Kick start your summer by signing up for karate lessons.
Since Daniel LaRusso crane kicked his way into our impressionable hearts, with just a little ‘wax on, wax off’ coaching from Mr. Miyagi, in the 1984 film Karate Kid many of us have fantasised about slipping into a white suit and strapping a head band around our brow. During the trilogy LaRusso went from bullied geek to trophywielding champion and while the mullet haircuts and drainpipe jeans may have been and gone (and been and gone again), the desire to master a martial art for many has remained.
While some of us consider stretching to grab the remote control (to watch nostalgia-tinged ’80s DVDs no doubt) a form of exercise this summer, the sticky season has presented us with the perfect excuse for a lack of anaerobic activity. But, if you want to break into a sweat – not the kind you get from hot-stepping it to Spinneys from your air-conditioned car – Dubai’s many dojos offering karate lessons are the perfect place to start perspiring. They will also equip dedicated students with a valuable form of self-defence, added strength and increased suppleness, while helping to burn off more than a few calories.
Karate – meaning ‘empty hand’ – was founded in Okinawa before the 15th century from both Chinese and Japanese influences and has gone on to become one of the world’s most popular forms of martial arts. It spread across the globe during the 1950s when servicemen stationed in Japan and Korea returned home to their respective countries and carried on training as well as instructing the martial art to others. Taught in schools, universities and in some armed forces, by the end of the 20th century karate was one of the most pervasive cultural exports from the Far East.
In modern karate there is an emphasis on improving oneself rather than hurting others. The father of modern karate, Gichin Funakoshi, is quoted as saying: ‘The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants’. It is also said that there is no first strike in karate, meaning that the art is essentially a self-defence tool and students are routinely taught the importance of not using their attained skills in violence.
Karate and its many offshoots can be broken down into three disciplines: basics (kihon) which involves learning and perfecting the various punches, kicks, strikes and blocks; sparring (kumite) which is the one-on-one fights often evaluated in tournaments and which can vary from non-contact to full-contact; and forms (kata) which are routines of specifically positioned movements performed almost like dances. Weapons (kobudo) are also taught to more advanced students and are frequently used in competitions and exhibitions. ‘Karate is one of the most diverse and dynamic martial arts there is,’ says local Black belt instructor Faramarz Mehrpour. ‘It incorporates a broad range of skills which you can continue learning and developing for the rest of your life.’
Mehrpour, who previously taught in the UK and Iran, has run Shokotan Karate (050 655 6105) for ten years. He says that the sharp increase in karate’s local popularity has been evident over recent years. ‘There isn’t a single person that cannot learn some karate or benefit from its teachings,’ he says. ‘We teach everyone from children aged four years and above to those in their 60s. We run kids and adults classes divided by ability and our weekly women-only classes include local ladies, a professor in her 50s and a 12-year-old black belt who has been training since she was six years old.’
‘We know how far to push people and never push beyond that,’ adds Mehrpour’s wife and fellow black belt, Fiona. ‘So it doesn’t matter how fit you are when you begin.’ Overweight children, students with learning disabilities and people recovering from injuries all feature amongst Shokotan Karate’s 60 students, who attend classes in Al Mussala Tower, Bur Dubai and at the Shangri-La Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Shokotan Karate’s small classes cost Dhs50 an hour or Dhs400 for a month’s worth of lessons.
In Dubai there is a plethora of martial arts masters to take you under their tutelage and we recommend going to watch a class before you part with any money or sign-up to a specific club as the quality of teaching and class sizes varies across the city. Starting at Dhs100 a month for a two-lessona- week package and offering discounts for advanced payment Golden Fist Karate Club (04 335 3563/ www.goldenfistkarate.com) offers some of the best value classes in the city. Under the expert supervision of senior instructor Sensei Manoj, the club offers separate lessons for men, women and children (including summer holiday classes for the kids) alongside kung-fu, tae kwondo, jiu-jitsu and Kerelan martial art kalari.
Golden Falcon Karate Centre (04 336 0243/ www.goldenfalconkarate.com) in Karama also provides extremely costeffective packages which again start at Dhs100 a month for two lessons a week and rise to Dhs200 a month for six lessons a week. Transportation can be provided to and from the centre for Dhs20 and there are separate men’s, women’s and children’s classes. Golden Falcon also sell the white suit worn in karate lessons, known in Japanese as a gi, for Dhs60, but beginners can wear loose fitting and comfortable clothing to any of the aforementioned classes until they feel confident about committing to regular lessons.
Founded in 1983 to promote Japanese martial arts in the UAE, Dubai Karate Centre (04 344 7797/ www.dubaikarate.com) offers group and individual lessons to adults of all abilities in its Jumeirah centre. Karate classes are taught three times a week for Dhs220 a month, plus a Dhs100 membership fee. There are also aikido, judo, taekwondo and tai chi chaun classes to choose from as well as a regular calendar of seminars from globally recognised martial arts masters. Further out of town, Dubai Country Club (050 734 2423 / www.dubaicountryclub.com) offers karate lessons for adults and juniors on Thursdays with Sensei Fairoz.
Originally, Karate training didn’t involve ranks, but at most clubs today you are likely to see students wearing belts ranging from white for beginners before progressing through yellow, purple, green, blue, brown and finally onto black belts – which have various ‘dans’ or levels of achievement. According to Mehrpour, it takes most people two years of daily practice to achieve a black belt, although Golden Fist Karate Club runs a specific nine-month Black Belt Crash Course if gaining this recognition is your primary goal.
Nowadays you can learn karate almost anywhere in the world, and thanks in part to HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s daughter Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is both the honourary president of the UAE Karate Federation and the head of the national women’s team, the country is fast becoming a Middle Eastern hub for the ancient martial art. You don’t have to be super fit or posses the flexibility of a gymnast to start classes and thankfully being able to catch flies with chopsticks is also surplus to requirements. Michelle Byrne.