How do you leave a corporate job for a brand-new career? Imad Uddin did just that when he left banking and finance to pursue a martial arts career.
The 25-year-old from West London is a black belt in taekwondo and kickboxing. He is the University College London (UCL) taekwondo head coach. The fighter was encouraged to get into martial art training as the area he lived in was “pretty rough” and “you were always bound to get into trouble at some point or another,” he says. Imad competed for taekwondo across Europe, where he got to meet several martial artists and cultures that taught him a lot on the way he teaches martial arts himself. Many who were Olympic athletes which were hugely inspiring for him.
“Many people become comfortable in the roles they find themselves and often because of fear of losing what they have, they won’t risk doing what they want to do,” said Uddin. “But everything we have is borrowed, it could all be gone tomorrow. A move to the right job is worth everything.”
From banking and finance to a martial arts career
How did this happen?
My closest friend growing up, his dad was a black belt in kickboxing and taught his class. My friend quit his dad’s classes one belt before black. I think there was an element of feeling incomplete within his dad which perhaps he wanted to fill with an accomplishment with me. After I left football it was the perfect time to change a sport. I went down to a session and kept on going after that, up until receiving my black belt.
At the time I was always working in the banking or finance sector; I got a job in retail banking, which I stayed in for 5 years as I was doing my A level exams. But you get caught in a cycle especially when there’s no indication of progression and you feel like your life’s stuck in a loop. After 5 years I moved on to recruiting in the banking and finance sector which I left after a year later to go into my previous and last position before teaching.
The satisfaction you get when a child takes something you teach them, applies it, and it works, is something that can’t be explained but felt
Your passion for teaching wasn’t always there, what made you get into it?
I’ve always worked well with kids and have had a lot of patience. The passion to teach martial arts came during a period where I was competing for Taekwondo. After a national competition, I was injured badly. I had to take a year out to recover; In that time I took up teaching the younger kids in the class. My first competition coaching the kids was one of the most thrilling, exhausting, stressful yet fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I was way tenser than the competitions where I’d compete myself. Many of these kids were experiencing their first event and this would be an experience that could build or knock their confidence.
The satisfaction you get when a child takes something you teach them, applies it, and it works, is something that can’t be explained but felt. There’s a moment where it’s like a lightbulb goes off in their head and their eyes light up and that moment is everything. It’s definitely at that first competition that I knew I would be teaching at some point. Moving on from there I continued to practice and teach martial arts. At that point it became something I wanted to do under my name as opposed to someone else’s.
How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been teaching now for two and half years currently, I’m the head coach at UCL. With the commitments with the university team and the gradual build-up of my classes, I have begun as a personal tutor offering 1-2-1 lessons. This is making me mobile and I am travelling wherever my clients/students request of me. The university classes are based in Euston.
Waking up every morning to do the same thing as yesterday and only to repeat it tomorrow
What was your finance career like?
I was only in finance for a year, after leaving recruitment. Recruitment wasn’t working out for me as the job was too draining. At this point, I had begun making steps towards teaching. I got the job through the knowledge during my time as a recruiter. Once I got the job, it was the perfect role; Zero micromanagement, I could do everything asked of me and the work I felt was incredibly easy. It was a job that wasn’t challenging but extremely comfortable. Once I left the office none of my day to day followed me home. Every day was a fresh day, nothing was left over from the day before.
In all honesty, there were no pros or cons to the job. I guess the perspective of the role being either would depend on the sort of person you are and what you want from your career. If you’re an ambitious person looking to climb the ranks and make a name for yourself all whilst getting the best salary you can, then this isn’t the role for you. If you want a monthly payday where you go to work, where the job isn’t necessarily challenging and you clock in and out at a set time with, no one micro-managing you, and no targets to hit or KPI’s to meet, then this is a dream for you.
For the job I worked with payments in foreign currencies. Each day I would be working as part of a team to set up templates for companies to make purchases in foreign currencies. My tasks were inputting account and beneficiary data, investigating payments when they went missing and working with the trading team to make any changes they needed doing on the client accounts. I was the man behind the operations whenever a corporate client spoke to a trader and said they want to buy £100,000 worth of Kenyan shilling.
Teaching martial arts was something that was brewing in me
The idea of teaching martial arts was something that was brewing in me since I left the bank two years earlier and while working in recruitment. I just I never had time to act on the idea. The job in finance gave me two pushes to go ahead and start. The first was the feeling of living life in a loop. Waking up every morning to do the same thing as yesterday and only to repeat it tomorrow, the exact feeling that I got before leaving the bank. The second push was the fact that I always clocked out on time each day and never had to bring work home with me. This freed up so much time for me especially since I worked so close to home, meaning I had the energy to try and get my business up and running once work was done.
What are some challenges you had to overcome to start your new career?
I began by trying to set up my business whilst working to cover my bills and expenses. At the same time I had to finance anything I needed to go towards the start-up of my new venture. After everything was set up finding the right audience and clients that my classes would appeal to; Also holding onto the people that did show interest to make them regulars were all difficult, to begin with. Initially, I had to go off of word of mouth and a tonne of social media content to get people to recognise the class and peak interest.
Changing careers “allows you to grow”
You can learn so much from different industries. Changing careers allows you to grow your arsenal in terms of skills, qualities and knowledge. I believe ultimately everyone has a gut feeling or inkling that’s telling them what they want to do. Whether they say it out loud or in their head most people have something that when asked if they could, they would do for the rest of their lives. If that thing in your head isn’t what you’re doing right now, as successful as you maybe you’ll always be left with a what-if.
The impact of the pandemic on my martial arts career
Covid19 had hugely affected my martial art career. I was unable to go out and see the people I needed to give them lessons during lock-down. The drop off for the people who want online classes as opposed to in-person ones are huge. This has created a massive drop in revenue for me. As my business expands, I will have to be more equipped and prepared to host classes online.
Highs and lows of my martial arts career
The highlights are teaching someone something new that they didn’t believe they had in them to learn in the beginning. And then with practice to see them do it regularly and to know that you’ve taught them something that will be carried with them for the rest of their lives is a powerful thing.
Low-lights of a martial arts career has to be self-reliance. You have no one to depend on but yourself. Ultimately, when things aren’t going so well it comes down on you. There’s also no guarantee what will happen a week from now making every risk I take both exciting and nerve-racking.
Childhood dreams and foreign languages
Which job did you want to do when you were a child?
I had a typical dream of becoming a footballer just like most other young boys. Up until my first football trial, I didn’t consider it a possibility. As more time went on getting into that profession without strong home support (in the sense of someone taking you to train, trials and matches) made it near impossible. Although there were times I got very close, in the end, that dream became just a hobby. After that, I didn’t really have a dream job. I always imagined doing something in business or economics as those were subjects I was good at…I just didn’t know what it was I wanted yet.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak English and Bengali Fluently. Being born and brought up in London I inherited English by default; As for Bengali, this is my first language. I can also read and write Arabic as well as understand the basic grammar. This was something I was taught through a home tutor.
Coming from an Islamic and South Asian family it’s common to teach the children Arabic and send them to weekend schools. In this way they can learn the language for them to read and understand our Holy book. I always despised these extra classes as it ate into my time after school to sit around and watch TV. As a child, I used to look past the benefits and didn’t pay too much attention during lessons. Funnily enough, after three years of studying the language, I can’t speak it fluently but am still able to read and write. That is probably one of my biggest regrets.
What difference has knowing Bengali made in your life?
I think being bi/multilingual helps you in a social and cognitive aspect. Even if you don’t speak the same language as someone else, the fact you both speak a foreign language gives you that in common as opposed to someone who only speaks one.
I went to a school where I didn’t have any friends that were of my background. The only time I used my language was at home; however, the fact I already spoke a foreign tongue made it very easy for me to pick up on the languages of my peers. I think the ability to pick up and use different languages gave me confidence in different social circles. It also allowed me to engage with people I wouldn’t have done without the help of languages. If you don’t think language make a difference then pick up a phrase or two from the language of someone you know and use it on them unexpectedly, see what their reaction is… it’s usually excitement and joy.
Sharing the learnings of pursuing a career in martial arts
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Do you ever feel like you hate the thought of Mondays? Can’t help but catch yourself counting down the hours to go home or the number of sick/holiday days you have left? If you do, you’re probably not doing the job that’s right for you. Perhaps it’s time to take that first step on to something else to be the best version of you.
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