Branded Ace Anthony Mrugacz

Branded Ace – Anthony Mrugacz

Book cover saying "Branded Ace - Anthony Mrugacz".

The Experience of 5 Days of Training to become a Motorcycle Instructor in the Great State of Texas. Twelve applicants , 10 rode Harleys, 1 a Goldwing, and the author a BMW. Confrontation led to cooperation yet only 7 passed the course. Semi-hilarious drama ensues and the author is branded with a new nickname.

Motorcycle Safety Instructor School: Day One (1) – Becoming Branded Ace – Anthony Mrugacz

It was a long drive today, almost nervous thoughts. Had I prepared enough, had I gone round and round the practice course on my days off enough, did the hours nose deep in training literature prepare me…

The smell of millions of Texas wildflowers calm me as I hurry to class skipping breakfast. I am early and find a parking lot full of huge Harley-Davidsons and even huger men. I park the lone BMW on the end of the line and the others turn their heads. I approach, give a nod as they return the nod the donut crumbs fall from their mouths. I am out-sized but not out-gunned. Inside a few students are telling war stories and I try to study even more. The instructors I know said don’t over study- I can’t focus so go back outside to junk-food central with the giants chugging coffee and smoking tobacco. I plan to focus and start ripping off push ups. The jokes start and I stop and say it’s for my health, “A hundred a day keeps the doctor away”. The fattest asks if I’ll do 10 for him, I just ignore him…

Class starts, everyone is told to be punctual and organized but looks as if they only do that at lunchtime. Hours of course review, politics, and review of our pre-class homework is done. It’s easy to tell who the jokers are going to be in the first hour. I sit front and center but it’s a curse from all the fatmens’’ heavy breathing in their overweight bodies is liking being at a zoo in a lion’s den. Everyone argues with the teacher over unimportant subjects and it is going to a long day…

We break for lunch and I start chatting with the only other student with a waistline under 40 inches. We head into town and I discover I am having lunch with a motorcycle cop. He’s the guy who trains the Austin Police Department Motorcycle Division and has been a motorcycle Safety Instructor for 20 years. He’s taking a refresher course and has gone to very advanced training schools though he talks mostly about the Harley-Davidson Training School for Police. It is educational and lunch passes by quickly. Skill Evaluation Time, yes a test after lunch. First we run through the entire class as if we were students. The big guys don’t fare so well on the training bikes but they still act like they know it all. It’s now getting hot and their faces turn red and bodies start to overheat. I am in full leather and never remove my helmet. “You hot in all that boy? aint cha sweatin’?” someone asks in a ’70’s Houston accent. I look him in the eye and say the only time I ever sweated was when I was in an emergency room. He’s confused.

The sun and wind starts to really hit hard and the big guys keep drinking ice cold drinks and smoking like Frenchman, I peel off the leather jacket and soak my shirt in the sink and return each break dripping wet. They shake their heads in disbelief and their double chins wobble. It’s test time and we are about to begin thinning out the herd. I make the sign of the cross and whisper to myself, “This is my finest hour”. Unknown to me an MSF observer next to me hears me and says, “Don’t worry, you’ll do just fine”.We pull out, line up and even after passing the beginner’s and advanced classes, I am nervous as we wait. The instructors are the two chief instructors for the Great State of Texas. I close my eyes and think of the flowers I smelled this morning and let out the clutch…

Hours pass and everyone is tense and not doing so good. I start to applaud each person as the complete an exercise and get back in line, the cop joins me. I remember what the observer said and start telling it to everyone. We are starting to relax and pat our bikes like they are horses. Last test, the dreaded swerve box . This is the one I have seen bad crashes on. The gentleman in front of me is about to start and I notice his sidestand is partially down, I tap his bike and hopefully saved him some skin. He’s not doing so well and one more error and he’s about out. I hope someone is looking after me.

Finally it’s over and back to the classroom. After the instructor read the first few scores almost all failed and have barely passed by a point or two. The cop’s score is read and he gets a perfect score, a few applause and the assistant chief instructor pats him on the back, he’s obviously the best trained rider in the city of Austin.. More scores, more low grades, it’s like being in a class of know-it-all… my name is called-

Perfect score! I bite my lip and bow my head.

After a short review the instructor tells us , “We must ride demonstrations perfect, no exceptions”. the class clown grunts, “Like him!” and I look at the cop. But the clown is pointing at me and says, “I guess I gotta learn to ride like him”.Class ends on day one. Everyone heads back to their hotel rooms in San Marcos, I return out to the tarmac to practice. Unbelievably a man on a Harley follows me. It’s the man with the lowest score.

The first battle is over.

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Motorcycle Safety Instructor School: Day Two (2) – Branded Ace and the Burned Out Brothers…

They were all red today. The “brothers” as they started calling themselves were exhausted after one day. Most admitted to falling asleep in the bathtub at their hotel rooms but Brother OB left the water running flooded his room. Morning coffee and push ups were followed by, “Mornin’ Ace!”, “How’z it goin’ Ace!”, “Your too serious Ace”, and as you can see I have been dubbed- Ace…

Not so bad as the cop is also a Boy Scout Troop Leader and has been affectionately labeled, Ace Junior. No Skill Evaluations this morning since most everyone passed the riding test (barely) yesterday. Morning donuts were supplied by yesterday’s loser, he’s the “brother” with the lowest test score who rode the test range with me yesterday after class. Today’s losers were “Ace Junior” and Ann who both arrived late.They are teaching us to teach. Some seemed to be fascinated with it likes it’s a game of checkers where in, but in reality it’s on the level of chess. Today brought out the “personalities” of the “brothers”. They are great guys but most have the attitude that if they don’t pass, they don’t care. They have introduced me to new and fascinating technical terms like, BAM, means “Big Ass Maneuver”. That’s how you turn a Harley-Davidson around.

A long morning of endless knowledge dotted with breaks that consisted of me doing push ups and them checking out the chrome on each others Harleys. Brother OB has delighted us with him always having superior knowledge as compared to the chief instructor. Tomorrow I am going to click my stop watch on and off everytime he talks and interrupts my learning process. I bet it’s at least 30 minutes a day. In a ten hour day… Excuse me I just had to vomit, sorry no details on that… Back to the story. Class time is a total of 8.5 hours and passes quickly.

I studied through lunch eating peanuts and OJ and Brother Derrill reminded me I was too damned serious. I told him I was just a fanatic about life. Another confused brother downed with a small-caliber verbal bullet. Least I forget the “Range Simulations” were we walked around a small-miniature version of the driving range while instructor candidates directed us as we walked “pretending” to be students on motorcycles. Before we outside the “brothers” decided to try and use sunscreen lotion for the first time. As you are all aware of the stuff comes out of the tube quick and a little lotion goes a long way. Well the “brothers” strangled the tube and smeared their red faces. That little range looked like zombies in a horror movie as the instructor candidates “acting” as instructors lost control the range.

Well that’s all for today. I broke down and ate a glazed donut @ 4:00pm and I feel sick… excuse me…

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Motorcycle Bullet Velocity Classic Daredevil Racing 

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Motorcycle Safety Instructor School: Day Three (3)

Branded Ace – Anthony Mrugacz

Typical day, drove down I-35 fast enough to get thrown out of school if I got a ticket at 100plus MPH…

Brothers were all outside and telling jokes. One brother that sits next to me had a bunch of jokes he brought to school written on a piece of paper so he wouldn’t forget them. How tactical but his delivery was so-so. Atleast it was an Aggie joke I had never heard. Ace Junior and Ann, both late and declared losers yesterday did NOT bring donuts. For the better as I skipped breakfast again and the temptations would have meant sure illness if I had downed one.

My 1st motorcycle was red.   Everybody knows red is faster.The bros and I are a bit tighter, and I like being called Ace. Probably going to ductape an Ace of Hearts to my helmet for school tomorrow. Mostly classroom with 10 times more material than we could absorb was poured into our caffeinated skulls. The chief instructors are starting to avoid asking me questions because I always raise my hands and look them straight in the eye when I deliver. The brothers get called on alot and then after a pause and verbalizing some sort of “uhhh” or “duhhh” whilst paging through the 250+ pages of material, always ask for the question to be repeated. I did time Brother OB, he only eats up 29 minutes of each 8.5 hours of classroom time. Today brother OB asked if he could trade in his training bike “Old Blue”. The instructor asked if it was because he ran out of comments about it. We all roared in laughter.

Ninja, yes, they gave me the Ninja in training because riding it hurt all the Brothers backs. me and the bros now have something in common; spinal injuries. Once they found out I had crushed two vertebrae they seemed to open up. After lunch we started coaching each other on the practice range. Brother Derrill flipped me off one time on a sharp turn. Afterwards he said it was because I was riding it too good. We are laughing off the stress more today as the heat and the wind increased and only jokes kept are spirits up.  

The mistake, yes , I made a mistake. I squeezed the front brake on an emergency stop in a turn just a little too hard and it locked up. Only a chief instructor and one “instructor candidate” (as they refer to us) saw it. The chief asked me how I held   up a 350 pound bike about to slam into the ground. I cheerfully reminded him of my break time push-up routine. Gheez, I am used to a 600 pound K-bike and a Ninja 250 is like a bicycle. Brother Derrill heard rumor of said lock up and wished he’d seen the incident. There’s always tomorrow.

Back to the class room and more truckloads of teaching techniques and reviews plus some “new” training videos. Later we were given our “Peer Teaching Assignments”. Tomorrow we will actually teach in a class and out on the range to each other. The fear on the bros faces was evident and a few might not show tomorrow. When I reached in the hat I pulled out number one (#1) and Brother Derrill asked me how and hell I did that. Well I just smiled and reminded him he named me “Ace” and I got   to keep up my image. Gentle reminder: Get out and see the Texas wildflowers soon before like all good things are gone before you know it.

Well I have been up since 4:00AM (4h00 for my Europeans friends receiving this exciting newsletter) and I have to study and rehearse Module 1, Slides #23 & #24, and Exercise 5. I hope you all are out enjoying life this Friday.

Rock on,


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Motorcycle Vintage Racing 

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Motorcycle Safety Instructor School: Day Four (4)

Branded Ace – Anthony Mrugacz

It’s over, the half way point of no return. 4 days out of 7 completed. My estimate of 5 out of 12 passing still stands and today really proved I may be right.  

I slowed down today riding to school   this morning and the effects of safety training are taking root. My thoughts of high speed travel have to be left in the   memories of whisking through Bavaria on the Autobahn at 135MPH (220KPH). Well I still was doing 80MPH (130KMH) on the way to class. My motorcycle just doesn’t “breathe” until 85MPH (135KPH). The early morning ride reminds me of the beautiful fields of Poland and how I dream of returning, soon, soon…

Class: Peer Teaching, at which I have zero experience was on the breakfast menu. Somehow I made it through my part and all everyone could say was , “Thanks Ace, your going to be a tough act to follow”. The instructors tore me apart and pointed out ALL my mistakes though they were happy with my performance. I discovered why later. I did introduce myself as “Instructor Candidate #1 and it brought much laughter.   Everyone that followed introduced themselves as a name and number, this confused the instructors yet entertained them quite a bit. Everyone did worse, except those who were teachers regularly, even they as well as the brothers completely forgot parts of their assignments. Since I was front and center with the instructors behind me, I used handsignals to remind them. It was a tough morning. At lunch the brothers were thanking me for the help and shaking my hand. When I was about to do my push-ups, Brother Derrill asked nicely if I could do 10 for him. I obliged and now the bros and I are much tighter. Now if they would only study more…

Lunch was a group effort as our common struggle is bringing us closer together. An instructors from Austin arrived before lunch and the dilemma of why I was receiving so much criticism for my efforts was about to reveal itself. After lunch we proceeded to the slaughter house, sorry, I mean practice range. This where we would teach the other instructor candidates to ride “pretending” they were novice students. We do that by explanation, demonstration, and remediation. In our books we call it, “Command, Simulation, and Correction”. We have to use correct terminology or all hell breaks loose!

My exercise #5 was to be assisted by Brother OB. Later that day I branded him the “Horse’s Ass” and without detail I will try to explain. We both had to thoroughly study the exercise as role of either the instructor or assistant. I put 85% of my effort into “possibly” being the instructor as you would be graded if you were in this position. NOT. They made me the assistant. So “Horse Ass” Brother OB asked for my notes and started the exercise. Every step of the well organized plan was done incorrectly from the start. All he had to do was follow the steps but Brother OB knows everything and kept changing the program. I was in charge of the “demonstration ride” which went flawlessly except I parked 20 feet from where I was supposed to. The instructors were really red in the face. So as the exercise continued and ended OK. I felt good about it. Brother OB admitted total wrongness and argued his reasons like only a “Horse’s Ass” could. I did make one slight error and the instructors saw it. One rider, “Loser”, would not use his brakes to slow before a turn so I used a “simulation” command instead of just a command. During debriefing I was pulled to the side for 30 seconds and I was told one more mistake like that and I was out of the program. We have to introduce different commands at different stages, so I slipped and came close to getting the boot and my email stories to you all. Seems the instructors in Austin have been saying good things about me and it is becoming a curse   because the instructors are expecting more perfection out of me. I was shocked but then relieved as they then proceeded to let Brother OB have a good 15 minutes of problems and mistakes. I luckily only had 30 seconds of trouble…

  We went back to the class to “peer” teach more of the technical information. Once again I started and did MUCH better. Believe me the first time you really have to teach is a tremendously unexplainable emotional experience. I did forget to give “reminder”   hand signals to one of the “Brothers” and he was a bit upset. He did admit to NOT preparing…

Tomorrow is “Judgement Day” and we will be taking a knowledge test. This should make the class smaller. Next the survivors will teach actual “novices” for two days. Yes, we are covered by liability insurance. If one or two of you could say a few kind words or prayers before you go to sleep tonight, I would sure appreciate the help…     Ace  

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Motorcycle Safety Instructor School: Day Five (5)  – the Knowledge Test

Branded Ace – Anthony Mrugacz

We continued our education followed by a morning of training exercises. It amazes me that these people “think” they can ride. Sure they are still alive but their ability to comprehend what we need to do is lacking. We stumbled through another hot few hours on the tarmac and I was continually praying these people would get to the program. After each exercise I was very verbal about my review as the others just stared off into space and chatted about trivial details…

And then some fun! We learned how to give the “Riding Skills Evaluation”( testing students’ riding ability” and determine whether they pass and get a motorcycle license or fail). It was much tougher than I thought but I was catching my mistakes, difficult for a man to do. We stopped for lunch and I stayed and studied. A few of the “Brothers” stayed and were in full panic mode. I just laid out on the floor, propped my head up with all my leather gear and reviewed. The “Brothers” kept asking me for help so I started to asked them very detailed questions, Brother Derrill was particularly distressed as well as Brother Danny. Brother OB stayed and was his usually “Horse’s Ass” self…

“In Level One, Exercise 11, if the students are not meeting the “critical coaching tip”, what should you do?” I asked Brother Derrill?

“How the hell am I supposed to know Ace”, he answered loudly.

“Well Brother Derrill” you analyze which component skill is lacking from Level 1, Exercise 9 or 10, stop Exercise 11, then using one of the 3 coaching methods choose “remediation” over “simulation” or “command” and repeat the Exercise, either 9 or 10 that the skill component is lacking”, I answered.

“Do what?” said Brother Danny. “How the hell do you know all that Ace?” bitched Brother Derrill. “Well you see…”, started Brother OB and I quickly cut him off with “What exercises and why do you take a break and separate the exercises?” How and the hell should I know ” repeated Brother Derrill. “Well Exercises 12 & 13, 17 & 18, blah-blah-blah,…” was my response…

They continued to talk about trivial subjects as I returned to my books. before we knew it lunch was over, we spent an hour reviewing, and the 60 question test was passed out…

I finished first though I took my time and went outside. Now I had longer to wait than anyone and patience is the virtue I am continually developing… A few more followed and 30 minutes later the “gang” was outside. The instructors locked the door to discuss things and we sat around joking and ribbing each other. There were two doors to the classroom. You were called in individually and if you returned out the front door you passed, those that failed after 5 days of hard work slipped out the back. After awhile I went outside and no Harleys were there, we were down to the “Magnificent Seven” And by the way I passed…

My predictions were only 5 of 12 would make it but 7 did. The last phase is in two weeks when we will all teach a class splitting the assignments. Three more days of this is surely going to sharpen me. When the assignments were handed out, my classroom ones were all simple. When I received my Range Exercise Assignments my eyes opened with disbelief.

I have the two most dangerous and the most nervous assignments: The “figure 8” where 12 novices riders cross each others paths for 5 minutes that will seem like 5 hours, the dreaded swerve box, where they swerve to avoid obstacles (and usually panic) then I will be playing god and be giving the Rider Skill Evaluation Test. All their efforts will be judged by me in a trial by fire. Both Chief Instructors saw the look on my face and grinned like I had never seen before. They called us “Instructors” instead of “Candidates”, in two weeks we will be hopefully “certified”.

The ride home was nice as I finally slowed down…

Thanks for all your encouragement and I would like to especially thank my friends in Europe for keeping me alive and safe last summer until I made it home to the great State of Texas.

Ride safe, ride hard…

Ace (Now a MSF Instructor)

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