Volume 17 • Issue 36 • Jan. 28 — February 3, 2005

More than just kicks learning karate

By Michael White

While many children and young adults alike were reaching for the remote control or video game controller, on Friday, Jan. 21, at least a hundred participants, shattered the chronic “living room malaise” – as well as an impressive share of one-inch boards – during the Manhattan Youth Karate School’s semi-annual belt promotion awards ceremony. The exhibition marked the students’ progress along the trail to the top degree, the coveted black belt, as well as settled personal bests in individual board-breaking competitions and “hand-to-hand” combat matches.

The youngest participant in the school is five years old and the oldest has been involved in martial arts for over 30 years.

The gymnasium at P.S. 89/I.S. 89 in Battery Park City was filled with a horde of mostly elementary school children, many donning the ceremonial white gee, or practice uniform. Older students – from high school age and up – lined the walls of the gym, some executing swift punches in the air, practicing for their impending exhibition. Chitchat from spectators and participants alike complemented the mass of white surging in the gym.

But instructor Charles Fasano changed all that. With a single calm command, Fasano, a sixth degree black belt, brought the masses to attention. The participants instantly performed as a single unit – every single member facing the same direction, organized in groups by the color of their belt, performed the same combination of moves, a series of non-contact kicks, punches, and countering moves.

Jill Sutton, a mother of two boys in the program, watched on at the exhibition with pride. “That’s what I like about this program – they all do the same thing at this point,” she said. “Everyone just moves through the motions at their own pace.” From the enthusiastic under-the-breath murmurs exerted by the older participants to the stone cold intent glares exuding from even the smallest members, the precision and determination of the group en masse was impressive.

Warmed up, the participants then split up into groups of like belt color in order to watch the next demonstration. This is when belt promotion tests began. There’s more to belt promotion than just showing up… not only must each member know the moves, but she or he must also behave well, demonstrate control, exemplify respect, and exhibit an enthusiastic and positive attitude. Michael Dealy, headmaster of the World Martial Arts Association of which Manhattan Youth Karate Group is a member school, said that is the true objective of martial arts: “Power and focus.” When people are out in the world, they fight over their differences. However, Dealy contends, participating in the martial arts is “a great equalizer.” While to the rest of the world, these people are just like anyone else, “when they’re wearing those uniforms, society forgets. They fit in.”

Jill Sutton couldn’t agree more. “My son Chase started at Downtown Day Camp, and he’s just excelled….[The instructors] take care of you… they take care of their own. They’re good people.”

Chase tugged on his mother’s blue jeans and enjoyed a celebratory Starburst candy with his brother Taylor, 11, who much to his mother’s surprise, broke a one-inch board with his bare hands just minutes before. When asked what keeps him interested in the martial arts, Chase said, “I like it because my big brother does it. I want to be a black belt.”

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