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Jiu-jitsu Success | Interview with M5’s Patrick Conroy

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I have to do something that I almost never do.  Admit I was wrong.  It hurts, but it’s the truth.  When I first heard about the M5 Jiu-jitsu program, I thought that Dan Hoffman had finally lost his mind.  I was sure that the program would be an unmitigated disaster in more ways than one.  As the program went on and a few people dropped out and someone was injured, I figured I’d been pretty much right.  Then I spoke with Patrick.    After you read this interview, you’ll understand why I am saying, “Sorry Dan.  I was wrong.”  If  you want to see for yourself, join us at the Battle of the Bands on Thursday.  We'll be showing a film about the M5 Jiu-jitsu experience.

Why did you join the jiu-jitsu program?

Dan Hoffman (President and General Manager) told me about it when I was still with Callfinity.  He started by telling me about the M5 Rock program and then mentioned that the program for this year was going to be Jiu-jitsu.  I immediately thought it was a great idea and got really excited to learn something new.  I think that the Rock program is also great, but I was drawn to the chance to learn something completely outside of anything I’d done before.

Were you someone who exercised regularly before?

No.  In fact, not at all.  I definitely did not exercise and I was not in good shape.  That was another reason why I liked the idea of the program.  I hoped it would give me the impetus to get in better shape.

Had you ever participated in martial arts before?

No.  I did some wrestling in high school.  At first, I thought that would give me an advantage as I learned Jiu-jitsu, but they are so different that it really didn’t.  For example, you never want to put your back on the matt in wrestling, but in Jiu-jitsu doing that can sometimes give you an advantage.

What did you expect to learn from it?

I love learning new things and am someone who is always trying to discover.  Jiu-jitsu is so different from anything I had done before that the idea of learning how to do it really excited me.  After I read “The Art of Learning,” I realized that I could put the practices outlined in the book to use trying something that is unlike anything I already knew.  In fact, I realized it would be easier to apply the ideas to something brand new, rather than something that I already could do well.  I knew Jiu-jitsu would be an excellent opportunity to apply what was in the book in a way that would let me see how effective the ideas were.

Were you afraid if injury or embarrassment?

No.  Oddly enough, I really wasn’t.  There were a few people who got nervous about it after someone did get hurt, but it didn’t worry me.  I didn’t think about being embarrassed at all.  It never crossed my mind, I was too busy learning and competing.  Some people had second thoughts about the program after they learned that Jiu-jitsu is a grappling sport, not a striking sport, but I think would have been less willing to actually hit my co-workers.  The environment wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

What was the most difficult thing about the program?

Finding the time.  I really wanted to commit to the program and do more than just show up once a week.  I was dedicated to really learning and to do that, I had to make sure I got to as many lessons and spent as much time in the gym as possible.  From the beginning, Dan encouraged us to work it in with our job responsibilities.  In fact, the M5 dedicated class was during business hours.  That was great, but we all have work to do and I wanted to be sure to keep up with my responsibilities and not have to bring too much work home at night.  It really became a negotiation with my family to find time outside of work hours to spend time on it.  They were very understanding because they wanted me to get more exercise and get healthier.

What did you learn about yourself?

The ability to learn quickly has always been one of my strengths.  It was very interesting to see how I can apply that skill to something so entirely new.  One of the principals in the “Art of Learning” that really stood out to me was the idea of incremental improvement.  It’s referred to as “Smaller circles.”  When you see an expert do something like a complex Jiu-jitsu move, it seems like all one movement.  They do it so fast and smoothly that you don’t realize everything that goes into it.  But, as you break it down into smaller and smaller pieces and continue to learn and practice, you see that it is the tiny details that make all of the difference.  I was able to focus on learning just a little bit at a time.  Soon, I could do a move against someone of my skill level, but to advance, I had to continue to learn the technique by going into an even greater level of detail.  I learned that even as I improved, there’s always more that can be studied and perfected to get better in little ways.  I am now applying this technique to things that I thought I already knew.

What, if anything, did you learn about your co-workers?

I’ve gotten to know the people who stayed in the program very well.  I also made an effort to go to classes in the New York City office while I was in town.  The people I know in NYC, I’ve gotten to know through Jiu-jitsu more than work.  It’s great because I’m interacting with people in Sales and Operations and other departments that I don’t usually interact with.

Did you experience any physical changes?

Absolutely.  I am in much better shape.  When I first started, I was overweight and I was a smoker.  Those factors impacted my ability to compete.  After most classes we did some sparing sessions, so I was competing with experienced, in shape people.  At first, I had a hard time making it through a six minute match.  I’d have to rest for a while and try again.  As I continued, I wanted to improve my overall health because it was clearly putting me at a disadvantage.  I started concentrating on my diet.  Since I started the program, I’ve lost 65 pounds.  I also quit smoking.  A lot of the driver for these changes was what I learned through Jiu-jitsu.  Just joining the program was an incremental improvement.  As I added changes to my diet, I was able to improve that much more.  Next, I focused on quitting smoking and was able to increase my conditioning.  One thing built on top of another.  Once I took the first step, it made the next one easier.  The changes to my health were just one of the many benefits to this new way of thinking about learning.

Would you participate in something like this again?

Oh yes.  I will keep doing Jiu-jitsu whether or not M5 has a program.

What do programs like this tell you about M5?

I think it tells you a whole lot about the company.  Many companies talk about having core values like learning, but they don’t put together a program to reinforce it.  One thing that I really liked about this program beyond the learning aspect is the health side.  That really shows that M5 cares about creating a healthy balance in people’s lives.   They show this in more ways than one, like keeping fruit and other nutritious snacks in the office.  In addition to letting us take time out from work to pursue things like M5 Rock and Jiu-jitus they also provided us the experts who could teach us how to do it well.  From the beginning Dan emphasized that M5 really wanted us to commit and that this was more than just lip service.  It was really important to hear that directly from the CEO of the company.

Offering a program like this just really makes sense for the company.  Everything I learned about the learning process can be applied to my job.  I’m healthier, so I will be sick less often.  I don’t need cigarette breaks, so I can be more productive.  Everything comes back to overall improvement for the business on a day to day basis.

What else should we know?

While I love the health aspect to the program, I also want to mention the competition aspect.  Each Jiu-jitsu match is a mini-competition and we will finish up our program with a big one.  Business is also a competition, so I think this is a really cool part of the program.  Pushing towards being the best in the end really helps keep people focused.  This is true in lots of aspects of business and life, but it becomes really clear with something like Jiu-jitsu.