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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Unfinished Business…. Dads in Space!

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

When I was around fourteen years old, I became disillusioned with karate. For various reasons I convinced myself it wasn’t my fault. I had trained hard and well for six years but I wanted to stop. I was a 1st Kyu Brown Belt at the time …… one belt from black.

From memory this was around 1993 and it amazes me how that is approaching thirty years ago?

Despite a few relevant factors the truth is that I was bored. I had forgotten the reasons I had started training and so I wasn’t looking for the inspiration I needed at the time.

I wanted to spend time with my friends or family and not ‘miss out’ on what they were doing while I was training.

(I now realise that as an adult I have met some of the best friends you can imagine while in the dojo).

Karate Mind, Body & Spirit

I am not always politically correct and although teachers are encouraged not to have favourites, the truth is that I do!

I can’t help it!

I believe nobody can!

If anyone says otherwise, I doubt they are being truthful, least of all with themselves.

My favourite students are those who train the hardest and with the most spirit and effort. They are often not the most naturally gifted athletes. But their will is strong, and their desire pushes them through barriers.

Their skill is hard earned, considered, and well deserved.

I often wonder if our souls’ favour those who remind us of ourselves? For perhaps these are the people relate to with ease and therefore these are the people we are keenest to help?

I have a talented student who is one belt from black just as I was when I stopped training. He returned to work with me after seven years away from karate while he had changed career. (Coincidentally I returned to training aged twenty-one after a break of seven years).

This student is like a magnet to my clubs. His enthusiasm and love of our work (and karate in general) attracts others in. He is great to have around, and I am grateful he has chosen me as his mentor.

We were working towards his black belt grading that had been scheduled for November this year but just over a month ago he injured his knee in training and we soon realised this was going to present some considerable challenges. Especially in the short-term and our shared goal of a November grading.

He may well still grade in November, but this student has talent and I expect we will choose to postpone so that he can best showcase his abilities. Knowing him as I do I expect him to be focused on building to his full peak injury free.

While he has been coming to terms with the frustration of immediate injury, he visited his Dr for expert advice on his knee. The physician questioned ‘why’ my student would wish to be doing karate at ‘his age?’ ………. (The injured party is an active and physically capable person in his mid-thirties!)

When he told me this I was astounded!

On hearing this it was clear to me that the doctor was not familiar with karate training. At least not the kind I champion.

The physician must have a perception of children or teens bouncing around or perhaps they are a fan of Cobra Kai. Or (and indeed very possibly) they trained as a child and like my younger self got bored and stopped training! Perhaps the Doctor never returned to training so have failed to appreciate the broader benefits and attraction to all, regardless of age or physicality.

Like realising we often have favourites other professionals can also carry some unconscious bias.

Incredible Journey

When I teach karate in the evenings, I often do not get home until 10pm at the earliest. If the classes have been buzzing, I am often wide-awake and full of energy. To calm down I will make a fresh cup of tea and try to decide what to watch on Netflix or Disney Plus.

Earlier this week I sat down and discovered a documentary on Elon Musk and Space X.

The documentary follows the fortunes of the company as it built and pushed towards Elon’s vision for expanding the human race as a ‘multi-planetary species’. After a few minutes I was spell-bound.

I am a creative person, and I am drawn to others I can relate to. Especially those who have a strong vision and focus which drives them. My heroes include Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Nikola Tesla and now….. Elon Musk.

The programme is compelling and offers a ‘warts-and-all’ insight into Space-X and its work towards commercial space travel and sending civilians into the cosmos!

I particularly enjoyed the company’s approach to failure and iterative design and improvement.

Elon had enough money for three complete rocket failures. He knew that testing while the rockets were crewless was the steepest and most critical learning curve. The team clearly didn’t enjoy their failures, but they were resolved to learn from them.

And learn they did.


Without spoiling the documentary completely, I need to mention that Space X succeeded. They were the first commercial company to be picked by NASA to take astronauts into orbit. It is incredible to watch their journey.

(The documentary, ‘Return to Space’ is available on Netflix, I have added a link for it at the end of this blog.)

Extraordinary Focus, Passion & Capability

While watching the programme I realised that the Astronauts picked to travel on the rockets were going to be critical to the mission. They would need to be extremely impressive human beings with incredible focus, passion, and extraordinary capabilities.

So, who do NASA and Elon trust for the job?

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, two gentlemen both in their 50’s at the time they were chosen for the mission in the Dragon Capsule.

Now, it was clear to me when I watched that the two Astronauts chosen for a critical and potentially one-way deadly mission would have to be extremely capable and experienced.

But somehow I wasn’t expecting them to be quite so….. OLD!

Instantly I thought of my student’s physician and his bias towards karate training as an adult.

Mindset - Karate Parent & Sensei

I watched in complete awe as the Astronauts prepared their families for the mission and wrestled with the risks they were accepting and the potential impact for their partners and children should all go wrong! Their focus was, and is, incredible!

I took so much from the programme. I will probably watch it multiple times again and again to appreciate it more.

As a Parent I make sacrifices to teach karate. I miss time with my family, and I have never found it harder to leave the house than when my kids have pleaded with me not to go.

But I have been resolved that I have work to do. Work that I believe is valued and important. I am a Karate teacher and that is my focus, the good news is that I don’t have to strap a fuel-filled rocket to my car to get me there and the probability that I will return safely is pretty high.

I am also a few years away from fifty and if humans can embark on space travel when they hit the half-century then I can keep pushing forward and setting new goals to strive for. If offered the doctors perception on age or NASA’s, I’d favour the latter. Both as a teacher and a parent.

I want the Astronauts mindset!

Develop, Refine & Improve

I remember my karate hero turning fifty. It is clear in my mind as my teacher Mervyn asked me to take a birthday card down to the Brighton dojo to present on his behalf. I couldn’t do it as I had to work away but I now realise that was probably a blessing. Sensei may not have appreciated me informing every one of his birthday. and that may have been a painful lesson for me. 😊

It took the Netflix documentary for me to realise that at 50 Sensei Hazard was extremely more capable than I am now. It reminded me that I should be on the ascendancy still and so should all my students regardless of age or injury. There is even a chance we could become Space travellers if we wanted to!

Elon Musk believes that when the United States government stopped the Shuttle programme humanity had unfinished business in Space. He was right and he has been the figurehead the world needed to drive forward once more.

Like many others I had stopped karate one belt from black and that was my unfinished business. Coincidentally I too had to delay my black-belt grading after my return due to a knee injury I suffered in a competition in Slovakia. But I pushed through delays and frustrations, and I have been back in a karate suit for twenty-three years!

Space X pushed through frustrations, failures, and fear because the world had unfinished business. They also chose to do so with fifty-year-old people at the controls.

I know my injured student will push through his injury and come back stronger and smash his grading. He like many who studied karate and then took a break has unfinished business to settle.

Don’t let changes in your life, injuries or your age hold you back.

After all ….. Elon put some Dads in Space!

For more info on the documentary visit:

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