It’s Thursday, 6.45pm, at the Sports and Cultural Club in Noida, near Delhi. The reception is full of noisy children waiting for their chance to hit the swimming pool. In a room on the right, four senior citizens are concentrating on a game of bridge, oblivious to all the noise around. The lounge in front is full of overweight children guzzling colas. Downstairs, the club scene gets even more clichéd: At the gym, men and women are sweating it out on the machines, trying to make the most of the half-hour they’ve got before heading home.
But, further into the building, in a large basement hall with wall-to-wall mirrors at both ends, the scene is quite different. Seven grown-up men, some of them distinctly flabby, are crouched in classic karate postures, their fists clenched, arms held out straight. “Ichi,” shouts the instructor, and all of them leap forward in one fluid move, fists punching the air in full force.
Think martial arts and what comes to mind? The iconic Bruce Lee and his brand of kung fu? Or Ralph Machhio as Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 Hollywood blockbuster, The Karate Kid? Agile bodies, spinning kicks, hard chops and harsh guttural sounds? Or, tiny seven-10-year-olds being put through their paces at the ubiquitous tae kwon do or judo classes at the neighbourhood park?
If you thought martial arts was only for star-struck children or teenagers wanting to emulate Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, think again. For the last five years, a motley bunch of corporate executives, in their mid-20s to late-30s, have been attending the Seido Karate Dojo (training school) at this upscale sports club in Noida for reasons varying from getting into shape to getting a hold on their emotions.
Clad in the trademark all-white gear, they kick, spar, work out and meditate, without a hint of self-consciousness. Senpai Rahul Aggarwal, the 32-year-old instructor with a second-degree black belt, had earlier worked with Tata Consultancy Services as a human resources executive. He now runs wellness programmes, including a session on self-defence, for executives.
Seido karate, says Senpai Aggarwal, is a way of life, a way of being. It involves the training of the body, mind and spirit together in order to realize the “fullness of human potential”.
For the seven corporate samurais gathered here, a chance to wear the coveted black belt is the last reason they decided to take up karate. Instead, physical fitness through karate is their biggest motivation, a close second being the satisfying of an unfulfilled childhood ambition. Rajat Banerji, 38, the corporate communication head at Amway, joined Senpai Aggarwal’s class four years ago “simply to fill in the gap in physical activity” (He used to swim during the summer earlier). He also wanted to make up for a missed chance to learn martial arts when he was in Class XII. Today, an advanced green belt holder, and “superbly fit”, swimming is a forgotten pastime for him. Says Banerji: “The workout addresses all aspects of fitness—stretching, cardiovascular, muscular, breath regulation and control. Doing this three-four times a week will ensure that those in the class are taking their health seriously.”
Sharad Gupta, 35, who runs his own investment-planning practice, wanted to learn karate when he was a child. Today, he attends the seido classes to lose weight. Saurav Pandey, a 29-year-old senior manager with Birlasoft, and 28-year-old Sikhar Saikia, a software engineer with GlobalLogic (formerly Induslogic), say they joined these classes because they were bored with their gym routine. “I was searching the Net for more interesting activities than spending time in the gym to lose weight and came across the seido karate website,” says Pandey. In the last six months that he has been here, Pandey claims he has lost 10kg and also improved his stamina considerably. Saikia says he used to spend “90% of his life in front of the computer” before he realized one day that life was becoming a drag. “Work couldn’t excite or challenge me. I joined a gym but was bored stiff and quit. That’s when I decided to join a martial arts class,” he says. Sumith Dutta, a marketing communication head with Shell, says karate has helped him beat stress. “A year ago, I had some personal problems.” He adds that karate has helped him straighten his life out completely. The others—Kuldip Vikram and Arun Kumar Mehra, both 29-year-old software developers, the former with BayPackets Technology and the latter with Headstrong India—say they joined the classes primarily for fitness reasons.
Apart from helping them develop strong bodies and a general sense of well-being, the seven men claim seido karate has led to self-improvement in many other areas as well. They say it has helped them focus on work, concentrate and discipline their life. Values like commitment, too, have been learnt: It takes a minimum of five years to get anywhere near a black belt.
Watching the session in progress, where every command of the instructor is met with a respectful ‘Osu’ from the students, and graceful Japanese style bows, you understand the truth behind Senpai Aggarwal’s words when he says: “It’s also about developing character—instilling values such as love, respect and obedience and throwing away the ego.” This goal is achieved by integrating Zen meditation into the practice. Given these depths to this karate form, Senpai Aggarwal points out how he feels “it is more suited for adults, who can imbibe these concepts better than children.”
But does that mean age was never a barrier in the minds of those who have enrolled for the dojo? For Dutta, Gupta and Banerjee, there were issues. “Yes, I did wonder if I could cope,” admits Dutta, who started at 37. Gupta and Banerjee were more worried about being misfits in a kid-heavy dojo. Says Banerjee: “All earlier attempts to start came to naught as this would mean learning in a park with children.”
Those in their 40s and 50s can take heart from the dojo in New Delhi’s Greater Kailash I, where Senpai Hardeep Singh, a third-degree black belt, takes great pride in his oldest student—a 52-year-old storeowner who joined three years ago and is one of the most regular in the class.
Meanwhile, the seven at Noida describe how karate has helped them in their professional lives. During the gruelling training sessions, timing, tactics and patience are all part of the learning deal. Vikram points out how the katas or sparring action against an adversary can be applied to real life as well. “You learn to face the problem rather than run away,” he says.
Also, he adds, the feints come in handy—while locked in combat, when there is an impasse, the training they get teaches them to move back and then lunge again. Similarly, he points out how he has learnt, when stuck with a software code problem, to go back a level and attack the problem again.
For Dutta, the learning has been “about managing your environment and having better control over your emotions”. He says he no longer loses his cool easily. Saikia adds that he is now able to identify his priorities better.
The last word comes from Senpai Aggarwal: “In karate, you are not competing against anyone, only against yourself. You are setting your own levels and standards.” Transferred to the corporate sphere, he points out how this can make for healthier relationships. In the personal sphere, too, the trainees report positive effects. Says Banerji: “Though I may get less time with the children on the days when I attend the classes, the positive energy ensures that I spend quality time with them. Better to be a 30-minute Yahoo Dad, than a three-hour Grouchy Father.”
As the session gets progressively more intense, with fists and feet launching out into attack, the question occurs: What about injuries? “Yes, it’s known to happen during training—but in five years, we haven’t had any here,” says Senpai Aggarwal.
The key, he says, is to train under a certified, qualified instructor who gauges the student’s personal capabilities before stepping up the pace or moving to the next level. Dutta, who had fears on this count, points out how he took it slow for the first couple of months. “But your bodies learn to cope,” he says.
Session over, Senpai Aggarwal expresses one major regret—that he has not managed to motivate his female students to stay on. Over the last five years, he has had a fair number of women coming in but none has stayed beyond six months. He is unable to figure out why they don’t stick to something that could prove to be more than useful, given the unsafe cities we live in.
He also describes how he’s doing his best to impress upon his corporate clients the need to introduce self-defence courses for women employees. At the Computer Sciences Corporation office in Noida, he has already conducted an initial orientation session.
In the Greater Kailash I dojo, Senpai Singh has had better luck with women trainees. He says there are at least two who have been fairly regular and he feels they might just last the course. Osu to that.
Just as there are dozens of forms of martial arts—tae kwon do, kung fu, kickboxing, muay thai, capoeira, silat, savate, judo, t’ai chi ch’uan—karate, too, has as many variants as there were grandmasters. Or, so it appears.
Officially, Wikipedia describes only four major styles: goju-ryu, shito-ryu, shotokan, and wado-ryu. But within these are several schools, each with its own associations, rules and networks.
Seido karate is a strict, traditional Japanese style of karate, into which founder Kaicho T. Nakamura has distilled the essence of martial arts and Zen meditation.
Today, the World Seido Karate Organization , headquartered in New York, has branches across Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and South America. This is convenient for frequent travellers who hate missing training sessions. Kuldip Vikram, a software developer, says that on work assignments abroad, he manages to locate the nearest Seido branch and tries to keep up with the training.
In India, there are only three centres, all of them in Delhi.
Seido Karate India
Arya Samaj Mandir Hall
Greater Kailash I, New Delhi
Instructor: Senpai Hardeep Singh
Seido Karate India
Arya Samaj Mandir
Greater Kailash II, New Delhi
Instructor: Senpai Nagender Gulliya Singh
Sports & Cultural Club, Sector 15A, Noida
Instructor: Senpai Rahul Aggarwal
Phone: 91-9818399388 Website: www.seidokarate-noida.com
Seido stresses the unity and inseparability of karate and Zen. This is not a unique idea, but a return to the roots of martial arts.
It is a complete physical fitness routine, taking care of all the different components of physical exercise.
The level of intensity in seido karate is very high for different components such as cardiovascular endurance, strength training, flexibility and stretching. Each student gets a balanced input on all these aspects.
Seido karate creates an overall impact on physical well-being.
The fat and muscle content and bones are very balanced in a karate student.
Seido karate calls for a high level of discipline which, in turn, helps in developing the moral character of the individual.
Seido seeks to develop in each student a ‘non-quitting’ spirit. Sincere practice of karate instills a modern interpretation of the bushido spirit of the samurai, which is loosely analogous to the European concept of chivalry in a warrior.
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