Middle East martial arts masters hit the mat for amity

With talk of deflecting violence, not spreading it, a gathering of leading global athletes convenes in Israel in a show of respect

Two young students practicing martial arts techniques during the Budo for Peace Seminar, February 13, 2018 (Urvashi Verma/Times of Israel)
Two young students practicing martial arts techniques during the Budo for Peace Seminar, February 13, 2018 (Urvashi Verma/Times of Israel)

What do an instructor from Iran who chose the path of peace, a Jordanian who trained in martial arts with the royal family in Dubai, an Egyptian who serves in the karate federation in Iraq, and a Turkish man who promoted karate for women in his country have in common?

They were all participants in the Budo for Peace International Martial Arts Seminar that took place in Raanana last month, marking the fourth anniversary of a gathering of leading athletes who are using the martial arts to promote coexistence, respect, and peace. They hailed from the Middle East, Japan, Australia, and Greece.

The visiting sensei, or masters, conveyed a strong and united message that the trek was not politically motivated in any way but instead a call to promote values of peace among the youth.

“Our purpose is to teach younger generations to know peace better, not by violent means but by doing martial arts and showing the values of respect to one another — most importantly not to hurt one another,” said Mikdat Kahraman, a master martial arts teacher from Ankara, Turkey.

Israeli martial arts instructors and students learning karate techniques during training at the Budo for Peace seminar on Feb 13., 2018 (Urvashi Verma/Times of Israel)

Most traditional martial arts follow a code of conduct that demands and gives respect, arouses humility and develops a sense of equality among its followers. Such behaviors as wearing simple uniforms, practicing barefoot and competing on mats, which are seen as a sacred space, help connect with the values of humility, respect, and peace, they say.

“As you can see, no one here is different. We are not separating people by politics or religion. Our white dress reminds us we are all equal,” said Ghazi Keyvan, who helmed Iran’s team at the Allstar Europa Championships in karate, as he prepared to lead the training exercises.

While competitors in other sports do not want to shake hands with Israeli competitors, due to political and ideological differences, the entire philosophy of martial arts is to demonstrate respect toward one another, said Keyvan.

Respect is one of the most important and longstanding aspects of martial arts. Many schools require you to bow upon entering as a sign of respect, among other customs that students have to uphold, he added.

The two-day seminar opened with an advanced training course in which master-level practitioners from Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority taught Israeli instructors and students martial arts techniques and facilitated the exchange of new ideas.

The idea that one should control aggression without inflicting injury upon one’s opponents is a fundamental teaching in the sport, said Mohamed Saied, who is another master teacher and executive director of the Georgian National Karate Federation.

The practice of martial arts, although it appears violent, redirects the physical force and anger of opponents without harming them. That is why many of the techniques involve deflecting the opponent’s kicks and throws than attacking the opponent directly, he said.

On the second day more than 300 children, young adults and their teachers from Arab, Jewish orthodox, secular, Ethiopian and Bedouin backgrounds, who are part of the Budo for Peace network of martial arts schools, participated in the martial arts practice and training with the visiting masters.

For Danny Hakim, founder and chairman of Budo for Peace (BPF), who has tirelessly worked to help people, especially youth, to connect and know others from across the world through karate for more than 14 years, these values are a core foundation that can help to promote peace across in the world.

Left to Right Australian Ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan, Turkish Ambassador to Israel, Mekin Mustafa Kemal Ökem Danny Hakim founder and chairman of Budo for Peace; Koji Tomita Japanese ambassador to Israel at the Budo for Peace seminar on Feb 13, 2018 (Nimrod Glikman)

A grand ceremony was held at the end of the evening attended by community members and distinguished guests including the ambassadors of Japan, Turkey, and Australia.

“I have been here as an ambassador for two years. I am gratified to know that so many Israeli people have embraced martial arts and are using it as a means for promoting peace,” said Koji Tomita, Japan’s ambassador to Israel, who commended Hakim for his drive, energy and leadership for the project.

The Turkish ambassador to Israel, Mekin Mustafa Kemal Ökem, who attended with his wife and son, both karate practitioners, said that he was “delighted to see martial arts being used to teach younger generations the importance of the vision of peace.”

“When it comes to arts, sports, and music all of humanity speaks the same language, that’s why it’s the best way to convey piece solidarity and friendship. This is what we should be supporting,” said Ökem.

In the closing program, Hakim talked about how getting together in forums like the seminar helps to break down ignorance and fear.

“It takes a great amount of courage for these masters to come here today to Israel,”  he said.

“Part of the process is to create exchanges between children from all sectors of society in Israel. Through our work we break down ignorance and fear and build bridges between people and communities,” Hakim said.

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