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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Clock Watching

Back in 2004 my Instructor and his Wife had moved to Gouda in Holland to live. It was an interesting lifestyle choice, and it was one that only a creative thinker like my Sensei would consider.

Merv’ would commute between the UK and the Netherlands every week to teach karate. Despite the burden of travel, he was never outwardly hurried or stressed. I would sometimes travel with him and stay at their wonderful apartment next to a canal which was above a book shop. I learnt a lot on these trips, not least never to rush a Burger King or run for a train!

‘Matthew, if we miss it, we will just get the next one!’

The apartment was typically Dutch. The building was over a hundred years old and was entered through a small doorway and by climbing a narrow winding staircase. It overlooked the Canal and was quite simply wonderful!

Merv’ would set me challenges to visit the local square and purchase Breakfast while only speaking Dutch. I would always fail as the extremely friendly locals would always reply in English. But I knew they appreciated that I had tried. Goedemorgen’.

Above the fireplace hung an interesting clock. It was a great conversation starter as it was a clockface with no arms! It caught my attention straight away and one day I asked why it was indeed ‘armless’?

Sue explained to me that the owner of the flat was an Artist and that he tried to live his life,

Outside the accepted construct of time.

I thought that was fascinating!

When I was a Child, I would always train hard. Somehow, I just knew I had to give one hundred percent when I was in the dojo. However, I was by no means as fit as I am now so I would often find myself wondering how long we would have left in the lesson.

To look at the clock was a taboo. Especially if training with Sensei Hazard. A glance at the clock would be rewarded by a steely stare, a public admonishment, and the expectation of an improved focus and attitude for the remainder of the class. (We may have been gifted a few press-ups!) 😊

Like most of the nation I have been thrilled to witness the England football teams progress through the European Championships. The togetherness of the team, the attitude of the players and most significantly the understated classiness of Gareth Southgate the Manager.

Every match has offered its own twists and turns, and they have not all been easy to watch. So much so that the other day I had a realisation.

Previously whenever I have watched England, I have found myself watching the clock and subconsciously wishing the time away. This has been the case particularly if the team was perilously close to loosing its focus and losing it all in the final minutes. I could not wait for it to be over!

But …. with this England team that is not the case!

Now I find that I am watching the matches and enjoying the twists and turn with interest and enthusiasm. My passion is not diminished and some-how I am calmer.

Consequently, I find that I watch the match NOT the clock!

I have wondered as to why this is the case and I think it is down to several factors. It is not necessarily that the team are always playing exciting and attractive football (in-fact they often are not) so it is not simply a matter of enjoyment.

Ultimately, I think for the first time in my lifetime I trust the Manager and consequently the players.

Everyone seems so well prepared that they are in control. They know what they are doing and have a strategy. The work is getting done and I believe that everyone is working together to achieve the same goal. When Harry Kane scored against Denmark the team adjusted, stopped chasing more goals and reverted to a considered approach. It was clear to me that they all knew what to do! I had no doubt. So…. I simply enjoyed the remainder of the match.

Back around 2005 our SEKU squad was doing well, but then we experienced a game-changer. Sensei Steve Hollister from Saltash in Cornwall officially joined our team and influenced our coaching, strategy, and preparation for tournaments.

I specifically remember having a much greater focus placed on roles and responsibilities in our five-man Kumite (fighting) teams. I would most often fight last. So dependent on my team-mates performance my focus would change. At times I had to win to force an overall draw, and sometimes I simply needed to be patient and other times I just had to not lose. This forced me to mature and grow up on the mat.

I was coached to understand that the overall result for the team was my priority. It was not my own personal glory.

This has proved a useful development for life! …. Not just karate!

Sensei Hollister was a phenomenal competitor and extremely experienced. His example encouraged us to attain higher levels. His briefings on what to do in specific scenarios made it easy to adapt and perform at competitions. We were extremely well prepared, and we genuinely cared for each other and wanted success for everyone.

I believe this England team are on that journey too!

Last week I was privileged to train with one of my childhood karate idols for the first time. Sensei Frank Brennan of the KUGB was hosting a course at my friend Shaun Knights dojo in Portsmouth. For the first time in a long time (thanks COVID) I was a guest at a club with nervous anticipation as I prepared to train with a World Class Karate instructor.

The class was only an hour-long, but it flew by. Sensei was a firm task master, and the breaks were limited and explanations short. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and gave it my all. The dojo had no clock, and I was completely immersed in the moment. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and like the Gouda clock, ‘living outside the construct of time’.

Regardless of the enjoyment I did not feel it necessary or important to know the time during the class and I can only think that this again was due to trust. I have been training extremely hard and most importantly very consistently since April 2020. My fitness is as good as it has ever been for karate. So, on a subconscious level I believe I trusted my fitness to get me through the class regardless of how challenging it would prove physically for the hour. Therefore, knowing the time was unnecessary.

The result was that I was free to enjoy the moment and the class.

(I wonder how many karate students fail to enjoy their classes as their fitness is simply not where it should be?)

Self-honesty and appraisal here could prove a skeleton key that unlocks a brighter more enjoyable karate future for many!

(In contrast to my experience at the Knight Karate Dojo I once trained on a course where I witnessed a Japanese Instructor Clock Watching and it was very disappointing. I will talk about that in another Blog).

So, as we prepare for Sunday’s final of the European Championship’s I wish the England team well and hope we prevail. That said, I am going to aim to thoroughly enjoy the match.

Instead of spending the ninety minutes wanting it to be over, I will remove the stress. Enjoy the moment and embrace the events as they unfold.

Instead of craving the joy of victory during the match I want to enjoy the experience of the match in real-time.

I believe the feeling should be in the moment, not exclusively after when results are final. I trust that the team will be well prepared.

Similarly, as a karate teacher I have a responsibility to coach and prepare my students.

if we trust our karate training perhaps,

‘we can all stop watching the clock!’

and make the most of life.

Tot Ziens.

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