What will make the boat go faster?

Ben who?

On Monday 2nd July I had the pleasure of speaking to 650 business people at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Birmingham. The talk I did was my ‘World’s Only Business Jedi’ presentation which includes elements of my stick-fighting career (I got to hit the MD – he had armour on!) and brought together the elements of business, philosophy, martial arts, kinesiology  and the different psychological disciplines I have learnt. It’s a lot of stuff to pack into a half-an-hour talk. I was the afternoon guest speaker and entertainment. During the morning we had been treated to a presentation by Ben Hunt-Davis. It’s doubtful that many of you will have heard of him, but he is a British Gold medal Olympian from Sydney 2000 – he won his gold the same year that Sir Steve Redgrave won his 5th Gold medal. Ben won his gold in the Mens 8’s rowing; what was so impressive about his talk was how much failure he’d been through before he’d tasted success.

Did it make the boat go faster?

Ben, and his seven compatriots, had been relatively mediocre for a very long time. Ben competed in 6 World Championships and Sydney was his third Olympic Games. During most of that time the boat he had been part of was consistently 6th or 7th. Some people would be happy with that – to be 6th or 7th in the world. Ben and his team asked themselves one question after the 1998 rowing World Championships; that question became their mantra ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ This related to everything in their lives. Was the training right? Was the diet right? Did they need to sort out dynamics within the boat? Imagine eight 6′ 4″ men with a selfish attitude trying to get along; not an easy thing to get right. They were training 21 times per week and cut that down to 19 sessions per week! Everything they did for 2 years had the same question and the same outcome – ‘did it make the boat go faster?’ If you watch the video I’ve attached you’ll be able to see part of Ben’s talk and the outcome of the race.

Training fights the pain.

During the first week of July I told this story in the classes. I want July to be about physical and emotional conditioning. The Black Belt gradings in June were eye openers; it was pretty obvious who had done the hard work physically and emotionally. Martial arts doesn’t just train the body, it trains the mind. It was a major draw to me when I first started training and remains so to this day. My training has got me through more personal upheavals than any other mechanism. Running and making myself so tired I collapsed. Hitting a bag and taking out all of my frustrations of the day. Being pushed in a class so much that I was scared I didn’t have it in me to continue to the end; and then being amazed that I was so fit and so mentally strong. Confidence comes not from doing things that are easy, but from things that are difficult. The things that push us not just out of our comfort zone, but way beyond it.

Andy who?

A few weeks ago I shared the billing with another speaker, Andy McMenemy. Many of you won’t of heard of Andy, but his tale is amazing, in a completely different way to Ben’s. Andy woke up one day and wanted to challenge himself; so he applied for the Marathon des Sables – the toughest foot race in the world. 150 miles across the Sahara in 5 days. He did that and pushed himself harder: completing another African ultra-marathon where he ran 78 miles in temperatures of 46C and higher. He hallucinated during this race; perhaps that’s where the idea to run 66 marathons in 66 cities of the UK in 66 days came from. He trained and planned for a year and on the second day stumbled tearing his right Achilles tendon. Oh what a shame, when did he have another go I hear you ask? He didn’t. With medical help, lots of body awareness and determination he ran himself back to full fitness in 9 days. I forgot to mention it wasn’t 26.2 miles he was running each day, it was 30.1 miles. Every day for 66 days. He also had massive problems with a swollen left leg, but nothing stopped Andy. He completed his task on target raising thousands for charity in the process.

What’s your boat?

Meeting these two guys has really made me think about my goals, my ambitions and my direction. I might not be asking ‘will it make the boat go faster?’, but I am asking ‘how can I be better? As a teacher, a business person, a friend’. ‘What will make my life better?’ ‘How can I get fitter?’ and many other questions. ‘Do I waste too much time?’ ‘Do I pour all my energies into getting the things I want to achieve done?’ By using Ben’s questioning attitude and Andy’s determination as examples, what could you do? What questions could you ask? Where do you want to be at the end of 2012? At the end of 2013 and beyond? Some people don’t link sport to life; they don’t think it has relevance. I think they’re wrong. Sport teaches us many lessons and it’s up to the wise, the questioning and the visionaries to ask their questions to become the winners they want to be. A final thought. With all the hype about Andy Murray’s much publicised loss to the magnificent Roger Federer spare a thought for Jonathan Marray and his doubles partner Frederik Nielsen. Marray is an Englishman; the first Englishman since 1936 to win a men’s doubles title and yet the British press celebrate someone who lost when Marray should be getting all the plaudits. To add to the drama of the event Marray and Nielsen were wild card entries; the first in the history of the tournament to win in such a way. You can bet that they asked plenty of questions to get their win. Time for us to learn from those who improve and scale the heights.

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