I have realised that I have a specific habit that has affected my professional life since I graduated from university. When I am focused and on trajectory I only know when I have stretched myself too far, when I find myself at full stretch.
It is often an exhausting place to occupy, but I am (slowly) getting better at recognising my pattern.
One of my heroes the late drum supremo Neil Peart once said of creativity that
‘Sometimes you have to go too far to simply realise that you have gone too far’.
This November has been a big month for our dojo’s and my personal karate ‘work’.
Back in August I was working towards grading forecasts and predicting who of our students could be ready to step up to the next level at the November gradings. I had already begun work on building some of our black belts up for the next stage of their development and we had a good number of coloured belts to consider also.
Consequently, I realised that we needed more classes.
Wednesdays had been split into four sessions, but I needed another hour with senior dan grades and another option for coloured belts who couldn’t make it to Saturday training.
After careful consultation with my wife, I added a Monday evening schedule to my roster.
I already taught at Highfield School on Mondays, so it made perfect sense. In addition, the school had doubled my provision on Mondays, so it felt like the day was transitioning perfectly into another focused day of karate effort.
I felt that if I maintained Fridays and Sundays as my rest days all would be okay! 😊
So here I am on the 21st of November at 2am wide awake and full of ideas when I should be asleep and resting.
But I can’t sleep.
I am just too inspired to dream, which is ironic because this time last week I felt too tired to work.
On Saturday we hosted our in-house winter competition for the Applied Karate Association. It was an eventful day and a very successful one for our dojos.
The event took place at the Clanfield Centre and was the biggest competition we have hosted in our seven years as a collective. We had over 100 of our enthusiastic youths taking to the mats and the atmosphere was electric.
At the beginning of this year, I introduced a Saturday kumite class to help prepare those who wished to ‘fight’ at tournaments with an enhanced skill-set. I also invested in equipment and stealthily added competition movement and fitness to our weekly classes. On Wednesday nights we often have the equivalent of a dojo-dance-off with kumite drills and movement the focus at the end of the class.
It was great to see the results of this work Saturday and I was very proud of the outcome for our clubs but more so of the team-spirit evident amongst our students.
I have often believed that the most powerful tool for anybody in a position of authority is to lead by example. I am a firm believer in inclusivity and making time for everyone in our clubs and I was thrilled to see evidence of our older members supporting and spending time with our youngest members.
Ultimately not everyone can win on the day, but from my experience one competition does not a champion make or break. It is often the frustration at loss or under performance that drives an individual to the work they need to reach the higher levels.
Frustration can be fuel!
I had been slightly nervous for our preparation for the tournament for two reasons. Firstly, our normal venue (TPS) had to use our dojo for exams and secondly, I was booked to teach away in Scotland the weekend before the competition for my good friends Kevin Slaney and Phil Owen.
One of the major challenges of running busy karate clubs with good numbers is the high demand for consistent, quality communication. My wife often comments that she cannot believe or understand the sheer amount of admin I must undertake. But I live in fear of habit loss and a change of venue is an actual nightmare to manage.
The solution is email overload and constant updates on Social Media platforms.
In the past an indicator that I have been overstretched is when I make simple mistakes and alarm bells rang on the 2nd of November when I couldn’t unlock the door at our substitute East Meon venue.
I passed my phone to a Dojo parent and said, ‘look I am entering the correct code, I cannot understand why the door won’t open’. The parent smiled at me and said, ‘the code is right Sensei, but it is not the 9th of November’.
I was so nervous of the change I had implemented it a week early!
I had a carpark full of students and parents waiting to train and realised we should have been at our normal venue.
Thankfully everyone was really understanding. Harry jumped in a car with a parent, I phoned Wayne who went straight to TPS, I waited to redirect everyone with Zack and then we rushed to the school, sent an urgent update email for the remaining classes, and picked up the pieces.
It was a stressful situation, but my wonderful team carried me through it. I was and am extremely grateful for their valued contributions.
Being in Scotland the week before the competition was not ideal timing. But my trip had been booked before we decided to host the competition and I stand firm by my commitments. I also thoroughly enjoy teaching for the Highland Karate Association.
The students are engaged, conscientious and talented. The hosts are old friends who share the same inspiration and pedigree that I grew up with and the challenge of a new audience keep me on my toes.
I had a wonderful time in Inverness. At the request of the hosts, I taught my interpretation on bunkai for Jitte kata on the Friday to a wonderful mix of students from 6th dan to kyu grades. I really appreciated everyone’s attendance, especially Colin who had driven up from Fife for the course and Julie and Steve from Morpeth.
On Saturday Sensei Slaney and I split the class. I led the brown and black belts through Kanku-Dai and then we switched, and I took the kyu grades for kumite strategies and footwork.
After the course we all shared a coffee in Starbucks before I flew back to Gatwick. While I was chatting with everyone, I felt the familiar ping of an email from my phone. The message was from a parent whose child had just trained with Jon and Wayne who were leading the classes for me while I was away. Her child had taken a knock while training but had been supported and stepped back into the mix. Here is my favourite line from the email;
‘The love and care you have created always continues to shine (even if you aren't present), and as a parent, I really wanted to let you and the team know that it is greatly appreciated’.
Sat in a Starbucks in Inverness I relaxed in the knowledge that the team were doing a great job without me. Wayne and Jon are a massive support and I am extremely thankful for their continued energy and enthusiasm towards our work.
As Maria Montessori once wrote.
‘The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, the children are now working as if I didn’t exist’.
When I got home at 7pm that evening it was a quick turn-around. We had a birthday party to attend, and it was time for me to put my Sensei duties to the side and step up as a family man.
We went out and had a lovely time, but I was very tired on the Sunday. I defaulted to a cliched day of rest on the sofa with a channel five movie and hoped the kids weren’t too bored. Despite the pressures of everyone living their best lives on Instagram, I am under no illusion that I can work hard all week and then be a craft loving, cycle riding Dad influencer at the weekends.
Surely nobody can?
On Saturday the 5th of November, the coloured belt gradings went extremely well. The day was busy, so busy in fact that we had to split the event into morning and afternoon sessions. Our members did us and themselves proud and we had some wonderful feedback.
The Sunday was another busy day with a great turnout for our black and brown belt course before a long and arduous grading.
Personally, I had felt the pressure of this day for sometime and for different reasons.
Firstly, Jo Longshaw and her husband Warren had decided to both grade together for Nidan (Second level black belt). Both Warren and Jo are lovely people and dedicated trainers with a wonderful focus and appetite for our work. But in the build up I had worried about the consequence should one do well and the other falter. I have absolute faith in their karate, but anything can happen on the day.
Secondly both Mike Smallpage and Jon Watson my longstanding students were taking third dan. These guys have been with me for approaching 13 years and are absolute pillars of our club community. They quite simply had to smash it!
I had faith in everyone, we put the work in at the dojo and they crushed their own study to consolidate. But wow……… I really wanted these guys to pass in a way that they would value. I felt the pressure and it took its toll.
As hoped, everyone passed their gradings with distinction but unfortunately Harry sustained an injury. One pressure, shifted to another. Again, I found myself stretched.
Last week’s classes took all my reserves. Harry who has become my assistant really puts the effort in and I have been teaching his classes as well as my own.
Harry has grown a great deal this last year. He is like a sponge and works tirelessly on everything I encourage him to do. I am fortunate to be his Sensei and guide and I was thrilled (and relieved) when he returned to teaching with me on Wednesday.
So, I find myself with one week left of November settling down to plan the final classes of the year as Christmas approaches at speed.
My body and mind need a break, but work needs to be done. Next year we will push further forward, innovate and develop our offering to our students.
Again, I will quote Montessori,
“It is not that man must develop in order to work, but that man must work in order to develop”.
I truly feel that we are building a special group of clubs with some truly wonderful people. I couldn’t do it without the support of my team, our students, and their wonderful families.
The hard work is starting to pay off. This month has been evidence of that. But I must learn to manage my schedule better.
I will continue to push us all forward,
.......... but you may have to remind me not to stretch myself too thin. 😊
See you in the dojo!