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Last weekend I was asked to give a short speech at our martial arts club’s annual awards night.  I had just completed my 3rd gup grading, my most gruelling grading to date, and with a stinking cold it was a true battle.  Normally I strive for the best I possibly can be in a grading, but feeling as rough as I did I had a different game plan to usual – head down, grit my teeth and simply get through it.  My thinking was, get it out of the way and then I can go home, have a Lemsip and chill on the sofa for the afternoon playing some Xbox – after all, I had earned it!

No such luck!  As I was leaving the grading venue, Master James asked me if I would please give a short speech at the awards night in a few hours time.  So much for Xbox, the afternoon would now be spent pacing the living room thinking about what I was going to say…

Public speaking has never come easily to me, in fact for most of my life it has been something I feared and actively avoided at all costs.  For my communications A-level I had to give a small presentation (to only 3 people!) as part of my final exam, and I was so nervous that I sat in the college refectory drinking vodka out of a coffee flask to try and calm my nerves!  However, over the years I have become less intimidated, and to a degree more interested in the art of public speaking.  I put that down primarily to one thing.  In my late twenties, I became involved with a network marketing business which I ran for about 5 years.  At first I despised the fact that it involved a certain amount of public speaking (from sharing ideas and teaching the business to individuals and small groups, to giving live webinars, and standing up and giving presentations to a room filled with hundreds of business people) but over time it forced me out of my comfort zone and taught me valuable skills.  In fact, while there are many things that I disliked about that business, I’m very grateful that I was involved with it due to that education and experience.

After not being involved with a business like that for several years now (in my primary business as a game developer I can go weeks or even months without even meeting with a single client – unless Skype meetings count!) it seems that my martial arts are taking up the mantle of forcing me out of that particular comfort zone.  Not only am I now being asked to speak, but I’m also being given the opportunity to teach – I recently began helping out as an assistant instructor for the kid’s karate class one evening a week.  And once again, just as with my old network marketing business, I’m thankful for the opportunity even though it makes me a little uncomfortable… but I guess that’s why they call it a comfort zone!

By all accounts my short talk at the awards night was well received, and week on week I’m learning and gaining experience teaching the kids.  As a mentor I had during my network marketing days was fond of saying – the one who gets the most out of any meeting is the one standing at the front of the room, and I truly believe that – you really do learn more from teaching than you do from being taught to, because in order to teach or speak you need to truly understand and so it forces you to think on a deeper level, and grow as a person.

So once again, my martial arts study has proven to be so much more than simply learning to punch and kick.  People often ask me why I train (why would you give up 3 or 4 evenings a week and £50 a month to be bruised and battered and occasionally injured, to do hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups and all manner of other torturous exercises, and every few months go through a gruelling grading just for the privilege of tying a different coloured belt around your waist?)  The answers of course are many… to keep fit, as a break and contrast from the sedentary work of sitting in front of a computer all day, for the fun of training and learning, and the excitement of competing, for the friendships you form by training hard together… the list goes on.  Now it seems that another item can be added to that list – to once again have something to drive me to improve my public speaking and teaching, skills that are both valuable and rewarding, yet without my martial arts I would not currently require or have an opportunity to practice.  Once again, martial arts is enriching my life, and making me grow as a person in new ways.