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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

The Currency of Cool

When I was a child a lot of naturally tough characters learnt karate. Many of my Instructors and Seniors were ‘Capable’, streetwise people.

Regardless of their karate training they had a presence born of life experience or circumstance, their karate has an added degree of ‘toughness’ and presence.

Today there are many more choices available to those who mainly wish to learn how to fight! Consequently, those who are already capable often find their expression through other systems or arts. (Often those styles which encourage sparring at an earlier stage).

I think this is a real shame!

Karate needs these characters. Personally, I like to feel a little ‘Edge’ in the dojo. After all, Courage cannot exist in the absence of fear!

I was attracted to karate as I knew I was not naturally tough. I am extremely short sighted and contact lenses were not really an option when I was a youngster. Back in the 1980’s glasses were big…. VERY BIG! I looked nerdy, I was nerdy….. But I wanted to be cool!

At school I soon realised that the currency of the playground was Football (Soccer) and the skills you could demonstrate. Like all boys my age I kicked a football around with my Dad and Uncle in the garden, but heading the ball was never really an option with my Aviator glasses on. 😊

The only real skill I could exhibit in the playground was determination. I would chase every ball and simply not give up. But I had no finesse, and consequently I could not leverage any Coolness from football.

……. But I tried!

As a young teen, many of my close friends started playing more and more for teams and I still desperately wanted to spend time with them. So, I would go to training at school and once or twice I attended their after-school clubs. I wanted to be part of something ‘else’ that my friends enjoyed too.

During the school holidays I would often tag along and have kick arounds over the field with a couple of my friends. We would climb over the fence into the school field and hope that ‘Mac’ the School caretaker would not chase you us away on his moped.

On one occasion a friend of mine invited me along to his football training on the Friday night. I was thrilled. I even missed karate to go.

That night the strangest thing happened. I could not do any wrong!

Every pass found its target (I played with my specs on) and I scored a few goals. I even remember slipping near the half-way line and accidentally besting the goalkeeper with a lobbed goal that Pele would have been proud of (Perhaps even Ronanldo or Messi for the younger reader). My efforts were paying off….. or at least I thought so!

Maybe I was getting better, maybe I would make the team, maybe I would get to hang out with the Cool guys?

Then it happened. One of the team who knew me from School went up to the Coach and he was not exactly subtle. I heard him say don’t pay him too much attention, he is not normally like this….. it’s a fluke’.

What a classy guy! ☹

However, he was right, and on hearing it I knew it. In that instant I withered inside myself and lost the joy of the moment. I was not cool;

I should not be there. I never went again!

I am still not very-good at football, but I will kick the ball around sometimes with my Son. He has ability and has played for a local team.

The only other time I have exhibited any football skill was at the dojo!

On Friday nights for many year’s I would get to the club before my teacher and tidy up and organise the benches to their set position ready for our classes.

On one evening as I approached the gym, I could here that a game was being played. I popped my head in the doorway and saw that a small 5-aside match was taking place. This seemed strange. It was about six pm and our classes started at six thirty. I walked back to the office and asked the lady who was working what time the gym had been booked till. She told me that it had not been booked at all and the men in there must have just ‘tried their luck’. ‘No problem’ I said, ‘I will ask them to leave’.

So, I strolled down to the gym, opened the door wide and secured the door back on its hook. I walked in and firmly said. ‘Sorry guys…… time to go, I need to set up’. At this point they stopped playing and said they needed to finish their game. I can’t remember what I exactly said then, but it was along the lines of ‘tough, you should have booked the gym like we have…. Goodbye’.

At that point one of the guys blasted the football at me, I turned and hit it with a round-house kick, and it smashed against the wall. If I wanted to do that on a football pitch I couldn’t have. But I was in the dojo and I had a different confidence in that space. They picked up their ball and without saying anything they left.

Merv’ (my teacher) arrived shortly later and was none the wiser of the situation, but I reflected on it for a while.

(I am passionate that children are encouraged to be themselves and not conform to others projections or expectations. I want them to be themselves. And I want them to be proud of that!)

Suddenly that night in the dojo I realised that I didn’t need Football to be ‘Cool’,

My vehicle for self-esteem was karate !

When I want to encourage dojo members to be themselves (regardless of other people’s judgement or opinion), I reflect on another school memory.

In year ten and eleven at senior school we were split into various classes with others from different tutor groups. I used to have French and Design & Technology with Michael who also did Karate with us. He was a real character and used to carry a little extra weight so was often the victim of some taunting from the ‘cooler’ kids.

However, Mike refused to conform.

Like me he was not on any football teams, but man ...... didn't he love to sing!

He would sing all the time, despite the others hammering away at him with verbal abuse or at sometimes physical pushing or teasing.

I clearly remember him responding to a period without a teacher in French by standing on the desk and singing Metallica to the class (whether we wanted to hear it or not).

He was great!

After school we all mostly went to College. I myself happened to go to the same one as Mike. And here is the lesson!

Guess who was the King of college?

Guess who would be surrounded by fun loving people, male and female and who seemed to know everyone? ….. You’ve guessed it.

Mike was the King of College!

He knew everyone and everyone liked him. He was different, he stood out, he dared to be himself and the consequence was he was extremely well liked.

I love thinking back to that example as it reassures a belief that I carry.

The Currency of Coolness is Confidence!

Mike found his through his singing and personality.

I failed to find mine in Football.

In reality. Mine had been staring me in the face.

My currency is offered through karate and that confidence offers the opportunity to be cool!

Whether I achieve it or not is another thing. 😊

I am a creative person and I have realised that in many ways (especially when growing up) creatives are often miss-fits. They do not conform, and you cannot place them neatly in a box.

But they also often turn out to live extremely interesting and fulfilled lives.

..........As long as they can gleam the confidence to do so.

This is why I teach karate.

I never pretend to be ‘cooler’ than I am. I just hope my example will inspire students to value creation over conformity.

Perhaps, twenty or so years ago I was training at the May Bank Holiday Course with SEKU. Sensei Hazard must have cut or damaged his toe. I remember it very clearly as he had a plaster on it and on closer inspection (perhaps after he had kicked me around the face) I noticed that he had drawn a smiley face on it. It was really-funny. Sensei is a phenomenally capable Karate man. But this was light-hearted.

It showed he didn’t always take himself too seriously. That was inspiring to me.

When I decided to start teaching regularly online. I started wearing yellow socks. Similarly I thought this would show that I wasn’t taking myself too seriously. I don’t worry about looking silly or people questioning why. (I will share the reasons one day).

I am happy to be different.

I am a misfit.

I am still no good at football.

I don’t take myself too seriously ….

and perhaps most importantly ….

I am confident to demonstrate this by wearing some bright yellow socks!


....... because Karate gives me Confidence!

Confidence is the currency of cool!

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