The ‘Champion’ of courage

Kirstie Bedford talks to world kickboxing champion and mind coach Nadine Champion about her journey, and how you can gain the courage to succeed in life.

One of Australia’s strongest women, World Cup Martial Arts gold medalist and Sensei Nadine Champion has hung up her boxing gloves to take on a fight on a different kind – empowering people to succeed.

The kickboxing champion spent three decades studying martial arts and learning about the power of the mind and now wants to pass on her life lessons to help others conquer their fears.

The 40-year-old black belt is certainly qualified for the job, putting her physical and mental skills to the ultimate test not only in the ring, but on a personal level when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

Champion (her real name) was ten years old and living in Coffs Harbour on the north coast of New South Wales when she decided to try out martial arts after watching the movie The Karate Kid.

“I thought it was so cool and I started doing martial arts and the first time I went to a class the instructor said to my mum ‘how long has she been doing it’ and she said this is her first time, and I heard that and was pretty chuffed.”

Champion stayed with it, getting her black belt in her 20s and then went back to university and studied criminology and social policy – while she continued her martial arts training.

She says she felt incredible fortunate to have found a sport she could excel in and was quickly rising in the ranks, but she was about to question her own ability when she was attacked while working as a security guard.

“I came up against two people and got badly eye gouged. I had tied my worth to being good at martial arts and that tore it down .. and the next day I was bruised and very shaky emotionally and it was a really pivotal moment for me because it knocked me off course.”

She says as with everything in life, most people form another course because of a negative event, but she realised she needed to face that fear.

She went in search of something else in martial arts to help her and found what she calls her “Mr Miyagi” in Sensei Benny ‘the jet ‘ Urquidez.

Urquidez earned the first of his nine black belts at 14 years old, making him one of the youngest black belts in modern martial arts history and won six World Championships over the course of his career.

“Sensei Benny was my idol as a child and I thought I’d try this form of the sport and see which part I like and stumbled upon what I’d do for the rest of my life. I feel like it was all fateful and very lucky.”

“I realised that was the thing that made me want to get out of bed in the morning and the beautiful thing about that is that giving away these lessons I have been taught reaffirms them for me too.”

She says some of the key things she learned from Sensei Benny were about the importance of fear.

Champion says there’s nothing wrong with having fear, in fact you can’t have courage without fear, “it’s not very brave when you’re not scared of something”.

“I used to get in the ring and cry every time, but Sensei told me it’s like making a clay tray. It takes 100 layers of glazing before it can hold water. So each time you do something that makes you cry, or makes you scared, it gets easier and easier.”

She says for EAs they can do that too, whether it’s speaking up in a meeting where they are too scared to voice their opinion or putting a proposal forward for a new idea, “the more often you do it, the easier it’ll become”.

She says we should all self-reward when we do achieve something which has pushed us out of our comfort zone, no matter how ‘lame’ it might sound.

“I know it’s difficult for EAs because they do so much work and are often not recognised because they assist and it’s important in those situations to be able to self acknowledge. Reward yourself for your achievements. The person who needs to clap for you the most needs to be yourself. We are so mentally conditioned to be critical of ourselves, but think and discuss how awesome you are and back yourself.”

Little did Nadine know at the time, these, and other powerful mind strategies Sensei had taught her, were about to be tested in ways she could never imagine.

After losing her older brother to cancer, Champion was deep in grief when just weeks later she found a lump on her collarbone.

“I wasn’t sick at all. I was fit and any symptoms I had, I saw as stress. I had that moment where I wanted to push it away and put off calling the doctor and say it was nothing but I made an appointment anyway.”

After three weeks of tests she was diagnosed with Stage 2 Lymphoma.

“Cancer was my most challenging time, but it’s the challenging times which either make you or break you and within that you decide.  Only you decide.”

Less than two years later she took to the stage at the Opera House at TEDx Sydney in front of 2,500 people.

“That was challenging because it wasn’t long after I had cancer treatment and I was still quite vulnerable. I talked about testing the theory. You can’t live your life saying the right stuff, you have to participate and follow through. Knowing isn’t enough.”

The speech left everyone on their feet and barely a dry eye in the room.

Champion now spends her days training, teaching and speaking about how to use courage to empower your life, whether it’s in the workplace, or to reach your own personal goals.

She practices what she preaches too.

For a long time Champion wanted to write a book, but when an email came back from a publisher saying it wasn’t for them, she thought you know what, I’m going to reply.

“I went back and said, hang on, let me come in and tell you why I think this would make a great book. They agreed and I went in and came out
with a book deal.”

Her book ‘Ten Seconds of Courage’ will be published in the middle of this year.

It covers how you should take hold of those first ten seconds when you are given an opportunity, and don’t talk yourself out of it, instead harness those first ten seconds of courage.

She says that’s exactly how she lives her life now, “have a scary feeling, but do the opposite of what you would normally do”.“Being on my death bed is realistic for me, I’ve seen behind the curtain so I make decisions that if I had a year to live how would I respond and we should live like that .. don’t let the ‘no’ ruin you, it’s better to fail spectacularly because you tried, than not try at all.”