Karate chops and high kicks help promote tolerance and understanding in a region fought with tensions.
image via (cc) flickr user emptyhighway
As anyone who actually practices martial arts can tell you, learning how to punch, kick, and chop effectively is less about becoming an excellent fighter than it is about developing a sense of self-discipline and control. Like the oft-repeated adage about jazz, karate isn’t so much about the punches you throw, as it is about the ones you don’t. It’s this duality—the tension between violence, and inner calm—that makes the study of martial arts so compelling. But can karate do more than simply bring peace to those who study it? Can it bring peace to an entire region?
That was the goal of a recent martial arts seminar held on the beaches of the small Israeli town of Herzilya, just north of Tel Aviv. There, karate practitioners from across Israel joined with martial artists from nearby Jordan to both learn from one of the leading martial artists in the Middle East: Imad Khalil, head of the Jordanian Karate Association. The beachfront seminar, attended by Jews, Christians, Druze, and Bedouins, was more than just a chance to learn with a teacher at the top of his field, it was a chance to build bridges between communities often separated by suspicion and tension.
Said Khalil to PBS News Hour: “It’s help for peace. If you have a neighbor. And never you see him, and they see you. How you going to have relation with him? Friendship?”
The event was the brainchild of Danny Hakim, founder of Budo For Peace, the Israel-based martial arts organization that invited Khalil to teach. Per its website, Budo For Peace aims to
[E]ducate and instill in youth the behavioral values of tolerance, mutual respect and harmony both within themselves as well as with their neighbors and surroundings by means of traditional martial arts training and by internalizing the inherent ideals of Budo.”
To that end, the organization has affiliate chapters throughout Ethiopia, France, Turkey, and Jordan, each promoting a sense of camaraderie and, yes, peace, across cultures and borders, all through the equalizing power of athletic competition. This latest event follows a 2012 trip to Jordan by Hakim and a number of his students. There the group learned from sensei Nayel Owaimer of the Jordanian National Karate Team.
While Budo For Peace may be working to bring people together through a mutual love of martial arts, sometimes the larger world gets in the way: Three fourths of Khalil’s group of Jordanian martial artists were reportedly held back from entering Israel for the beachfront session. That doesn’t seem to worry Hakim, though. Bolstered by this round of Jordanian-Israeli martial arts cooperation, he’s already planning to expand upon the program’s success, telling PBS News Hour:
“You know, as a karate person, you know, it’s just one obstacle. Next time we’ll definitely get them to come.”