It Only Works On The Weak-Minded (Or The Unprepared)

Once upon a time, I was at karate class just minding my own business when a 10-year-old girl wearing a blue belt walks up to me with a question. I’d been a black belt for some time, so this was not an unusual occurrence. I was expecting for her to ask for help with her kata or how to do roundhouse kicks or something like that. Instead, she asks me simply

“Sensei, what’s a Jedi mind trick?”

My mind recoiled. I’d only met one person in my life up to that point who had never heard of Star Wars, and that was one of my former coworkers from India who’d grown up in an area too poor to have movie theaters. Surely this girl had seen it played on TV, where it is syndicated madly. Then I sensed a disturbance in the force. Why was she asking me this? I looked past her and saw one of our brown belts, an older man who thought making fun of nerds was hilarious, grinning at me knowingly.

Then, it happened. I stretched out my index and middle fingers gently and waved my hand at the girl, just as Master Obi-Wan had taught me so many years before, and I said to her:

“I’m not the sensei you’re looking for.”

In what I can only describe as a miracle, the girl cocks her head at me like a Labrador Retriever, turns on her heel, and walks away. I had successfully performed the Jedi Mind Trick on a real live person.

I turned my attention to the man who had sent her. The look on his face told me I’d just shattered his reality and replaced it with the Force.

Cool Story, Master Broda

Meeting new people always scares me to death, so I usually just tell a really weird story to break the ice. The above is one of my favorite stories to tell in these situations. It was for this reason that I elected to tell this story for my role as Jokemaster at our company’s biweekly Toastmasters meeting. I thought I’d told it enough times that I would barely have to think about it. When I found myself behind the podium, however, I realized that the amount of preparation I had done was Wholly Inadequate.

I started off the speech by asking who’d seen Star Wars. I didn’t see a whole lot of hands. That’s when the doubt started to creep in. I decided in the moment to try to give a little backstory on the Jedi Mind trick, and I started by talking about Obi-Wan and then how Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru got killed by the empire and then how they went to a bar and how they got to a security checkpoint and Obi-Wan said “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” and oh yeah they had robots in the back of the landspeeder where…… well, you get the idea. I was a babbling mess. Once I got to the actual story, I did a lot better, but my confidence had already been shot and I’m pretty sure I’d long ago lost my audience.

Afterward, my ego still twitching, I sat down to listen to the other speeches and I realized something critically important — a lot of my kind of humor requires context that the average person might not have. Star Wars was really popular, but I have to wonder how many people who aren’t nerds would laugh at a joke about parsecs or shutting down all the garbage compactors on the detention level. I needed to consider my target audience long before the moment I started speaking.

Much Unpreparedness I Sense In You….. You Are Not Ready

Many things for me over the last several months that have been hammering home the fact that I need to prepare more before I do things. My joke-speech could have been salvaged in this way. I could DM better. I could write better code. Despite knowing this, I frequently find myself charging in to difficult or awkward situations without any plan whatsoever. (I think it’s all the accumulated brain damage from my karate training.) I even find myself resorting to rhetoric to bolster my resolve. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” is a favorite.

This strategy works for me most of the time. And by “works” I mean “is occasionally effective”. And by “most of the time”, I mean “once in awhile”. In truth, I usually manage to bumble my way through but it winds up like my joke-speech — ugly and kludgey and people aren’t particularly thrilled with the outcome.

It’s not that I don’t have good ideas. They’re a little random sometimes (even to me), but they usually serve me well. It’s that ideas alone can’t carry you to the finish line. So many times have we all started projects and dropped them a week later. Preparation is key to getting off the ground past your initial excitement. Especially on long-term projects, you need the discipline to make sure it stays in the air.

If your passion for your project starts to wane, I am available to administer the Jedi Mind Trick to convince you to stay on the project. Jedi consultant fees apply.


  1. I’m currently launching a serial story website and a related roleplaying world. I think I understand exactly what you mean.

  2. Great article. I believe strongly that preparation is everything – but that said, preparation for me is about 75%+ thinking, and 25% or less actual writing, planning and all the traditional preparation paraphernalia. This is convenient, as it means I can do much of my preparation on the train to work, or such.

    I’m disgusted that your audience hadn’t seen Star Wars, though. I know it’s geeky, but it’s also a cornerstone of 21st century western culture. You should probably have walked out at that point and leave the audience to think about what they’d done.

  3. Great thoughts! And…that’s an amazing story.

  4. As a martial artist and DM myself, I lol’d so hard at the mind trick story…