I had been begging my dad for ages, and my wall was full of Bruce Lee posters. I wanted to know how to fight!
Then one afternoon, he drove up the driveway and said: “Get in, we’re going to do karate.”
He had by chance seen a nearby dojo on his way home from work.
Little did I know that from that moment on my life and how I looked at the world would never ever be the same.
My journey started somewhere in 1975 in that dusty hall in Seaview, Durban, where I spent many tough hours training under my sensei, The Man, who, along with my father not allowing me to give up, set the foundations and beliefs for what has made me who I am today.
But the singular event that ultimately changed my life and formed the basis for my life’s work and the path I am now on (and this new column series), would only happen some three years later – and I remember it as if it was yesterday.
I had recently received my junior black belt and was doing well on the tournament circuit. I was one of the few juniors handpicked to train at the main dojo with the seniors and had been asked to join the “demonstration” team. It was a huge honour.
We soon found ourselves at the Pick n Pay Hyper just south of Durban one Saturday morning doing a demonstration at the entrance. I had finished my part in front of a big crowd and was sitting watching the board breaking, a segment of the programme usually done only by the seniors.
The next minute, I heard my sensei call my name. At first I thought I was hearing things and stayed seated until he shouted again: “Mark !”
My heart nearly fell through my feet. “I can’t do this. I have never done this before.”
I did not believe I could punch through a wooden board, but my sensei knew I could. He knew because he had done it before, and he knew what was needed. Right there, though, I didn’t know what my own abilities were – but I trusted in my sensei after he gave me one of his rare, brief smiles.
I punched through that board and it changed my life forever. I proved to myself that I could do something that I before thought I could not. I broke through an imagined barrier and found belief in the knowledge that I could. It gave me the kind of deep self-belief that is important in all walks of life, but nowhere more important than in the space of “self-defence”, or “personal protection”, as I like to refer to this wide, confusing and often ego-driven space.
When we are talking about your life, your safety and possibly that of those close to you, the stakes could not be higher. It’s about far more than the outcome of a sporting event or your reputation, which is why thinking is not good enough. You need to know.
My sensei put me in a stressful situation I had not planned for and was not sure I could manage. But he had taught me everything I needed to know, and he knew I was ready.
When it comes to protecting yourself in a situation when someone is threatening you, it will doubtlessly be far scarier than any board-breaking moment. But if you have at least one thing you can do, and that you know you can do, that thing could save your life.
You need to know what you are capable of and what not. What will work and what not, especially under circumstances of extreme stress when most people’s minds and brains freeze.
I believe there are too many systems and courses out there teaching too many things. The reality is that none of them will work unless you are prepared to practise … practise every day, investing your life in learning an art to the point where it becomes a natural state of your being. This is not something that the average person wants to do. This is why “self-defence courses” are a total waste of time. You will walk away thinking you can do something and knowing you can do nothing. Or at lease not knowing what it is you can do.
Only later in my life, when I found my purpose and passion, did I realise the significance of that simple event one morning in Durban and how it changed me.
So what’s important is to really get to know one thing, something you will never forget and that you don’t need to practise constantly to master. You need to be sure it will work and be an option for you in a life-or-death situation.
We will cover this and more in future columns.
At my INpower events, I have repeated the experience I went through that morning in Durban with more than 5,000 people of all ages and from all walks of life all over the world.
I have endless stories of people overcoming all sorts of situations in the their lives by breaking through a simple barrier that could represent many of the obstacles in their path, from beating infertility to overcoming phobias and casting aside painful memories. They give a name to their barriers and then break their own boards while simultaneously emotionally, mentally and spiritually breaking through the obstacle in their path as a testament to the power within each person.
Perhaps the most significant for me was when my daughter Emma went though the programme aged 11 and wrote on her board before doing what I had that morning many years before: “I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Mark Grobbelaar is the Founder of INpowered, incorporating WIP (woman INpowered) and GRIP (Guy Responsibly INpowered).
He holds a 6th dan in karate and has over 45 years’ experience in the personal protection field. He does talks and hosts INpowered programmes to corporates, schools and small groups.
Reach him with your question about personal protection at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will try to answer you in future columns.