The Customer Is Always Right…

I feel like today is as good a day as any to stagger up onto my soapbox and talk about some of the trends I’ve noticed when out in public. The way we do business and how consumers behave have long been influenced by everyone’s needs and expectations. These days, the internet has become the top choice for the newer generation, where online shopping, communication and even ordering food has become the new “normal.” This has become even truer in the past six to eight months since the onset of COVID-19.

But there’s been a strange shift in the balance between competent employees and consumers who understand that they’re at any given location to exchange money in return for a product or service and not to be catered to like royalty. Although most “normal” people simply go in, get what they need, pay and get out, there’s a percentage of the population that just isn’t happy until they’ve complained about something, gotten someone fired or received free products or services (Looking at you, Karen!). This is where one of the biggest running jokes of the retail world comes in: The customer is always right…

The expression “The Customer Is Always Right,” comes from all the way back in the early 1900’s and is thought to have first been used by a British department store owner named Harry Gordon Selfridge. You can Google/Wikipedia this guy for his background, as he isn’t necessarily the focus of today’s post, despite the title. But the expression was originally intended to convince staff to provide top-notch service to their customers AND provide patrons with the belief that they’d receive nothing but that good service.

Oh, how times have changed! Over the past century, this expression has become less about the business and more of a weapon that consumers use to get more than what they pay for. I’m not saying that the customer is always wrong, per se. I’m simply saying that it’s irresponsible and naive to think that the customer is always right, because they very rarely are.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule (I SAID NO PICKLES ON MY BURGER KYLE!!! SERIOUSLY, HOW HARD IS IT NOT TO PUT PICKLES ON MY BURGER…) Some facets of industry tend to employ people who fall under the influence of becoming automatons, who are not stimulated or challenged by their work and who feel that being paid for their efforts is not enough. A lot of the time, this leads to sloppy work, laziness and will actually cause the problems that lead to the misnomer that the customer is always right.

It wouldn’t be one of my rants if I didn’t tell a story, so here we go! About a decade and a half ago, I was a front store manager for a well-known pharmacy chain in Canada. Part of my duties included the ordering of stock for our shelves with the products that were required and to reduce shrinkage. Like most businesses, we had a return policy that was limited in the sense that unless it was our own store brand, we only accepted returns if it could be proven that the item was purchased at our location (receipt) and that the fault lied with us (expired items, etc).

I feel that I need to explain that retail locations in Canada are under absolutely NO obligation to issue refunds or accept returns. Once money has been exchanged in return for a product or service, you’re basically on your own. Whether or not you can return an item totally falls on the specific location’s policies and you’re basically at THEIR mercy, not the other way around. Any business can refuse service, even if that service involves a refund or a return and even if most businesses do genuinely try to keep the customer happy by complying. But back to my story…

In walks a Karen… And this was back in the day before the term “Karen” was coined for the running joke the internet has made of it. Just to keep from constantly picking on people named Karen, I’ll simply refer to this person as “the customer.” Anyway, Karen… I mean the customer came into my retail location with the intention of making a return. A usual and typical part of every cashier’s daily duties, this normally wouldn’t have been a big issue.

The customer waited her turn in line and when she finally reached the cashier, explained that she had purchase a package of name-brand batteries and wanted to return them. Although I wasn’t there for this part, I was told that even the customer’s explanation was abrasive. The cashier did her job well and inquired as to what the problem was. Were we past the expiration date on the package? No. Was the package open before you got it home? No (which wouldn’t have made sense anyway, since we weren’t in the habit of selling open products).

The cashier asked the customer what the company had said when she called their customer service line marked on the packaging, and that’s where shit slipped off the rails! The customer explained that it isn’t her job to make calls and try and get her product replaced and she wanted her money refunded. My cashier explained that our store’s return policy didn’t allow her to accept a return for an item that was sold in good faith in a sealed package and that the responsibility for replacement now fell to the battery’s company and/or manufacturer. This led to one of the most self-entitled demands in retail history: “I want to speak to your manager!”

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a stoic. But I do have a significantly higher ability than most to maintain a control over my reactions; a result of a lifetime of training and control. But despite this fact, I don’t suffer fools easily and I tend not to take crap from self-entitled people, whether it comes on the job or not. So when I got to the front and was instantly confronted with an angry customer who is ranting about how my cashier provides terrible customer service and should be fired, I was already working towards trying to find my inner Zen.

Once the customer explained what had happened, I calmly explained our store’s return policy (which my cashier had already done) and how we wouldn’t be able to refund her money. The only thing such a customer hates more than not getting what they want, is having the manager they requested tell them the EXACT same thing that the employee did. It’s like their kryptonite. She got flustered and red-faced and started screaming at me in front of the line of customers, all of whom she was holding up because of her bullshit.

At this point, I felt that it was no longer a worthy battle and simply a matter of removing her from the store. Since one needs to know and accept WHEN to pick their battles, I didn’t feel that a pack of batteries priced at a few dollars was worth upsetting and disrupting the flow of waiting customers who WERE actually just there to conduct normal purchases. I go the customer hustled out the door, eventually on the threat of contacting police. I joined her outside, where I had a frank conversation with her.

Folks, I’m not a total asshole! (Most of the time) If this customer had calmly asked for the manager and had maturely explained her situation as opposed to kicking and screaming like a petulant child with a loaded diaper, I likely would have done something for her. Anything. Replaced the package. Provided store credit on a gift card. Something. There was a god chance that even though I wasn’t supposed to, my vendor would have reimbursed me for the faulty batteries and I could have helped this lady out.

But once she turned into Bitch-zilla, all bets were off. And the reality is that this type of behaviour from consumers is becoming more and more prominent. It’s almost as though consumers fail to understand that they’re there for the exchange of money for a product and nothing else. Do we want your business? Oh yes. Do we want your repeat business in order to maintain our profits? Most definitely. Let’s not kid ourselves, businesses are there to make money. But that doesn’t mean that businesses should allow their staff to be abused by the likes of people like that.

“The customer is always right” has become harmful to modern-day businesses, because employees, and most managers if they’re worth their salt are having none of it. You can go on Google and YouTube and find all sorts of videos of employees reaching their breaking point and basically sending rude and entitled customers straight to hell on the next thing burning. But there are a lot of reasons WHY this slogan is not only false, but has become harmful to businesses everywhere.

I found a pretty good article on Huffpost.com entitled, “Top 5 Reasons Why ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ Is Wrong.” It’s a pretty good article, and covers certain aspects including but not limited to the fact that working on the basis of the customer always being right makes the employees feel less valued and unhappy, which results in worse customer service. It also provides an unfair advantage to rude customers who just wanna watch the world burn.

It’s important to be decent and reasonable when dealing with the businesses you frequent. No one owes you anything, and even though most businesses will do what they can to keep your business, I think we’re all mature enough to understand that most overall companies (especially franchise chains) won’t miss the small amount of money your shopping provides. Especially if it means the comfort and protection of their staff. For toxic customers who are genuinely bad for a business, there’s the door. Be sure to let it smack your ass on the way out, the way your momma should have!

In closing, one last little detail about my story that just adds the icing on the cake… The package of batteries the customer purchased were on special and she demanded having them refunded at the original, full retail price. So not only did she expect a refund, she expected more money back than she had paid! Snowflakes… I think we owe it to ourselves to be better to each other than that. We all have times when we get frustrated because of something retail-related. Maybe you bought the wrong size. Maybe it wasn’t the product you expected. Shit happens. You simply need to understand that it’s not the employees fault, and businesses won’t roll out a red carpet and massage your feet as a result. There’s enough suffering in the world without intentionally adding to it. Shop safely, my friends! ☯

The Answer is Only Important If You Ask The Right Question

Something that occasionally crosses my mind is how there will be a significant employment exodus in the fact that a number of industries have unfortunately discovered that some of the employees they’ve sent home are no longer essential. Months and months of having certain positions sent home without the benefit of a “work at home” plan have rendered some jobs obsolete. The flip side to this, is that all the people who are no longer able to work in their chosen industry will turn to many of the employment positions that were intentionally abandoned by folks who didn’t want to go out into the world during the pandemic.

Regardless what your position or chosen career may be, we’ve all found ourselves in a very specific position at one time or another. The position I’m referring to, is subjecting ourselves to a job interview. No matter how confident in your material you may be, no matter if you’ve worked in the industry you’re interviewing with before, the stress and anxiety that comes with sitting through a job interview can do a number on you.

Throughout my life, I’ve found myself on both sides of the table. I’ve been the interviewer and the interviewee. And especially in the past year, I must have sat through about a dozen interviews while I’ve been busy trying to “find” myself and I’ve learned a thing or two. So despite the fact it has nothing to do with Buddhism, martial arts or Diabetes, I thought I would share some of the gems I’ve discovered about interviewing.

These are a combination of things that have worked for me, as well as things that I’ve noted when interviewing others. So some of it might seem pretty obvious, but not necessarily to everyone. Here we go…

  1. Show up early: You would think this one is obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people are fine with walking in at the last minute. I’m not saying you need to show up an hour before your scheduled appointment and sit in the waiting area like some sort of psycho. But arriving fifteen minutes ahead of your appointment makes a good impression and can even be important in helping you deal with unexpected obstacles, like construction zones, finding an unknown address and being available in the event the appointment prior to yours ends early;
  2. Dress professionally, not for the job you want: I don’t care if you’re applying to work for waste management or if you’re applying to be CEO of a fortune-500 company… Dress properly. Dress pants, shirt and tie at a minimum. People always say “dress for the job you want,” but that’s total bullshit! Dress to the nines, no matter what the position you’re applying for. It shows your commitment to getting the job and your level of professionalism;
  3. Make eye contact and smile: You want to give your interviewer your utmost attention. There’s nothing worse than an interviewee who drifts off and has you repeat a question. Pay attention and listen. Actively listen;
  4. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know: If you’re asked a question and you don’t know the answer, then you should admit that you don’t know. Potential employers don’t like it when you make up some random shit. And you’re almost guaranteed to get called out on it. Employers much prefer someone that can admit they don’t know and are willing to look it up or learn, than someone who will phone it in by trying to lie or make stuff up;
  5. Use the power of “WE”: You want to be a part of that specific company? You want that job? Then include yourself! When asking questions or answering theirs, use “we” to start creating the idea that you consider yourself a part of that organization. What benefits do “we” have included? What schedule do “we” use? It creates the impression that you’re part of the company. You’ll be surprised at the effect it has;
  6. Study up: You can’t know everything, but if you apply for a specific job you should have some rudimentary knowledge about the industry you’re interviewing with. Applying to be an insurance broker? Maybe you want to study up on your Province’s insurance laws and regulations. Applying to be a government employee? Try learning some of the legislation that regulates the specific branch of government you’re interviewing with. This ensures that you can show some minimal knowledge in the job you’re trying to get;
  7. End the interview with a “thank you” and a handshake: No matter how you think the interview went, good or bad, be certain to thank your interviewer(s) for their time and provide a firm farewell handshake. This not only shows your commitment to professionalism, it shows your gratitude for the time that was taken to interview you.

It feels a little strange writing about something that isn’t my usual forte, in terms of this blog. But given the state of the world and how the employment industry is going, knowledge can be an incredible advantage. being qualified for a position is only half the battle. Being able to PROVE you’re a fit for the job and being confident is the other half. ☯

As If Life Weren’t Hard Enough…

It’s my opinion that life has more than its fair share of difficulties. It’s no secret that the world has its fair share of suffering and occasionally loves to spread it around. This is why it’s always shocked and surprised me when individual persons seem to make and effort to increase another person’s difficulties and struggles or cause suffering in others. Isn’t life hard enough? It would seem to me that there are enough battles to be fought without people intentionally causing issues for one another.

If I take my own personal situation as an example, one person’s failure coupled with lies that they likely hoped would exonerate them, got me caught up in a whirlwind of unnecessary disciplinary action that’s turned my work and personal life upside down for the past two years. It’s been one of the hardest periods of my life and has made it difficult to live normally, including emotional roller coasters, occasional estrangement and closing myself off and even missing the birth of my second child.

I just recently heard of a similar situation happening to one of my best friends, and it sets a fire under my posterior. I know that the internet as well as the world in general, absolutely loves making jokes, memes and poking fun at the likes of “Karens,” “Kyles” and “Chads.” And it’s no secret that I often comment on “snowflakes” and the over-sensitive nature of recent generations. It seems that with the passing of recent decades, people have become more and more sensitive to menial actions and things.

I remember a job I held, about twenty years ago. Yes, I’m THAT old! Let’s move on, shall we? I worked in a call centre for a Canadian courier company and I absolutely hated it. Part of my assigned duties included taking incoming calls from people who were trying to track their parcels. On top of the fact that people are ridiculously impatient and were usually pissed when they phoned in, I dealt with one of the few times where my bilingualism was a hindrance; because I took shit from people in both official languages.

It got to the point where my gut would kill me with every shift I went on. At one point, I chose to discuss my concerns with my supervisor, who promptly explained that I wasn’t in any physical danger and that of course people would be pissed about being unable to locate their package. I was told I needed to stop being so sensitive and to quit worrying about the words others were using. Then I was told to get the hell back to work. Oh, how the world has changed…

Can you imagine if someone spoke to an employee that way now? The blowback would be significant. In fact, this is also a slippery slope amongst the employees themselves. With everyone having become so sensitive and getting offended about everything, it seems to take very little to get someone in serious trouble, even when the subject of that trouble is ridiculously menial. Now, I know what you’re thinking: if an action or comment sincerely bothers someone, then it isn’t menial.

And although you may be right about that aspect, it doesn’t mean the other person deserves to have their job jeopardized or their lives affected because you can’t handle a comment or action. And that’s the problem. It seems that these days, all it takes is an uttered complaint for a person’s life to be completely turned upside down. People need to realize how their comments and actions can be destructive to others. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, people need to quit being snowflakes and complaining about everything. There’s enough suffering in the world to deal with, without people doing it to each other. ☯

I Don’t Know, And That’s Okay…

As people, we have a propensity to think we know everything. Especially in any specific area, where we think we happen to be experts. Sometimes it’s a point of pride, sometimes it’s vanity. But uttering the words “I don’t know” usually evades us. Or we avoid them. Whatever. But there’s nothing wrong with lacking some knowledge. Vulnerability and not knowing is okay.

After graduation, I moved on to college and chose to study computer programming. I spent my entire life around computers as it was my father’s addiction, so it felt like a reasonable step to pursue it further. One thing that didn’t help was that I was convinced to attend a french college. Even if I’m fully bilingual and can speak French, it didn’t change the fact that computer terms that were three inches long in English were found to be ten inches long in French. I’m exaggerating, of course. But it doesn’t change the fact that taking the course in French, despite it being a primary language for me, caused untold difficulties. My college years were some of the most difficult I’ve ever faced, for this reason.

I learned the hard way that computer programming wasn’t for me. I may have enjoyed playing the games and watching my father code, but trying to delve into the complicated world of computer programming proved to be the wrong direction for me. It didn’t help that I had a karate belt test pending during my first year of college, and my priorities were fixed on karate as opposed to college. I did, however, learn to play a network game of Duke Nukem 3D in college. But I digress…

I had a slew of college professors; some good, some bad. Some of my professors walked in, delivered their lesson plan and walked out without making any real connection with the class. Some professors considered every student to be a “buddy” and focused on being a friend more than teaching the curriculum, which was almost worse. Picture a college professor showing up at lounge nights to have drinks with students. Not great, right? But out of the shadows emerged a professor who was the happy medium; part teacher, part friend, all learning.

Because I was having so many difficulties, I asked a lot of questions. I mean, a LOT of questions… If you’ve never experienced being around a French guy who won’t shut up, consider yourself lucky. Picture that boring staff meeting where you’re hoping everyone will keep their trap shut so that the meeting will end sooner, just to have that ONE guy constantly bring up another point. That was pretty much me, in college. But I couldn’t help myself. I hate failing. And I hate quitting.

Most of my professors would either make something up (that I would learn was false later) so as to not look as though they didn’t know their own material. Some would ignore the question and tell me that my answer was in the learning material. But this one professor would make it a point to admit it when he didn’t know something. He had no problem saying, “You know what? I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look it up and I’ll get back to you in tomorrow’s class.”

That’s class. That’s professionalism. Admitting one’s lack of an answer shows a specific vulnerability and humanity beyond what most people are capable of. He was one of my most trusted professors, and my only regret is that I don’t remember his name. Hey, come on! Give me a break! We’re talking almost twenty-five years ago! I’m getting a bit on the older side, I’m expected to forget a few things…

Realistically, I remember this professor BECAUSE of the humanity behind the teacher. Even if you’re teaching something, it doesn’t mean you’re expected to know EVERYTHING. I started studying karate in 1989 and am still learning new things, even now. And if the day ever came where there was nothing new to learn, I’d be greatly surprised. Honestly, I don’t believe it’s possible. But the point is, I learned from that professor, and have found myself often telling my students, “Give me time to try it out” or “Let me look into it.”

And being able to do that is important, because it engenders trust. Your students will trust you and believe what you tell them way more if they understand that you’ll be honest and admit when you don’t know. I’ve applied this concept in almost every area of my life. If I don’t know, I say so. Not only does it engender trust in others, it prevents making me look like a damn fool because I tried to make something up. Important food for thought. ☯

Honesty Is The Best Policy

Human beings learn to be dishonest at a young age. It isn’t something that happens automatically. Normally, one needs to be exposed to certain conditions and factors in order for it to become a common practice. For example, children may begin to lie and be dishonest when they feel that it will keep them out of trouble. As we get older, our motivation for dishonesty includes a myriad of reasons including, but not limited to sparing someone’s feelings, avoiding negative consequences or gaining personal advantage.

But if we stick to the younger age group, the majority of the time kids will lie to get out of trouble or because it will get them what they want. Something akin to drawing on the walls then saying they didn’t do it, even if you catch them with the marker in their hands. My son Nathan does this a lot, for a number of different things. He usually isn’t trying to be intentionally deceitful; he’s just trying to keep out of trouble. This has caused a bit of a phenomenon where I occasionally have difficulty believing things he tells me.

Nathan is a big fan of ginger ale. He likes it almost as much as he likes those little bottles of water flavouring. But I usually try to limit his consumption of soda, since it isn’t the best thing for a five-year old to drink. In fact, on some of the rare occasions when he gets an upset stomach or falls ill, I offer him a small glass of ginger ale as a means of settling his stomach. He’s caught on to this trend and will often feign an upset stomach in order to have me give him a glass. Sneaky brat…

About a week ago, we were midway through our morning when Nathan approached his mother and told her that his stomach was bothering him and he had thrown up. I can’t remember what I was busy with, but when I came back, my wife updated me on Nathan’s complaint and he confirmed it when he came around the corner. He followed it up by saying he needed ginger ale. Nice try, mini-me! Not on my watch!

I explained to him that the ginger ale was to be for when he was “actually” sick and not because he had a craving for it. He tried selling the fact that he had apparently thrown up and flushed it. Oh, really? That’s a handy coincidence. I shooed him away, as I assumed that this was another one of his attempts at getting something he wanted through dishonesty. He didn’t really argue or contest it and went off on his merry way.

Towards the end of the day, I had spent some time on the backyard and was ready for a hot shower and for my evening to wind down. Nathan was upstairs and had even mentioned a few hours prior that his stomach felt better and he wasn’t sick anymore. I was somewhat impressed by his commitment to the bit. He’s usually pretty good at letting things go when they don’t work in his favour.

I went to the downstairs bathroom and saw something that reminded me of an 80’s horror movie… Dried, crusted vomit with just a hint of red (from his stupid water flavouring) was all over the bathroom door, the toilet seat, the floor, my shower mat and most of the corner of carpet just outside the bathroom door. To add insult to injury, there was about a half dozen washcloths in the laundry hamper after he’d attempted to wipe it up himself. Fuck my life…

I spent the next hour and a half cleaning upchuck off multiple surfaces, made all the worse by the fact that it had dried on. If I had just taken Nathan at his word and checked on his story, it probably would have cleaned up easier. I would have still been pissed at the mess, but at least it would have been easier. It reminded me of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. The only difference is that in Nathan’s case, one never knows if he’s just trying to get his way or if something genuinely happened. Needless to say, I’ll happily accept him crying wolf and check on his story from now on. ☯

Time Is Money, Even When No Time Is Used…

I certainly don’t want you guys reading through my posts and thinking that I spend my days being angry all the time. I’ve noticed that sometimes I tend to go off on a rant and I’m certain that from an outside perspective, it seems as though I complain and harp on things almost as much as I encourage others not to do those very things. I’m no Bruce Banner, but sometimes specific interactions illicit an angry response whether I like it or not. I had one such interaction yesterday, which was precipitated by an appointment I had made for November.

In the interest of avoiding certain liabilities, I won’t name the business or even the nature of the services the business provides. But none of you are dumb and will likely figure it out. Suffice it to say that this is a business where one needs to book an appointment in advance and apparently requires a cash deposit. Given that my birthday is in about a week and half, I thought I would avail myself of this service and do something for myself.

I researched the local businesses that provided this service and decided to start with a location that was not far from my home. In fact, it was only a five-minute drive straight south from the main drag near my house, so convenience was a bit of a factor. I enquired about the service I required and the gentleman in question (and I use the term lightly) indicated that he was booking well into months from now, and the earliest he could fit me in would be early November, thanks to a cancellation. When asked if he had anything sooner, he indicated that he did not as they were EXTREMELY busy and had bookings coming out their posteriors! Fair enough.

I stated I would take the November appointment and simply cancel if anything changed. The guy explained he needed an eighty-dollar deposit, which would be applied to the one hundred and forty dollars and hour required when I attended my appointment. I specifically inquired what my timeline would be to be able to cancel the appointment, to which he replied as long as I gave him a couple of days to fill the appointment slot, it would be fine. I used the ATM he had inside the shop, as this was a “cash only” business, and withdrew eighty dollars at the cost of eighty-three dollars, thanks to the ATM fees.

I left the location a little uncertain. My goal was to treat myself to something for my birthday, and November happens to be two months BEYOND that day. Plus, I felt the inherent cost of the service was a bit steep, especially considering what I was asking for. I have a well-known dislike of money and consider it an unwanted necessity of daily life. So I tend to cheap out a lot, especially if it’s something for me. I wasn’t certain if I wanted to pay THAT much for something that in my opinion, should have cost less. So, I did what any responsible consumer would do: I shopped around.

Obviously, I should have done this prior to accepting an appointment. My fear was that if all the similar businesses in the city were just as booked and busy, I would have a hell of a time getting my goal accomplished if I didn’t tentatively accept a date somewhere. But I found a second location that booked me in for a “consult” visit to discuss exactly what I wanted and how much it would cost. That appointment was yesterday afternoon…

The second location was excellent. After a brief five-minute consult, I discovered that my total cost would only be about a hundred dollars and I would be booked in as an end-of-day session within the next week. I was elated. Not only was this much less expensive than the first location, I could potentially get my birthday gift in and around my actual birthday instead of two calendar months later! The only problem is they needed the hundred dollars as a deposit prior to booking the appointment. It also had to be in cash. What is it with all these “deposits?”

I decided that I would attend the first location, cancel the November appointment and get my eighty dollars back. Then I could return to the second location and deposit the hundred dollars and pop in next week. It was a pretty sound plan. But as I always say, life doesn’t care about your plan. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I walked into the first location and spoke with the same individual that I had booked the appointment with. I explained that I needed to cancel my November appointment. We briefly discussed the matter and he agreed to cancel the appointment. Then he thanked me for coming in and sat idle for about ten seconds, making direct eye contact. I explained I needed my eighty dollars back, to which he told me I wouldn’t be getting it.

The exchange went a little something like this:

ME: “Excuse me?”

HIM: “Well, yeah. Deposits are non-refundable. It’s part of our shop policy.”

ME: “That makes sense for someone who books an appointment and never shows up or cancels the day of. But I’m cancelling two months in advance. You can’t keep someone’s money and provide NO service whatsoever. You aren’t losing out here, you can fill the spot. You just finished telling me last week that you were EXTREMELY busy…”

HIM: “Look, I don’t know what to tell you, man. If you ever decide to come back, we can discuss a deal where I might not require another deposit…”

ME: (pushed ever so slightly over the edge) “ANOTHER DEPOSIT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? THERE’S NO WAY I’D BE COMING BACK TO THIS BUSINESS!!!”

HIM: “That’s cool, man. Because you aren’t welcome back, anyway. You can’t come back, even if you want to.”

ME: “So, you’re honestly keeping eighty dollars of my money without providing any service…?”

HIM: “That’s the definition of a deposit. Shop policy.”

I walked out with steam coming out of my ears and flames burning in my eyes. I was P-I-S-S-E-D. Modern life and modern society has a significant way of fucking with a man’s Zen. It only took me a few seconds to regain my calm, but it did nothing to eliminate my soured mood. I was out $80 that I needed and could have used for the second location. So not only have I lost the money, I won’t be getting my gift to myself.

Maybe I’m the asshole, here. Who knows? I’m too subjective to say for sure. Maybe it was a lack of communication. I could have possibly explained that I specifically meant my deposit when I asked about a safe window to cancel. Of course, the guy could have clearly explained that I wouldn’t get my deposit back, regardless of when I cancelled. There was likely some blame on both sides of the equation, but despite the fact I don’t necessarily believe the customer is always right, I think a bit of customer empathy was called for in this instance. ☯

You Are The Weapon

Without a doubt, one of my biggest pet peeves in recent years is the growing trend where folks are trying to “debunk” martial arts and “prove” why traditional fighting arts don’t work. Considering the fact that I’ve been studying karate for about 32 years at this point, it stands to reason that it has become more than just a hobby or pastime, and is factually a big part of not only what I do, but who I am. So when I see a post or hear someone who claims “karate wouldn’t work in a real street fight,” it not only gets my blood boiling but I can personally attest to karate being quite effective in both my personal and professional life.

This is not to be mistaken with people who spend their time exposing fake martial artists, the ones who claim to be black belts but are not and who take people’s money in exchange for teaching them a watered down version of their favourite movie fight scene. And there are unfortunately a lot of those. You can search “exposing fake black belts” on YouTube for some pretty awkward examples. But once you start creeping into the realm of “why martial arts don’t work,” you’ve gone too far.

Rather than piss and moan about it like a snowflake, I thought I would take the time to compile a list of the most ignorant yet often repeated comments I’ve heard about the martial arts over the years. Here are my top 5:

  1. Karate doesn’t work: Starting strong, right out of the gate! I’ve heard this comment so many times in the past three decades that it often feels like it’s tattooed on my forehead. The irony is that the comment is usually made by someone who has never studied or trained in the martial arts and doesn’t know any better. But coming from someone who has studied and used it on more occasions than I can count, I can tell you that karate, and martial arts in general does work;
  2. Martial arts isn’t “real” fighting, like MMA: Yeah okay, Kyle! Calm the fuck down and have another Monster energy drink… I’m not a big fan of MMA. Not because it isn’t intensive and hard-hitting, but because of the fact that its called “mixed martial arts.” Although I’ve often written that variety is the spice of life, martial arts still requires you to adhere to only one style in order to develop some level of consistency. You can’t study “mixed” martial arts. There’s no such thing. You can be a proficient student in one discipline and choose to dabble and explore another. In fact, that’s highly recommended as limiting yourself also limits your abilities. But to claim that MMA is more effective or more “real” than traditional martial arts is not only laughable, its ignorant of the facts. I usually like to remind MMA fans that shows like the UFC has its roots in traditional martial arts. In fact, the first few UFC pay-per-view events pitted traditional martial arts styles against one another, before they all started wearing bike shorts and fingered boxing gloves. Furthermore, it’s well-known that most if not all MMA fighters have some background and/or training in some traditional combat art. George St.-Pierre, for example, holds black belts in karate and jiujitsu. Ronda Rousey, who happens to be one of my personal idols, holds a black belt in Judo. Those are just a couple of examples. Hey, I’m a fan of MMA as a sport and enjoy watching a good match. Just don’t go calling yourself “mixed martial arts”;
  3. Karate only works in class where it’s controlled: Hmm, this is an interesting one because I can’t even come CLOSE to denying that a dojo environment is a controlled one. But the whole idea is that class is structured and controlled in order for you to learn properly in the event you ever need to use martial arts as a weapon. Think about firearms training. If you dropped a gun into the hands of someone inexperienced who hasn’t been trained, the odds of misuse greatly increases. A safe firearms user only becomes so after extensive training, drills and target practice. The same can be said for karate. It’s only after extensive training, drills and practice that you learn to use martial arts for the protection of yourself and others. This can only be accomplished in a controlled classroom environment;
  4. In a real fight, you don’t have time to stretch and warm up like you do in karate: That’s right. You don’t. But here’s the thing: you stretch and warm up in class so that you can learn properly and develop your skills without injuring yourself. And the more you work out, the better the chance that a sudden exertive burst can be used without injury as you build and strengthen your body’s muscle tissue. This is the same concept as in any other physical activity or sport that a person trains in, so karate isn’t any different;
  5. Martial arts weapons have no modern day, real-world application: Wanna bet? Yes, I’ll admit that you don’t encounter many sword fights in this day and age. But if you look at the majority of the weapons that most schools train with (bo staff, batons, knives and swords), the skills are still transferable. If it means protecting yourself or others, a stick is a stick. And all those training drills you performed will suddenly become pertinent as muscle memory kicks in. A weapon is nothing but an extension of yourself, and should be used accordingly.

So, does martial arts work? Yes. Is it an all-encompassing skill that can defeat anyone and anything and where you can participate in long, drawn out fights, taking and delivering multiple strikes to the head and body like you see in the movies? No. And obviously, the movie depiction of one martial artist facing off against a dozen opponents and coming out on top is unlikely. I don’t care how much skill you have; if a dozen guys come at you at once, you’re getting your ass kicked. Plain and simple. The important thing one also needs to remember is that martial arts isn’t for everyone. And not every style will suit every person.

I’ve encountered people who trained for a few classes and quit, then claimed that it was a waste of time or that it seemed stupid and they didn’t think it would work. If you approach it with that attitude, obviously it won’t work for you. But maybe it isn’t for you. And that’s the difference. Martial arts IS effective and has saved my skin on a number of occasions. But like many things in life, it’s also all in the eye of the beholder. ☯

How Does A Blind Person Smile?

This may be a question you’ve never asked yourself before, but take a moment to think about it. To be clear, I’m not talking about someone who has lost their sight at some given point in life. I’m referring to someone who was born blind and has never actually set eyes on another human being. How does this person know how to smile? And how do they know and acknowledge that this is a sign of happiness and/or contentment?

There’s a lot to be said for human instinct and we often take it for granted. Smiling is just one of those instinctive forms of expression that humans know, and it’s universally recognized around the world as a sign of positive emotion, even if it’s not necessarily taught. This like explains why my 1-year old son smiles his biggest smile, right around the time he’s filled his diaper for me. Kids.

What this teaches us is that humans have the ability to use aspects of themselves that are instinctive. Or in simpler terms, sometimes you gotta go with your gut. It takes a lot of effort to trust yourself enough to make tough decisions and hope for a positive outcome. And the truth is that your outcome may not always be positive. Sometimes, you may fail more often than you succeed. But you need to trust yourself and be comfortable n your choices. This is truly the only way you WILL succeed.

We all doubt ourselves, sometimes. But self-doubt is what usually leads to failure. Trust your instincts. They’ll bring you farther than you may think. And even if they sometimes lead you astray, always remember that failure also helps you to learn and grow. ☯

Dance Your Way Fit

You all know I enjoy writing about different fitness routines and how they came about. I especially enjoy trying these fitness routines, as it’s important to experience a healthy variety in order to keep yourself motivated. Sometimes, a good workout routine can be something completely unexpected and happen by accident. As long as you’re willing to keep an open mind, you might even find something you enjoy and would start doing regularly.

This is where Zumba comes into the picture. Zumba is a fitness program that combines dance and aerobics and was created in the late 1990’s when a Colombian fitness instructor forgot the music for the class he was teaching. He popped in some of the salsa music he had in his bag instead, and danced his way through the fitness class. It didn’t take long for the fitness craze to catch on and as of recent years, there are millions of videos, apps and classes all over the world.

I was first introduced to Zumba back on 2014. I owned an XBox 360 and had just purchased the Kinect adaptor, which is a sensor bar that allows you to play games using body movement as opposed to a controller. One of the games we got with the Kinect was called “Zumba Fitness.” Since we lived in a small town with effectively nothing to do at the time and I used to make my wife suffer through many of my workouts, she had me try the game out with her. Even if it was just a video game, it didn’t take me long to work up a sweat.

I love dance and I admire anyone who studies it for fitness or as a lifestyle. In fact, something that few people know about me is that I actually took professional dance lessons when I lived in Ottawa. Karate was definitely helpful in keeping my balance and remembering the structured routines required for some of the dances I was taught. Zumba is kind of up that alley, mixing dance with increase aerobic movements.

What I can appreciate about Zumba is its different approach to fitness and the fact that it keeps things interesting. It only took a few moments for me to be completely drenched in sweat when I tried Zumba, and I was taken aback by how challenging it was. The concept involves a set of specific core movements, but their combination and use can vary greatly with each class you participate in. You can do it in the privacy of your own home by purchasing DVD’s or enjoy the group dynamic by participating in classes. And classes have a crazy variety, as well. There are routines for all age groups, routines done in water or swimming pools, routines done WHILE performing HIIT or circuit exercises and even some programs to help with eating habits.

If you’re looking for something different to change up your routine, something that can get that heart rate up, burn calories and tone you up, Zumba may be for you. Listen to me, I sound like a damn infomercial! But in seriousness, variety is the spice of life so don’t be scared to try out different fitness routines. Hell, the creator of Zumba invented it by accident! So who knows what you might discover if you keep things varied? ☯

An Attack Is Only As Good As The Result

I’m a bit of a weird contradiction when it comes to action movies. The guy in me absolutely loves the action, the plots and the effects. But the martial artist in me usually hates how a fight is actually portrayed on shows and movies. You know how it is… The protagonist and the antagonist square off, maybe circle each other for several minutes minutes exchanging sarcastic quips about who will kick whose ass… Then they spend the last twenty minutes of the movie locked in a heated exchange of strike after strike to each other’s head and body, most of which would have crippled a normal human being after the first or second strike.

Yes, a good action movie is fun and all. But the reality is that a fight will not only NEVER last as long as they’re portrayed, but if someone spin kicks you to the head, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll just whip your head to the side, wipe the dribble o blood off your chin and keep fighting! The safe bet is that you’ll drop like a bag of sand, unconscious or stunned beyond the ability to continue. THAT’S reality. But actual full-contact fighting will also cause injuries to the person doing the striking.

I’ve written about this before, but let’s take a good old fashion punch to the head as our example. If you strike someone to the head with your fist, you’ll injure your hand. Notice that I didn’t say “might.” You WILL injure your hand in some way, shape or form. On the milder side of it, your knuckles will get inflamed and possibly swell. At worst, you may sprain your wrist, fracture some carpals or flat out break your hand. And that’s if you’re lucky. Most people have a hard head. A fist is comparatively smaller. Maybe go for an elbow strike instead. Yes, you’ll have to get in closer but you’ll also increase your chances of preventing injury.

That’s just one example, but this concept applies to just about any attack you use on another person. Unlike the movies, getting punched to the head will put you down. But you’ll also get hurt in the process. Unless your wrists are wrapped and you’re wearing padded gloves, the chances are slim that you’ll get multiples hits in without injury. Throwing a proper strike takes technique and precision, which can only be achieved through drills and practice. This is why we do form and work out in a dojo, so that muscle memory kicks in and your strike will be effective.

True self-defence isn’t about a long, drawn out battle or fancy techniques that look like they belong on the big screen. This is one of the reasons why there are so many videos circulating about people exposing “why martial arts don’t work.” It’s not that they don’t work; it’s that people have a skewed misconception about how martial arts would actually be used in a real fight. Self-defence is about protecting yourself and others, and being the one who walks away. ☯