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5th September 1999

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Art or sport?

By Udena R.Attygalle

One day the Devil challenged the Lord to a Karate tournament. Smiling the Lord proclaimed "you don't have a chance, I have all the greatest fighters up here."

"Yes," sniggered the devil, "but I have all the referees!"

A screaming, punching maniac or a calm cal- culated striker? A sport or a way of life? Martial arts and their exponents have always painted a mystic and sometimes confusing portrait of themselves.

Yet there's no disputing their grace and skill.

Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Judo, Aikido, Muay Thai, Savate, Ninjutsu and a host of names spring to mind when talking of martial arts. But aren't they all practised in Japan or somewhere? Not any more, for except for the latter, all the others have made their way to Sri Lanka .

The earliest anyone can remember of martial arts in our country is the "China Footing" of our grandparents' folklore. Incidentally, 'China Footing,' came from India and not from China as the name may suggest. That we had a unique martial art of our own, many believe is wishful thinking. But the books "Sinhala Salakunu" by Martin Wickremasinghe and "Sinhala Satan" by D.P Deraniyagala touch on this much debated topic.

The first explosion of interest in martial arts came in 1972, with Bruce Lee's action movie "Enter the Dragon" hitting our cinema halls. As veteran martial arts instructor, Hassen Khalid recalled, "In those early days martial arts teachers were hard to come by."

In the wake of the JVP insurrection in 1971, the police started registering all paramilitary classes in 1974 .This probably was the first time martial arts were registered in this country.

There was a dip in interest in martial arts till about the mid-'80's. "With foreign masters coming to the country in the late 1980s, interest picked up again," said instructor Anton Charles. "This resurgence also coincided with television becoming popular."

Today the art has mostly become a trade. Classes are held everywhere, with many cashing in on the eager public. But then there are a lot of good instructors as well.

Whilst opportunities to learn the various arts are many, affiliation to a foreign institute may not necessarily mean much. One local master recalled how on a recent visit to Japan, he had found many small institutes that provide certificates to foreign martial arts organizations.

But what of the spiritual side associated with martial arts? Instructor Douglas Peiris believes that teaching this art as sport takes much away from it. But one good aspect he saw in the classes was that the students learnt discipline and abstained from most wrongs. But the teaching runs much deeper; the Chinese martial arts in particular, teach a whole way of life of which fighting is only a small part.

It might surprise you but every free movement of the body can be turned into a dangerous, even deadly blow. Where and to hit the opponent is the art. Charles describes martial arts as " polishing and fine-tuning our response to aggression."

He also says that the first six months of training are the hardest. Learning the basics and not the fancy kicks and jumps is a hard pill to swallow for many. Yet he recalled how he gradually came to appreciate this art.

An important suggestion he made was that classes should be held in consultation with a lawyer and a doctor. The lawyer to educate young fighters on the consequences of using their new found skills unwarrantedly, and the doctor to help in the inevitable injuries.

If interested in learning martial arts, you should be very selective about the class you choose. Full contact sparring that is not properly monitored could easily result in the doctor stitching up an ugly cut.

But a well monitored class could be very useful for girls as well as children. The youngest age recommended is four. Indeed girls have a definite advantage over the boys in aspects like stretching.

So what discipline should you choose? Only you will know. But remember, "it doesn't matter from which side you climb. Once up there, you will see every way there is."

It will take at least two years to get your black belt. And that too after lots of hard work.

Charles recommends that beginners should train without protective gear so they could get a feel of the pain of a blow and avoid unwanted risk-taking later on. But training should be well monitored.

For the advanced fighter whose strikes could be very dangerous, hand gloves, groin guards, helmets, chest-guards etc are essential when sparring.

What of the street fighters who are so good at one-to-one combat? The experts believe that they are even better at the martial arts than students of the art. These fighters have very few shots in their arsenal usually picked up from the movies or friends, but there is one deadly strike that an individual has perfected that causes all the damage.

And if you are wondering what good free hand combat is against a speeding bullet: Charles had this to say. "Martial arts can't help you avoid the bullet, but it will help you to identify friend and foe better, and thus help avoid the foe."

To be continued

Gifts with class...and a bridal package too

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

All you people out there panicking and running around doing your last minute shopping for a gift for someone you really care about, and then ending up with something you don't really like because there really wasn't anything nice out there, look no further!

You will simply not be able to moan any more that there aren't any nice one stop gift shops in the country, after you've visited 'Touch of Class'. You will find almost everything you want in gift ideas here and definitely some you hadn't even thought of. And if it's not there, guess what, you can probably have it brought down.

The lady behind the magic is Shyanthi Wickramasooriya a former business manager who has been living in Australia for the past 13 years. Shyanthi manages the shop together with three of her cousins who live in Sri Lanka. The shopping is done by Shyanthi in Australia and the unique feature here is that while she stocks up every two months, she promises not to repeat her products.

The focus of Shyanthi's shop is a bridal service. She runs a bridal consultancy service which may take much of the headache off the bride and her mother. Shyanthi offers the complete service from doing the invitations, the flowers, cake, cake ornaments and doilies, to the dress, make-up, accessories (even up to the buttons and tiaras), to booking the hotel and honeymoon locations. The prices vary and depend on the item you choose but a complete set of invitations with the place cards, reception and wedding cards and so on will cost between Rs. 100-250.

Shyanthi plans to do the consulting on a referral service, where she refers her clients to designers such as Harris and Keerthi Sri Karunaratne and they in turn, refer their clients to her. Helping her with the wedding consulting will be Eranganie Decker.

'I found that there was a real lack of such a shop in the Sri Lankan market, and the response so far has been amazing. While I have a wide range of products, if there is something specific clients want I can get it down, or if they want a large order of something, if they want bride's dresses or little maids dresses from Australia, I'm prepared to do anything,' is Shyanthi's enthusiastic attitude.'

The gifts are all imported from Australia and cover almost every type of recipient from grandparents, to babies, to parents, siblings, husbands, wives and friends.

If you know someone who likes cooking you may want to gift them with a fruit and vegetable motif book to write their recipes in, which comes with a little wooden spoon attached to the cover as a decoration and costs about Rs. 500. Or maybe an unbreakable glass chopping board with a print of fruits, flowers and vegetables on it, which is scratch- proof and odour free and would look good even just lying around on a kitchen counter for Rs. 1900. They might even like vinegar jars with decorative preserved chillies, orange slices and raspberries for between Rs.600- 1400, or hand painted cruet sets............the list is endless.

A fun loving child or adult may fancy, rows of tiny frog or watermelon slice candles, or those in the shape of teddy bears and cows, conch shell candles and candle figures in the shape of jolly men and women in bathing costumes, complete with beach ball and all for between Rs. 300 and 500, or pot pourri or antique photo frames for between Rs. 700 -1000, or flower ringed candle stands. A grandmother- to- be may love to be gifted with a book about her role in her granchild's life.

For the beauty conscious there is a whole new range of 'Nunkerima' cosmetics produced by a former movie make-up artist. The colours are especially designed for Asian skin including the darker skin tone foundations, creams and so on. The beauty consultants will be especially trained by Shyanthi who herself has undergone training in Australia. There are also a wide range of 'Forever Friends' beauty items such as gift soaps, foot care products, body products and so on.

Young parents are bound to have a blast decorating their child's room with lovely baby photo frames from between Rs. 700 to 1000, meticulously keeping records in the baby record books and storing cute pictures in baby albums to show to a future sweetheart. They may even want to write of their baby's arrival to loved ones abroad using the range of stationary or get busy preparing for the baby's arrival with 'It's a Boy' or 'It's a Girl' signs. Or they may even enjoy buying the decorated paper serviettes costing Rs. 500 to lay out at a child's birthday party.

It's also hard to overlook the shelves of goodies such as Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Macadamia cookies, long legs of candy with funny faces on top, bead sweets and so much more.

And finally there are even classy presents for guys such as handkerchief sets or complete perfume and body kits from brands such as Lynx.

The shop at the Rotunda Gardens YWCA is crammed full of much more of these kinds of gifts. And for me at least, gift shopping is never going to be a nightmare again.

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