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First Impressions... Do They Count?

Obviously, they do. How do I know that? Because in my career, I have at different times interviewed many people for jobs. We may not choose to believe it, but we are always, even if we do not realise it, making judgements on what we see or hear. Nothing wrong with that - it is the human condition.

So back in the day, when I was Mr. Manager looking to recruit people for various jobs, the first thing that you notice is if the person applying actually made any effort. Did they arrive well-dressed and smart and on time or were they there because the people at the Job Centre had told them to apply? I recall one chap who turned up in overalls covered in paint. He turned up late and walked in and said: “Listen mate, I can't hang about. I need to sign on in 15 minutes and then get back and finish this last minute paint job, so just sign this form and I will be on my way.”

Suffice to say he did not get the job that he clearly did not want, so what does it feel like when you walk into a dojo for the first time?

I can still recall walking into various dojos that I have been able to train around the world and I count myself very lucky that I have trained all over the place, in different countries with all sorts of people, but they all share the same passion, irrespective of nationality, language or culture.

However, I recall vividly the first time that me and my two friends Sensei Mike Woods and another lad drove for the first time to Shihan Cummins' dojo in Bartley Green in April 1987. I had moved down to Hereford from Preston the year before and Mike and I had opened a new dojo in Worcester with the KUGB. The club was small but dedicated, however, we had both taken and failed our Dan grades with Sensei Enoeda a few times and we knew that we needed help.

So we took the decision to ask Sensei if we could come and train with him. We got to the dojo about 15 minutes before the lesson at 13.00. The car park was packed and a lot of big, hard-looking men were arriving, most of them in well-worn black belts. As we sat in the car, there was a silence descending over the three of us. None of us wanted to get out of the car first. It was an unsaid thing; suddenly, it was like we were the new kids at school, the first day as infants about to go into big school.

It was intimidating and all of a sudden very serious. So out we eventually got and we went into the changing rooms and put on our gis and brown belts. Then it was time to walk into the dojo for the first time, all heads turned as the three strangers walked in.

It was a bit like those old cowboy films where the strangers enter the saloon for the first time. A lot of scrutinizing and, dare I say it, judging going on, and the odds were not in our favor.

However, as we approached Sensei, he made us very welcome while we paid him and he asked us about our Karate experience and then suddenly the whole environment changed, as the Sempai called the dojo to order and Sensei Cummins went to the front of the dojo where he stood to attention and from that point on, the atmosphere was electric. You could almost sense the energy permeating as a school hall became a very serious dojo.

That first lesson was a blur. The sheer aggression and technique of the dojo was electric. In fairness, I loved it although my only memory was of Sensei getting Mike and I up to do a kata on our own, in front of the class. Huge pressure, but we did our best to perform Tekki Shodan. As usual, it was fast and furious as we did not really understand Kime.

As we stood to attention, Sensei turned and looked at us and said: "So, where is the fire?". Meaning that we raced through the kata like a fire engine. Of course, he was right and that was where our Karate re-education started.

The following week it was just me and Mike; the other lad was too intimidated. Sadly, that was his loss, clearly that first impression was too much… Just goes to show.


Sensei Austin

P.S. Here's a gem for you: that's me during my 2nd Dan grading with Sensei Enoeda in 2003.

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