The Welsh Kitesurfer

October 13, 2013

                                Chapel Croft B&B in Biddulph Moor

                                Chapel Croft B&B in Biddulph Moor

It was summer 2003 and I was working on a construction project in a small English town called Biddulph in Staffordshire. I was commuting weekly driving up at the crack of dawn on a Monday and driving back down to London on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately I love driving and even to this day if I hear of a road trip my ears prick up and my eyes light up. So the commute by car was not a chore but a pleasure.

Whilst up in Biddulph me and a fellow consultant were staying at a bed and breakfast on Biddulph Moor called Chapel Croft. The town was so small there were no hotels let alone any of the international brands. The nearest big city was Stoke-On-Trent and the drive there did not appeal to us at all. The little B&B was tucked away among farms and cottages leading up to the Moor. Paddocks and pastures lined the route and there was one country pub that became our dining venue for the three-month duration we were there. The landscape and scenery could have been akin to the Yorkshire Moors straight out of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The drive up to the B&B would take us past farms with quintessentially English names such as Dingle Brook Farm, Thorn Tree Farm and Three Nooks Farm among others. The lane names led me to think J.R.R. Tolkien probably spent time here to get inspiration for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Names such as 'Over-the-Hill' and 'Under-the-Hill' as well as 'Dingle Lane' were everywhere you turned.

Our landlady was a retiree and she would prepare a cooked breakfast for us every day of toast, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and anything else you fancied. I avoided the Black Pudding but occasionally would indulge in some cooked meat. I was on a strict diet at the time as I was training for the London Marathon in April 2004. My colleague lovingly named the lady Mrs. Miggins attributed to her grandmotherly demeanor and loving, caring attitude towards us and another guest who were a fixture at her farmhouse.

The third guest was a young engineer who was a client staff member on the construction project. He would also commute by car every week from the Welsh coastal town of Llandudno (pronounced "chlan-DUD-no"). He was in his late twenties and an avid kite surfer. He would join us at breakfast and then in the evenings on some nights for dinner. He would tell us no matter what the weather he would be out in his wet-suit kitesurfing the cold turbulent waters off the Welsh coast.

I would relay to him my love of running, as he would see me run along the top of Biddulph Moor every morning at 6am in training for the marathon. Come rain or shine I would be out there, we both called each other mad but became good friends due to our passions. Over the course of my time there I came to understand that he was not too happy with being an engineer. He had studied at Bangor University which was about twenty miles from Llandudno and even though enjoyed engineering he did not feel satisfied or fulfilled.

At the time I was studying for my coaching certification with The Coaching Academy and I wanted a live client (pro bono) to coach over a period of time. My young engineer friend willingly accepted and we began a program of eight coaching sessions. The key model that I used was the GROW coaching technique which essentially helps the individual find their own answers. The GROW acronym stands for:

  1. Goal - this is whereby the individual determines the goal in mind. I used other questions to concrete his answers and what those goals meant to him.
  2. Reality - this is to understand their current reality in relation to their goal, i.e. to determine a starting point.
  3. Options - this is the fun bit, where I asked my friend to list out all the possibilities if anything was achievable.
  4. Will - this is whereby I got him to commit to some form of action, i.e. I got a commitment from him to take the first step towards realizing his goal, No matter how small he needed to take the first step.

Over the course of eight weeks we would meet and I would coach him two or three times a week to ensure he did not falter and was on the path to achieving his goal.

About three weeks before the end of my engagement I turn up on site and my engineer friend has a surprise for me. He states that with my help he was going to bring his goal forward by six months. I inquired further and was told that he was leaving the job and going to fulfill firstly his goal that I had worked with him on and then his lifelong dream.

Sure enough at around the time I left he disappeared west to Llandudno and that was the last I saw of him. So what was his goal and his lifelong dream?

Well his goal was to be a professional kitesurfer and his dream was to have a kitesurfing business teaching people how to kitesurf, own a shop that sold kitesurfing gear and make the sport available to a wider audience.

That was my first real life encounter of someone having the gumption to take that leap of faith and follow their dreams. The great thing about going for your goals and dreams, it's never too late.

My Kung Fu Panda Moment

August 28, 2013

My Black Belt 1

My Black Belt 1

You are eleven years old and one Saturday instead of going to Kung Fu classes you decide to skip it and go play football with your friends. As you kick the ball around, run from one end of the concrete pitch to the other working up a sweat, you are carefree having the time of your life. Life could not get any better.

Then from the corner of your eye you spy a familiar figure, someone you recognize, someone with the power of authority. That someone you realize upon second glance is your father.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw my dad looking down at me from the street into the sunken car park where I was playing football. That was me being caught red-handed on a cold Saturday afternoon in London, missing my classes to play football with my best friends and other guys from the neighborhood.

My dad had signed me up for Saturday classes about six weeks ago.

"Son, you need to be able to take care of yourself, this is the rough East End and one must learn how to fight," he rationalized.

I was actually quite keen to join and went along happily attending classes every weekend. I would forego playing tag, football and other games with my best friends for a couple of hours every Saturday to learn the art of self defense and fighting. This weekend however my friends cajoled, goaded, teased and urged me to not go to classes. In the end I succumbed to peer pressure and using my kit bag as a goal post proceeded to play football.

So seeing my dad made me gulp and I thought, "I've had it, I'm done for," as he beckoned me over to him without saying a word or raising a hand in gesture.

"Why are you not at Kung Fu classes?" he asked. I could feel my ears burning and my friends watching me made me want to sink into the ground and disappear.

"Err! I just wanted to play football and didn't want to go to class today," I mumbled as I looked at my feet.

"I never, ever want to see you miss Kung Fu again, I will let you off today, but from next week you will go to every class without fail," he stated, and with that he carried on walking to wherever he was going. I went back to my football game and having explained to my friends what had happened carried on playing.

However, I decided there and then that I would never miss another class. Of course there were the odd classes that I did miss due to illness or a reasonable excuse, but I never missed a class of my own volition. I persevered with my training  and my Sifu a fellow Bengali called Maruf, took a liking to me and taught me well. In return I became a dedicated and loyal student.

So through all the fights, the twisted fingers, busted toes, torn ligaments, bloody noses and bruises I kept at it from 1981 to 1989. Each year I would partake in one exam and each year I would pass to go through nine sashes in that period. I fought fights and got beaten and others I won unanimously. I taught junior students and I trained with Black belts.

I was my Sifu's star pupil, becoming his first student to achieve Black belt in 1989, which made him an extremely proud teacher. The exam to attain my Black belt required the demonstration of a set of movements, followed by set sparring where no blows are struck. This was followed by breaking bricks and slates with bare hands then kicking wooden planks in half.

Then came the fights. There were three 3-minute fights. One-on-one, one-on-two and the finale was me against a senior Black belt. All of these fights were performed with only gloves, foot-guards, gum-shields and groin guards.

At the end of it, my lips were busted and bleeding I was bruised all over and I was exhausted to the core. Yet when the results were announced and I had got my Black belt every pain, every drop of blood and every tear was of happiness and exhilaration. At the exam my dad was not there, nor were any of my friends just my Sifu Maruf and my fellow classmates. Maruf came and gave me a huge hug and lifted me straight off the ground.

When I got home my parents were very proud of my achievement. I have to thank my dad for making me stick to my classes.

If there is anything I learned from my years of Kung Fu was if you start something worthwhile stick to it and finish it, be committed. Secondly, never give up, no matter how hard, tough or unexciting the work may be keep at it. Thirdly I learned self-control and discipline in all areas of life, especially how to use peaceful methods to resolve conflict. Last but not least the rewards for achieving a worthwhile goal are priceless.

This story is dedicated to my dear Sifu Maruf who died a few years back, killed in a car crash in Bangladesh. May you rest in peace, you were my first role model.