| A demonstration of self-defence techniques for girls at the inauguration of the All India Inter-School and Senior Karate-Do Championship Federation Cup 2012 at Salt Lake stadium on Saturday. (Bhubaneswarananda Halder)
Boys want fitness. Girls seek self-defence.
A gender divide has surfaced in the reasons behind the growing popularity of karate among schoolchildren in Calcutta, the difference reflecting the reality of the times they live in.
For most of the girls representing various city schools in the ongoing All India Inter-School and Senior Karate-Do Championship Federation Cup 2012, learning the martial art is more about self-defence than getting a kick out of their kata moves.
Had she not learnt karate, Tanu Majumder, a Class VII student at Shri Shikshayatan School, could well have been the bullied and frightened Dre (Jaden Smith) in The Karate Kid, to whom martial arts teacher Mr Han (Jackie Chan) says: The only way to stop them is to face them.
Today, Tanu is quietly confident that her knowledge of karate will keep the bad guys at bay. Unless we protest the wrongs, they will keep happening. Now I am strong and confident, I know I can protect myself, she says.
Mothers of girls competing in the national championship, organised by the All India Karate-Do Federation and partnered by TTIS & The Telegraph, sit on the sidelines watching their daughters punch, kick and chop with the practised flair of Charlies Angels.
The sense of pride isnt expressed but it can be felt. A point won is loudly cheered, a point lost elicits a sigh.
Ask them whether medal or mettle matters and they will tell you how reassuring it is to know that come a real-life threat, their girls will put up a fight.
No longer do parents wait for their daughters to grow up a bit so that they can take the physical strain. Karate classes take in children as young as five, and the queues are long. Every day there is some news about crimes against women. My daughter is still a kid, but at some point she will have to face the world on her own. So I got her admitted to a karate class, says homemaker Mitali Chatterjee.
Dipabali Chakraborty used to worry a lot when her elder daughter Rishita, a student of Class VIII at Loreto House, stepped out of home. Shes become calmer since Rishita and her sister Ipshita, a Class V student at Gokhale Memorial Girls School, started learning karate.
This is a city that is becoming increasingly unsafe for women. But my (elder) daughter asks me not to worry, she can easily tackle two to three men now, Dipabali says with a smile.
For the boys, karate is all about staying fit, agile and confident. Srijan Chowdhuri of Adamas International School started training because karate was a regular activity at school. He has been hooked on it since. Its the perfect all-in-one fitness activity, says the Class VIII student.
Class IX boy Abhishek Singh has become so involved in martial arts that he wants to become a full-time karate teacher after completing his education.
Maybe someday, like Mr Han, he will also advise his students: The best fights are the ones we avoid.
Do you think martial art should be made mandatory in schools? Tell [email protected]