Confidence, Discipline and Health, the Karate Way
Sunday, April 2, 2017
In the present world we talk a lot about self-dependency and the courage to face the world. Self-confidence and the boldness to defend any adverse situation, mentally or physically, are taught to the younger generation through different ways and martial arts are just one among them. Talking about martial arts, the first thing that comes to the mind of many would be Karate. Karate is a word which we consider as a synonym to self-control, self-confidence and self-defense. It was immense pleasure to meet one of the prominent karate masters in Kuwait, Mr.Premkumar, the backbone of Shitu-Ryu School of Karate in Kuwait. He is an Indian based Karate expert who has been confirmed as the World Karate Federation (WKF) Referee ‘A’ and the WKF Judge ‘A’ in Kata and Kumite. As a news portal, close to heart of all the Indians in Kuwait, IIKYR is privileged to introduce Mr. Premkumar, the fourth Indian and the first Keralite to be honored as WKF Referee ‘A’.
IIKYR: First Keralite and fourth Indian to hold this status. How do you feel?
Mr. Premkumar: I feel so happy to know that my hard work paid off and thank God for these blessings. I see this as a great achievement in my life. All through my career, I had full support and help of my friends and students. Of course all these helped me to improve my karate considerably.
IIKYR: How you got interested in Karate. Was it your passion to excel in such a martial art or was it for self-defense purpose?
Mr. Premkumar: My entry to the field of Karate was through sports activities, as a passionate sportsman. It started from football, volleyball and badminton. Then I got interested and involved in bodybuilding and boxing. In 1982 my cousin, who had joined a dojo (karate class) introduced me to this martial art. From then, a new chapter of my life began, and I am still learning. I did not go there with an aim of defending myself. My interest to sports took me there.
IIKYR: Everybody uses the word Karate as a general term. But this martial art has its own different styles. Can you give us the different styles and how is one style different from another?
Mr. Premkumar: Karate is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. The WKF has recognized 4 main styles: Shito-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shoto-Kan. Now if you ask the difference, in one style the approach of attacking is hard, in the other it would be soft, and sometimes we use both. Consider this; if we want to burst a rubber tyre, we have two options. First, by taking a knife and poking it, that would be the hard way. Otherwise, we can open the cap and let out air, and this would be the soft method. Or we can use both the methods together. This is one major difference between the styles. The next difference would be how you attack a person according to the distance between their positions, long or short distance. These styles are mainly focused on how an animal fights. For example, tiger fight. Take Kung Fu, it is based on how snakes fight and so on.
IIKYR: How did you get into the Shito-Ryu style?
Mr. Premkumar: When I joined Karate, I did not know which style was good or anything like that. For my good fortune it happened to be a Shito-Ryu class. In Karate there are two-types of competitions: one is where the participants fight and the other is the Kata competition where the movements of attack are prearranged. The only style in the world that has more than 43 Katas is Shito-Ryu. So, I am lucky to have joined this style first and I am still following it as my favourite. Later I learned other styles like Wado-Ryu, Shoto-Kan, etc. To be a world referee you need to know all the styles.
IIKYR: Martial arts are given more importance in Kerala especially in the northern side, like Kalaripayat. Is there any similarity between our martial arts and the Karate?
Mr. Premkumar: Well, Kalaripayattu and Karate are not comparable when you take the traditional aspect. Kalaripayattu is a very deep-rooted and conventional martial art which is almost 6000 years old. Karate is a modern martial art that is still being updated to the modern needs and it is now included for the 2020 Olympics. Though they have a lot of similarities in basic application, karate is a weapon-free martial art whereas Kalaripayattu is of two types; with and without weapons. Kalaripayattu is still confined to our little state. It has not been upgraded or modified to make it that popular.
IIKYR: Do you think Karate, when taken as a sport destroys its traditional motives and spirits?
Mr. Premkumar: No. Conventionally, fighting was the hard-core attack, where there were lots of chances for hideous injuries. People feared the traditional uncompromising fight. Even when I joined Karate, what my parents said was, not to go for fighting. Anything else was permissible for them. Presently the scene has changed. It’s just like playing football or any other game. Modern Karate, which has been updated and modified to a completion level, is able to prevent injuries. Now anyone can come and join a dojo without the fear of breaking a bone. This was not the case when hard-core fighting existed. Only a few brave ones would join because there will be a lot of thrashing, kicking and bleeding. Now even a kick is only a slight touch on the skin. If it is not so, the referee has got the authority to punish. The traditional element is still there, keeping it as an absolutely controlled fighting with safety of the attackers taken into consideration.
IIKYR: What is the apt age and the age limit to join Karate?
Mr. Premkumar: To start learning karate age is not a barrier. I have a student who joined recently and he is 70 years of age. You will feel yourself young even at an old age. We never advertise any batch for adults. But when someone gets the benefit of learning Karate, as an adult, he/she recommends it for their friends and family. When people recognize its benefit, they show interest in joining, irrespective of the age. But always earlier the better. Anyone who is at the age of five and above can start learning Karate. Even we can start at the age of 4 provided the child is not that hyper and can concentrate on the class. We can’t expect the kids below that age to stay stable at a place while taking classes. There is no such declared age limit for learning karate.
IIKYR: How Karate helps to keep us healthy?
Mr. Premkumar: With Karate you will be more fresh, fit, young and active. Now people are more health conscious and very particular in walking as an exercise. It is seen that the new generation have weak muscles. When our muscles get weak, the weight of the body gets accumulated on the bone and that’s why all are having shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain etc. To tackle this we have to concentrate on muscle development. We take time to have a walk regularly, till we sweat. But walking cannot be considered as an effective muscle developing technique. For muscles to develop first it has to tear, and then get healed. For that to happen with walking is rare. Here lies the benefit of Karate compared to other activities and exercises. We have stretching, stamina and flexibility developing techniques etc. Asthma patients also find Karate helpful to reduce their breathing difficulties.
IIKYR: How does learning Karate help students in their studies?
Mr. Premkumar: The main thing needed for studies is concentration and high memory power. In one Kata there are minimum 20 steps. If this has to get into our mind, we have to work a lot towards it. Like this, if a student learns 43 Katas, the memory power will improve significantly without even the knowledge of that student. Also, he/she will become hard working. We have to do exercises, punches and other movements and when this exceeds a certain limit, the student becomes tired. Even then the master forces them to do more. In this way they automatically become more hardworking and dedicated. The normal food pattern of a child in these days keeps their energy level high and as a result they are restless and undisciplined. They need a system to waste their energy. If not, the chances for them to get engaged in fighting with friends and other anti-social activities are more. Karate can bring down this high energy level and make them disciplined and obedient. It also gives them more courage and patience.
IIKYR: What is the difference between the coloured belts? What does each belt denote?
Mr. Premkumar: Each belt is like a ranking in Karate. The story of colored belts goes like this. During the World-War II, Japan and China were poor countries. They did not have enough money to buy different coloured belts. So, they used to dye the white belts into darker shades until it turned black finally. A black belt shows the experience of the person who wears it, in Karate. A new born baby is first clothed with a white cloth. Then we start dressing them in colourful dresses. Just like that a new student who comes to join a karate class is given a white belt. At white belt there are only certain set of basic techniques. After that, another set of techniques are introduced where the difficulty in learning it increases. So each level, just like grade 1, grade 2, is denoted by a different coloured belt. When the portion of one level finishes, the child moves to the next level and gets another coloured belt.
IIKYR: Learning anything is a continuous process. But usually ‘Black Belt’ is understood as the end of taking Karate classes. Is securing Black belt a full stop for Karate learning?
Mr. Premkumar: No, Black belt is not a full stop, but a comma in the life of a Karate student. I should say that the actual Karate starts from black belt. Once a student finish learning the kicks, punches and blocks, he/she acquires a black belt. The application of Karate techniques starts only after the black belt. If a student stops his studies at black belt and then goes for a fight, then for sure he will be in hospital. After black belt he has to gain experience in applying what all techniques he studied till black belt. It is sad that most of the parents ignore this fact. Anyway, it is an individual’s decision whether to continue or not.
IIKYR: What made you think of a Karate school in Kuwait?
Mr. Premkumar: When I came to Kuwait in 1992, right after the invasion, there was an organization named Indian Arts Circle, and they had a space for their functioning. I used to go there for practice. One day while I was practicing, the organization board members came up to me and expressed an interest to start a Karate class, as a part of Indian Arts Circle. That was actually my base and start, as a Karate master in Kuwait. And now, I have around 800 students in 12 branches with 15 other masters who train students. It is now one of the biggest Karate schools in Kuwait.
IIKYR: It is like a trend set in the Gulf region for a child to join Karate class. Do the students learning Karate these days have the same kind of seriousness that was there in your days?
Mr. Premkumar: We can’t generalize the issue. Sixty percent of students who come here takes this martial art seriously, practices well and puts in a lot of effort and thus have reached very good levels. But, sadly almost thirty to forty percent come here only for namesake and to show the public that they have learned Karate.
IIKYR: In the present scenario how is learning a martial art important for girls?
Mr. Premkumar: Certainly it is important. Not only girls, everyone should learn Karate. This martial art increases ones confidence level. Learning Karate is just like holding your mother’s hand while going into the blind darkness. We can go anywhere without fear and a strong willpower will be developed in us. These days girls are much stronger than boys. If we conduct a fighting competition between girls and boys, definitely girls will win. But, that was not the case a few years back. All should learn Karate to increase confidence and live a healthy life.
IIKYR: Referees are an important part of any sport, especially Karate. What quality in you helped in becoming referee A at WKF?
Mr. Premkumar: Well, first and foremost quality is to keep an interest and inquisitiveness to learn Karate rules and regulations, and be aware on the updated rules and study them. I don’t consider Karate as my profession. It is my passion. So I have always kept that learning spirit alive. And then, I have to thank the Kuwait Karate Federation and their officials for including me to their Karate family. From each country only 3 or 4 people are selected to go and write the world referee test. To become a Referee A there are four stages. First you have to be a Judge C, then Judge A, then Referee B and finally comes the Referee A title. I was not successful at the first attempt. I lost it for five times. But, did not lose my hope and took it as a challenge. I started collecting CD’s, buying books and studying them. Thus, learning from the failures, finally in 2016 I became Referee A in fighting. I had already passed Kata referee test in 2006. I am so happy to share with you that there are no more tests for me to attempt. 14 years of continuous hard work and dedication took me to this prestigious level.
IIKYR: We have lots of people who seriously take up karate as a passion and profession. But why is that not many are getting recognized at this level from our place?
Mr. Premkumar: Like I said before, only 3 or 4 people are sent to write the international test from each country. Even though there might be millions participating, the WKF will only recognize 15 of them at a time. So the chances are actually very less. Not all athletes of a country are sent to take part in Olympics, isn’t? This is also just like that. They only take the finest. Also, I have observed that many masters are not updating themselves regularly which makes them and their students downgraded. This also might be a reason.
IIKYR: You have judged many competitions. How is judging a competition different from taking part in one? Which is difficult?
Mr. Premkumar: Both have got its own hardships. Getting a gold medal in a tournament is not that easy. Still, a fighter can win or lose. It is part of the competition. But a referee is not supposed to lose at any case. He can’t afford to take a wrong decision.
IIKYR: How was the experience being there as a referee for the first time?
Mr. Premkumar: That is an interesting story which happened in Kuwait. In Karate I was a fighter. The hotel Crown Plaza organized a Philippines tournament long back. I was there with my students from Indian Arts Circle to participate. With the experience of watching referees as a fighter, I could see that the tournament referee’s decisions were wrong. When I questioned it, they asked me to be the referee for the next bout. They were so impressed that I had to be the referee for the whole tournament. Thus, a fighter participant turned referee and it was given wide media coverage.
IIKYR: Was that a break for you to continue as a referee?
Mr. Premkumar: The media coverage was noted by all. But the journey to be an official referee was not that easy. When I expressed my wish to be a referee, Kuwait Karate Federation (KKF) asked me to clear the test and since I was ignorant of all the then existed rules, I failed in the test miserably many times. In the year 2000, the rules got changed and I could attend and impress the world level trainer who came to Kuwait from France for the purpose. With that reference I approached KKF again, but got rejected on the account of lack of finance. It was almost impossible for me to enter the referee team of KKF, but I managed to get in by offering my service free of cost. Thus after overcoming all such hurdles one by one the chances opened up to me. I went to an Asian tournament with the team, with KKF support got opportunity to attempt world referee test which I cleared and got posted as chief referee of India. Since I was not residing in India, I could not continue there. From there my hard work was getting recognized. From the twenty two who applied through KKF, just because I was an Indian, I got the visa to go Spain for the world tournament.
IIKYR: Tell us about your family and childhood?
Mr. Premkumar: I am born and brought up in Kollam district of Kerala State. After education I came to Kuwait as an accounting professional. Family consists of my wife, daughter who is currently pursing MBBS back in India and a son who is a 12th grade student in Kuwait. Both of them started Karate even before nursery classes. The first education they got was Karate and they both are black belts. Daughter is more of a studious nature and she is a rank holder at her college and son is a sportsman who is still continuing with Karate. My wife is completely engaged in taking care of myself and our kids at home.
Your story was really inspiring. Thank you so much Sir for your time. IIKYR wishes all the very best for you.
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