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Mitch Schneider: Martial Arts Helps Me in the Automotive Aftermarket

The more you are able to anticipate the unexpected, the more you are able to simulate the impossible, the more likely you are to survive if the fates conspire against you and you find yourself in a compromising situation.

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Class ended. I bowed and backed off the mat, not because it was required, but because I wanted to. My daughter followed my lead.

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Old habits die hard…

It had been a great workout — intense, challenging, very physical and with a lot of contact. I struggled with my gloves, placed them back in the bag, finished off the last of my water and tried to recall my first encounter with what is now loosely known as Martial Arts. I think it was an episode of, “Have Gun, Will Travel” with Richard Boone, somewhere between 1957 and 1963. 

The first time I actually witnessed the power and the grace of Japanese Martial Arts for myself was late in 1962. I watched in awe as students sparred, performed combinations, Kata, and shattered stacks of boards and bricks to demonstrate the connection between mind, body, practice, spirit and skill. This was followed by a demonstration of Aikido that I still have trouble describing today having personally witnessed things I know to be impossible.

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The drills took place with a passion and intensity I had never witnessed before — faster and harder than anything I had ever seen. It took almost 20 years from that moment for me to begin my own journey, and despite the fact that finding the time or the resources has always been a challenge, it is a passion I have pursued through four styles and for more than 25 years.

Someone once suggested that they learned everything they needed to know about life in kindergarten. I wasn’t paying attention or I wasn’t that lucky. However, I did learn just about everything I have ever needed to know about life and living in Boot Camp, or on the mat. And both were and are focused on martial skills. I learned practice and perseverance, discipline and determination, patience, self-control and situational awareness. But, most of all, I learned the importance of anticipation, preparation, conditioning, and real-world simulation.

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I learned the more you are able to anticipate the unexpected, the more you are able to simulate the impossible, the more likely you are to survive if the fates conspire against you and you find yourself in a compromising situation. I learned the harder you work in the studio and on the mat, the more likely you are to prevail when you are outside the studio as well.

The first three disciplines I studied were traditional in most respects. The one I am involved with now is not. The first three depended a great deal on ritualized combat, form and forms. The one I am involved with now is focused almost entirely on contact and function. The first three were deeply philosophical and certainly more esoteric, while the current style is infinitely more practical, more visceral and elegantly simple. In many ways, it is everything I have ever learned, distilled until nothing is left but the essence.

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I’ve taken most of these lessons and tried to implement them in our business, especially the ones dealing with forms – what you do and the way you do it. Only we call it process, policies and procedures or systems. If you look closely there isn’t much difference.

I’ve tried to create an environment in which the art of what we do in automotive service is enhanced by the structure we have created to facilitate doing it.

But, most of all, I have tried to anticipate and allow for the infinite variations that can occur in business, the service bays or on the counter the same way I would on the street or in the studio, by combining situational awareness and experience with hard work, constant practice, meticulous attention to detail and quick and decisive action.
The more I apply the lessons I’ve learned and my own instincts, the more they seem to work.

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I noticed something the other day, something profound. The suppliers I depend on most may not have a Martial Arts background, but they appear to have learned the same lessons and mastered the same disciplines. They do all the same things all of their competitors are doing, they just do it harder, faster, and, for the most part, better. It’s almost as if they understand that business, and, maybe even normal life, is as close to combat as you can get without dodging bullets, or punches.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the past few months we should have learned that life is a long, dark, alley filled with shadowy corners and some very real and scary threats. I’ve learned a number of lessons after years of training and a lifetime of just hanging out: predators will always attack the weak before being forced to deal with the strong. It’s easier to deal with a potential threat you are prepared for that never materializes than it is to deal with a crisis that creeps up on you and catches you unaware. It is safer to travel in the company of like-minded individuals who are disciplined enough to prepare and awake enough to be aware than it is to travel alone or with an army of sleep-walkers. It isn’t practice that makes perfect. It’s “perfect” practice that makes perfect.

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected]

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