To Build a Dojo

I remember our first forum game under the new Canada Poker Forum home game group. I thought to myself “Wow, this is a neat moment if this gets big one day.” I imaged hundreds, maybe thousands eventually participating in our country’s weekly tourneys. I guess I was just stoned though. In light of some of the comments about my ‘poor poker success’ in the past and present times I feel obligated to share something that I so obviously see different than others. This kind of behavior and misinterpretation of my stats is detrimental not only to my poker game but everyone else’s, and I’m going to show how it’s impeding the creation and growth of this dojo. To get to this understanding, of course, we will have to start with and explanation of what a dojo is.

Dojo is Japanese and translates roughly to ‘Place of the Way’. It is essentially a place where you learn how to learn. Jiu Jitsu for example, is not what you attend class to learn, but instead is the medium you use to learn with. A dojo, martial arts, or Jiu Jitsu is interested in the process of learning rather than the technique being practiced. When we are better at learning, we pick up new unrelated techniques from other ventures faster. As we learn those techniques we gain more knowledge about ‘how to learn’, and then we are able to learn Jiu Jistu techniques faster and deeper. When everyone is on board with this process and learning from each other, you get a synergistic super charged learning process, a Dojo.

Dojos are built from the ground up. This means when the white belts move up to blue belts you will have a new group of white belts to move in. The blue belts won’t move up to purple belt level, until they help the white belts move up to blue. Once the new blue belts raise the new white belts to a blue level they become purple belts and the purple belts become brown belts provided they advanced their blue belts to purple level. This continues for iteration after iteration, generation by generation. This is all done based more on example than literal teaching.

But then who teach the black belts? Where do the best in the world learn from? The top masters teach them maybe? Divine inspiration? Other black belts? Obviously, right? Maybe. By the time brown belts have reached a black belt level not only have they gone through the learning process themselves but they have also experienced and facilitated it through other student’s experiences many times over. The black belt is able to extract knowledge from every level of belt below them, even white. This means they learn the fastest, because they learn from everyone.

The colored belt system is fairly new to martial arts, supposedly added by American’s and westerners as part of their ‘capitalist/consumerist reward for achievement/domination’ type philosophy. In ancient martial arts there were no colored belts. The sensei wore black and the students all wore white belts. It was place to learn with the leader being a sort of professor of this ‘learning to learn’ through martial arts. The professor wasn’t just a master of a fighting style- he also contemplated the deep concepts and effects of sincere deep learning. We westerns mistake this for mystical mumbo jumbo hoopla.

I once trained down in LA at my head instructor’s dojo. I was getting ‘tapped out’ by one of his student about once every 10 seconds. This was no big deal for me, even though I had a higher belt, because after all I teach how to wrestle without ego. After about my tenth time tapping, the student stopped and said “Listen man, you don’t have to tap. I won’t break your arm. You can try and work out of it”. It humbled me. I realized back home we were rolling wrong. Instead of getting tapped out and not working on not being upset about it, we should have stopped trying to tap each other out, and instead focused on exploring the movements.

This means rolling to learn not to win. If you train to win in the dojo, you and your partners suffer and so do your competition results. If you train to learn in the dojo, you win tournaments. Its extremely important to not in order to foster this all of the students cannot be afraid to make mistakes. In many dojos if you ‘make a mistake’ you get a broken arm. It’s actually dangerous to roll with the middle and higher belts because they will hurt you if you are unaware you are in danger. A school like this, which is not a dojo, cannot possible create anywhere near the talent that a dojo can.

The biggest detriment to this process you can have is when someone points out someone else’s failure or mistakes as a being negative thing. They not only become afraid to share but they become afraid to make mistakes which is one of the keys to learning. We are taught in school that mistakes are wrong, but in the dojo mistakes spawn creativity and growth. Not only does pointing out mistakes and failure kill the learning process for the victim but it also discourages others to make mistakes as well.

Sadly it is those least interested in learning and growth that will, out of the same fear that causes them to avoid change, cause them to lash out and try to destroy any attempts at the creation of such a process.


These people are often poor themselves at judging the progress of others. The graph or stats of a poker player is a sum total of his ability to make optimal poker decisions. When read correctly, a graph can tell us an incredibly detailed report on how the villain actually plays his hands and what his strategy is. However, reading a graph correctly encompasses many things that players often overlook. Reading a poker graph is really an art in itself.

Bluefire Coach Andres Pereyra did one of his first videos on how to read graphs and it was incredibly eye opening for me. He showed many different filters that can be used such as, abi, game type, average finish, overall years/months played, weekly playing schedules and so on. With such detailed information we can begin to extrapolate information such as how our opponent plays on the bubble, is our opponent at the end of their session, what our opponents shove ranges are likely to be in different tourney stages, is our opponent playing within their abi range and much more.

When you are able to read a graph better you make more +ev decisions and therefor your roi% goes up as a direct result. This suggests something interesting. In general, (ie you can bet money on this fact profitably) a good poker player will be good at reading graphs, and a poor player will be poor at reading graphs. I won’t suggest I am a good player (yet ) but I can confidently say I get berated all day by players that are worse than me and aren’t able to see that I’m a winning reg. I even get players who tell me they searched me and that I’m a fish. Much like a dojo it’s never the black belts or brown belts, it’s always the white belts and blue belts. The higher belts know better than to suggest such things, perhaps because they know better than to tap the tank, perhaps because they’ve seen my graph, perhaps because they know I’m learning-I’ll let the learners/winning smile and the douche bags decide and comment.

On a similar note, I often notice on coaching sites when a new coach is signed his graph and his wins history is always posted. I’ve yet to see a coach that struggled for a decent amount of time in his career. Is this a good teacher? You’ll find there won’t be much of a correlation. That’s another thing about graph reading and dojos-a winning player doesn’t mean a good teacher. I’d suggest looking for a teacher that struggled for some time and had to spending sometime inquiring as to why that is, and eventually figured that out and grew through his own determination. As the game gets harder and harder you’ll find many past winning players have no idea how to increase their poker ability, and they will fall behind to the games natural progression which gets faster and faster by the day. You’ll find that players who have dealt with ups and down don’t struggle with this issue any more.

I’ve seen a few threads of players offering coaching lessons, especially for 180 man turbos. Players with top scores for 5k-10k games offer to make you a crushing player for an hourly rate. I’ve seen tons of coaching deals put together like this with some of the top 180 grinder/coaches in the game especially since black Friday. They generally fizzled into nothing. Your graph doesn’t suggest you can coach, and a proper sample size will include experience through the ups and downs of the poker economy. What is most important to understand about graphs, that many beginner to intermediate players overlook that past result don’t determine present or future play. This is especially true for those that belong to a dojo and are committed to learning and helping others learn.


Earlier I mentioned to have a proper dojo you need security. Security is a very peculiar thing. When it comes to a certain group, you cannot have some secure individuals and some who are not, because overall that suggests insecurity. In other words, if the security of one individual is comprised then no one feels completely safe. Security is important because it breeds synergy and creativity.

Synergy is a word I learned from Stephen Covey. It means that when two people work together they are worth 3 or 4 or more. A dojo harnesses this principle. However, in order to do this everyone must have an interest in the group as well as themselves. Does that sound familiar? Its the mantra developed by John Forbes Nash, who founded the root of the game theory math used to develop shove charts and make certain advanced decisions in poker. When everyone works together you get dynasties like the Oilers, or unbeatable fighters like GSP or Silva fight teams. It’s beyond the reach of an individual (except Isildur1).

Creativity is something science and academics can’t produce. The further one gets into science and academics the more structured one becomes. At the highest levels this structured process tries to create something new, but it cannot. Creativity cannot be manufactured. Instead it sprouts naturally from the correct environment-one that is not only playfully serious, but where everyone feels equally comfortable participating. Creativity comes up with ideas that are unique and no one can foresee. It is the pinnacle of mastery, training, and the dojo.

The secret to a Dojo is that once you compromise one person’s security you compromise everyone’s, because you compromise the whole. You cannot pick and choose who is worthy of contributing and who is not. Most importantly, it’s the middle color belts that are most at fault when this happens. The white belts don’t know any better and learn from the middle belts actions. You’ll also notice the black belts don’t take part in such destructive actions. Sadly, many aren’t looking for a place to learn and grow because they fear new strategy and change so much they violently resist it at every encounter. Aren’t they in the wrong place though? After all, this is a Poker forum right?


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