One of the many joys of having kids is their charming misconceptions about how the world really works. For example, both my daughters love driving my car. When bringing them home from daycare, as we get off the public road and onto our parking area, I often take them one at a time onto my lap, where they can steer the car while I work the pedals and the gear stick. It causes howls of outrage when I interfere with their steering- but more often than not it is necessary to avoid collision with a tree or someone’s parked car. And when the car is finally parked in our spot, whichever little angel was last in command will proudly boast “I did it ALL BY MYSELF!” blithely oblivious of my input. In a three-year-old, it’s charming. In a grown-up, it’s obnoxious.
If I chose to edit out a whole lot of data, I could tell you this story about how I’m a self-made man. The company I founded and run operates on three continents, my school was built up from nothing by the sweat of my brow, and dammit, I did it ALL BY MYSELF.
Um, no. Strictly speaking, the first two statements are true: my company, my school, does operate on three continents. And there was a lot of my sweat involved in getting the school off the ground. But my role was actually not so different to my three-year-old deciding that she wants to drive the car, being allowed to do it, and actually working pretty hard to steer the thing.
Yes, founding the school was my idea. Yes, I am solely responsible for the quality of training, the syllabus, the development of the art. But from before the school was even thought of, I was getting an awful lot of help. My parents, of course, didn’t just keep me from starving or dying of exposure- they also went to enormous lengths to have me (and my siblings) educated. My country paid most of the costs of my higher education, up to degree level (I got an MA from Edinburgh back when tuition was free so long as you passed all your exams). This education was of course critically important for developing research skills, and giving me the freedom to train martial arts seven days a week. My interest in swordsmanship was supported and enhanced by the company of like-minded souls in the Dawn Duellists’ Society that I helped to found back in 1994. The first treatise I ever discovered and made publicly available, Donald Mcbane’s The Expert Sword-man’s Companion, I found in the State-owned and paid for National Library of Scotland, that had looked after it for a couple of centuries.
So, all by myself, right?
Then I decided to move to Finland and open a school. I borrowed ten thousand pounds from my bank, which my parents guaranteed. My girlfriend managed to find affordable training space for our first classes through the Helsinki city sports facilities. A friend of mine in England created a website for me, for free (thanks again, Andrew). Two of my best friends in Finland at the time (and still today, thankfully), were the best martial artist I had ever met, and the best blademaker in the world (at least I think so. He would disagree). So there was little real risk in setting up the school, as if it failed, I would still have learned something, and I would have the rest of my life to pay back my parents.
But I did it on my own, yes?
Then, on day one, there were students. Lots of them. People who gave me the benefit of the considerable doubt, and enthusiastically supported the school with their presence, their money, and their time. Some of them are still training today. A few months after opening the school, I felt the need to go to the USA to teach and train- my friends at ISMAC gave me a teaching spot, to begin building my international reputation, my newfound colleagues welcomed me with open arms and a ready blade, and back home a student who happened to have extensive prior martial arts training took on the responsibility of keeping classes running while I was away. Students who arranged to host and maintain the website, students who helped find our permanent training space, students who arranged demonstrations and other events.
But, dammit, all by myself, no?
As the school developed, and as my books were written (yes, mostly by myself, but if you compared the first drafts to the finished products, and could see the editorial work done by my peers, you’d realise how much of their success is owed to other people’s work), students from far and wide came to me for training, and help setting up their own local branches. I have never yet deliberately created any branch outside Helsinki- I don’t have the time or the inclination. But the widespread international character of the school, and its spread within Finland, is beyond doubt- and entirely due to the efforts of the local students.
Students have been pouring time and effort and skill into the school since it started. Ilkka created our current website. And took the photos for and laid out my second and third books. At the insistence of my students, I created a formal syllabus. I didn’t really want to, as it is a ton of work. But I am so glad they demanded it, as it has spawned one of the best projects yet: the syllabus wiki. I did not create the wiki. That was Jaana. I did not even buy the video camera. Dozens of people from around the world contributed to an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for equipment and other costs.
The associations that the school’s students have created, and which are essential to the wellbeing of the school, require management and entail legal responsibilities that the serving board members willingly take on. Without the associations, much of the grant money the school has benefited from wouldn’t be coming in.
But I did this ALL BY MYSELF!
I could go on in this vein indefinitely. But my point is: I and my school have benefited hugely from political and economic factors that we have done nothing to create, and since its inception the school has inspired hundreds of students to support the Art, and the school, in all sorts of ways. My job as I see it is to provide the environment in which training can happen, and to lead the research and development side of things. I take enormous pride in the school and its success. But let me be clear: I can’t take all the credit. I didn’t do it all by myself. I just happen to be the most visible element, the tip of an iceberg of good luck, goodwill and hard work.
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