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The Warsaw Voice » Society » April 23, 2008
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Karate: A Hit in Poland
April 23, 2008   
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Karate lessons at the Warsaw Traditional Karate Academy (WAKT) at 82 Osowska Street in Warsaw begin and end with teachers and students sitting on the ground Japanese-style. After a brief period of meditation they bow to the portrait of Gichin Funakoshi hanging opposite the entrance. Funakoshi (1878-1957) developed Shotokan karate, one of the traditional styles of this martial art, in the early years of the 20th century. Finally, the students pay their respects to their instructor.

The WAKT is run by instructor Szczepan Thomas. Training sessions are held here by eminent karate practitioners such as Andrzej Maciejewski, Krzysztof Neugebauer and Włodzimerz Kwieciński. Neugebauer is one of the world's leading exponents with many accolades to his name. Kwieciński is president of the Polish Traditional Karate Association and vice-president of the European Traditional Karate Federation. It was he, along with a small band of enthusiasts, who introduced karate to Poland in the early 1970s under the tutelage of Japanese master Chiyomaro Shimoda.

The Osowska Street dojo, or training place, is a far cry from the conditions in which karate was first practiced in Poland. People used to practice on whatever surfaces came to hand, even sidewalks. The modern Osowska Street center has a gym and a small conference area in addition to the training room.

Ilija Jorga, a professor of sports medicine and clinical physiology, was another important figure in the history of Polish karate. "I trained for my black belt under Jorga," says Thomas. "He was a very strict examiner. I remember he arrived an hour late for my exam. I think this was a test to see how we would cope with the stress."

Poland has a lot of karate clubs today. Lubelski KKT, AKK ŁódĽ, MKS Spartakus Niepołomice and KK Gdynia are some of the better known. People's attitudes have changed a lot since karate made its first appearance here. "In the early '70s, reporters were always asking me about inadvertently training a street thug who might go out and kill someone," says Kwieciński.

"These days, people are more interested in the health benefits. After swimming, karate is the best form of physiotherapy for spinal injuries."

Karate is of course also a sport and a means of self-defense. Karate experts, however, stress that karate is primarily about discipline and self-improvement. Karate training hones life skills such as emotional control and "zanshin" or concentration. "You do not train in karate, you study karate," says Thomas. "This means that everyone needs to find their own path and set their own goals."

The success of karate in Poland can be attested by the number of schools teaching this Japanese martial art.

A center in Stara Wie¶ in ŁódĽ province is due to open in the fall of 2009 for the World Karate Championships. This will be the only sports center of its kind in the world and will include separate training space, bungalow accommodation and restaurant facilities, all built in Japanese style. There will also be room set aside for lessons in other Japanese arts such as calligraphy, origami (paper folding), ikebana (flower arranging), bonsai (aesthetic miniaturization of trees) and haiku poetry as well as exhibitions. The Polish and Japanese governments both support the project.

For more information about karate training centers in Poland, visit the website www.karate.pl

Mariusz Czubaj
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