TYO's Karate Kids!
This summer, 9-14 year old children in our Summer Camp have had the opportunity to experience a number of different sports and activities – volleyball, drama, singing lessons, soccer, and dabke, as well as many art, critical thinking, and literacy activities emphasizing a sense of community and communication skills. By far one of the greatest hits of Summer Camp has been our weekly Karate classes with trainers from a local Nablus martial arts center. Last week, we interviewed one of the trainers who holds 15 international medals in Karate – the highest in Palestine – and has welcomed trainers from around the world to teach in Nablus.
Below, he shares the greatest misconceptions about Karate, the importance of equal gender participation, and how the martial art ties into TYO’s curriculum on community, self-esteem, and respect.
What do you see as the greatest misconception about Karate?
The greatest misconception our community has about Karate is that it is about violence and power, that a master of Karate is someone who is physically strong and intimidating. That idea originates not from the community and grassroots level, but rather from the trainers themselves who misuse Karate to demonstrate their power and strength to others. Unfortunately, the community has internalized that. Many parents push their kids to attend classes for all of the wrong reasons; they want their kids to be Karate “stars,” when really Karate is first and foremost about teaching self-discipline and positive personality traits.
We also have parents who worry that Karate will distract their kids from academics; they fail to see that the self-discipline Karate teaches actually helps their children do better in school. In my twenty years of teaching Karate, I have seen 95% of my students not only do well in school, but also largely outperform their peers.
The word “Karate” means discipline through respect – and we mean ‘respect’ not in a hierarchical way, but rather respect for all, young and old and regardless of their experience level. For me, our job in the community goes far beyond teaching the skills of Karate to our kids – it is also about making a change in the community through Karate’s basic principles of self-discipline and respect.
Do you face any challenges involving girls in your Karate classes?
Unfortunately, we face a lot of discrimination in our community against girls’ participation in Karate. I have heard too many parents say that girls will lose their femininity – both physically and in their personalities – through learning Karate. To me, girls are our most important target group; 60% of our students in Nablus are girls, and we teach Karate as both a mental and physical defense mechanism for the day-to-day harassment and violence these girls face.
Part of our job is also “walking the walk.” I hold 15 international medals in Karate, and so does my sister; we have taken that journey one hundred percent together. I know that I cannot teach girls about their equal right to participate, and I cannot teach boys equality and acceptance, if my sister is not by my side living that principle.
We work with disadvantaged youth in Nablus, both from the city and refugee camps, to build their self-esteem, sense of community, and the communication skills they need to effect change in their communities. How can Karate benefit that target group and help us achieve those goals?
The basic answer is that Karate teaches self-confidence, self-control, and problem-solving in crisis situations, all of which are important for adolescents growing up in disadvantaged and conflict-affected areas.
But there are two things I will add from my personal experience teaching Karate in Nablus. One – Since Karate is about teaching self-worth and self-discipline, we must start early in a child’s life, far before adolescence. That is when you can have the biggest positive impact. Two – hundreds of children have passed through our Karate center, and the one thing they all seek is love and validation from adults. As Karate trainers in Nablus, we receive substantial training in what we call “hug training” – the metaphorical “hug” is about us, as adults, building a positive relationship with our trainees. For girls, the “hug” is most often about validating their ideas and affirming their value and importance as individuals. I have had a number of female trainees tell me that their families tell them to just follow directions, and Karate is the first time they have been asked to think. While that says a lot about how far we need to go as a community, it reminds me that again, our role is much more than just teaching Karate’s martial techniques; it is about making a change in our community’s mentality.
- Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager; interviewed by Suhad, TYO Psychosocial Program Manager