• Matt Powell

Bite Size chunks…build happy habits!

I have a wonderful Black Belt student who is a school-teacher by profession. I am particularly fond of her as she is an extremely hard trainer and a very genuine person. She is always a diligent learner and is particularly hard on herself.


Whilst not physically big, this student carries a sense of authority that is tangible. I am convinced she was born to be a teacher. I ‘try’ to behave when she is in my classes 😊.


Over the last five, maybe six years, I have been fortunate to see her flourish. Her confidence in her own karate has significantly developed. She has married and now has two wonderful children. I am most grateful that around all these changes she has still found time to keep training and improving her karate.


On Wednesday we were working in one of our ‘COVID Aware’ smaller groups and I took a moment and stepped back and watched. Joanna was moving the best I have ever seen her move. She was utilising angles and position; her technique was fluent. It was simply a joy to watch!


I waited for the class to stop and I told her that she was moving beautifully. Particularly pleasing was her control over her own breathing. Anyone who has had a break from karate will appreciate that one of the first skills to depreciate is controlled breath that is coordinated to action.


On Wednesday everything came together, and Jo was moving as I would hope and expect a second dan to move. Her karate has matured and that makes me proud!


Jo joined our dojo after moving down from Middlesex and has always been a consistent trainer. After a few months in the dojo we were chatting, and she mentioned that she had started using some of my sayings in her classes subconsciously, and that she had only just realised it was happening.

My saying that she kept finding herself repeating was the phrase ‘build happy habits’.

We chuckled at the time and I apologised in-case any of my other unique teaching techniques or phrases were having an influence. (I doubt she has sung to her classes yet? 😊…. But give it time.)


I am not sure when I started saying this. But it became a saying in my early days at Petersfield. I use it in the context of making small modifications to technique or movement

Clearly like all middle-aged people, I have started repeating myself!


Recently I have been working with Hampshire County Council to become a ‘Health Champion’. It has been really rewarding training and one of the aspects we covered was habit build and behaviour change. For the first time in my adult life I started to comprehend just how hard it is to reinforce new practices and build skills.


I have been studying karate for so long that I cannot remember what it felt like to develop it as a habit.


In this recent training I have learnt that there are stages to behaviour change that underpin our habits. These include: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance.


This model was first developed by James Prochaska, Carlo Di Clemente and their colleagues in the 1970’s. Discovering it has challenged me to think about karate training as habit and consider how significant study and practice represents a deliberate behavioural change in students.


When I talk of ‘Happy Habits’ I am explaining the small actions that improve technique or the subtle repetitions that develop and mature our Karate in a healthy way. The key thing I always say is ‘build’ these habits don’t simply expect them to immediately manifest overnight.


Anyone who has a habit they want to quit will appreciate that once an action is habitual it cannot simply be stopped or changed on command. (Just ask any reformed gambler or smoker who has modified their behaviour just how much ‘work’ they had to put in to change).


Building ‘happy habits’ or healthy and positive behaviours can be an arduous process. Anything worthwhile is not by definition ‘easy’. If it were everyone would do it.

We all can think big but let’s start small.


It is fine to train for 5 to 10 minutes a day. To simply stretch or slowly practice a kata through while waiting for the kettle to boil. When I was about nine years old, I remember my Sensei suggesting I adopt kiba-dachi while cleaning my teeth. The other day I found myself doing this with my kids. An obscure but happy habit! 😊


So, for everyone gradually adapting to life back in the dojo amidst COVID rules and protocols. Perhaps the route to enjoyable fulfilling karate is to follow my student Joanna’s example?


Start with the small bite sized challenges, build fitness gently but significantly, concentrate on coordinated breathing and build your own happy habits!


The first habit is having commitment in yourself. Start with bite sized chunks. 😊


Until next time…… See you in the dojo.

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