• Matt Powell

Space to Ponder.

Most of us will have those friends or relatives who are always active.


Often, I will bump into these people when they retire and something they all seem to say is:

‘I am so busy, I don’t know how I ever had the time to work’.


My Grandad is the prime example. He was forced into early retirement at 63 after working some 37 plus years for the same company. He has not stopped since!


At 73 he helped me dig a driveway (let me rephrase) he dug my drive-way. And now as he turns 84 years old it has only been the COVID restrictions that have prevented him from getting out and supporting others.


Since I decided to focus on Karate and dared to consider myself a ‘Professional’ teacher, I have also wondered how I ever had time to complete the ‘day-job’ while teaching and balancing life.


Many instructors have found themselves thrust into a ‘New World’ of online presenting (I agree with Sensei Kevin Slaney here on this description) over Zoom or similar. This requires timetable planning, password management, venue set-up and an increased awareness of all thing’s ‘tech’!


There have also been the necessary Return-To-Play protocols to absorb, understand and then navigate while also producing Risk Assessments and Dojo Layout plans and procedures. All of this would have seemed Alien less than two years ago.


Now it is the norm and Communication IS key!


Recently I was in yet another Zoom meeting discussing venue options with a provider. To be honest it was a good meeting and I have found the development of online meetings a real positive. The meeting went well and suddenly I was faced with the realisation that I had to reconsider and replan…. Again!


Perhaps more so this last year than ever, Lao Tzu’s wise words ring true?


‘whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life’.


So, we push on and prepare for change once again.

Thankfully, I have the time to work on this, ponder our options and (hopefully) make good decisions. This would have been a real challenge whilst balancing my old career.

During the last eighteen months and especially over lockdown I have developed my ability to ponder. When the world slowed down, I suddenly found space to think.


I liked it! …….. I decided to keep it! 😊


For me, the time to ponder is when the best ‘stuff’ happens. As the French composer Claude Debussy said,

“Music is the space between the notes.”


Now I find that some of my significant eureka moments happy when I am not training at all!

Revelations present themselves in a conversation with a friend, the lyrics of a song, or the behaviour of another that I happen to spot and appreciate.


Life happens in the moment and moments are often not appreciated when we are busy! I have realised that previously I was stifling my potential to be the best teacher I could be. I now understand that being a professional teacher did not mean that I must be in a GI more. I did not need to be busier. …… It meant I had to commit more time to thinking about Karate.

To do so I needed gaps and space in my schedule.


The other day I was walking our crazy Labrador and pondering something or other. The sun was shining, and people were out tending to their gardens.


My mind drifted and I considered the similarities of a Garden to a Dojo and then the Garden to one’s own Karate.


I then pondered my most recent challenges with managing a safe return for my members that will play out of the next few months. Soon I began to form a rationalisation and structure for our development. I call it The four C principle.


Firstly, we must Create.


Regardless of how old or well established our Dojo’s are. We are returning to a new environment. To help appreciate this I like the following definition I found online.


Create, the act of creating, especially the act of bringing the world into ordered existence. The act of making, inventing, or producing’.


Once we have our members back, organised, training and absorbing we must then seek to Cultivate.


Again, I found a definition with the help of Google that I believe captures my sentiment.


Cultivate, to improve or develop by careful attention, training, or study: to devote time and thought to….’


In this definition I enjoy the focus on study and thought in a considered way. As Sensei we can really help people grow and develop. (What a privilege!)


After Cultivation comes the need to Curate.


‘Curate: verb (used with object), cu·rat·ed, cu·rat·ing. to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit): to curate a photography show’.


Essentially, I believe this equates to taking care of and exhibiting care for our students. This encompasses the environment in which they train and how they learn and develop. It is about creating opportunity.


Finally, once a system of care and opportunity is developed, we can seek to Collaborate:


Collaboration is the process of two or more people, entities or organizations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. Collaboration is similar to cooperation. Most collaboration requires leadership, although the form of leadership can be social within a decentralized and egalitarian group.


This is my favourite of the four C’s.


I have written in the past about the abundance of Inflated Ego in Karate and the challenges that presents. We must remember that the principle premise of karate is to Train!

It is as simple as that!


If we can accept that we are all learning and not feel threatened by making mistakes, then we can increase opportunity to grow.


One of my Heroes is Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Nirvana. He is an amazing talent but equally a decent and charming human being. He is a world class collaborator!


I think martial artists can learn a lot from Musicians. Many Musicians love to Jam which essentially means getting together to play and share ideas, thoughts, and techniques.


Then the magic happens.


In many ways I have just shared with you my immediate plans for our dojo and our return to training over the next few weeks and months.


I am creating a new version of our clubs. I will then put in place systems and processes along with resource and assets so that we can all grow. I will then step back a little to encourage growth but exhibit care. Then I will increase the opportunity for others and involve friends and respected artists to share and help us develop.


Then comes the exciting bit. I have realised it doesn’t end there!

it is all cyclical. Then it all starts again, and we keep pushing on and developing.


It is Growth versus atrophy.


Like my Grandad we can always be busy, especially when considering and helping others.

But I have realised that it is okay to be busy absorbing and pondering.


The music is the space between the notes.


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