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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Guitars in the loft

As our Petersfield dojo approaches fifteen years old, one of the many benefits I feel of its vintage is the long-standing friendships I have with our members and their families.

A few years ago, I met with one of our black belts at his new house to discuss lesson plans and some developments in our classes. It was great to see him looking happy and have the privilege of having a tour of the new pad.

When we sat down for our meet, I realised that something was missing, and it was playing on my mind.

Many years before I had started teaching a small after school class in East Meon. The class had grown in popularity, but it meant I had a gap of a couple of hours between classes. The same student and his fiancé had invited me to their home, and I would enjoy a cuppa, a chat and often a meal before I taught in the evening.

These really were special times with lovely people.

During one of these early visits, I was also given a tour of his cosey country cottage that he was renting. In typical bachelor fashion he had a room dedicated to his hobbies and mostly it was used for guitar practice.

As many of my students know, I am a great admirer of musicians and their collaborative spirit. I have never had the aptitude for playing an instrument and their skill fascinates me.

I also remember that the guitar room had a wacky old armchair from a different era that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a stately home or perhaps in the corner of your Nans house. It just needed a knitting basket by its side.

In this space however it was the throne of a wannabe ‘rock star’.

As we sat in the kitchen of the new, modern, beautiful, and significantly bigger house I asked, ‘where are your guitars?’

My friend turned to me and said, ‘oh they are in the loft, I just don’t get the time to play these day’s’.

Instantly I could empathise with this.

My friend had since gotten married, became a dad and started to climb the corporate ladder at work. His life had changed significantly since those early days of the dojo. He had many more responsibilities and consequently less time.

Perhaps most poignantly less time for himself.

I could relate!

We are close in age, and I had navigated similar growth and change in my own life. My passion outside of karate however was for art and classic cars. My car had grown dusty in the garage and my pens and paints were left untouched for a few years.

According to Einstein, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn't … pays it.”

Compound interest refers to the principle that when you save money, as well as earning interest on the savings, you also earn interest on the interest itself. But I believe that we pay compound interest on much more than just money.

I believe it contributes to our emotions, energy, time, relationships, and our ability to create and ultimately be happy.

Back in 2018 I came the closest I have ever been to stopping karate and failing to walk the karate path.

My daughter was a baby, I had just put an extension on our house, my son had started school and (against my better judgement) I had taken a job because the money and opportunity were potentially life changing!

I had a three-year plan to earn enough money to save enough to quit the day job and pursue the karate dream.

But it wasn’t working out!

Instead, I had no savings, no time, no energy and for the first time in my life (and despite my best efforts and insane working hours) I couldn’t turn things around in the job.

Consequently, I felt very lonely and very unhappy, but at the time I simply didn’t realise it.

I just worked harder!

That was until one day when my subconscious spoke out.

I was sat in my lovely corner office staring at my sales forecast and pipeline attempting to predict where and how I would generate the revenue from that the factory needed for the month to meet its financial obligations.

It was bleak and I knew it.

At that point my irate CEO entered my office and after angrily closing the door asked, ‘matt what do you want?’

My answer left us both speechless ‘I just want to be happy’ I replied.

She left the room, and I was stunned to silence by my answer.

Until that point, I simply hadn’t realised that I was unhappy.

I just thought I was busy!

Soon after I left the company.

I had realised for the first time in my life that I wasn’t the man for the job, and it was only a matter of time until I would have been relieved of my position. Instead, I found another company where the challenge and culture were a better fit.

But then we started to have success, and with this success came more pressure and dictate on my time. The consequence was that my focus on karate waned, my energy levels dropped and this time my health suffered.

As somebody famous once said ‘if you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness’.

My big reboot came in 2019. My Dad was unwell, my family life needed attention and I needed to start looking after myself.

At this time, I realised that I didn’t need a big BMW on the driveway, flash watches on my wrist or a tonne of cash in the bank. I wanted and needed complete agency over my time.

I wanted to spend my life doing what I loved with the people I value and whose time I am grateful for.

I chose health over wealth, and I am so grateful that I did.

Recently I met with a former sales colleague who is an absolute machine. He has built an amazing life for himself and his family and recently received a generous payment when he realised his shares. He is a wealthy man and a good friend.

We began working together in 2008, but I never had the same focus as him. We enjoyed friendly competition, but my attention would always be pulled back to karate.

During one of our conversations, I realised that he had chosen to invest his time in his sales work and the interest from that had compounded. I had invested in my karate and the wealth I enjoy is the experience and skill I have harvested over the same time.

As I watch my students teach for me, I now realise that this karate wealth is now compounding. Harry, Zack and others have been with me since they were small kids. They are now men and great role models who are becoming excellent teachers in their own right.

This allows me to take a step back from time to time and recharge the batteries.

(As it is spring I intend to roll the car out of the garage next week and start to recommission it).

Another of my students who has been with us for many years is an amazing drummer.

When he was fourteen, he played with his band supporting other bands at big venues and I was amazed by his skill, composure and stage presence.

Over the last few years he has finished university, became a police officer, and moved in with his long-term girlfriend. When I see him, I always ask, ‘have you drummed recently?’

His drum kits still reside at his parents’ house in the awesome drum loft they converted for him when he was a boy.

He is my cousin, so I have known him his whole life. I know when he is drumming, he is balanced and happy. Just like when my other student was playing guitar.

Life has a habit of keeping us busy. But does being busy make us happy?

One of my interesting habits as a karate teacher is that when I haven’t seen a student for a while my mental picture of them becomes frozen in time.

This can mean that a thirty-year-old man is still stored as the eight-year-old child who wore a Mutant Turtle t-shirt to class. Or the twenty something black belt is still the three-year-old sat next to me on the bench saying ‘hi Senseeeeeeeei Matt’ (that’s you Georgia) 😊

Similarly, I store the same images of what defines my students as people. My take on what makes them happy and whole. That could be the horses they ride, the pictures they paint or the instruments they play.

Now I have no right to tell people how to live their lives or lecture on their route to happiness, but I have been distracted by busyness and priorities that weren’t my own and I know that it leads to dissatisfaction and upset.

So, I urge all of you reading this to reflect on what you used to do that made you happy. For some this may even be karate.

Post reflection dare to open the hatch, pull down the ladder and retrieve the guitar, gi, drumkit or dancing shoes from the loft.

Dust off the kit and rediscover the joy.

Invest in yourself and enjoy the compound interest!




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