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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

I am NOT a machine! A lesson from Winston!

When I started Petersfield dojo I was 30 years old. I was a third dan black belt and trained at least five days a week. I worked for myself and taught five times a week.

I was the Vice-Captain of the SEKU squad and we would compete throughout the UK and Europe all-year round.

I was VERY busy!

For a long-time I wore my busyness as a badge of honour!

In my mind no one could work harder than me! I thought that was impressive! …… I regularly used to brag on my Facebook posts that I was working an all-nighter or returning to the office after teaching as I was ‘A Machine’…….. (cringe!)

I was in fact a busy fool who was pushing himself too hard and heading for burnout!

I have written about all this before in my Blog from ‘Tired to Inspired’ so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’d like to share a recent revelation that hit me when I worked with my own children.

Like most parents I found Home-Schooling during lockdown particularly challenging. My kids demonstrated that they do not respect me in the same way when I am battling through the national curriculum. The only way I could capture their attention was if I played to my strengths and conceived a project of my own design which leant on my skills.

One day my wife was at work and I was in-charge (ish). I decided that I would teach the kids about Science and Forces by building a marble run with them out of lego. I set a challenge with a design brief and then (crucially) we hit record on the Ipad.

I filmed us discussing the ways and means of getting the marble to travel the length of our dining room table. We experimented with slope height, length, and angle. We also discussed friction and how we could slow the marble down. Everything was going great. Not only were the kids enjoying the lesson, but I was feeling informative. I was doing a good job and I was recording it on the tablet so brownie points with Mrs Powell were assured! …. Happy Days!!!

But then reality kicked in!

My Son who is nine was really engaged and he turned to me and said:

‘Dad, this is really good fun, thank you…. But what is Energy?’

Wow. I suddenly realised that for years, decades in-fact, I have talked of energy with absolute confidence. But when questioned by a nine-year-old I could not really describe what Energy in-fact was. ..... I didn’t really know at all!

I knew about different types of energy. Ways of converting energy. Ways of fuelling energy. And (especially in a karate context) ways of delivering energy. But when I stopped to think, I suddenly appreciated that Energy itself was something of a mystery to me.

Ever since I have been fascinated by energy. I have been researching and reading theories by Einstein and have genuinely wanted to know more.

Back in 2007 I was in Hemel Hemptead training on a course with Steve Ubl Sensei from the USA.

Sensei was the first non-Japanese resident at the Hoitsugan, (Nakayama Sensei’s dojo and dormitory in Tokyo) and I was ‘privileged’ to be his partner for his demonstrations.

Although operating with perfect control, when Sensei Ubl hit me, it was a unique experience. I have quite simply never been hit like it before or since.

I remember commenting at the time to my good friend Adam Cockfield that it felt like I was a Big Brass Bell and when Sensei hit, I was ringing from the inside!

This was a very unnerving and interesting experience. I have been hit many times by some amazing karate people and experienced shock (sometimes excruciatingly) at the point of impact. But never had a strike affected me ‘inside’.

I have often reflected on this experience, but suddenly fourteen years later I feel inspired to ponder it more. What I find especially exciting is that it was my Son’s question that provoked this renewed interest.

I have a karate student who is now about to complete his A’Levels. He started training with me at his school when he was 7 and my Son is in-fact named after his brother! He is intelligent, and we have some wonderful conversations.

A few Wednesday's ago, he was super keen to train and got to the dojo an hour early. So, I put him to work on set-up and cleaning duties with me. While we worked, I told him about my realisation that I did not really understand what Energy is. At least not to the level where I could explain it in simple terms to my son. What followed was an incredible conversation.

It transpires that my student is studying Physics to a high level. The Seven-year-old I once taught now switched roles and started teaching me about wave-theory, particle duality and other wonderful stuff! I was intrigued.

Now it seems like I have opened my consciousness to Energy theory, and I seem to find references everywhere. (A little like when you buy a new car and then suddenly spot the same make and model of vehicle every time you leave the house).

Today I was reading a book by Ryan Holiday and it discussed Winston Churchill. I was fascinated to discover that in 60+ years of office he had been a prolific Artist painting hundreds of pieces and had learnt bricklaying to relax. He built cottages on his estate and at one point wrote two thousand words a day and laid two-hundred bricks while also completing a day’s work. I found that staggering.

Then came the quote which really resonated with my musings on energy.

When asked as to what he attributed his success in life he replied:

'Economy of effort. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down. '

Winston Churchill was very aware of energy levels and efficiency.

*Personally, I am only a little closer to understanding rudimentary physics enough to comprehend the true definitions of Energy. So, for now I will focus on using it as best I can. (I have discovered that you cannot ‘create’ energy. You can only ‘transmit’ it. Energy is a constant). This is the first law of thermodynamics.

In some ways when I reflect on my busyness and activity levels from ten years ago, I find my younger self some-what intimidating. I am not sure I could keep up with the output from back then!

Now as a professional karate teacher I have much more down-time between classes and I often find myself reading, walking or watching documentaries. It is as though I needed this time to find balance. (Perhaps this is the essence of Yin and Yang?)

Karate offers us the physical outlet and thus it is natural that one should balance this time with ‘softer’ non-physical pursuits?

....I am not one hundred percent sure?

....And I am certainly not strategically following this path.

....It just feels right so I am trusting my gut!

In America May is Mental Health Awareness month and so it felt fitting in some way to pen this blog now.

Many of us who are driven to achieve goals will push ourselves harder than many would consider possible or even reasonable. The problem is that busyness then consumes us and leaves us with little or no time to seek balance!

Regardless of what Energy is, many experts agree that it is a constant of the universe. We cannot create it, but we can use it. Be careful you do not over-exert yourselves and totally consume yours.

I for one seek solace in the words of Sir Winston and will use some down time to study energy while demonstrating ‘Economy of Effort’.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.” “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” “If you're going through hell, keep going.” "Everyone has his day, and some days last longer than others." Sir Winston Churchill.

....I'm off for a Power Nap! :-)

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