Famed trainer Mike Quackenbush recently joined the Conversation With Love podcast to discuss his philosophies as a trainer and more.
Below are highlights sent to Fightful.
What you get at a Mike Quackenbush seminar:
“If you come to a seminar of mine, it really depends on whether I’m going to be in the ring or if I’m going to be speaking. A lot of times, especially in the past four years, I’ll get booked sometimes to just talk for three hours, which – I’m happy to have the work. I’m flattered that anyone wants to listen to me talk for three hours, but that gets dull for me. I want to put on my shorts, I want to put on my kneepads and jump in the ring; let’s put some people in knots, let’s do some funky arm drags, I bet you I know a hold or two you haven’t seen before. I like the physical work of it as well, but I’m always at the beck-and-call of whomever hires me. If they say ‘my group needs this,’ then that’s exactly what I want to deliver, so I kind of customize (the seminars) based on the group.”
“I begin every one of my seminars the same way, and if you sit in with us when I come up to Winnipeg, you’re going to hear this exact same schpiel. I always say – and it doesn’t matter if it’s to one or 200 people that I’m teaching – I say ‘look. I used to go to a lot of wrestling seminars, and I know what it’s like to spend your money and your time and to not get what you came for. So, because we have all paid some amount of money to be here, even if it was only just the gas that you put in your car to get here, you took time away from your family or your significant other, maybe your day job, or your friends to be in this room with me. I want you to tell me right now: why are you here? What do you want to learn? And I’m going to do the very best I can to get to it before we’re done so that you leave here knowing ‘I got what I wanted.’
What differentiates him as a trainer:
“One of the very first times I ever went training, I was going to the University of Pittsburgh. I spent two years out there before the University and I decided we should see other people, but during the time the University and I were together, I would float around the Pittsburgh area independent circuit looking for places to train, because prior to that I didn’t realize ‘oh, you go to a school for this?’ So, one night I remember turning up at a place which was an abandoned shopping mall. Somehow, this group, they’d paid rent to somebody, and their ring was set up where the food court would have been had the mall still been in business. That’s where you went to train, and to get in there was a guy at the door that you had to hand $50 bucks to.”
“As a college student in the ‘90s, $50 bucks was like my life savings. That was so many nights of pizza, so many arcade nights of playing Virtua Fighter, I couldn’t believe that I had to spend $50 bucks for a one-hour class somewhere, but I did. I saved up, and I handed that money over to this guy – his name was Randy something-or-other – and what happened for the next hour was he put me in the ring and beat the ever-loving crap out of me.”
“Walking out of there, I’m bruised, my chest is bloody, I’ve got magenta handprints all over my entire body and face, and I thought to myself ‘y’know, as a business model, what’s this guy’s return customer service like? How many people come back for another one of these?’ And, of course, I understand that old-school mentality of that this is only for the people who are the very toughest, we’re going to weed out everybody who doesn’t meet that standard, and here’s one way we can run them off. Let’s give them the harshest beating of their life and see if they come back to the table for a second serving. I think that idea is entirely outdated and obsolete. When I think about what that $50 bucks meant to me, and what I got in exchange for that, my personal mantra is that I will never, ever, do that to someone who respects me enough to hand me the money in the first place.”
On evaluating talent:
“I’ve seen that, I go through it all the time, I’ve got a person or two like that right now at my Wrestle Factory. It’s clear from the onset. Some people say ‘oh, I can tell from day one,’ I don’t think so; I tend to doubt that. I think those are extreme exceptions. It’s like a lottery ticket; yeah, sometimes you’re going to win five bucks on the lottery, but those tickets are rare. For the most part, talent develops over time. It can be cultivated and honed if you drill into the person’s weaknesses and show them those areas in which they can improve and focus on those first and foremost. And yet, every once and again you will come across someone, as I do, where no matter how you try to put it, no matter what approach to the work you take, you can just sense ‘I’m not going to get this person over the finish line,’ and sometimes that’s my failure as a coach. When you go to college or university, or you take any kind of (class); let’s say you take music lessons. When I was a teenager, I really wanted to learn how to play guitar. My first guitar teacher was not a good fit for me. That doesn’t mean he was a bad teacher. It just means that I was a bad fit for him. I just needed to find the right teacher for me. Similarly, in college, I took a class in logic, and I took it three times before I passed it. The trick was, I needed a different professor. I needed someone who spoke to me in a way that I could take that information that was lessoned, input them into my brain, and then be able to incorporate them. The first guy just wasn’t a match for me.”
“When I come across that sort of thing, though, I do have to appreciate this. You don’t know what draws someone to professional wrestling, and it might be the one thing holding their otherwise entirely fragile existence together. I don’t think I’m saying anything here that people somewhat familiar with the course of Chikara and the Wrestle Factory aren’t already in the know about, many years ago one of our most famous graduates took his own life. It was, and is, a great tragedy that casts a long shadow over all of us, and that spectre creeps in on us in ways we don’t expect on the most unfortunate of days. I don’t want to be the person who turns to somebody and says ‘hey, this thing that you’ve attached your dreams and your aspirations to, you’re not going to have it, so get out and go home. If that is the glue that keeps somebody together, in my mind, as long as you are willing to come in here, to keep trying and put your best foot forward and you’re willing to pay the tuition, I’m not going to be the person that takes that away from you.”