jong. They talk about the experiences they shared with him or what they experienced in his school. You can be as technically proficient as you like and you will not build a strong culture. Jan de Jong was technically proficient, but it was the 'other' that built the strong culture. And it was the telling of stories that strengthens that culture.

Who were the foundations of the Jan de Jong culture. Jan de Jong was a story teller par excellence. He loved telling stories and he always told stories. Greg Palmer arranged drinks or meals after training where he told stories to attendees. Rob Hymus would tell stories to students after class in the car park. Even though these individuals technical and teaching abilities cannot be distinguished from other instructors or senior members of the Jan de Jong organisation, they can be distinguished in terms of supporting and strengthen the culture of the Jan de Jong family/tribe.

The Jan de Jong organisation was on the point of closing in the mid 1990s. While doing my MBA fulltime I was working fulltime within the Jan de Jong organisation. Upon being informed they were about to 'close the doors' on the school due to financial stress, I developed a strategy based on a cultural focus. That strategy reversed every KPI (key performance indicator) because culture strengthens, retains and grows an entity, whether that entity be a family, tribe or organisation.

There were notable absences on the night. People who were senior in the Jan De Jong organisation prior to his death. Is their absence an indication of a weak culture? That is a question I pondered.

When I was writing my speech honouring those who were a part of Jan de Jong's story and who are no longer with us, I wanted to refer to the 'Jan de Jong family' but I was reluctant to do so. I was reluctant because some senior members of that supposed 'family' declined to attend. What sort of family is that? Then I thought, that is what a real family is like. There are members who do not buy into the culture of the family. They make a choice not to be included. But that does not take anything away from those who choose to buy into the family; to buy into the culture.

There were notable absentees. There were notable inclusions who have no relationship with Hans' school other than they were a part of Jan de Jong's family way back when. They are a part of and embrace the culture that Jan de Jong developed. By attending these functions and sharing their stories they strengthen the Jan de Jong culture and the bonds that bind.

There were members of Hans' school who never experienced Jan de Jong's school. On Friday night they were exposed to a greater tradition than that of Hans' school. They saw they were part of a greater whole. There were others who no longer train or no longer train jujutsu, but their bonds with each other were strengthened through nostalgia. The tribe, the family, strengthens and grows.

While this post informs on a night where Jan de Jong was commemorated, it also informs on a larger issue that all should consciously consider - culture. Jan de Jong did not just develop a jujutsu system, he developed a culture.