Building Chapter Tradition and Culture by Gold Finger

League City secretary, Goldfinger, has put together a great article and photos that focus on the importance of tradition and culture within a motorcycle club. He makes analogies to the similarities of MC and military culture and correctly attributes the link from clubs formed following World War II. I think he’s made some excellent points and I always appreciate his contributions ... Raoul

Here’s Goldfinger’s Thoughts:

Many of today’s motorcycle clubs were formed by members who had left the military and were looking for something similar in their civilian life. Today, most motorcycle clubs are set up like military units with a heavy family influence. This article is my attempt to express my feelings about how I think traditions influence clubs and chapters and how traditions further influence the overall culture of a motorcycle club.

Traditions are an important elements in military life. The Marines still have ceremonial swords and the Army still calls some of their units Calvary, even though horses have gone by the wayside over 100 years ago. But by having these traditions, the military is able to connect generations of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, past and present. My son-in-law and I talk about how things have changed in the Air Force when I went through in the 70’s versus how things were when he went through in the 90’s.  Some things have changed (no combat boots during PT???) but many remained the same. Unit pride is unit pride no matter the time period. Traditions ensure that continuity is achieved throughout generations of members.  

So how does all this apply to a local chapter?  Start with tradition and history. New prospects should be aware of their chapter and club history so they can connect the past to the present. One day the newest member will be the old veteran. It’s important to incorporate old traditions into the chapter’s culture and establish new traditions as time goes by.  My first chapter, Moscow, had many traditions, but a new one was started when I was there.  Gypsy Wango Tango came up with the idea that being in the Moscow chapter reminded him of the Cossacks of the Russian capital Moscow. He’d seen somewhere that the Cossacks would offer a toast before riding their horses into battle. This toast included a drawn sword, and required the Cossack to place his drink on the blade of the sword. This was further complicated by not touching the drink with anything other than their lips.

We could see some resemblance in the “we ride a steel horse” (yes I stole that one!) so we were kind of like Russian Cossacks. My wife, Lippy, contributed an old machete, belonging to her grandfather. Our new tradition required the prospect to toast his patch by drinking a shot of his choice on the blade of the modern day Cossack. When League City member D-Tox saw what we were doing, he contributed a Russian Cossack styled hat to wear while doing to toast. Thus began a new tradition at Moscow that will hopefully be passed from young to old through the coming years. This type of tradition connects the new member with the members that have been around for years.  Eventually everyone will have done it, sharing in a common experience.  Just for fun next time you see a League City member ask him (or her) “Are you yelling?” and find out what the answer is!

Being a prospect is like being an Airman Basic, in Basic training.  In basic you are taught how to salute, military history, and other skills that will be used later in your military career. Being a prospect is similar.  You are given time to learn how to become a good Gypsy before you progress to the next level, becoming a member.  Completion is not guaranteed. You can wash out of training in the military, and you can do the same thing as a prospect. Not everyone is cut out to be a soldier and not everyone is cut out to be a Gypsy. In Gypsy you are only guaranteed a vote; entry is based on your brothers and sisters confidence that you will become a good member. But if you persevere and work hard and are dedicated you’ll get your patch much like you would get your stripes in the military.

Our vests are our uniforms. You can look at an old members vest and see the Mandatory’s that he has attended. Like the chevrons on an Army Sergeant’s sleeve, each one indicates time, experience, and dedication. Run patches and pins are like the ribbons and medals on a sailor’s chest. Our uniform, our colors, is a visual road map of who we are and where we have been. It’s a symbol to outsiders that we are together and will circle the wagons when necessary. You mess with one guy in the trailer park; you mess with the whole trailer park!

A chapter is also a family, and like a family a chapter can and will have problems. Disagreements will occur no matter how tight the group. How many can say they have never had a fight with their spouse?  Of course the trick in fighting is to do so in a respectful manner. Is a divorce the answer for every little tiff that comes along?  Of course not!  Are colors pulled at every argument? I hope not.  I like to always leave a person an honorable way out. If you back someone into a verbal corner, how can you be surprised when they come at you like a cornered dog?  Remember, you can’t unring a bell once it’s been rung.  Take a deep breath and think about the outcome before writing your feelings on Facebook or in an email!

Some people are more equal than others in a family. The chapter president takes that responsibility.  Frequently he is the arbitrator, leader, and sometimes the hammer. Being a president doesn’t make him or her perfect. They need advice and recommendations just like a father would need input on where to go on the family vacation. However a chapter is NOT a democracy (see paragraphs on why chapters are set up like the military). Every officer and member have something to contribute. Figure out what it is and get them participating. 

Like a family, kids grow up and move out. Chapters grow and expand, sometimes splitting to form their own chapters. The basic values, however, should be the same.  I believe it is better to have two chapters than to have one that can’t see eye-to-eye. I don’t agree with my kids all the time, but then they don’t live at home anymore, so it all works out. The important thing is for Gypsy to remain Gypsy and to continue to grow.

Stunt Man’s funeral

Being a family, members should be able to share in the good times as well as the bad. Nothing is more heartening than to see a blood family appreciate having Gypsys attend a funeral or helping out when in need. A Gypsy is always quick to throw in a contribution for a brother or sister who is having a hard time. It is an obligation and an honor all at the same time. It is also a great feeling when you can participate in a celebration, be it a wedding, birthday or other happy event. I remember riding in Fort Bend Donkey and Hookie’s wedding.  All the Gold in the chapel and the party afterwards.  Good times.

My final thoughts before I end. I encourage my fellow Gypsys to go outside their comfort zones and try new things. Don’t get stuck doing the same things over and over. Go to a run that you don’t normally attend. Ride when the weather is not perfect. Whoever talks about a ride where nothing went wrong and the weather was perfect?  Get out and ride and enjoy being a Gypsy. It is supposed to be fun!  

League City Gypsy Gold Finger