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At these schools tradition is a way of life

May 19, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Shortly before 7 p.m., the students start showing up, entering the school through the back door. With a bow of respect they enter the main room where tonight's class will take place.

On first glance they appear to the untrained eye to be wearing essentially similar white outfits. A closer look reveals differences in the colors of the belts tied around their waists. There are green, blue, purple and black with a red stripe.

These are tonight's karate students.

At 429 S. Fourth St. in El Centro, is Noujaim's Shorin-Ryu Karate, where tradition is a way of life.

"All martial arts are under one umbrella. I'm not here to say which is better," the fit and trim 51-year-old Nabil Noujaim says. "We study traditional Okinawa karate and kobudo. It all has to do with the history of the people of Okinawa."

Noujaim said his school is an offspring of Okinawan grand master Choshin Chibana.


The word karate breaks down into "kara," which means empty; and "te," which means hands. Thus, the term karate-do means empty hand way or method.

Noujaim, a special education teacher and soccer coach at Central Union High School, said karate allows him to travel, lecture and enjoy life.

He said the biggest problem in the martial arts classroom is teaching etiquette, manners and protocol, such as who enters an elevator first, how low someone bows to another person and how loud someone's voice is. He said such teachings mean more than one's karate skill.

"We're a little too casual over here," Noujaim said.

Beside karate, Noujaim teaches weapons and ju-jitsu to men and women, young and old.

Noujaim said all of his students contribute to the success of the school, including cleanliness.

"It's a humbling experience," he said. "It's good exercise, excellent exercise."

Sparring with each other is optional.

Noujaim said when parents enroll their children they are looking to instill discipline in them first, then teach them self-defense.

"You never graduate from karate," he said.

Before the formal class starts the students can be seen stretching and practicing certain moves, called kata, all while observing themselves in mirrors.

Suddenly with a cry of what sounds like "hite," the students quickly form lines facing their teacher, or sensei. The orders, all in Japanese, continue, and the students are led through a furious pace of exercises and stretches, or conditioning.

Thus begins the intermediate and advanced student karate class of Nabil Noujaim.

Students are assigned to lead the group in the exercises, and doing so requires them to know how to count in Japanese. The warm-up exercises look vaguely familiar. They resemble jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, crunches and leg raises, among others. Nobody, not even the black belts, appears unruffled by the end of the intense session. Each student decides how far he can go, though the sensei is always urging the students to try harder and go longer.

Then the students form two lines and practice kata, well-defined attack and defensive moves, always careful to remain properly placed in their respective lines.

With the newspaper present, the sensei has the students perform certain kata according to their experience. They then demonstrate the application of kata with another student of similar experience, what's called sparring. As they spar, they must decide who is the attacker and who is the defender, as the moves are traditional and well-known to each other. Always there is that mutual respect overriding all else, which begins with a bow to the sensei and then each other. If by themselves, they bow to themselves in the mirrors.

The kata movements are not only smooth in their execution but there is also the emphasis on force and performing the movements sharply.

Throughout the kata, students make certain shouts, called kia, or shout of spirit, intended to tighten muscles and give students a little more energy.

Students also individually demonstrate various kata.

Following open hand movements, the students are called upon individually to demonstrate how the various weapons are used. The weapons include the bô, or deadly staff; tonfa, or baton; sai, or little trident; kama, or scythe; and nunchaku, two sticks tied together with rope or chain.

Though used as weapons, all of these devices were actually used as tools in everyday life on Okinawa. But in 1609 the island was invaded by the Satsuma Samurai Clan and all weapons were confiscated. The Okinawans then developed a method of self-defense using their empty hands and converting their tools into weapons.

The staff is still seen as that used to balance loads carried across one's shoulders. The nunchakus were used to beat rice and as a horse bit. They were reportedly martial arts legend Bruce Lee's favorite weapon. The tonfa, used as a police baton today, was used as a millstone arm used for the preparation of grain. The kama was used to cut weeds and bring in a crop.

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