The cries “Ne”, “Ish,” “San” all uttered with emphasis greet us as we see students practising their moves with great concentration. All dressed in their Karate Kits with only the different belts indicating their respective levels of proficiency, they pause to greet everybody who enters the hall by bowing their heads with hands clasped in a gesture of respect.
In an era where values and manners are least appreciated, an institution that places emphasis on such ideals is praiseworthy. The Institute for Martial Arts in Wellawatte begun by Dr. V. Thanarajah, the instructor in charge and president of the institute teaches Karate not for the purpose of waging a battle but purely for self-defence, emphasizing its worth as a character-building tool.
Since its inception in 1989, IMA has been a potential catalyst in promoting martial arts as a sport across its member base amounting to thousands with many branches scattered across the island.
Karate is the main focus though the course is a mixture of martial arts, and the students undergo a special training in self defence lock techniques beyond the traditional shotokan fundamentals, advanced Kata and Kumite practices.
“My major motive was to popularise the sport among the educated crowd as they believed that the sport was not for refined people in late 1980’s and I wanted to change that view,” said Dr. Thanarajah.
Students with a knowledge of English are ideal, but others also get an opportunity to study the language as Dr. Thanarajah believes that if they can speak the language a common code of behaviour can be maintained. New students are accepted in April and anyone above three years of age can enrol. Those who are unable to afford the course are given an opportunity to follow the classes free of charge.
Nearly 100 candidates follow classes and they can climb the ladder by achieving white, orange, green, brown belts and finally the black belt certificate where one qualifies to be an instructor.
Physical wellbeing is important as well as mental wellbeing therefore they receive advice on healthy food habits and are also trained to build their self confidence and help them identify the capacity of their own energy. There is no competition between them and they are able to enjoy the sport in a stress-free atmosphere.
Dinesh Sattrukalsinghe, a student and also an instructor of IMA at present recalled his 18 years at the institute. He initially joined when he was a university student in search of stress relief. Balance of mind is important to face challenges in the work place, family etc and he was able to achieve this through karate, he says.
Said Kshanika Goonesekera, a student “I have leant a lot through the words of wisdom that Dr. Thanarajah shares. You can become a better person,” she adds. “They should promote karate as a self skill as a compulsory subject at least for a period of six months in schools - as this is something really cool; it builds the mind, temperament and patience,” was Mr. Sattrukalsinghe’s view.
IMA conducts classes at their Wellawatte centre on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6.30 p.m. at Fredrica Road, at Samaja Sarana Hall, St. Anthony’s Church premises, Colombo 3 at 10.30 on Sunday mornings and on Sundays at 5 p.m. at the Dutch Burger Union, Thunmulla Junction.