Ten seconds of courage
Nadine Champion is a truly inspiring keynote speaker, author and martial arts Sensei (teacher). She is a thought leader on courage, inner strength and resilience, having engagingly presented for a wealth of notable companies such as Facebook and Telstra. Nadine's mission is to help others access a high performance mindset in order to deliver at their best under pressure.
Her closing speech for TEDx Sydney 2015 is regarded as "one of the most memorable of all time", after receiving a standing ovation and leaving barely a dry eye in the house. Nadine’s authenticity shines through with her life changing 10 Seconds of Courage message - a powerful call to action challenging her audience to “change their thinking” in order to succeed. Her delivery is humourous, educational and touching in equal measure.
Nadine has dedicated thirty years of her life to studying martial arts and strengthening the mind. With a Gold Medal at the World Cup of Martial Arts and an undefeated record as a Title holding kickboxer, she embodies the competitive edge. As a woman in a traditionally male dominated arena, she has a unique insight into delivering under pressure and the importance of keeping a sense of humour.
A Black Belt student of a true martial arts Master, Nadine’s passion is telling colourful stories of her Sensei’s Yoda-like wisdom and how it can be applied both professionally and personally to overcome any obstacle. Having herself faced some of life’s biggest challenges such as cancer, she is an authority on facing your fears and negotiating difficult change. Through sharing her deep knowledge with anecdotes from her lived experience, she gives people tools and how to’s while motivating them to move beyond knowledge to implementation.
Described by high profile entrepreneur Naomi Simpson of Shark Tank & Red Balloon in her book Ready to Rise as a “role model, teacher and guide”, Nadine’s “ability to show up and share that 10 seconds of courage is what it takes to get started on the toughest battle- and we all have them”.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon
About me - Nadine Champion
I am primarily a martial artist – and I always explain where I’m coming from with that as I use martial arts as a metaphor to talk about the things that I’ve learned in business, my personal life, my academic life, my sporting life. I always ask people if they’ve seen the Karate Kid movie, you know the one with Daniel San and Mr Miyagi, I saw that movie when I was a little kid and I realised that it was my thing. It made sense to me and I sort of fell in love with that idea of finding a good teacher – and I think that aligns with finding a good mentor in business or the people that we surround ourselves with in our personal life.
So, I went looking for my Mr Miyagi. I did martial arts since the age of 10 so I have 30 years’ experience now. After 10 years of practice, I went looking for that special teacher and I searched the world and found him. A really special man named Benny Urquidez. He is a world champion kickboxer. He is like the Floyd Mayweather of kickboxing – except he’s not a bad guy. I always call him Sensei Benny because we have that martial arts relationship; a respectful hierarchical relationship.
He lived in another country but I went over there and I tried to learn as much from him as I could every time I went to visit. It involved a lot of sacrifice for a young person to go and do that but it meant that the lessons that I learned were so valuable to me and he made me write them down. I’m sure many of your listeners have had an academic experience where you might have gone to university for 3 or 4 years – and the same with me. My degree didn’t take me all that long in comparison to the kind of encyclopaedic knowledge I have of notebooks I have from my teacher.
That’s been my big journey and it took me through all kinds of different things. I became a high-level black belt under him and I also went into competitive kickboxing and Thai boxing and I won a gold medal at the world cup of martial arts. All of those competitive pursuits were just about testing the theory of what we did in our practice. The whole point, he taught me, was not to go and win medals but it was learning to control my emotions under pressure so that I could execute and deliver at the highest level. And, of course, that transferred into every other area of life.
I don’t look like a brute. It’s easy to think of martial artists as violent people who are into just physical expression or thuggery but that’s why I call myself a martial artist primarily instead of a fighter. I fought to test myself but martial arts are really about the spiritual side and self-control. All those things you see in martial arts movies about training so you don’t have to fight. It’s about self-expression and your journey into learning how to deal with yourself as a person. I find that a lot of fighters are the ones who are least likely to lose their tempers because they have an outlet for it.
I’ve found as well - and have applied this to business and dealing with people’s emotions – the more you learn about yourself physically in martial arts, the more you come to realise how physically vulnerable we are. You can compare the size of your biceps with a body-builder and always come off second best but even the biggest, scariest tattooed dude you might see in prison has the same vulnerable points on the body. The eyes, throat, and groin are all basically unprotected. That’s where the size difference in life becomes more equalised. You start to see the body as quite vulnerable and unshielded in many ways and I think that correlates with dealing with people in business. The better you know yourself and your own fears and vulnerabilities, the more you can be sensitive to what you see in other people.
It’s really easy to challenge yourself - and this is where that idea of the martial arts as metaphor comes in - around opponents that you can beat and you can build your self-image around. You know, like, “I’m so tough. I’m so great!” But you’re not competing at a level that’s really challenging for you. I think once you get in there and start really mixing it with high-level opponents, high-level competition, that’s where it correlates over to business. Once you challenge yourself, you really have to find out what you’re made of and the level that you can be successful at.
The gold medal I won wasn’t full contact competition. It was controlled contact so I kind of went, “What’s the next step? Do I rest on my laurels and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this gold medal!’”, or do I step it up and go and find another challenge?
I’ve done a lot of research into courage and fear and what I found is the things that scare people – things that usually cause them to feel stuck in creating action – these are often a road map about where our growth and challenges lie. If it scares you, it is probably an opportunity for growth. Even though we intellectually know that it is amazing how easy it is to stay in your comfort zone.
I spent so much of my time when I was younger learning all of these lessons about fear, courage, determination, and perseverance and I think that, in everybody’s life, what we do most often teaches us a lot and has a lot of application in other areas.
I was at the height of my competitive career when my brother was diagnosed with stage 1 terminal lung cancer. I watched him passing away and it was really challenging on an emotional level - we were talking about fear and what we avoid. It was really hard for me to be there for him and fully participate in that process. I watched him pass away, unfortunately. A couple of days after that, I put a backpack on my shoulder when I was getting on a plane after the funeral and I felt a lump just behind my collar bone – this little sore lump. And I thought, “Nah. Can’t be. What are the chances that my brother has just passed away and now I’ve got this very suspicious lump?”
I used this principle called ’10 seconds of courage’, that I will talk more to you about, that has, quite literally, saved my life. I rang my doctor and said that I had a lump that needed to be checked out. It turned out that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is a type of blood cancer. That was 4 years ago almost to the day. I had to have 6 months of chemo and I, luckily, got to use every single lesson I’ve ever learned in martial arts and fighting, to just face that challenge and tackle it head-on and overcome the obstacles that came with it.
I never thought it would happen to me, especially because I spent so much time being healthy. Sure, I was under stress and I worked a lot but I ate well and I went to the doctor to get all my checks. It just never occurred to me that, at 37, I would get struck down by cancer. It’s just one of those things but my experience since has been realising how common it is. Pretty much everybody knows somebody who has gone through some big health struggle and unfortunately the rates of cancer are on the rise in the last 30 years in western society. When we were kids, it was like, “Oh my goodness, someone’s got the big ‘C’.” And now it’s like, “Oh, yeah. That person has got it too.” It’s a scary thought but it’s true.
There are so many things that we get taught to do in a business sense, or even in a medical sense, where you have this problem so go do this thing, take this action, sign up for that course, have this treatment. They are very practical suggestions but what is very hard to find (and this is where Sensei Benny came in for me) is someone to teach you what to do with your thoughts and feelings around overcoming that obstacle. It’s not just do the thing, it’s how you get yourself mentally prepared to do the thing. “How do you get up when you’ve been knocked down?” That’s been the real learning for me and that’s where I have come to this real place of gratitude for having this ‘Mr Miyagi’ type figure in my life who invested 20-30 years in teaching me some of his hard-earned wisdom.
I don’t call Sensei Benny “Ben” is because he is, first and foremost, always my teacher. He is not my mate and we keep that formal relationship. If he was my friend, I think he would be more inclined to let me off easy and take away some of the harder lessons that he’s taught me. He is my teacher so he’s given me some pretty tough lessons over the years.
One of them was, he put me in the ring with his absolute best champion fighter. I always lost to this guy. He was bigger than me, faster than me, better than me. You name it. And I also didn’t like him very much. He was this really cocky guy (and he had every right to be). One of those guys who just rubs you up the wrong way. That guy! He was that guy to me. I used to spend months before I travelled to America to train with Sensei Benny, dreading that he was going to be there. I think we’ve all got someone like that in our life. Someone you’d rather avoid.
Sensei Benny knew that, though, so he put me into the ring to train with him pretty much every time I went there. This particular, horribly memorable, day, I was having the usual unpleasant training experience and losing and things weren’t going well but the entire time I was in the ring, this guy spent beating me up and laughing at me and sticking his chin out, making me miss and knocking me over and saying nasty stuff to be that really humiliated me.
I don’t know if you ever had anyone in the schoolyard who laughed at you, called you names or really pointed you out and made you feel uncomfortable. It’s an awful feeling and tapped back into that really old memory – that we’ve all had – of someone treating you like you’re not good enough. So, I got pretty mad at him. Then that turned into really mad and, because Sensei Benny was watching, I felt even worse. I felt humiliated and embarrassed and ashamed but he wouldn’t let me get out of the ring, though. I kept thinking, “Why is he letting this happen?” and he just kept saying to me over and over again, “Change your thinking”. This guy was beating me up and being mean to me and Sensei was saying “Change your thinking” and I’ve got no idea what he was talking about.
I went over to the corner between rounds and Sensei Benny grabbed the top of my boxing headgear, which is like a helmet, and I was trying to pull my head away because I was crying. He was looking me dead in the eye and there were all kinds of things blowing down my face and he was saying to me, “Why are you crying?” I felt embarrassed thinking that I was being a big girl about it all. I felt humiliated that I felt so vulnerable but he looked at me and said, “Why are you really crying?” I think that is the emotion that people understand.
It’s not just that you are embarrassed, it’s that you don’t ever want to be seen as being publicly humiliated or failing or losing the respect of the people whose opinion we value. By the time I got out of the ring I realised that he had asked the guy to treat me that way. He was trying to get me to understand that you can’t give away your ability to perform to someone else. You can’t change your ability to perform based on their response to it or how they treat you. He was trying to teach me that if you can’t control a situation or an outcome, you can control how you respond to the situation and that’s what you need to take responsibility for. So, changing your thinking is about no matter how hard it gets, you can always choose to respond in a better way.
I’ve done that in my title fights, in cancer treatment, in meetings where I’m not sure where it’s going and it’s not going well. I’ve used it in so many different ways and I really try to live by that idea of “Change your thinking.”
That was an extreme way to learn that lesson to learn but he taught that lesson to me a hundred times. He talked about the windows of your eyes. You can’t only look at something through one window or you’ll only ever see one thing. You have to go all the way around the house and look at different angles so you can see things clearly.
When I went to get my black belt, he spent half the time telling me I was dreadful and I moved like a white belt and all these things just to do my head in and get me to the point where I focused on what I thought of my ability instead of getting somebody else to try and tell me what I was worth and what I was capable of. I think we all fall victim to that sometimes.
Advice to self and others
I would tell myself to not spend so many hours in my own mind doubting myself. It is an absolute waste of energy. Especially when you know that, whatever the challenge is that you’re facing if you have to take that challenge if it’s not optional, then you may as well take it believing that you can do it rather than going up to the start line full of self-doubt and then trying to execute anyway. So, I think I would have saved myself a million head miles in my younger years by just backing myself. Being on my own side.
As a by-product of that, I think I would have said “yes” to more things. One of the things I speak about now, when I go and do keynote speeches at companies and conventions, is our self-doubt – which I also call hesitation, fear, and anxiety, however, it manifests itself for you, those moments often lead to, not just inaction, but that idea that we aren’t capable of doing everything that we really could do. It’s such a tricky thing. If you are the person who’s doubting you, you won’t do as much as you really can. And what that creates is a series of missed opportunities.
I think we’ve all missed opportunities in our lives. It might be the one that got away. It might be the promotion that you never got. It might be that you got the job but you should have asked for more money. Whatever that opportunity was. Or even just starting to look towards your future. Where do you want to be in 5 years? It’s so easy to miss opportunities. Not because someone’s knocked it out of your hand but because without even really consciously making a decision, we limit ourselves. We think, “Oh, that’s not for me” or “I’m not as good as that person”. It’s those tiny moments of self-doubt that don’t even register as self-doubt. We just have conversations with ourselves where we’re not backing ourselves.
If I had known when I was 21-years old what my life had in store for me, some of the amazing challenges I would get to succeed at, if I knew I could do all those things, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying about it.
At the end of my TEDx speech (in Sydney in 2015) when I talked about 10 seconds of courage, I did a martial arts wooden board break and it was a significant moment for me because of all the cancer treatment that I’d been through and it was honestly something I didn’t know that I could still do. (I hadn’t done it in about 3 years.) For me, it’s not just talking about courage and these ideas that we’ve been discussing, it’s about taking action. It’s about going past the self-doubt into action. Trying not to miss our opportunities.
So, I challenged myself to not just talk about the ideas from the TEDx stage, but to actually live them. That’s where martial arts comes into it, that fusion between the mind and the body. Between your thoughts and your actions.
When I go and speak now, professionally, I show that little video snippet from TEDx of that moment for me. Then I go and I get a board that I had hidden and I hop off the stage and I walk into the audience and I ask somebody to live the concept that I’d just explained to them. I then take a really nervous person up on stage. I did this at my book launch last night as a gift to someone who has really helped me over the last few years and I put this guy under pressure and asked him if he wanted to do this. It was a beautiful thing as he’d brought his son with him, not knowing what was going to happen that night.
It's about testing yourself and it’s about, “What are you capable of that you don’t even know that you’re capable of because you’ve never tried?” So, I asked this guy if he thought he could do it and he said, “Oh, I don’t know.” Then I held the board up in front of him and said, “I want you to visualise this board broken in half in twenty seconds. When you go to hit it, if the last thought you have is ‘I don’t know if I can do it’, you will act that way physically. You’ll make that your reality. The reality you need to decide on before you take any action is, ‘The board is going to break’. And you know what happens? You act like the board is going to break because you’ve already decided it.” If people fail on their first attempt, they’re willing to try again because they’ve already decided they are going to be successful. And then it breaks! It’s just about whether you think you are going to be successful.
So, I would sit down little me, my younger self and say, “Listen, kid. Just decide you are going to be successful and don’t get so discouraged so easily or waste all that energy doubting yourself. Just get on with it. Life is too short.” I’d let her know that she was going to get cancer when she was 37 so “Hurry up. Get as much done as you can!”
That’s the way I live my life now. I’ve taken some big opportunities and have had a career pivot and really put myself out there. I’ve become an author and done all of these things. I’ve really tried not to rob myself of any more opportunity.
Transitioning from training regimes and martial arts learnings to becoming a keynote speaker
I used to teach people, physically, martial arts and that would be the message delivery system for what we call internal training which is the mental, psychological, and spiritual aspects of martial arts. So, we would do all this physical stuff but, really, what I wanted to get into was what it was teaching them. Like, “How do you learn perseverance? Here is a physical way that you’ll learn not to give up.” But what you take away from it as a person is, “Don’t give up.” And then you go and use that in the rest of your life.
That was the bit that I always loved about it and I think back to when I used to watch the Karate Kid movie, it wasn’t all the “Wee Ha!” punch-kick stuff. It wasn’t all the hitting that was interesting to me, it was the relationship between the teacher and student. It was the way that Daniel San learned to believe in himself and behave differently and improve his life. That was what was really valuable to me.
Having a career-pivot for myself – what I came to realise when the physical aspect was taken away from me was that I saw more clearly that what I truly valued was the intellectual part of it. The internal part of it. I don’t know if any of your listeners have ever gone through a really tough challenge that they didn’t see coming, like losing a job or getting divorced or something that really hit them for six. I think that when you get knocked down, sometimes when you get up you see yourself more clearly. You may not be exactly who you were before but I think these opportunities, they either make us or break us. And I wanted to come out of this really challenging situation letting it be the making of me. I didn’t know how at the time. It’s just that idea that – I loved the internal side of it so much and I never thought that it would be my career. I think a lot of people fall victim to that. The thing that you’re really good at and really passionate about is such a no-brainer for you that you don’t really see that as being your greatest strength.
I didn’t position it that way until I started talking about it more and, all of a sudden, it was like, “Well, can you get up on stage at the Opera House and talk about that?” And now, “Can you go to Facebook and Telstra and talk about that?” It was amazing opportunities that I’d been given and I didn’t realise that if I just used martial arts as the metaphor instead of the literal application of it, that it’s a really human experience and that had value for a lot of people. So, I’ve moved into more the high-performance mindset aspect of the martial arts because it is not about what you can physically do, it’s about what you can make yourself do in your mind.
Being through a really big life challenge makes you consider what’s important to you. Whether that’s a financial challenge, a professional challenge or a health challenge. I really spent some time thinking about what mattered. There is a chapter in my book called, “Pat the dog. Eat the cake.” It’s all about going through an illness and realising that I had been so busy working on my career and being this athlete, being so focused and serious. You know, “I’m going to eat this and go there and train this much and work this much and make that much money.”
I’d been very regimented and very disciplined which was something that created success in my life but it also meant that I’d missed out on so many opportunities to just have a bit more joy and meaning. Being sick and thinking, “Wow! What if I only had a year to live? Would I pat that cute dog that just walked past me or would I let it walk by? Would I look at the cake through the café window or would I go in there and order a piece?” These are two examples of a broader concept which I live by now, which is, “Don’t just stand on the sidelines and watch. Get in there and do it. Win, loose, or draw. Whether you like the cake or not, whether the dog bites you or not, be part of it.” I think I spent so long focusing on certain goals that I forgot to have a fuller experience of life so, now I have a bit more fun.
My book is called ’10 Seconds of Courage’ and the sub-title is, “How to recognise and embrace those life-changing moments’. I’ve come to that point in so many different areas – personally, professionally, and as far as health goes. I think we have a lot of life-changing moments that we don’t recognise as being such at the time. If you think back on your own life, pivotal moments in your career, did you always know that they were pivotal moments? Did you make a decision one day sitting in your car down at the beach about what you were going to study at uni? Or applying for that job your mate told you about? You don’t necessarily recognise opportunities as having the gravity that they have when they present themselves. So, I just used my own life experience and the tools that Sensei Benny gave me and I offered that up. Not as a “Here’s what you should do” but “Here is my experience. Here’s what I learned.”
I often find that people wished they’d had a Mr Miyagi person in their life. They wish they’d had a great mentor. Whenever I go and do speeches I ask people to, “Raise your hands if you’ve got somebody in your life that really teaches you. That really gives you hard lessons.” And I’m always shocked at how few people put their hands up. When I ask, “How many of you would like that?” everybody puts their hands up.
A lot of people are hungry for it. They listen to podcasts, they read books, they go looking for knowledge and wisdom. I’ve always been one of those people. I’m staring right now at my bookcase – it takes up my entire wall – and it’s mostly full of books that teach me something. I’ve always been hungry for knowledge and I think that I wanted to contribute to that in my own little way. By writing down some of the really valuable lessons that I’ve learned and a lot of them are really catchy. 10 seconds of courage is a simple idea but it can be really profound when you put it into practice and it definitely has been for me.
The obvious one is this ’10 seconds of courage’ idea. To boil it down, it is the difference between starting and not starting. Staying stuck or moving forward. Staying in your comfort zone or creating action. It’s not necessarily that you go and take all of the 100 steps required to have your fabulous new career or whatever the goal is. The idea is to take the first step – and, usually, that takes about 10 seconds. Sensei Benny would explain to me that I can’t go out and have that moment in the boxing ring where I’ve got my hands up and I’ve just won the title and it’s all amazing if I don’t take that first moment to start walking out of the dressing room. You can’t win the fight if you’re still in the locker room.
It’s about taking those small steps in life - where we begin - and that’s what I try to practice in my day. That’s the habit that I try to have. Just taking the first step without even knowing what the outcome is going to be. Because, if I don’t do anything, if I don’t take that one first step, you know what happens? Absolutely nothing! Nothing changes, nothing happens, no possibilities are created. So, I try to make that a daily habit.
I was standing in front of a sea of people at my book launch and I was explaining why I wrote the book. That it’s about trying to live a little bigger life for yourself. A just a tiny bit bigger life in your day, every day. And how that adds up to some really significant changes over the course of a month, a year, ten years. You don’t have to decide that you are going to be massively courageous and go out and save the world but if you just do one small thing today and then something else tomorrow, that kind of practice of your own courage and reminder to be brave and live a little bit bigger than you are and act braver than you feel – that adds up.
It’s like doing martial arts. Say, if you do push-ups every day for a year you are going to get strong and you are going to get good at it. It’s not the goal to be stronger and better in a years’ time, it’s, “I’m going to practice this regularly – make it a habit so it becomes part of me – and I get all the rewards.” So, I set a #10SecondsofCourage challenge where people can take a photo or post something on Facebook or Instagram as an example of how they use their 10 seconds of courage. It can even be a picture of a pen. No one else needs to know what that means to you but it says, “I used my 10 seconds of courage today.”
There is also a ’10 in 10’ challenge which is to use your 10 seconds of courage in a big or small way, every day for 10 days and see if it changes you. If not, at least it’s something good that you’ve thought about. It’s a positive thing. You’ve focused and changed your thinking to the positive.
My mission in life now is to spread that positive energy because every time you teach it, it comes back to you, I believe. If you have someone who’s looking for an opportunity to be a bit braver and bigger every day for 10 days, they are going to come out of that 10 days at least having learnt something about themselves.
This is the quote that opens my book and it sums up what I mean by 10 seconds of courage. It is a quote by an author named Ambrose Redmoon. Unsurprisingly it is about courage. This author wrote:
“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather, the judgement that something else is more important than one’s fear.”
I think that’s in alignment with that idea of “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” That idea that it’s ok to be afraid. Fear does not make you weak. Fear is quite rational and sane in a lot of opportunities but it’s ok to be afraid and then move through it in the hope that what’s on the other side is more important than your comfort zone. More important than being afraid or nervous or hesitant.
I’m living proof of that. After my cancer treatment, I could very easily have just rested on my laurels of my competitive career and sat there with my black belts on and my title belts and gone, “Ok, I’m done now. I’m washed up.” But I chose to try to live a bigger life and I said yes to doing a TEDx talk the very next day. That was actually my first ever public speaking event. It was at the Opera House in front of 2,500 people and I was terrified but I thought, “You know what, if I don’t do the scary thing, nothing in my life will ever change.”
When I did that, the very next day I got a call asking if I wanted to become a professional speaker. That was a few years ago and now I have a whole new life. I’ve gotten to write this book. It’s almost like taking that little moment to pat yourself humbly on the back and going, “Good job, kid! You did the scary thing and now you’ve got the pay-off.” That’s what I just keep encouraging other people to do. “If you’re feeling brave today, try something that you’re not quite sure you can do like breaking that board. Try a little something because what if you succeed? What if you’re right? What if you can create a life that’s better than you even imagined it could be, just because you backed yourself?”
I am pretty easy to contact on Twitter and Instagram at nadinechampion_ or, on Facebook, you can find me at Nadine Champion. Or, you can go via my website nadinechampion.com.a
What is in the pipeline for me is really getting out there and sharing the message with as many people as I can and I’m creating a community of courage online at #10SecondsofCourage.
I’m really invested in seeing how people use this idea because, for me, it’s not about the idea, it’s about people putting it into practice and creating a supportive environment for people to do that. I want that to be an ongoing thing. The great thing with the book is that it is full of little take-aways - little practical tools that people can go away and use – again with that physical and mental link. So, the idea of, “How do I change my thinking? Here’s how!” “How do I get braver? Here’s how!” That’s what I’ve put in the book and I’d love it if your listeners got involved in that and let me know how it works for them and how they are changing their lives.