I remember the second coaching intensive I ever attended. I was full of myself. I had just crossed the six-figure threshold. I was a member of the high-level mastermind everyone wanted to be a part of. I had expensive new shoes.
And I noticed something. There were a lot of coaches around me who didn’t feel that way. Coaches who had been coaching for a long time, years more than me, and yet they were stuck. I couldn’t figure it out. Part of me thought well I’m just hot shit that’s why I’m doing so well, but another part of me knew that wasn’t true. I knew I was good but I didn’t think it’s because I was super good, I figured there had to be a reason, but I couldn’t figure out why.
Until we did speed coaching.
We sat in opposite rows, we coached, one row got up, moved down one seat, and we coached again. It took me three sessions to realize that most of the coaches were not great. I mean they were fine. They asked interesting questions, they leaned forward with a tentative eager look, but beyond that, there wasn’t much.
Each session felt formulaic, heavy, constructed, and boring. There were a few highlights but mostly I was blown away that the majority of the coaching I experienced was at best, mediocre. Yes, I was being cocky. Yes, I had absurdly high expectations (especially then). Yes, I know fast coaching isn’t the same. But the impact was the same and I had my answer.
The reason why most coaches were struggling was because their coaching was just fine. Not bad, not great, but fine.
And I started to wonder how I could fix it.
The idea was that you connect with people, find an opening, invite them to experience coaching, and then sell them based on that experience. Which works great if you 1) have a super charming personality and/or 2) you create a really incredible coaching experience.
If you don’t do either your results will end up being as mediocre as your coaching.
So I started to think about how I could help people get better.
The Motivation of Debt
A few months later I formed a small mastermind group focused on retiring debt. The 3 of us all had built up a fair amount of credit card debt investing in various programs. So we started to meet on a monthly basis to talk about our money, how we spent it, and what we might do to earn our way out of the hole we had found ourselves in.
I noticed that I was mostly focusing on signing one-on-one clients, which was fine, but I was only paying off debt slowly. I wanted to pay off my debt fast. So I came up with the idea to build a program, something that would allow me to pay off a big chunk of debt all at once.
I thought about creating something for coaches. A short group program that would have a big impact on them. I wanted to help coaches get better. I wanted to give coaches a taste of what I had experienced at the monastery, but I wasn’t sure how.
I shared the idea with the group and they liked it. My partner at the time, Christina (who was also a member of the group) said she’d be down to collaborate with me on it.
At first I just wanted to have people practice coaching. I also wanted them to meditate daily and learn to study their own mind while simply sitting. It wasn’t much more than that. Just meditation and practice.
But Christina pushed me to create more structure. So we started talking about what had helped us become better coaches. We remembered some of our conversations where we had traded sessions and spent a long time afterwards talking about what did and didn’t work in the sessions.
We shared feedback with one another and that feedback, which was honest, kind, and curious helped us so much.
I had encouraged her to be more forceful, to tell clients that she wanted to work with them, and to add more structure to her sessions. She had invited me to be more playful and to bring more joy and laughter into my sessions which could often feel very heavy and serious.
This feedback grew over time and became more precise as we got to know each other’s coaching.
We considered how we could combine this element with my monastic experience. Soon we were riffing on ideas. We talked about the icons of Zen and which icons invoked this kind of practice. That was when we started talking about Samurai and how they were both rooted in the zen tradition while also focused on improving their skills in community.
It became the seed of what would become the Samurai Coaching Dojo.
Happily Ever After?
Of course that’s not the end of the story. Christina and I spent years refining the dojo. We learned a lot each time we ran it. Christina left the dojo, and Matt came on as a Sensei. Matt and I have continued that tradition of simplifying and clarifying the message. Finding new ways to express this simple idea that it’s through practice and feedback that mastery is created.
But it all started with a simple observation and intention to help coaches while also helping myself.
I still believe deeply in the core of what the dojo is: an idea rooted in Zen. In Zen they call sitting Zazen. It’s often called practice realization because they don’t see any difference. Practice is enlightenment, enlightenment is practice.
And that’s what I’ve always tried to keep at the center of the dojo. It’s not about the teachers, or the other students, or the model of coaching, or the tools and techniques. It’s about the practice.
When you engage in the wholehearted practice of coaching, you can’t help but get better. You can’t help but feel more confident and deep. The trick is the wholehearted part.
Most things simply engage your mind, but I’ve always tried to make sure the dojo engages every part of each coach that steps inside it. I haven’t always succeeded, but the core of the mission feels just, if not more, important than it ever has been.
So that’s the origin of the dojo and that’s why I keep choosing to do it every year.