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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Seeking the Light

Growing in the right direction

One of the realisations I have understood during Lockdown is that we are extremely fortunate to have a good size garden. I cannot imagine how tough it must have been for those who live in flats or bedsits without even a balcony to enjoy some fresh air and get out!

I have never been a prolific gardener, but I have found that during this time I have paid much greater attention to our plants and shrubs.

We have lived in our house for several years now and are blessed that the previous owners were excellent growers. Consequently, we benefit from various blooms and fruit from a variety of trees. One of our fruit trees however is a little peculiar.

We have an Apple tree that could previously only be described as lop-sided. When you look from our house it had grown with a distinct lean to the left. This really bugged me as when I built the dojo in our garden, I wanted the tree to fit perfectly between the two windows and create a nice symmetrical landscape.

After we built the Cabin in 2015, I grabbed my ‘Loppers’ and set to work on balancing the tree-out. I gave it an extreme makeover in the hope that it would rethink its ways and grow straight and true.

But alas, it did not! Come spring it had many new shoots but mostly on the left side and it seemed to still have no ambition to grow straight up. It was very frustrating! It did however continue to produce delicious fruit and I thought it somehow unfair to cut it down simply because it did not look how I felt it should.

A couple of years passed, and the tree was treated to another drastic ‘trim’ but again it continued to defy me and grow to the left. Part of me was resigned to having a ‘wonky’ tree. Clearly, I was no Miyagi and although I continued to trim and prune it with care, the tree still grew in its own strange direction.

Then this Spring I noticed something when the branches started to grow fresh leaves. Our tree had started to grow straight! It was suddenly taller and finally it was going in the ‘right direction’. Had the Apple Tree suddenly ‘understood’ my direction, or had it simply chosen to comply? At first, I was baffled but happy and then I had a realisation.

A few years ago, we had a change of neighbours. One of the houses that backs onto our garden had quickly been sold and a large family had moved in. There are three generations living in one house and they aspire to radically change and renovate the property.

One of the things they chose to do was build a small bungalow at the bottom of their garden for the grandparents to live in. Before they applied for planning, they chopped down and removed several extremely tall fir trees that had been at the base of their land and had dominated most of the right boundary of our back garden.

This summer I realised that my neighbour’s trees had greatly limited the light which reached our tree on its right side. Now with a balanced supply of light throughout the day it was naturally growing straight up. The Tree was seeking the light and growing towards it!

The tree reminded me of an old karate friend of mine who had found karate as a young man. He had misspent his youth and after a big mistake found himself serving some time for Her Majesty. When released he turned his life around by focusing his energy on karate training and competing. He grew to be a fantastic technician and a true mentor of mine. He trained in Japan and continues to teach and impart knowledge to this day. He has a fantastic sense of humour and is one of those people you just want to be around, especially at a party!

Like our tree he is unique but learnt to grow straight once he saw the light.

I think the lesson of my Apple Tree has fundamental relevance for teaching karate or any discipline for that matter.

As teachers we must try not to get frustrated if our students appear not to be growing in the right direction. We should encourage and help them but ultimately, we cannot make them develop exclusively as we wish and certainly not exclusively to our schedule.

We can encourage them to seek balance but not be disheartened if they do not fit our vision. Regardless of their specific direction if they are improving and developing, we must accept that we do not all grow and develop in the same way.

I have one student who spent the first seven or so years of his karate career kicking. He would kick when a punch or strike was the appropriate counter. He would kick when he should block. He would kick when a punch would have provided an easy win. As a child he quite simply LOVED KICKING!

One day one of my assistant instructors said they were concerned about his use of kicks and felt we needed to help him balance out his repertoire. If the student had been an Adult at the time I would have agreed, but as he was a young lad at the time, I advised not to change a thing. I knew that the most important thing was that he really enjoyed his training, we would teach him balanced and effective repertoire over time.

*(The student in question has now been with me for approaching ten years and is a black belt and fantastic kicker. Like us all he is working on various elements of his karate, but he is now much more balanced and is growing into a capable all-rounder. I am proud of how he has grown).

If a student appears to not be growing, we should be patient and not get frustrated. They may not yet have seen the way and worse still other people, or their environment may be blocking it from them.

We just need to step back and make sure they have sight of the light!

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