Discipline, respect, physical fitness, suppleness, weight reduction, concentration, focus, mental acuity, alertness and of course self-defense, these are only some of the benefits to be gained by practicing the sport of Shito-Ryu Karate, said Prem Kumar, the chief sensei at Shitu-Ryu School of Karate in Kuwait, during an exclusive interview with The Times.
Having received a 5th Dan Black Belt from the World Karate Federation (WKF) in 2002, Mr. Kumar is the official referee of the Kuwait Karate Federation (KKF) and the only qualified Kata A referee in the country. He is also a WKF recognized judge for Kumite karate competitions, a Kata judge for the West Asian Karate Federation, Asian Karate Federation judge and the chief examiner and coordinator for Shitu Ryu karate in Kuwait.
Sensei is form of address that literally translates to teacher, or someone who shares his wisdom gained through age and experience, explained Mr. Kumar, as he led us through the different nuances of Shito-Ryu karate. Incorporating various styles, Shito-Ryu unites the different roots of karate; it brings together the physical strength and powerful stances of Shuri-te karate with the circular and eight-directional movements, as well as the breathing power and the hard and soft characteristics of Naha-te. With an emphasis on the five rules of defense and on sparring, Shito-Ryu has developed into an extremely fast form of karate that is at the same time both artistic and powerful.
“There are many movements in Shito-Ryu karate and an ardent student will have to spend a great deal of time and effort to perfect its myriad forms and styles. While participating in Shitu-Ryu competitions is tough, it is even more so when referring or judging competitions, there are so many elements to be observed and judged at the same time,” said Mr. Kumar.
Elaborating on the two forms of Shito-Ryu competitions, the sensei added, “Shito-Ryu competitions are categorized into Kumite, which is the actual fighting between two opponents and the Kata, which displays pre-arranged movements of defense and attack. While Kumite is judged based on blocking, striking and kicking techiques, delivered to different parts of the opponents body, kata recognizes stance, speed, power, agility, technical ability, movements, balance and concentration, which is called ‘kime’ in Japanese.”
It was in 1982 that Mr. Kumar first ventured into the world of Shito-Ryu karate. He enrolled at the famous Alan Thilak Shito-Ryu school of Karate in his native India and after eight years of rigorous training, he was conferred with a Black Belt by Sensei Moses Thilak. In 1986 he began competing in several karate championships organized by the All India Karate Federation, both on the state and national level and winning several accolades in the process.
In 1992 Mr. Kumar arrived in Kuwait and took up employment at the Crescent Commercial Company where he continues to work to this day. But despite his busy work schedule he could not abandon his passion for the sport of karate and in the evenings began training under Mohammad Saleh Sultan, a veteran karate instructor and World Karate Federation referee. After gaining experience and learning the fine art of judging and referring under the tutelage of Mr. Sultan, he set out on his own to train others in this sport. It was at this time that he set up a school for young students wishing to learn Shito-Ryo karate
Over the years, Mr. Kumar has judged and referred at numerous international, regional and local karate competitions. In 2001, he participated in his first international event when he was selected to referee at the Asian Karate Federation championships held in Malaysia, and the following year, in April, he was the referee at the Second West Asian Games Karate Championships held in Kuwait. However, it was during the 16th World Karate Federation Championships held in Spain, and following a meticulous referee testing process that Mr. Kumar was selected as Kumite judge by the WKF. Since then he has traveled the world participating, referring and judging competitions, including in Moscow, Finland, Cyprus, Japan, Italy, United Kingdom, Turkey, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and in Kuwait.
Clarifying that Shitu-ryu competitions are gaining in popularity around the world, Mr. Kumar said, “The International Olympic Committee is considering including karate as a competition in the 2020 Olympic Games. Meanwhile, in Kuwait, karate is a well recognized and widely participated sport involving both citizens and expatriates. Kuwaiti athletes have done their country proud at various regional and international karate competitions, including winning gold silver and bronze medals at the 16th Asian Games held in China in 2010. The Kuwait Karate Federation is in the forefront of promoting this sport in the country and annually, over a period of 50 days, the KKF organizes tournaments in various categories.”
“The Shito-Ryu School of Karate in Kuwait has branches in many of Kuwait’s suburbs, including in Abassiya, Hawally, Reggai, Khaitan, Abu Halifa, Mangaf and Salmiya,” said the veteran karate master speaking about his school. He continued, “At these centers, experienced teachers under my supervision impart training to over 400 students ranging in age from 5 to 50 and above. Every two months, our school, in association with KKF, organizes camps, seminars, tournaments and a unique Karate Referee Clinic to familiarize students about the rules of the sport. I am proud to say that there are more than two dozen Black Belt holders in our schools and the enthusiasm for the sport keeps increasing by the day.”
“Both my son and daughter, who are studying in Class 8 and 12 at the Indian Community School Kuwait, are Black Belt holders and I hope their passion for the sports will take them to greater heights in the future.” Speaking about his future plans, Mr. Kumar expressed his wish to open a larger, fully equipped and organized karate school in Kuwait. “A place where we could bring in leading karate coaches from around the world to train and enhance the caliber of our students, so that they could compete successfully on the international level.”