• Matt Powell

Are you happy to be Wrong?

I once worked for someone who was very charismatic and a completely unique personality. He was extremely well read and inspired me to start reading again more regularly. He would even go as far as to order books from Amazon he thought I would like and then have them sent directly to me!


In the period that we worked together I learnt a great deal from him, and I hope the experience was mutual.


This executive was particularly skilled at delivering bad news. He would cut directly to the point without faff or unnecessary pre-amble. This was evident when firing employees or making them redundant. I found this especially impressive as it made this difficult process easier for everyone involved.


When we were debating or planning a project, he had a saying that I found very refreshing. He would deliver an idea or statement and then follow it with ...


‘as always I am happy to be wrong’.


This statement served as an invite to question his point of view but also allow interjection while inviting the discussion of fresh ideas. In our early months of working together I found this saying inspiring and I enjoyed the ability to debate and question with my superior for the greater good of the ‘business.’


Everything was fine until contentious discussions had to happen regarding differences of opinion on strategy and personnel. Empowered by my boss’s statement I freely approached him when I feared that various decisions were flawed.


I soon discovered that in-fact my director was not ALWAYS happy to be wrong.


Quite the contrary in fact!


A few years back I was reading an article and I stumbled across a perspective that I found extremely interesting. (I have tried to find the article but failed so I will do my best to recount it accurately).


The author was discussing the desire of so many to have their point-of-view or opinion vindicated or confirmed as right or correct. He explained that such a position had left him feeling on-edge or unsatisfied.


As a consequence, the writer had decided to accept that he, and everyone else, were entirely wrong about everything!


Subsequently he went on to explain that as debate would ensue, and research be undertaken, people would simply become less wrong.


They could never be exclusively right!


I found that fascinating!


Like most karate practitioners who have trained for multiple years I have often found myself in a class where instructors have presented absolutes.


This technique, this application or indeed this insignificant movement is Correct! …. It is right!

…. Every other explanation is wrong!


I have always been uncomfortable with such distinct classification.


When teaching it is extremely difficult to justify a singular way or point. Especially as we all have our own unconscious biases.


Now when I teach Adults, I start from the position that everything I have ever learnt is wrong. I question it and seek to be less wrong. That way I can always get a little better and become more informed. I will also be less likely to become precious over my ideas or methods. I am free to keep evolving and learning.


When I teach, I explain to my students that training is not a competition. We are not seeking karate truths we can hold over others as trophies that illustrate our superior skill.


Instead, we are ALL wrong!


Some of us a little less than others and we all seek to study to become less wrong over time.

The label of right suggests an absolute and from my experience there are no absolutes in karate.


I have a student who I have been happy to teach for nearly thirteen years now.

Tony trained as a young man in the early 1980’s and stopped to take over the family business and raise his children. He became a student of mine in 2009 when he phoned Sensei Dewey and asked for a recommendation.


For many years Tony was an enthusiastic body-builder and he has built a broad and powerful physique. He is a tough character and a considered thinker. Tony is NOT a compliant training partner and that is good!

Tony questions everything!

About ten years ago Tony taught me a valuable lesson. I had been studying locks and holds with one of my mentors and we had spent time on the figure of four position which is also known as the ‘Rear Naked Choke’ when applied to the neck of an opponent.

I was demonstrating the technique in the class and soon I was asked to show the move by Tony’s partner. When I placed Tony in the hold, he used his incredible strength to simply pull his arm out of my lock. He was just too strong for me.


My choice of technique against Tony was wrong!


It worked on everyone else in the dojo but was the wrong choice against someone so strong.



From that day on I have not taught bunkai, applications or drills as an absolute. I always encourage students to appraise their opponents and be ready for when the drill or techniques require adaption.


I encourage them to assume they are wrong so that they may consider the ‘What if’?


What if that doesn’t work…

What if they move out of the way …..

What if they are intoxicated and feel no pain….


What if?

What if?

What if?


Whether teaching or training we can start from a position where we accept that we are wrong. Nobody knows the original ‘correct’ interpretations of karate. After all, we were not there when they were conceived.


In doing so we are free to explore, learn and improve. Or as I now phrase it,


We can get it a little less wrong!



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